A MetaDebata With MetaCatholic

Doug Chaplin has come out with arguments against my previous post titled "Christmas Tradition Vs. Scripture, Pt. 2". Though Doug's comments on non-biblical not being the same as unbiblical are thought provoking, I am wholly unconvinced by the rest of his argument. Here is the last paragraph (you can read the column in full, here), which I will argue against in this post:

"Non-biblical is not the same as unbiblical. Anyone who wants to protest at the cave tradition in order to maintain the integrity of the canonical narratives, will need first to make up their mind which narrative to maintain. If you can’t have a cave, then you must also choose between shepherds versus Magi, or a journey to Bethlehem versus a flight into Egypt. Or you can expound both narratives with integrity, still delight in an overarching Christmas narrative, adore the Christ-child through a typical crib scene, and bring the whole into a creative interaction."

Doug's traditional approach is useful on one front: it allows each of the authors to have their say and to get across their agenda. However, there are some problems with this approach too. Doug, in my opinion, is wrong that in order to maintain the integrity of the narratives, one must choose which narrative they will use. Clearly, Doug fears the word harmonization. Now, I'm not calling for another Diatessaron but it is not unthinkable that the Gospel writers' stories at some points, should not harmonize. Doug seems to forget that they used one another's works (in what order, as we know, is debatable). If we follow the minimialistic approach that Doug uses, to its logical conclusions, we end up with a number of different Jesuses, a number of different Christ's crucified and resurrected, etc. We no longer just have four perspectives on the same event but four different events in and of themselves. It is amazing to me, then, that Mr. Chaplin can spend an entire article saying what he does and then end with the comment about an ovearching narrative. If he is consistent, he will not mean the overarching narrative of all of the writers but the overarching narrative of each writer, which again, causes all sorts of problems. In my estimation, there has to be an overarching narrative between the Gospel writers and this narrative presupposes the same Jesus to whom numerous events happened to. In other words, while Mt. and Lk. have some nuances in their birth stories, they are speaking about the same Jesus and telling different portions of the events surrounding the birth of that Jesus. I do not follow Chaplin, Crossan, Borg or any of the minimalists here who argue that each writer simply crafted or made these events up solely for theological purposes.

Therefore, I do think that there is some harmonization that happens between the two Gospels that have birth narratives. I think that these were actual historical events that happened to Jesus, not just good, theological tales. And because they're dealing with the same person there must be some harmonization that inherently just, well, happens (again, these writers used one another's works). Where Mr. Chaplin goes terribly wrong is when he not only detaches the Gospel writers and their stories from one another but when he assumes that one must do this to maintain the integrity of the stories. This is backwards. I submit that the way to maintain the integrity of the stories is to let them both speak on their own terms but to also let them have their respective places in the overarching narrative of Christ's birth. And lest we buy into the idea that this was all made up (I do hold that these stories were told with theological purposes in mind!), let us hold to the "fact" Jesus was truly born and that above all, the Gospel writers told the stories as they each make clear, so that people would believe.

Oh, and before I forget, I should say that if the cave legacy does exist, one must choose between the Gospel stories, as Doug concludes. A little knowledge of Luke and Matthew's Greek (which I'm sure Doug is capable of understanding or may already be familiar with) shows clearly that the Jesus family stayed in the front room of a multi-roomed house. I will say more on this in my next post but for now, it goes without saying that the Gospel writers never hint that Jesus was rejected by a hotel owner or born in a cave. More on this later. And Doug, if I seemed harsh in this post, please forgive me. I'm only challenging your thoughts, not railing against you.


  1. it is not unthinkable that the Gospel writers' stories at some points, should not harmonize. Doug seems to forget that they used one another's works


    The issue concerns the attempted 'harmonization' of Matthew and Luke. But only a small minority claims that there is dependence between Matthew and Luke. Most would agree that the two are independent.

    But what makes your statement quite nonsensical is that it is quite impossible for Matthew and Luke to have "used one another's works". Dependence can't work both ways between the final texts of Matthew and Luke!

  2. "it is not unthinkable that the Gospel writers' stories at some points, should not harmonize"

    ... and, getting rid of your unwieldy double negative, you conveyed the following:

    "it is feasible ["not unthinkable"] that the Gospels should not harmonize"

    Did you intend to convey this meaning?

  3. deane,

    you say, "only a small minority claims that there is dependence between matthew and luke. most would agree that the two are independent."

    This statement is quite biased and needs some picking apart. First, it is just not true. mroe than a small minority claim that there is dependence between mt. and lk. What your statement reveals is that 1. you've been listening to some prof. who's said this and you took it for granted or 2. you've been reading books that have this view. the fact is, only in the last couple of hundred years has the markan priority argument been so significant (via German scholarship). Yet, before this period, all through it (e.g. Farrer, Greisbach, etc.) and up to now, large portions of scholarship have held the dependence view! perhaps you should look into the history of the debate more. besides to use the term "majority" any time in biblical studies is quite misleading. i've learned that when people say that they're usually referring to the majority of books they've read!

    second, you say, "But what makes your statement quite nonsensical is that it is quite impossible for Matthew and Luke to have "used one another's works". Dependence can't work both ways between the final texts of Matthew and Luke!" You misread this. I wasn't saying mt. and lk. used each other. my view is that, as i've expounded on a few times on pisteuomen, mt. was first, lk. used mt. and mk. used mt. and lk. and lest you think i'm just old fashioned or whatever, you should read the church fathers because this is what they believed. anyways, when i said the gospel writers used each other's works, that's what i meant.

    next, you talk about my "double negative" you may be right here but for never having visited pisteuomen and to make the kind of comments you're making is quite rude. moreover, to scour someone's blog for personal grammar is quite naive. i'm sure i could find many grammar mistakes on your page.

    what i meant was that it is not unthinkable that the gospel writers stories harmonize at certain points, not least because they used each other's works (mt. to lk. and mk from lk and mt). thus, the reader should expect harmony at some points. finally, and with that said, we should also expect that they diverge at various points and do not harmonize. this can be attributed to a number of things: each author's perspective, each author's audience, each authories own stories (e.g. mk 6 and mk 8 contain two stories not used in other works), each author's motives, etc. so, at some points they harmonize and other points there is little to no harmonization. that is what i meant.

    deane, i hope you continue reading pisteuomen but i also hope that you can debate with a bit more civility. perhaps i've read you with a tone you did not intend, if so, that's my fault and i apologize, if not, i would ask you to please change your tone.

    thanks for your comments, please come back and engage me some more. --michael

  4. deane,

    i just noticed that you spelled "couple of" wrong on your blog (e.g. cuppla). oh, that unwieldy word.

    by the way, you have so many presuppositions in your latest post that it would take weeks to respond to them all (e.g. invention post). i will abstain from that as i do not have the time to reply.