Tuesday 20 January 2015

Is there Intentional Fiction in the Bible? (Part 3)

In part one we noted that fictional writings - such as Jonah - do indeed exist in the Hebrew Bible. In part 2 we looked at the evidence against 2 Peter being what it says it is, a letter penned by Peter of the Pearly Gates. That evidence is fairly unequivocal.
  • 2 Peter bears all the marks of pseudonymity, a reality conceded by many conservative and evangelical scholars.
  • It is derived in large part from Jude, and had a devilish hard slog being accepted into the New Testament in the first place.
  • The first evidence of its appearance is around 220 CE. Assuming Pete wrote it just before he was martyred (supposedly) in 64 CE, that's a gap of up to 156 years. That's the distance we are from the year of our lord 1859.
  • Why was it accepted in the end? The church fathers finally convinced themselves it had to be genuinely Petrine. But it isn't and wasn't.
  • It add insult to injury, the writer clearly claims to be an apostolic witness (1:16-18).
It's a mess. Made worse by those scholars and apologists who refuse to deal with the unpleasant facts. The editors of such widely promoted translations as the ESV for example.

So, what do we do with 2 Peter. I suppose there are more than three options, but let's assume that we regard the scriptures as authoritative in our heritage, and that we wish to deal honestly with them.

One option is to do a Luther. The reformer consigned Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to the fringes of the canon - a sort of appendix to the New Testament - on theological grounds (one can only wish Revelation, in particular, had stayed there). So the precedent definitely exists. The problem would be, I guess, once you started down this road - where would one stop? 2 Peter might be the most egregious example, but there are others not far behind (see Luther's list just for starters!)

A second option is to concede the problem but then boldly declare that it doesn't matter. "So there are fictitious accounts in the New Testament? So what? We just need a more sophisticated reading."

Sophisticated and sophistry come from the same root.

No, this will hardly convince the fundamentalists, nor most evangelicals who are, to speak plainly, not a particularly sophisticated lot when it comes to the Bible. Franklin Graham would have a hernia and the entire Southern Baptist Convention would go into meltdown - not to mention those two nice Jehovah's Witness ladies trying to give away literature on the main street in Pukekohe this morning. Liberal non-Catholics (we used to call them Protestants) might be comfortable with this stratagem - indeed, I know more than a few who are - but Christians of this persuasion are greying and dying out as mainline denominations enter an irrecoverable senescence. Hard to see bright-eyed, bushy-tailed missionaries heading off to convert the heathen when they have to admit that the source of their enthusiasm for the Water of Life is a such a muddied puddle.

So yes, I think it does matter when we have cuckoos in the nest like 2 Peter and no, there is unlikely to be any amount of clever sophistry that will provide a palliative.

Bugger this!
Option three is to accept the New Testament for what it is, and yes it matters. The Bible is authoritative in the same limited sense that a denomination's confessional documents are (for example the horribly dated Westminster and Augsburg confessions). It marks the way along which we came and a shared history. It's a rough and weedy path and we've stumbled more than a few times, cursing the potholes and thorns. But it's only a means to an end, our eyes are on a more distant horizon. The Bible has a functional value. Pilgrims don't worship the ground they walk on en route (at least most don't), they strive to reach toward something that lies beyond. If you actually reach your pilgrim destination you're likely to be hugely disappointed. Forgive me dragging Luther into this again ("unhand me Schwein!") but think about his disillusionment upon finally reaching Rome ("I went with onions and returned with garlic.") This option shares many of the same problems as the second, but at least affirms that 'honesty is the best policy'.

And no, none of these options will satisfy most true believers. But there's no going back. 2 Peter is a junk epistle, worthless for proof texting, dubious for devotional purposes, our own little Book of Mormon within the Good Book. A junk epistle? Strong words maybe, but again, it was Luther who called James "an epistle of straw". Again, nice to have the precedent.

Are we dealing with intentional fiction? That's surely flattering the situation. Jonah, on the other hand, is a different genre of literature, and unlikely to have been written with duplicitous intent. It's hard to be as forgiving when we get to 2 Peter. We may be stuck with it, but we don't have to like it, lie about it or deny that a problem exists.


  1. There would be those who think that it is all intentional fiction...I would be one of those.

  2. Maybe the Vogons at the end of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy after being shot by the Point of View Gun by the depressed robot, Marvin, had a point:

    "I feel so depressed, what's the point of going on!"

    "Marvin you saved us!"

    "Wretched, isn't it!"

  3. Well, you know, without II Peter, the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia would be seriously crippled. For example:

    1) 2 Peter 1:19 "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed" -- great for 'proving' that you are the one true church because you have better prophecy (a more sure word of prophecy); of course, that's rubbish;

    2) 2 Peter 1:20 "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." -- which means that you MUST not 'interpret' Scripture for understanding prophecy because this Scripture establishes the AUTHORITY of the ministry; of course, that's rubbish;

    3) 2 Peter 2:1-2 "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." -- which means that OUR prophecy is true and accurate and it PROVES that everybody else brings those damned heresies which means that the way of truth is evil spoken of; which is rubbish, especially since there is such a history of failed prophecies based on British Israelism which makes Armstrongism a laughingstock;

    4) 2 Peter 2:10 "But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities." -- which means you better not say anything bad about the cult leaders and ministers of Satan's church, because that means you are selfwilled and presumptuous; of course, that's rubbish;

    5) 2 Peter 2:22 "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." -- which proves that anyone who disagrees with the cult leader is a dog and a pig, not considering what an Apostle that commits incest with his daughter for the first 10 years of his 'ministry' is;

    6) 2 Peter 3:3-4 "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." -- especially when the prophesied coming of Christ doesn't happen at the time the cult leader tells everyone it will, you know, like, oh, I don't know, 1975 in Prophecy?

    7) 2 Peter 3:8 [Here it comes...] "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." -- which is THE justification for the 6,000 year plan and that wondrous timeframe for prophecies which keeps failing.

    Finally, 2 Peter 3:17 "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness." -- you know, like being led away with the error of the wicked who quote a spurious forged book of the Bible.