Sunday 29 April 2012

New Testament canon — a boat that must not be rocked

Craig L. Blomberg continues his exposition of scriptural arbitrariness with "What Should We Think About the Coptic Gospel of Thomas?" — chapter 48 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God.

The answer appears to be, "Whatever you'd like to think." Again Blomberg demonstrates the circularity of deciding what is or is not canonical. The Gospel of Thomas is taken to be "true" where it exhibits a measure of agreement with the so-called canonical gospels, and contentious where it disagrees. This inevitably makes the Gospel of Thomas not much use to anybody, because if it's only true where it agrees with the other gospels, and false otherwise, it doesn't add anything. If biblical scholars have already made up their minds, why should they give any attention to something that contradicts what they already know? This is the very essence of confirmation-bias and cherry-picking. It's as if the scholars know what the story in the New Testament is supposed to say, and therefore anything that doesn't agree with that story is excluded. If you cut out the stuff you disagree with, you will by definition be left with things you agree with. This is scholarship? Whatever else it might achieve, this doesn't inspire confidence in the Bible as a historical document.

The Bible says some outlandish things, to be sure. It may have been merely politic, therefore, to reject Thomas as a gospel that might push the entire collection over the edge of credibility:
Thomas, or Gnosticism more generally, can at first glance appear more "enlightened" from a modern (or postmodern) perspective than parts of the New Testament. But if one is going to accept a Gnostic world view, one has to take all of it. And the final saying of this enigmatic Gospel has Peter telling Jesus and the other disciples, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus replies, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Modern appropriations of Thomas seldom incorporate this perspective! Indeed, Thomas can appear superior to the canonical Gospels only by highly selective usage of its teachings. Despite what some may claim, it does not open any significant window into first-century Christian history and origins, only into its later corruption.
At the very least, I can't see that running well with the "women bishops" faction.