Friday, January 3, 2014

Paul Williams and "the Big Seven" - Part Two

We continue looking at the “Big Seven” reasons why PW thinks Jesus is not God according to Mark’s Gospel and how there “has been a development in the way Jesus is presented in the pages of the New Testament.” Here is big reason number two:

2) Jesus is unable to work miracles in his own town (Mark 6:1, 5)
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him….And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
But in Matthew’s redaction of Mark in [sic] we read,
And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’ And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:57-58
In other words, he ‘could not’ is changed to he ‘did not’ – inability to act becomes a decision not to act. The incapacity is removed and Jesus‘ status is accordingly enhanced. (Italics and Bold emphasis original)

According to PW, Matthew’s wording is not simply different or tidier than Mark’s; rather, Matthew changed Mark’s wording. Like the other arguments PW makes, this one assumes MP/2D, which PW has yet to prove or even so much as argue for. If this theory is wrong, then the argument for Christological “enhancement” fails.

But let’s assume MP/2D is true. Is it necessary to conclude from this that the difference in wording amounts to a difference in meaning between the two accounts? If it is not necessary, and if there is another meaning available that is consistent with the context and at the same time amenable to Matthew's account, then the argument fails on this score as well.

What then does the phrase “he could do no deed of power there” in Mark mean? There are at least two possibilities: 1) it could mean what PW assumes and wants to be the case, namely that Jesus did not have the ability to perform a miracle; or 2) it could mean that Jesus did not have the moral will to do so.

Consider the following two examples:

1) PW could not lift the 100lb. barbell.

2) I could not murder a cartoonist for “blaspheming” Muhammad.

In the case of (1), “could not” refers to ability. In the case of (2), “could not” refers to willingness. I maintain that this second sense is closer to Mark's meaning. 

In other words, when it says that Jesus could do no miracle [ouk edounato] there, it does not mean that he could not because He lacked the power and authority to do so, but that he could not because He lacked the moral will to do so in the face of unbelief. This idiomatic way of speaking was common to the Jews. For example: one of the angels told Lot that he could not destroy the city until he flees (Genesis 19:22), when of course what he meant is that it was contrary to his mission for him to do so; and when Joseph’s brother’s observed that their father loved Joseph more than them, it says “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Genesis 37:4),” which means that they were unwilling to do so rather than that they lacked the physical ability to do so; and finally, we read of a time “when the Lord could no longer endure your wicked actions and the detestable things you did” (Jeremiah 44:42), which means that it was contrary to His holy will to do so.

An example of this manner of speaking in the New Testament is found in Luke 14:20 where a man reportedly says: “I have a married wife, and therefore I cannot [ou dounami] come.” Of course, the man was not saying he does not have the power to come, but that he does not have the will to do so given what he falsely took to be higher obligations to his wife over the Messiah.

And so, rather than seeing Matthew contradicting Mark, on this understanding Matthew is simply clarifying and complementing what is implicit in the Markan context. Because the people by and large lacked faith, Jesus couldn’t do many mighty miracles there because He would not reward their unbelief. In fact, that is why the verse immediately following this statement in Mark says: “And He wondered/marveled at their unbelief.” Hence, the reason He could not turns not on a lack of power on the part of Jesus but a lack of faith on the part of the people in His hometown. As it is written in the book of Hebrews: “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

This is the judgment of many eminent commentators and exegetes throughout the ages.

He could do no mighty works there, not because of His weakness, but because of their unbelief. He does not do any mighty works there, to spare them lest it be to their greater condemnation that they do not believe even when they have witnessed miracles. But in another sense, the working of miracles requires both the power of the one who works them and the faith of those who receive them. There in that city, because those in need of healing lacked the necessary faith, it was not possible for Jesus to work any signs. Theophylact, The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, Volume II in the series: BL. Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament (House Springs, Missouri: Chysostom Press, [11c.], 1993), p. 49-50.

…he could not perform these miracles because, under these circumstances of unbelief and opposition, he did not want to do them. Instead of asserting his almighty power to suppress the people’s rebellious stand, he respected their own responsibility for their attitudes and actions. William Hendrickson, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1975), p. 224.

This cannot literally mean that he had lost the power of working miracles in consequence of their rejecting him, but must be taken either in a moral sense, that he could not do so in consistency with the design and purpose of his mission, or more strictly that he could not for the want of opportunity, because the people, having no faith in his healing power, or disdaining to receive the favours of one whom they knew so well and were so unwilling to acknowledge as superior, did not present themselves as in other places. J. A. Alexander, A Commentary on Mark, A Geneva Series Commentary (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, [1858], 1984), p. 146.

It was not, of course, that he did not have the power to do more miracles than he did at Nazareth. The inability was related to the moral situation. In the climate of unbelief he chose not to exercise his miraculous power. One of the great emphases of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus performs his miracles in response to faith. Walter Wessel, Mark, EBC, Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984), p. 666.

The reason for the inability appears in 6:6a, the unbelief of his friends and family. This means that Jesus does not come as a magician or miracle worker who dazzles his audience with works of power that compel belief (see 15:32: “come down from the cross that we may see and believe”). It does mean that where there is no openness to the power of God (6:2) or where that power becomes a stumbling block to preconceptions the “mighty work” as an invitation to deeper faith and discipleship cannot take place. John R. Donahue, S.J., and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2002), pp. 185-186.

The notice that Jesus was not able to do any mighty works, except he healed a few sick people by the laying on of hands (6:5) is shocking after the many miracles, exorcisms, and healings reported in the previous chapters; it underlines the connection between faith and access to the power of God in Mark (cf. 2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36; 9:23-24; 10:52; 11:22-24); as 6:6a observes, he marveled on account of their unbelief. Mary Ann Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 100.

Jesus’ miracles were not raw displays of power or attempts to entertain people. Instead, they represented the inbreaking of the kingdom of God, which itself is entered/accessed by faith. For people who did not believe in Jesus, no miracle could be expected. Such signs were not offered to wicked and adulterous people. To them the kingdom and its benefits are closed.

As the above demonstrates, PW's interpretation is hardly necessary. The immediate and broader context of Mark 6:1-6 shows that Jesus "could not" do many miracles there in the sense that He would not because they had no faith. And this is exactly what Matthew says. So PW's argument here rests on a string of assumptions, the first and most critical of which is unproven, and the second of which is unnecessary and a-contextual. 


Anonymous said...

‘Unbelief’ in Mark 6:1, 5 and Matthew 13:57-58 would mean WILFUL unbelief. They chose not to take Jesus at His word and rejected what He stood for regardless of any miracles that He could have performed.

Hence, “and He was amazed at their unbelief”, that is, the height and depth of their foolish arrogance.

There is nothing God can do here because, for example, even though it is God’s will that all men be saved...

Who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:4

...He still does not force anyone to believe/accept his word of truth.

The reason for this wilful unbelief/rejection of that which is known to be the saving truth is explained in John 3:19

“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

Tom said...

I cannot believe this clown, is claiming to be an ex-Christian, When another basic he is not aware of!! Throughout Jesus's Ministry, believe in who He is, would "energise" Him to the Love & Grace!
So Sad, muslims truely miss out so, so much on The Grace of Our Father.

Ken said...

MP/2D = ??

MP = Markan Priority = Mark was written first

what does 2D mean?

David Kemball-Cook said...

Yes, what does MP/2D mean?

Nakdimon said...

Not only what Anthony said, but consider the absurdity of the logic of PW in this regard.

Since it was GOD doing the miracles through Jesus, it would mean that it wasnt Jesus that was powerless to do the miracles, but that inability to do miracles because of the unbelief of the people was actually GOD's, not of Jesus! So this argument of PW doesnt show Jesus as being powerless, but The Father Himself, which would mean that PW's argument demonstrates that either the Father isnt God, or that Jesus wasnt a true messenger, because God didnt work through him when he made efforts to heal people, but failed because of their belief.

Anthony Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Rogers said...

MP = Markan Priority, the idea that Mark was written first.

2D = Two Document hypothesis, the idea that Matthew and Luke used Mark and "Q" when crafting their accounts.

This is only one of many different theories about the order the Gospels were written in and the relationship in which they stand to one another. Paul takes for granted the view he thinks allows him to discredit the gospels. As I have shown, not only has he arbitrarily assumed a particular hypothesis, but even on his assumption his arguments don't work.

Here is an article that got all this kick-started where I show just how badly PW applies his own method.

David Kemball-Cook said...

Yes, thanks Anthony. I had just figured out what 2D means when I saw your reply. Personally I think the Q hypothesis is unnecessary and unsubstantiated. After all nobody has ever found a copy (surely one should have been found by now?) Much more likely that Luke used both Mark and Matthew. That would explain the common 'Q' verses without a hypothetical Q behind them. Inference to the best explanation I think

Radical Moderate said...

Tom Wrote...

"I cannot believe this clown, is claiming to be an ex-Christian"

My Response

Tom slight correction. Paul Williams claims to have been a "FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST"

Since he is asking dumb questions like this, evidently he was not a verry good "Fundamentalist Christian Apologist" and it looks like nothing has changed since he became a Liberal Fundamentalist Muslim Apologist"

Anonymous said...

Well, guys, I have published a 5000 word rebuttal of Paul Williams over at my newly established blog. If Anthony Rogers can check it out, that would be sweet!