The Scholastic Myth Makers

Academic scholars researching the New Testament documents have created an intriguing mythology of their own, to assist them in the popular quest of turning Christianity into a mere human movement. This is not to say that all academics are atheists or that none of them has a living faith in Jesus Christ, but that the body of scholarly work is undergirded by a supposition that the New Testament events were not the supernatural happenings which Christianity celebrates.

Need For Invention

People who are antagonistic to Christianity and to the clear claims of Jesus Christ and His followers as provided to us in the canon of New Testament books, need to build a case for their doubts. The books of the New Testament have been put under intense scrutiny for centuries and keep rebounding as dynamic and living expressions of powerful truth that is able to impact the hearers far beyond any other works in human history.

The sheer potency and significance of the New Testament, including its historical track record and glowing endorsements, supported by the millions who live by its truths in each generation, boldly challenge all who would oppose those twenty-seven books.

Such a challenge does not deter the most determined, and one option open to them is “invention”. If something supportive of an antagonistic position could be created from what has passed to us from that time, then much might be made from it.

Spurious Documents

There is no shortage of doubtful material in New Testament times. Various, spurious claims were made in the first few centuries, and have passed to us in various documents. However, those documents were recognised as spurious from their own time. They are not reliable historically and lack sufficient authority to challenge the overwhelming body of evidence in support of the approved New Testament books.

That has not stopped people who are antagonistic to Christianity from pushing those documents and their spurious ideas into the headlines from time to time. But no on-going credibility has been attained, despite the most vigorous efforts of some.

The Invention Summarised

The breakthrough which antagonists sought ultimately required invention. In simplified form, what was lit upon was the idea that evidence could be ‘created’ to accuse early (nascent) Christianity of having ‘evolved’ into a religious belief system.

The key was to create the impression that at least two different streams of Christ-consciousness existed. The initial stream would be based on Jesus as a rabbi, who presented ‘wisdom teaching’ and gained a following. Later streams would deify Jesus, after his death, by interposing into his biography such things as miracles, a virgin birth and Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

If such a construct could be invented, even just hinted at with sufficient force, then Christianity would be reduced from the reverberations of a divine visitation, to a delusional man-made religion, based on fraudulent deification of a humble Galilean teacher.

Imagining and Inventing

Since the Gospels provide a compelling and cogent account of the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was necessary for detractors to devalue those writings. Initially it was suggested that the Gospels were created quite late in the picture and did not include eye-witness accounts, but fanciful inventions of supernatural events.

However, continued research has proven the opposite. The texts are remarkably reliable, strong in eye-witness elements and dated very close to the events they describe.

To overcome this obstacle, scholars came up with the notion that these Gospels were created late in the picture, but based on earlier eye-witness material. By careful review of what was included and excluded from the various historical records of Christ’s life (gospels), guesses were made about what a common source document would contain. The hope was that such an imagined source document would be devoid of supernatural elements.

Two source documents have been proposed, the Passion Narrative and The Lost Sayings Gospel Q.

The Q Document

The imagined Q Document suggests a text which brought together much of the wisdom teaching of Jesus. The value of that notion is that it suggests Jesus was really only a teacher, not a miracle worker, nor Son of God who rose from the dead.

Once the hypothesis of a Q Document was developed, it could then be hypothesised that the document was used by an early branch of Christianity, those who followed Jesus because of the wisdom teachings.

CM Tuckett, author of ‘The Anchor Bible Dictionary’ communicates something of these implications when he said that, “Q may also alert us to the great variety within primitive Christianity. It shows us a version of the Christian faith which is perhaps less cross centered than, say, Paul or Mark”. (emphasis added)

The Imagined Evolution

The invention of a Q document prompts the hypothesis of a community based on “wisdom” sentiment, living to celebrate divine insights, brought to them by their teacher, Jesus. This is then contrasted with the Pauline emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and “Bingo”, they have constructed an evolutionary continuum in which the man, Jesus, is deified after his death, and a mythology about his resurrection is added. Other enhancements to the life story of Jesus, such as the miracles, are thought to have been invented by the promoters of the new religion, to give their leader special significance and sell their package ahead of the competition.

Mythology versus Myth

It is amusing to note that those who insist that Christianity is based on a Christ myth are forced to create a mythology of their own.

Those who receive the New Testament writings as accurate and divinely overseen records of supernatural events full of moral potency and divine significance, have no problem with the New Testament. We do not need to invent anything. Our very own, personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ of the New Testament, and the living truths unpacked by Paul and the others, confirms to us that there is no myth involved or needed.

Reality triumphs over the myth-makers.

Henry Alford Produces his Greek New Testament

This is the day that … Henry Alford was born in London, in 1810.

The fifth generation of Anglican rectors who made a worthy impact, it was not long before Henry Alford showed himself an exceptional child.  His mother died shortly after he was born and at an early age Henry was in the sole care of his studious father. So it is no wonder his academic preparation was exemplary.

At age 6 he wrote a manuscript on the Travels of Paul. Before he was 10 he wrote Latin odes … and a history of the Jews!! (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 27).

Higher education took place at Trinity College, Cambridge – and from thence Alford served as a clergyman in the Church of England, eventually, in 1857, being appointed Dean of Canterbury.

He became, says his biographer, a man of many talents – “a poet, a preacher, a musician, a painter, a Bible scholar, a philologist … he could build an organ and play it!”

Adding to his many talents was his determination to see a task through to completion, as the following anecdote affirms. Henry was thrown from his horse in the February of 1847 when going to deliver his first lecture. Despite being very seriously shaken and disfigured he punctually appeared before his audience with his face and head covered with surgical bandages, and — resolutely lectured.

Among his many writings was A Dissuasive against Rome – a polemic against certain High Church tendencies in the Rome-ward direction in the Anglican Church.

A. Bailey tells us that Dean Alford was “a supporter of the Evangelical Alliance, and throughout his life he maintained cordial relations with non-conformists” (Gospel in Hymns, page 390).

But it is his Greek New Testament that is regarded as his magnum opus.  This great work, which appeared between 1849-1861, occupied him for twenty years of his life and “took its place as the standard critical commentary of the later nineteenth century” (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 251).  The word ‘critical’ should not be misunderstood in that sentence.  Whilst Dean Alford analysed the current theories and textual problems, he held to an evangelical position.

In order to harvest the depth of critical work originating in Germany, Alford taught himself German. Thus he brought to the English scholar insights which had previously not been available.

In the foreword to his New Testament for English Readers, (2 volumes, published 1863), he insists on belief in plenary inspiration – “I hold it to the utmost … the inspiration of the sacred writers I believe to have consisted in the fullness of the influence of the Holy Spirit specially raising them to, and enabling them for, their work, in a manner which distinguishes them from all other writers in the world, and their work from all other works …” (Volume 1, page 27).

Among his well-known hymns still sung today, are “Come, ye thankful people, come” and “Forward be our watchword”.

Dean Alford died in 1871.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Cleland Boyd McAfee Presbyterian Leader and Hymn Writer

This is the day that … Cleland Boyd McAfee was born in Montana, USA, in 1866.

The son of a minister, Cleland pursued ministry, as did his brothers and other relatives, and rose to the pinnacle of the American Presbyterian Church which he served. His life was spent in the pulpit, the class and the study. Four others in his generation with ministers as well.

At the age of thirty-five, whilst pastoring the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, he wrote a hymn, words and music. He received news that two nieces had died from diphtheria. Grieving from the loss, he turned to the words of the Psalmist. As he read the scriptures, he was inspired to write the words and the tune to “Near to the Heart of God.” “the choir learned it on the Saturday night,” his daughter later recorded – and they went to the McAfee home and sang it under the stars outside the quarantined house …”

And the hymn?

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God…

The first public performance of the hymn was at the girls’ funeral. The hymn became popular immediately and spread quickly.

McAfee married Canadian born Harriet and together they produced three daughters, Ruth, Catherine and Mildred. Thus his desire to have the family name continued was defeated.

Cleland B. McAfee is described as “an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, author of numerous books, and honoured by his denomination to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly … yet today, Dr McAfee is best remembered for this one simple, unassuming, devotional hymn” (101 More Hymn Stories, by K. Osbeck).

McAfee lived on the Seminary Campus and maintained a genuine pastoral rapport with his students. As moderator he had a keen sense of when to lower the boom on the fundamentalist controversy.

His books are freely available as e-books from many sites on the internet, revealing a studious mind and an excellent communicator.

Dr McAfee died on 4 February, 1944.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.