CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Please see here for part 2 of Round Two, where I assess Bishop Spong’s appeal to silence in the Pauline epistles, as positive "evidence" for Iscariot and his treachery having been invented no earlier than 70CE (with GosMark).

When Bishop Spong turns to Matt 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30, we get a somewhat more interesting result. This is some of the hypothetically reconstructed “Q” material: material which visibly enters the texts of Matt and Luke 10 to 15 or 20 years after GosMark’s composition on Bishop Spong’s accepted dating schedule.

(I don’t mean to sound derogatory of Q theories per se, by the way. I really don’t have any problem with the existence of an early sayings source not used in GosMark, or GosJohn either, for whatever reason. I have a problem with the slipshod double-standarding ways in which Q theories are sometimes used in the field. Bishop Spong wants us to be suspiciously impressed when various details “appear to have entered the Christian story”, but then to ignore this standard when it’s inconvenient--such as noticing how the Q material “appears to have entered the Christian story” after GosMark even later than GosMark itself with the traitor Judas Iscariot “appears to have entered the Christian story” after the Pauline corpus. i.e. it takes even longer for the Q material to visibly leave substantial tracks in the tradition after GosMark, than for Judas to have been “invented” in GosMark after Paul’s epistles, according to Bishop Spong’s own timing.)

In these two verses Jesus says to His disciples (while on the final road from Jericho to Galilee in GosMatt) and to His apostles and maybe some other disciples (at the Last Supper, a completely different scene, and different enough in wording that it’s debatable whether or to what extent this pericope is actually Q-material), that they will sit on thrones, in His kingdom (implied in GosMatt), judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

“The editors”, Bishop Spong remarks, “appear to forget that one of the twelve will be judged unworthy”.

Bishop Spong, however, appears to forget (or anyway doesn’t bother to mention) that the Lukan editor/redactor/author/whatever didn’t “apparently forget” that Judas the traitor is on the scene in the audience: there are no longer “twelve” thrones being mentioned!

In the GosMatt scene, on the other hand, neither apostles nor the twelve are specifically in view, only a general batch of “disciples”. The “twelve thrones” could literally mean twelve special disciples, one of whom (per Acts testimony) would have been Matthais on the scene; or it might be symbolic of completeness, like the seven eyes of the Lamb in RevJohn’s apocalyptic imagery indicate spiritual omniscience (as RevJohn’s author himself explains).

Taken on its own ‘Q’ terms, we can’t say who is or is not in view at this Matthean pericope; any more than in the saying extracted from its narrative context (as Bishop Spong would have us do) in GosLuke 22. But unlike GosLuke 22, the surrounding (non-Q) contexts do not specifically regard the particular twelve apostles (much moreso Judas Iscariot, who is in close and extremely obvious narrative proximity to that saying in GosLuke) at that time.

When Peter (in the non-Q material surrounding Matt 19:28) states that “We have left everything and followed You! What then will there be for us?” the question might be asked in terms of the twelve apostles specifically; but those larger story contexts (including already in GosMatt before this point) indicate there are more disciples than only twelve apostles who have made this commitment. Moreover, the Q-material answer is just as vaguely inclusive at Matt 19:28 (“you who have followed Me”) as the non-Q-material answer is (Matt 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-31; Luke 18:29-30): everyone who does this shall receive back a hundred fold in the kingdom.

And yet again, the generalization of the twelve throne promise at Matt 19 is immediately emphasized (if we’re considering the ‘design’ of the sequence by someone, whether by the Matthean author, or by Jesus originally as reported with more detail here compared to the other Synoptics) by the saying about “everyone who leaves houses or brothers etc. on account of My name, a hundredfold shall be getting” (which is triple Synoptic material for this scene). And then, as a warning (common to GosMark, too, though not in GosLuke here): “yet many of the first shall be last, and last the first.” Well, if Judas forfeits his throne--even if he is eventually saved from sin--he’d fit that warning well enough!

I will add in passing (having parenthetically mentioned it just now) that I would be personally quite tickled about Matt 19:28 indicating Judas Iscariot is slated to sit on a throne. But then, I am an orthodox universalist, who expects the salvation of Judas Iscariot and his reconciliation with God (as the term ‘renascence’, or “the renewal of all things” as often translated, could easily be a pointer to, too); so this wouldn’t surprise or concern me. However: I also know better than to adduce this verse as being anything more than slightly suggestive on the topic. I know perfectly well that in this scene, where twelve thrones are promised, the disciples broadly are in view (at least as far as Jesus is concerned, whether in the Q portion or outside it), and I know perfectly well that Matthais later in Acts would, by connotation, have been one of those disciples--which also means that a hypothesis of substantial historicity to both sets of data doesn’t end in data conflicts. The only reason there appears to be a data conflict, ironically, is because Bishop Spong insists on throwing out or not including some relevant pieces of data--without giving a clear reason why the data should be thrown out or excluded from the outset. (Except for some putative reasons which, if rigorously accepted, would fatally handicap his own theory, too.)

Bishop Spong shows his very selective application of scepticism when he treats all this as “additional evidence that the story of the betrayal of Jesus by one of the twelve, named Judas, was not an original part of the Christian narrative... both Matthew and Luke failed to make their source fully conform to the changing tradition that now included the story of a traitor among the twelve.” He never brings up the option that the ‘Q’ material editor or editors or community (if there even was a Q) might have been the ones to be trying to change a previously accepted understanding, before or after GosMark. (As most scholars across the ideological spectrum, except for some very liberal ones, are willing to agree happened with the earliest “sayings source” text we actually have: the Gospel of Thomas. Here, there is an almost universal consensus that the redactor of GosThom, and/or the community he represents, was excerpting and digesting previously transmitted tradition and making tweaks to it for his/their own ideological purposes.)

In any case: the actual details of Matt 19 don’t require Iscariot to be being promised a throne (if anything there’s a hint that some currently first will be last instead!--a point conveniently ignored by Bishop Spong, maybe because the saying smacks too much of non-Q material, but which the Matthean author/editor/redactor at the very least, and maybe his source or even Jesus Himself, thought important to include); and in point of fact Luke (or his source, or Jesus Himself!) neatly but quietly avoids saying just how many thrones the current audience of Jesus at the Last Supper (which is certainly Iscariot and the apostles, outside the ostensible Q material) will be sitting on.

Those observations of “the easily identifiable, documentable facts”--the facts of the textual characteristics, not the hypothetical reconstructions and the speculative theories and suspicious innuendos--don’t fit very well into Bishop Spong’s theory attempt, however. Good thing those facts aren’t mentioned by him, then!

On top of all this, it can be noted that if the authors of GosMark and GosLuke (on either side of the Matthean composition, per Bishop Spong’s developmental arrangement) were already aware of an Iscariot tradition, they might have some motivation to quietly omit a historically received saying of Jesus at the end of the story of the Rich Young Ruler, precisely in order to avoid showing any sympathy (or worse, hope!) for Iscariot. After all, as we shall see later, GosMatt is the text with the most sympathy and pity for Iscariot. The mere ‘insertion’ of this piece at Matt 19, ends up not making much sense in a theory of developing Judas Iscariot as a fabricated scapegoat. Its ‘rentention’ would only make sense, in this composition scheme, if GosMark originally eliminated it; but anyone who was already familiar with an Iscariot traitor tradition might easily want to skip over the saying, too. Its here-again-gone-again popup in this triple tradition scene, works just as well if there had been a real Iscariot, already traditionally hated by the time of GosMark’s composition.

This is a hard round to recap, but I’ll make a go of it. “The easily identifiable, documentable facts” are: Paul mentions the Lord’s Supper as a historical event exactly once, in 1 Cor 11 (the only time in the NT outside the Gospels when it is mentioned as a historical event--the refs in the Epistle to the Hebrews are to present suppers, much as in the surrounding context of the chapter 11 reference), where he mentions no names of anyone involved in the supper at all (other than the Lord Jesus Christ) but refers to something happening that same night which could mean “betrayal” and which does not plausibly fit any other detail eventually found in the narratives besides the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. (But which does suggestively fit his rebuke to the Corinthians for eating and drinking the Supper unworthily in their rituals, thus being guilty of the body and blood of Christ.)

Paul afterward, in the same text (1 Cor 15), speaks of the risen Christ appearing to “the Twelve”, without explaining who “the Twelve” are or what connection they do or do not have to other individuals and groups in his standardized kerygma about the Resurrection. (Neither do any other New Testament texts outside the Gospels and Acts.) The author of Acts, who claims to be writing a sequel to GosLuke, and who claims to know something about Judas Iscariot being a traitor, calls the apostles “the Eleven” (as does the author of GosLuke) but then later calls them “the Twelve” once Matthaias is chosen as a new apostle. Matth’s apostolic credentials? Being able to authoritatively witness to the teaching of Jesus throughout Christ’s ministry, up to and including being a witness of the resurrected Jesus. Just like in Paul’s authoritative doctrinal kerygma about “the Twelve”.

Modern scholars in the past couple of centuries have extracted material shared only by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, not found in the Gospels either of Mark or John, and basically excluding any Gospel’s Passion narrative (with very few special exceptions): leading to the Q source theory. As should surprise absolutely no one in the history of anything, this material does not mention Judas Iscariot or a betrayal--material which is included in all four Gospels, not only in GosMatt and GosLuke, thus which is excluded by definition of the Q hypothesis from the outset. This shared material first becomes textually evident 10 to 15 years after GosMark’s composition, and (aside from some tantalizing possibilities of loose reference in various epistles) no less than 15 to 20 years (maybe more like 25) after Paul writes 1 Corinthians--assuming the popular standard composition chronology and order is correct. The character of Judas Iscariot and his betrayal, on the other hand, first appears in GosMark no more than 5 to 10 years after Paul writes 1 Cor.

Among the similarities unique to GosMatt and GosLuke, are two scenes where Jesus promises His faithful listeners will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the coming kingdom of Jesus. Otherwise the two scenes have notable differences (and very different settings): one such difference being that in GosMatt only “disciples” and “those who follow Me” are clearly in view as a group (with an expanded inclusiveness to “whoever” will follow Jesus) but there will be twelve thrones; whereas in GosLuke “apostles” are very clearly in view (namely the Twelve, arguing about which of them is the greatest) but Jesus doesn’t mention how many thrones.

These textual characteristics are “the easily identifiable, documentable facts”--some of which Bishop Spong either didn’t notice, or decided weren’t worth mentioning (for whatever reason).

One popular (though not universal) speculative theory over the past 200 years or so, is that the material more-or-less unique to both GosMatt and GosLuke comes from an earlier source used by both authors (the “Q” theory). Despite the theory’s wide acceptance (to various degrees) in the field, a critical scholar should remember that “Q” is not in itself an “easily identifiable, documentable fact”. We have no “Q”. The only “Q” we have is a hypothetical extrapolation made from texts that each definitely contain very much more material than “Q”. (They are in fact the two longest of the four canonical Gospels.) Q may be a good theory, but it is still a theory.

Bishop Spong picks up this theory, and speculates not only that Q was a written source dating back to at least the days of Paul and perhaps much earlier (a common speculation about the theory, to be fair); but also that Q only included this shared material and nothing else at all (a further speculation typical only to scholars trying to buttress scepticism of the historicity of other textual material elsewhere); and that the people who used Q knew nothing of a betrayal of Jesus, much less by someone named Judas Iscariot; and that no one else (therefore?) knew anything about a betrayal either.

Bishop Spong tries to make this ultra-speculative use of “Q” look more plausible by further speculating that Paul not only knew of no betrayal of Jesus (based partly on the fact that Paul doesn’t give any details about whatever “betrayal” or “giving up” happened to Jesus the night of the Lord’s Supper, the one single time Paul mentions it in a surviving epistle); but also by speculating (or inferring??) that Paul’s mere use of “the Twelve” in his list of witnesses to the resurrected Christ counts as positive testimony to all the original apostles being alive and loyal during those appearances.

Bishop Spong then goes back to “Q” to speculate that it also contains testimony to all the original apostles being promised a throne in heaven as loyal-and-only-loyal apostles; a speculation that at least has the advantage of not being as much of an argument from silence as any of the previous series of speculations, but which absolutely depends on accepting the historicity of a few non-Q contexts carefully selected from both (not at all similar) anecdotes and ignoring some important distinctions not only found in the non-Q contexts but in the putative “Q”-shared material, too. During which, Bishop Spong blames the Gospel authors for missing a detail which, in fact, at least one author certainly didn’t miss and the other author wasn’t necessarily trying to include: namely that if Iscariot was a traitor and also part of a very restricted audience for the promise, then there shouldn’t be twelve thrones. But GosMatt doesn’t necessarily feature such a restrictive audience, either in the Q material or the surrounding non-Q contexts; and in GosLuke, which only implies an apostolically restricted audience outside the supposed Q material, the number of thrones is conspicuously absent in comparison to the number of tribes of Israel. Unlike in GosMatt.

This last bit, concerning all the original apostles being promised thrones as always-loyal followers, is admittedly a little more interesting and suggestive than Bishop Spong’s other main speculations for this round; but it’s still very far from being, in itself, an “easily identifiable, documentable fact”. Nor does its inclusion really offset the increasingly rampant speculations-from-silence engaged in by Bishop Spong as the second part of his positive case for the fictionalizing of Judas Iscariot and his treachery.

[Next up, for Round Three: beginning to consider legendary accretion of Iscariot material more directly.]


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