Kenton Sparks: historical criticism and the virgin birth

I find this strange. Kenton Sparks (God’s Word in Human Words) is happy to accept the possibility that not all the miracle stories in the Bible actually happened. He also thinks it quite likely that some of the miraculous events related are only partly historical. Since there is no historical evidence for an event as dramatic as the biblical exodus, perhaps we should conclude that it happened, but not quite on the spectacular scale that the Bible suggests. Perhaps “Jesus performed only some of the miracles attributed to him in the Bible, while others are fictional traditions spawned by his genuine miracles” (321).

So far, so reasonable. But then Sparks asks us to step over the hermeneutical line between history and theology. For the historicity of some miraculous events, he thinks, is “nonnegotiable for a fully coherent Christian, being defined as such by creedal orthodoxy and also by Scripture itself” (he has in mind 1 Corinthians 15 and the Nicene Creed).

At this point, the problem arises—as Sparks points out—that sometimes essential miraculous events “not only lack historical evidence but seem to have some evidence against them” (320). The virgin conception, he suggests, is a case in point. Paul appears to have been unaware of any unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conception. The belief is absent from two of the Gospels, including the earliest one, Mark, and the one from which we most readily derive a doctrine of Jesus’ incarnation, John. Not to mention the fact—actually Sparks does not mention it—that the motif of a hero of mixed divine-human parentage was so widespread in the ancient world that it is difficult to escape the suspicion that Matthew and Luke were somehow persuaded to inflate Jesus’ credentials as Son of God.

“Under these circumstances,” Sparks concludes, “it is easy to imagine that the virgin birth of Jesus was, like the immaculate conception of Mary, a later theological deduction of the early church rather than part of the primitive Christian testimony.” In other words, modern historical enquiry gives us good reason to doubt the historicity of the miracle. But, Sparks asks, why should we “consider these matters only in terms of modern historiography”?

The theological reflection of the church on the persons of Jesus and Mary also counts as evidence in our historical equations. Whether this reflection was soon or long after those holy births is beside the point, since the cogency of a theological deduction hardly depends on historical proximity to the contemplated event…. We believe in miracles, like the virgin birth, not because they are supported by so much historical-critical evidence, but because they are theologically reasonable and necessary.

As I say, I find this very strange, or at least confusing. Sparks appears to be saying that the “theological deduction” somehow permits us to suspend the process of historical-critical investigation that elsewhere he is is determined to uphold in the face of well-intentioned but misguided evangelical fideism. I don’t get it.

But I also don’t get why the virgin birth is a matter of such theological necessity. Paul does not include it in the deposit of truth that he transmitted to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:1-11). I doubt that it will be mentioned in the lead codices. The Apostles’ Creed makes Jesus’ birth of the virgin Mary no more theologically necessary than the fact that he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, has the theologically freighted statement that Jesus was “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary”. So presumably in Sparks’ mind it is the doctrine of the incarnation that is at stake: the virgin conception is the supernatural means by which the divine and human were fused in the unique person of the God-man Jesus. That is a matter of considerable theological importance, so we are theologically bound to believe in the virgin conception whether we find it historically plausible or not.

My real difficulty with this line of argument, however, is not that I think historical criticism should trump “theological deduction”. It is that for Matthew and Luke this is simply not the point of the miracle. The remarkable circumstances of Jesus’ conception by the Spirit of God are not taken as evidence that God has assumed human flesh, which would be a doubtful inference even from John’s Prologue. They are understood rather as a sign that Jesus was destined to be Israel’s messianic king—the one who would defeat their enemies and save them from their sins. The wise men from the East were also a sign that Jesus was destined to be Israel’s messianic king, who would transform the standing of the people of God in the eyes of the nations, but the historicity (and exceptional astronomical circumstances) of their journey is not made a matter of theological necessity. The thought is also there in the account of Jesus’ miraculous conception that YHWH is present in the midst of his people as Immanuel to judge and to deliver, but this still all adds up to something much less than the full-blown, post-biblical, metaphysically construed doctrine of the incarnation.

So Sparks’ argument that we must take serious account of the “theological traditions of the church” (322) when making judgments on the historicity of an event such as the virgin birth seems to me flawed on two grounds. First, the men who generated the “theological traditions of the church” only had the texts to go on, and if there appear to be good historical-critical grounds for doubting the historicity of the miracle, then theological tradition has nothing it can add to the judgment other than wishful thinking. I repeat: it’s not that I personally doubt the historicity of the virgin birth; it’s that Sparks seems to think that he can have his cake and eat it. Secondly, it is not at all apparent that we should attribute to the virgin birth the sort of nonnegotiable theological significance that Sparks—and indeed a good part of theological tradition—thinks it merits.

Comments

Hello Andrew

I've been studying the virgin conception for quite some time from a historical-critical perspective. So, interesting post! I could say a lot, and would really like to find someone to talk with about my findings! But since I've not read Sparks' book and to be on topic....

So Sparks’ argument that we must take serious account of the “theological traditions of the church” (322) when making judgments on the historicity of an event such as the virgin birth seems to me flawed on two grounds. First, the men who generated the “theological traditions of the church” only had the texts to go on, and if there appear to be good historical-critical grounds for doubting the historicity of the miracle, then theological tradition has nothing it can add to the judgment other than wishful thinking.

Might it be that, when Sparks referred to the "theological traditions of the church" (in the above context), he meant this specifically about the inherited traditions of NT authors themselves? That what they wrote came from "theological tradions of the 1st century (apostolic era) church"?

'Not sure if that makes sense. I'll leave it there. Thanks!

It makes sense, Rick. I don’t think that’s what Sparks means. He also states: “Under these circumstances, it is easy to imagine that the virgin birth of Jesus was… a later theological deduction of the early church rather than part of the primitive Christian testimony” (320). Besides, even pushing tradition back to Matthew and Luke does not really solve the problem. We would still have to explain how it was that the earliest traditions acquired and preserved what is, on the face of it, a historically questionable belief.

Andrew,

What if the earliest Christians simply believed Mary's testimony that she "had not known a man"?  What if her testimony was part of what was "handed on" that was not written down? (Lk 1.2, Acts 15.27, 2Thess 2.15)  How do oral cultures even today preserve accurately the reporting of events that happened centuries ago (cf Alex Haley's search for his ancestry which led to the writing of "Roots")?  What if it took some time -and the flexible, expansive vocabulary of the Greek language put to use by Christians not for the purpose of importing Greek philosopy- to develop a way to explain the meaning of these things so handed down?  What if the stories of divine+human figures in mythology were, as CS Lewis said, types and shadows of the Real Thing?

The Eastern Fathers who arose within the church had the gift of putting words on many of these things.  They described a way to talk about what "makes up" God and humanity (essence/ousia/nature) and the meaning of the union of those two natures in the unique Person/hypostasis of Christ.  In that scheme, it was fitting that Mary should be a virgin at the time of Jesus' conception (although St Basil wrote somewhere that he didn't think it would affect Christian faith if Mary later had children, but he yielded to the piety of the rest of the church on this point), and that no other human being was involved.

In addition, parthenogenesis is known in the animal world- but the offspring is always female, because that's the only set of chromosomes available.  To me, Jesus being a gendered male in the setting of the narrative of the virginal conception is highly significant.

Eastern Christian thought approaches many things differently than in the West.  The virginal conception is integral to the Christ Event.  As the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus as God was faithful to do what humans could not do (unite the two natures and suffer death and defeat it), and as the representative human (adam) he exercised his freedom in intimate connection with the Father and the Spirit to accomplish perfectly the restorative goal of God ("That which is not assumed is not healed.").

Even if Jesus' prophetic words did not stretch much farther than AD 70, the meaning of the Christ Event is cosmic (cf the writings of St Maximos the Confessor), including the events of AD 70 and everything else, too.

Orthodox also do not believe Mary was simply a kind of tube, or that God could have flipped a coin and chosen any Jewish girl for the job.  The concept of "the immaculate conception of Mary" never appeared in
the east; it was not necessary, because Augustine's view of "original
sin" was rejected, as per the articles I linked to previously.

I know your expertise is in the Western stream of things.  You are too good a scholar not to know what is available in the East.  If you're not up for delving into the Fathers, I recommend Christos Yannaras; I've read "Freedom of Morality", "Elements of Faith" and "On the Absence and Unknowability of God".  Very helpful.

Dana

 

Dana:

Maybe the truth lies in the hairsplitting distinction between "essence/ousia/nature" or there was once a human born as a result of "parthenogenesis," but the overwhelming probability is almost certainly more simple:

Ancient people developed miracle birth stories about a variety holy people, Jesus being one of them. The individual stories were crafted to meet the traditions.

Why was Jesus special? Supernatural conception. To our ears, that sounds fantastic, but 2000 years ago people generally would have believed that such things were not crazy.

Why did the prophets say that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem but Jesus was known as being from Nazareth? Well, one tradition developed about the census, another one developed that he was fleeing Herod.

And so on.

If Jesus was not truly God and truly man, then the disintegration of human beings is all we can look forward to.  There is no Meaning.

I can't go there.

Dana

 

Dana, the way I look at it, the issue is not whether Jesus was both God and man or that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is partly how we conceptualize that relationship, but more importantly here whether the New Testament grounds such an idea in the virgin birth. We only have the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke to go on, and I think the evidence there points in a different direction.

And by the way, I’m not trying to knock Orthodoxy here. It is another question—and essentially a theological question—whether the European church was right to arrive at the formulations that it did.

I would not say necessarily that the NT grounds such an idea in the virginal conception, but rather that the VC is part of what was handed down.  I don't believe the narrative is disconnected from how it was later- 30 years or 300 years later- interpreted.  I see a development, with threads leading back into the intertestamental times, wherein there was also development of the Jewish story, as Wright sets forth.

The question of "rightness" is mainly a hermeneutical one.

One of the reasons I read your writing, Andrew, is that you are able to set forth your ideas without knocking people or or groups.  I take no offense.

Dana

 

Dana, thanks for the careful response.

I’m not saying that the virgin birth is historically indefensible. I’m just not convinced that, as Matthew and Luke present it, it has anything like the theological or christological significance that later church tradition, including in its distinctive way Orthodox tradition, and now Kenton Sparks have ascribed to it.

It’s one thing to start from the Gospels and work forward to the Second Person of the Trinity; it is another thing to start with the Second Person of the Trinity and work backwards to the Gospels expecting to find evidence for the developed christology there.

The church fathers had good reasons for speaking about God and Jesus in the way that they did, but grammatico-historical-critical exegesis (or whatever the right term is—I’m not that good a scholar!) now strongly suggests that their formulations constituted an over-interpretation of the New Testament.

Again, not talking about working back from The Second Person of The Trinity, but rather working forward as theological development occurs over time, with the narrative that the first Christians knew and told, and what was handed down both in writing and in oral transmission, which was about figuring out the Meaning of the Christ Event.

This is not at all opposed to historical or any other kind of investigation.

Again, the meaning that is ascribed to what one finds is a matter of interpretation.  That's why all this discussion has been going on for 2000 years :)

Dana

Andrew, to be fair, unless he or she believes scripture is inerrent, every believer has to draw a line between what can be reasonably believed as historical and what is not, and between what is necessary to the faith and not.

Sparks draws the line in a different spot than you do, but what he is doing is not quantitatively different than what you do. In many churches even accepting that everything in the bible is not 100% historical would relegate you to the category of "unbeliever."

There are a lot more reasons to believe the stories are not historical. Besides what you said, the accounts have Joseph and Mary living in different places and doing different things. Were they natives of Bethlehem who fled to Egypt to avoid Herod's murderous purge that is unknown to history, and then resettle in Nazareth because they were afraid of Herod? Or did they live in Nazareth, go to Bethlehem for a unique census unknown to history, take a detour afterwards to Jerusalem and make a public spectacle in the temple despite being targeted by Herod and then go back to Nazareth?

Paul, that’s a fair comment. I think I was just surprised that Sparks listed the virgin birth along with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as a matter of such theological significance that it is OK to suspend historical-critical judgment.

Agreed, the virgin birth is a tough one in that regard. It's not universal to the early church.

This is puzzling to me: In Luke, the angel says that Jesus became the son of God at birth because he was supernaturally born. Yet in Acts, Peter's famous first sermon at Pentacost implies that Jesus was a righteous man who was lifted to the position of Messiah on the account of his resurrection. It seems a bit incongruous coming from the same author.

If I may ...

I don't see the VB as historically defeasible in the same way that other historical matters are defeasible. For instance, the passover is historically problematic because the Egyptians don't seem to have noticed it. Similarly, one or both of the accounts of Judas' death must be historically wrong. But in the case of the VB, the fact that some early Christians didn't know about, and that others later deduced its theoogical necessity, does not discount its historicity ... plus its hard to adduce evidence against the VB (for obvious reasons). The strongest argument against it is that VBs simply don't happen, but the same could be said for the resurrection and ascension.

Please note that I don't tie a belief in the VB to soteriology. I comment somewhere about Bonhoeffer being a Christian, though he very much doubted the VB. 

Kent, of course you may. I’m delighted to hear from you.

What puzzled me was that you appeared to be saying that the later deduction that the virgin birth was theologically necessary was sufficient reason to assert its historicity, despite the problems that historical criticism raises. Would we in fact make the same argument about the resurrection? Would we say that although the historical evidence is weak, we are persuaded by theological tradition that it is an essential belief, so we affirm its historicity? I don’t think so. We believe in it because we trust the direct testimony of the New Testament. If the virgin birth is as important as the resurrection, surely we should believe it for the same reasons—that we trust the direct evidence of the New Testament, not that we are persuaded by later tradition? Or have I misunderstood you?

But just to be clear, I’ve really enjoyed reading your book. As I said in an earlier post, I fully support the attempt to get evangelical scholarship to “face up honestly to the mostly well-grounded results of historical criticism, whether it likes it or not”.

Hi Andrew,

First, I love what you're doing with this site. We need to talk about all sorts of things as we move inexorably into a 21st century context that differs utterly from the traditional western situation. 

What I was getting at is that, when we judge any inference--theological or otherwise--to be a necessary implication of what we already believe for other reasons, it is sensible to embrace it unless there is strong evidence against it. The theological evidence (like the philosophical evidence) does count in how we make historical judgments. The question in this case is whether the historical evidence as we have it should trump the theological arguments.  

As I pointed out, Bonhoeffer did not regard the VB as a necessary inference of the faith--my sense is that he was troubled by it for all sorts of historical and theolgical reasons. I respect his judgment and reasoning, but at this point I don't quite agree with him. Nonetheless, I expect that Bonhoeffer's heavenly mansion will be more spendid than mine, and rightly so.  

Thanks for the forum, Andrew 

Kent, thanks for following up on this. And thanks for the thanks.

Hey Andrew,

I'm curious, do you have a bias against miracles, or is this something you're just not seeing in the text? I mean, the theology is there, if not in Luke or Matthew, in Paul himself. I've been doing very careful exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11 and find that Paul's thought (though not explained explicitly to mean virgin birth) is one of incarnation, which I think would have been understood apart of the oral message (see Bauckham, though I'm sure you have).

Furthermore, I think if one has a solid historical epistemology which allows miracles to happen, we won't find issues with stories like the virgin birth. No, we ought not to be naive realists (as Wright would say), but rather critical realists, allowing the text to lead where it may.

This is my thing, I firmly believe that Christianity is a miraculous religion from alpha to omega, and if we don't accept that as true, namely that we're apart of this miraclous story, then our worldview is one contrary to the biblical narrative.

And may I say this: I believe in something far from inerrancy.

Daniel, no, I don’t have a bias against miracles; I think that miracles are very appropriate for a faith that is oriented to renewal of creation; and I don’t disbelieve in the virgin birth. I was making two basic points.

First, Kent Sparks seems to me to have broken his own rules when it came to the virgin birth. From a historical critical point of view and on the face of it, it looks dubious, and the thrust of the book as a whole is that evangelical scholarship has to face up to the consequences of historical-critical research. That is not an absolute judgment; and it is not the same as saying that from a scientific or biological point of view it looks dubious. Historical criticism, here at least, is dealing with the nature of the biblical testimony, from a historical and literary point of view. However, Sparks argues—and I’m still not sure I have properly understood him—that later, post-biblical theological tradition gives us adequate grounds to believe in the virgin birth. So all I was highlighting was what seemed to me to be an inconsistency in Sparks’ methodology. As I say, I’m still not sure.

The second point is that I don’t think that Matthew and Luke make the virgin birth an argument for the incarnation. More than that, I rather think that we misrepresent the “incarnation”, insofar as that is biblical notion at all if we suppose that it came about through the miraculous means of Jesus’ conception.

If Paul makes reference to some sort of incarnation theology in Philippians 2, it certainly does not require the premise of a virgin birth. To my mind, the issue is not whether Jesus was God incarnate but how that is conceptualized—and how it forms part of the narrative and argumentative context of the New Testament.

1. Can you please provide me with your top two reasons for rejecting the historicity of Matthew and Luke’s account of the virgin birth?

2. What other historical accounts in the gospels do you reject and why?

I have read this thread and I have have not been able to detect a compelling reason for why those accounts ought to be rejected.

Ed, thanks for the questions. The reason that you have not been able to find a compelling reason to reject the virgin birth in this thread is that I haven’t attempted to give one. I agreed in the comment above that it appears problematic historically because that was an issue raised in Spark’s book, but my argument with regard to the virgin birth has consistently been not that it didn’t happen but that we have misunderstood its significance.

Andrew,

I hope you will excuse me but I am always somewhat cautious and more than a little skeptical of new and innovative approaches to interpreting the text, especially when they seem to make claims of understanding the text better than those within the first two to three centuries of their writing.

There are no presuppsitionless approaches in interpretive methodology. However, not all presuppositions are created equal. I find that in matters such as this, it is usually better to first establish the legitimacy of the method in question and then move to strengthes and weakness. Once we understand the method, receive it as one that brings explanatory power, recognize what it brings to the discussion, then we can evaluate specific claims.

Narrative criticism deserves the same kind of scrutiny and evaluation that we direct to other methods of inquiry that emerge within or penetrate the community making claims that orthodoxy has had something as fundamental as the significance or meaning of the virgin birth wrong for centuries. It is only reasonable to expect a serious response when we assert that so many able and godly men have gotten it wrong for so long now.

Narrative criticism is one of many tools at our disposal for mining the depths of the text and it has the potential, when used properly, to enrich our understanding of the very special document in front of us. But it is no different from other methods such as social-science criticism, for example. These tools should never be allowed to go undisciplined. They are the products of a fallen human intellect. That fact must always serve to keep us humble and remind us that the presence of sin brings with it the potential for deception.

The question of the significance of the virgin birth is a good question. Matthew and Luke included it for a reason. One of my concerns with narrative criticism is the tendency to ignore the audience or consider the bigger picture.

Each gospel is concerned with the divinity of Christ early in their construction. Mark and John immediately, Matthew and Luke almost immediately. Why did Matthew and Luke emphasize the virgin birth? There are a number of possibilities available to us. Was it to link Christ to the promised Messiah who was to come? Was it in response to early views that would challenge His humanity? Because there is a divine element in the text that is not present in any other text, extreme care must be taken in how we treat it and every tool must be used with great humility, recognizing their limitations. Some critical tools are more limited than others. All critical tools, when allowed to roam about without discipline are very likely to pervert the text in some manner. I think of the line in the wonderful hymn, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy throne above.”

All this being said, how has narrative criticism helped you to conclude that orthodoxy may have gotten the meaning of the virgin birth wrong? And, I am curious to know if narrative criticism has led you to conclude that Jesus was not conscious of His own divinity.

Take care.

Ed

All very good points about narrative criticism, though I would point out that I argue for a narrative-historical approach: the narrative is told about the real experiences of a historical people. Purely narrative approaches have a tendency to lose touch with reality.

Each gospel is concerned with the divinity of Christ early in their construction. Mark and John immediately, Matthew and Luke almost immediately.

Mark immediately? Son of God? Prepare the way of the Lord? If these are references to divinity, it is in the specific sense that God gives his faithful son authority to judge and rule on his behalf, at his right hand.

Why did Matthew and Luke emphasize the virgin birth? There are a number of possibilities available to us.

Surely the place to start is with the possibilities that Matthew and Luke make available to us? Matthew connects it with a story in Isaiah which has to do not with incarnation but judgment and deliverance. Luke connects it with the theme of kingship. It seems reasonable to apply these Old Testament narratives to the historical circumstances of first century and conclude that what Jesus’ miraculous conception signified for Matthew and Luke was that he was the king who would come to judge and rule over his people at a time of eschatological crisis. Apart from the conception story, I think we would hard pushed to show that the synoptic writers had a theology of incarnation.

And, I am curious to know if narrative criticism has led you to conclude that Jesus was not conscious of His own divinity.

Likewise, I think it is rather difficult to maintain the view that the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels claimed to be God (John is a different kettle of fish), which is not the same as saying that he was not “conscious of His own divinity”. I think that the most we can say is that Jesus claimed to have been given—or that he would be given—authority to do what God would normally reserve for himself, such as forgive sins or judge Israel and the nations. The following posts have a bearing on the matter:

The theme of the divinity of Christ is obvious, not only in the initial launch of Mark’s project which points us up to the coming of Isreal’s God in the person of Jesus Christ, but also in the fact that it is carried on throughout the entire project itself. A common limitation of many critical methods is thier failure to consider and appreciate, and thus account for the dual-authorship of Scripture as well as the consequent and radical new persective that comes with the light of conversion and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. It would be faulty to assume that Mark’s perspective would not have been different when he wrote than it was at his initial introduction to the Messiah. I often get the sense that some methods, if not very many, fail to account for these phenomena.

I appreciate your perspective on Matthew and Luke’s account of the virgin birth. I cannot help but wonder if Matthew and especially Luke continued to see Israel as the “Messiah’s people” after they rejected and killed Him. If they did not, then I wonder if a difference in their prespective might suggest a different reason for spending their time on it. I also think it appropriate to question if Luke and Matthew had similar aims given that their audiences were so fundamentally different. It would seem to me that Luke’s purpose for including the story could be quite different from Matthew.

I must confess that I am curious that you refer to Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah as a “story.” I wonder if this is because of the narrative-historical grid through which you view the text.

It is difficult to imagine the synoptics not having some component of incarnation given the fact that they were written by enlightened, Spirit-filled born again men and God Himself. Systematics did not come about in a vacuum. The text does provide us something to work with, I think. That Christ is God is a necessary component of faith, which is itself a necessary product of regeneration. I suppose this goes to the priority one assigns to certain critical tools in their hermeneutic.

I strongly disagree with your statement that is it difficult to maintain that “the Jesus of the synoptics did not claim to be God.” Statements about His Lordship over the Sabbath, His ability to forgive sins, His constant reference to His own pre-existence, etc., show that the authors believed Jesus to be divine and they show Jesus to be self-consiously aware of His own divinity. There are numerous conservative evangelical scholars who would adamently disagree with your statement.

I am curious about your view on the nature and purpose of Scripture. As an evangelical, I affirm a high view of Scripture, accepting that it is inerrant in the autographs and convinced that its primary aim for the Church is sanctification. That is, Scripture is given to transform. A radically enlightened mind and the presence of the Holy Spirit are necessary if one desires to rightly interpret it. What Scripture says, God says. The reason I bring this issue up is that it will oftentimes create efficiency in dialogues that might have otherwise taken quite some time to get to the real heart of the matter. My experience has been that it is almost never the case that literal tools and critical methods are what drive differences. Rather, it is almost always the case that differences arise at the very beginning, at the fountainhead of the discussion. And that would be one’s view of Scripture itself. Is it divine? Is it authoritative? Is it self-attesting? Does it require supernatural aid to be interpreted correctly? Does Scripture sit in judgment over us, or do we sit in judgment over Scripture? These are really the apologetic issues both in and outside the society of Christ, the Christian group.

Hi, Ed. Thanks for the response. I’ve addressed the question of the divinity of Jesus in a new post. I’ll look at the other issues, too, sometime.

Hi Andrew,

I read a little more from one of the threads on the subject of Jesus’ claim to be God. It reminded me of something I read about Bart Ehrmann in Dan Wallace’s recent project, “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament.” It seems that nearly everywhere Ehrmann had an opportunity to select the more orthodox reading, he almost defaulted entirely to the least orthodox one. This phenomenon is so prevalent in Erhmann’s writings that he is being accused of creating a new canon in textual criticiism, namely, the least orthodox reading is the preferred reading.

Having read a few of your responses to those texts that most orthodox scholars accept as pointing to the divinity of Christ, I could not help but notice that when given the chance to admit that a particular passage (Matt. 28:19) is likely revealing Christ’s divinity, you preferred the interpretation with a lower chistology, even when that interpretation has less to commend it. And I noticed that you are reasonably consistent in how you interpret these passages. Could it possibly be the case that 2,000 years of scholarship has been wrong about the NT teachings concerning the Christ event? Or, could it be that your operating premise is driven by a presupposition that should itself be subjected to closer scrutiny. It is impossible to miss the fact that there is a clear agenda emerging in how you interpret these passages. Have you considered this possibility and searched your own heart to make sure your motives are in the right place?

I have a friend who is reading materials from scholars that employ the narrative-historical approach and this is one reason I have decided to interact with some of its proponents. I hope you don’t mind.

Ed

Also, if I missed your understanding of things, I'm entirely sorry.

But, I do want to stress that I think it's pretty clear that what we see in the Gospels is actually not anything too different than what Paul is saying. It wouldn't be a stretch to think the details of this incarnation, were just known already.