Squaring Up and Squaring Off

It’s not everyday that I get to respond to a response to one of my posts, so it’s something of a treat to see how someone else who has some of the same background and some of the same education both understands and interprets your work.

I was pleasantly surprised to open Twitter and see that the Tweet that announced the post had been liked and was commented on by one of those that I mentioned in the post, that being Amateur Exegete (AE).

I also truly appreciate the fact that he took the time to read it and I sincerely appreciate his critique and I hope that it is something that can develop into a more or less cordial and professional relationship. I actually enjoy reading his blog and find it interesting and would recommend it as an example of someone who can be critical but isn’t prone to some of the nonsense that other atheists are prone to. However, I think that there’s some problems with his actual critique that need to be addressed because of certain things that he sees as being “fundamentally flawed,” and them’s fightin’ words.

First, credit where credit is due: AE does do a commendable job in representing and restating my overall argument. In referring to my approach to the matter as “novel” and that there is a considerable amount of agreement; however, he finds that, “it is nevertheless problematic throughout.”

AE writes,

“Twice in his piece, Triggerman asserts that Markan priority entails Luke’s usage of Mark and Matthew. This, however, conflates Markan priority with a hypothesis built upon the foundation of Markan priority.

The question is, did I though? He continues,

“As a solution to the Synoptic Problem, Markan priority asserts 1) that of the three Synoptic Gospels to have been written, Mark’s was the first, and 2) that both the Matthean and Lukan authors utilized the Markan Gospel as a source….Regardless of their order, Mark’s Gospel has chronological priority.

Now, I have an entire post, which I linked to in the piece, about the inherent problems of Markan priority in which I write,

“One […] cannot help but notice a measure of circular reasoning when it comes to [Markan priority]. The assumption is not to think that the source of the information is from the authors themselves, as they experienced Christ, but from another source. The very methods of analyzing these documents, makes certain assumptions.

I just have to assume, given the speed at which AE produced his critique (3 days?), that he didn’t take time to go read it. I must concede that perhaps I was not clear in my presentation. I recognize that there are multiple, often competing hypotheses in textual criticism and since I tend to aim my content toward more of a lay audience, I will sometimes gloss over what is really a subject that often has a measure of nuance. Further, as Gary Derickson has noted,“[Holding] to Markan priority raises problems since it necessarily assumes that Matthew,”—and by logical extension Luke—, “used and consciously modified Mark’s account for his own theological purposes.(p95)” So that’s why, I think that AE is simply confused by what I mean. So, I guess that I should explain my exact position on the issue. You see, I’m a supplementarian when it comes to the matter of the “synoptic problem”.

What that means is that the standard is not a particular way reading of the gospels that makes one the standard. Rather the standard becomes what is in common between them. That means that order, length, manner of presentation, and even language, are left to the discretion of the writer. The differences are in anything that the authors choose to supplement to the common core of the gospel as being necessary for the message that they intend to convey to their immediate audience in their immediate context, and the original audience seems to be something most advocates of Markan priority seem to forget about.

This position is articulated very well on the popular level by J.Warner Wallace in his book Cold Case Christianity, even though he accepts the premise of Mark being the first gospel to enter circulation, in spite of the fact that we generally find that it’s not necessarily the earliest or most popular (Luke and John seem to hold those respective distinctions). Now, I’m sure that if AE is reading this, he certainly rolled his eyes at the mention of Wallace, who he doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for, but what is at issue here is the issue of supplementarianism and a good example of it on an accessible level, and not whether a particular person is seen as an authority on the subject.

AE gives a concise explanation of what is known as the Two Source Hypothesis and the Farrer hypothesis, neither of which I find necessarily compelling simply because they assume what hasn’t been proven. I subsume both of these—as well as any alleged prior materials—and simply call them by “Markan priority”. It’s based upon this that I think that AE assumes what he does when he writes, and takes us to the second issue,

“It is upon the Farrer Hypothesis, then, that Triggerman argues Luke is redacting the Matthean account of Judas’ demise. The argument seems to be that if Luke has Matthew before him with its pericope of Judas’ death by hanging, then the description found in v.18 cannot be literal.

If the supplementarian position is true, then Luke is free to cast events in poetic language. And I use that word intentionally because poetic language is free to use metaphor to describe factual events in explicit terms without having to use literal language. It’s why Luke can refer to being “fallen,” in v18, using a Hellenized form of of the Latin word pronos, and couple it with a verbal adjective that can be understood in the sense of something being revealed or becoming known rather than the literal Greek verb (pipto) that is normally translated “to fall”. (1) It also explains the invoking of graphic imagery by use of a word that is normally used in the New Testament to refer to the seat of man’s affections rather than a person’s internal organs.

Lastly, is the alleged issue of “competing etiologies” on which AE writes,

“In Matthew, the explanation for the name is that it was on account of the blood money (Matthew 27:6) with which it was purchased that it was designated “the Field of Blood.” The Lukan narrative o”ers a di”erent explanation: “This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood” (Acts 1:19)

What AE misses, possibly due to an assumption of literalism, is that Matthew spends considerably more time text-wise on Judas’ interaction and with the priests than Luke does (even more than Mark or John), and that, possibly Luke, knowing that he was going to write two works and—because of the supplementarian recognition of the larger gospel tradition, which is informed by the larger apostolic experience an preaching—that meant that he wasn’t going to spend time traveling over ground that was unnecessary to his intentions.(2) So he summarizes the event into one sentence, which he nested in a speech—a habit both of Greco-Roman literary rhetoric and normal speech—and anchors it in the Aramaic language before providing a translation. So when AE writes,

“In context, it is the information shared in v.18, namely that Judas, “falling headlong…burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” In other words, it wasn’t simply the “Field of Blood” but the “Bloody Field” on account of Judas’ gruesome death.

that one must realize that it’s only by assuming a literal reading of v18–not to mention a competitive view of the gospels as opposed to a complementarian view which is assumed by supplementarians—, does v19 come a into conflict with Matthew. However, if Luke is being poetic or figurative in his summary, what Luke means by something “becoming known to the people of Jerusalem”, involves the larger context of Judas’ fall from his position as one of the twelve—the larger context of Peter’s speech—and becomes dependent upon Matthew’s telling of Judas’ interaction with the priests and their actions to explain what Luke actually means. Luke seems to recognize that his audience knows that there is more information out there. But at this particular moment in his narrative he’s interested in the replacement of Judas more than the specific facts surrounding his demise. Thus, when AE says,

“We thus have two competing etiologies for “Field of Blood.” Triggerman has already conceded that the Lukan etiology of v.19 “seems to be a historical reflection” and it is this concession that makes his view on v.18 so problematic.

it actually does just the opposite because the immediate setting of the passage is just weeks after Judas’ actions, whereas the interjected reflection is years after, hence making it a “reflection”.

In conclusion, what it all boils down to, as in so many of these discussions, is what one is assuming when engaging with the text. If one is assuming some kind of brutish and fundamentalist-type literalism, coupled with the dominant, scholarly view of the text, then it will affect how one reads the text. And in the same way, a nuanced, multivalent, context-centered reading of the text will affect how one reads the text. Which one is right? I would argue that it’s the one that treats the text with conscientiousness and not contentiousness. AE will probably simply dismiss my reading of the text in a generous manner as being in line with my commitment to inerrancy, and that’s okay. I dismiss his reading as being a result of unbelief, even though he wants to color it with a shade of scholarship. I can be open and honest and consistent in my presuppositions. I don’t get to feign neutrality in dealing with the text. Anyway, there’s much more that can be said on this text, and I may revisit it at a later time.


1. See the excerpt from Albert Barnes Commentary here on the use of Latin in the passage.

2. This point is extremely relevant due to the high context nature of the culture. Most critics, and even conservative commentators, seem oblivious to the immediate cultural expectations and the fact that there would likely be considerable knowledge of the larger events present in the atmosphere.