Saturday, January 26, 2013

Errant Falsely So Called: A Case in Point

I thought I would bring up a big "error" in Scripture to communicate my point about presuppositions, humility when it comes to dealing with God's Word and our limited understanding of how to put things together, and the foolishness of labeling what we believe to be God's Word as erroneous when we are both finite and sinful.

So I submit to you Zechariah the son of Jehoiada who seems to be identified as Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo by Jesus in Matthew 23:35. Yet, these two Zechariah's are, at the very least, over a century apart. The Zechariah in the book that bears that name is said to prophesy during the eighth year of Darius' reign, whereas the Zechariah in Chronicles is killed long before the exile.

What are the options here for the inerrantist? I'll list them below and you can tell me if I missed one.

1.  Either Jesus or Matthew was in error in identifying the correct Zechariah. If Matthew recorded Jesus' words on this detail correctly, Jesus was in error on the technical detail. If Matthew forgot, or did not know, what Jesus literally said, i.e., which Zechariah he identified, it was Matthew's error.

2. Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, was also killed in the temple area, since he was the son of a priest, like the other Zechariah, and that is where one would find and kill him.

3. There is a Zechariah, some have suggested even John the Baptist's father, who was literally murdered, likely by plotting his assassination, by the scribes and Pharisees themselves. Much is made of the fact that the "who YOU killed" evidences that Christ is putting all of the blood of their fathers on them precisely because they murdered a prophet as their fathers did and will now murder Christ as well. The second person address in Matthew always refers to the contemporary audience in front of the speaker. Of course, this may just mean that Christ is putting the blame on them of his death and assigning the actions of their fathers to them, but this is disputable. The name is so common it may have been held by numerous people. It appears to identify 29 different people in the Old Testament alone (Meyers and Meyers 1987: 91), not even considering the New Testament, and that's only a fraction of the amount of people that likely hold that name as their own.

4. The two Zechariah's are identified as one in Jewish tradition (see Targum Lamentations) and so Jesus or Matthew merely uses that tradition, much like citing a fictional story to communicate a real idea, in order to set up the merism and accuse the scribes and Pharisees of being guilty with their fathers of every murdered prophet in the Hebrew Bible. This is not an endorsement of the tradition as true, but rather a use of the tradition in order to communicate His point (the actual teaching He's conveying--that those who agree and identify themselves with the wicked who killed the prophets are one with them in their sin).

 5. The two Zechariahs are not two at all, but one and the same person.

Targum Lamentations reads:
"You killed Zechariah son of Iddo, the High Priest and faithful prophet in the Temple of the
LORD on the Day of Atonement because he told you not to do evil before the LORD" (Targum Lamentations).

Scholars generally agree that this is a reference to Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada in Chronicles, but this too has a couple of possibilities for us. First, it may be that Zechariah, the (grand)son of Iddo was also killed in the temple court (after all, he is of a priestly line, and if he was prophesying against the people and received a typical response, it is in and around the temple court that one would likely find him).
Second, even if the above is not the case, this text does show us that there is some Jewish tradition that believes the two Zechariahs were either killed the same way, or that they are one and the same person. If this is true, Matthew might be referencing this tradition. This would not make what he is saying an "error" then, as one cannot be in error for referencing the ideas of the people in order to communicate, via their language games, a particular point that has nothing to do with identifying Zechariah.

But I would submit another question from a technical standpoint and ask, "Why were the two blended together in Jewish tradition and by Jesus in Matthew in the first place? They obviously are years apart if we take both texts literally to be speaking of historical figures in their literal settings.
And, like many things, of course, the problem is in the question itself. Who ever said that the Book of Zechariah was a literal book? It's not even really a prophetic book, as it is often labeled. Have you ever read Zechariah? It's an apocalyptic book, and apocalyptic books use history and historical figures very figuratively to communicate their theological and ethical points.

What I'm saying here is that the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles and the Zechariah is being used as the main figure in a figurative apocalyptic book, much like Daniel, Enoch, Peter, etc. are used, being real historical figures, as the main characters in a book that is clearly not written by them nor is it really about them or their lives. Instead, the genre of apocalyptic serves the function of a "cloaked commentary on contemporary times" veiled under the figures and events of the past. Daniel is not really about Nebuchadnezzar, whose persona is blended with Nabonidus in the book, but a veiled message concerning Antiochus IV and how such a ruler should respond in humility to God and His people. Daniel functions in the first half of the book like the angel in apocalyptic literature does, and as the angel does in the second half of the book. He is the guide to strange visions, who interprets for the inquirer what God is saying through the imagery.

It may be that some apocalyptic is written by the figures who are presented within the book. I personally believe Ezekiel and John, who I believe is really the apostle John, are the authors/compilers of their own books. But my point is that such is not necessarily the case.

Hence, it may very well be that the tradition that Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, read through Hellenistic eyes as "Iddo" (an easy step when one considers that there is no "h" represented by a radical in Greek and that the vowels of names are often changed to meet contemporary pronunciation), is Zechariah in the Book of Zechariah, a tradition found in Second Temple Judaism and in the Gospel of Matthew, is due to the fact that the two are the same person. The one setting being historical and the other apocalyptic that takes history, and much like an abstract painting, turns it into a piece of art meant to communicate ideas. As such, it not only is not concerned about recording a literal history, but goes out of its way to blend history together under the veil of different historical events and settings.

Ergo, it is likely that the two Zechariahs are not two different people, but one and the same.

Now, the problem with this interpretation would be trying to figure out whether there was another Zechariah in real history around the time of the rebuilding of the temple who was conflated with the earlier one in the Book of Zechariah, as apocalyptic material is almost never historically reliable and often conflates people together. It does seem like this may have occurred, as there does seem to be a historical Zechariah mentioned by Ezra as well. Of course, if those mentions of Haggai and Zechariah in Ezra are later interpolations, which they may be, it may be that the author of the interpolation has simply taken the individual used in the Book of Zechariah as a literal prophet during that time when he may not have been (note also that he is only called the "son of Iddo" there and does carry the name "son of Berechiah").
It may also be that the author of the book conflates the two historical persons together, and from them, creates his message. Daniel, in the book that bears his name, is likely a conflation of Daniel in Canaanite tradition (seen, for instance, in the Ugaritic story of Daniel) and the biblical Daniel in the apocalyptic book of Ezekiel (14:14, 20; 28:3); but he may also be a real historical Daniel who lived during the exile as well all rolled into one.

In any case, however one answers the issue, automatically concluding that the Bible is in error is neither logical nor what I would consider very scholarly, as it doesn't seek to research the possibilities before concluding such based upon one's presuppositions.
Obviously, presuppositions on the other side may motivate inerrantists to find out what's going on without punting to the claim that the text is erroneous, but this makes them more inclined toward research than the supposedly more academically inclined scholar who just assumes an error and moves on.

Now, as I've said, it may be that Matthew was in error, and Luke, who uses him as a source for his own Gospel, according to traditional synoptic thinking, does not repeat the error by identifying the specific Zechariah to which he is referring (remember that 2 Chronicles appears at the end of the Hebrew Bible, and since Jesus starts with Abel and ends with Zechariah, He is likely referring to the Zechariah at the end of 2 Chronicles in order to make the merism complete and encompass all of the martyrs of the Old Testament).

Of course, if you believe the Griesbach Hypothesis, then you believe Luke comes first and it is Matthew who purposely melds them together as a single person. It could be that he forgot what Jesus said in terms of the details (again, the authors don't need to be omniscient--the Holy Spirit is merely with them to convey what He wishes to teach them accurately (i.e., inerrant truth) through the error-laden knowledge and language of the human author and readers. Matthew can make mistakes in the details. As Luther once said of an Gospel author's identification of one prophesy belonging to another prophet as something Jeremiah said, its of no consequence whether the author erred, since it doesn't affect the teaching.

However, notice, in all of this, the only way to identify the Scripture itself as being in error is to either assume that Jesus or Matthew intends to teach everyone that Zechariah the son of Berechiah is Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, and that this identification is incorrect; or that, even though this is not the intended point that is being taught (which it clearly is not) that language must be omniscient in all that it assumes and states if it is to convey any possibility of an inerrant truth. This, of course, is absolutely absurd. What it really says is that God has to make the author, the reader, and therefore, the language itself into omniscient deity in order for it to communicate truth accurately. Nonsense.

I argued before that we use inaccuracies in language all the time. Our language is often filled up with inaccurate ideas of science, history, social misunderstandings, etc. Yet, we use these, even if we are aware of the inaccuracies (in fact, often times even when both speaker and listener are aware of them) in order to communicate accurately to one another. We make accommodations for finite language and the finite people with whom we speak.

Hence, it is nonsensical to declare an error here because language is not omniscient. Even Jesus isn't accessing His omniscience on earth according to His own words. So inerrancy is not required to suppose that Matthew, the language Scripture uses, or even Jesus Himself while on earth accesses omniscience. Instead, what inerrancy requires is that what is being conveyed, i.e., the point being made, using error-laden language, is true, in this case reflecting accurately what the judgment of God upon those (i.e., the scribes and Pharisees) who join hands with the wicked (i.e., those who killed the prophets).

Hence, concluding that the Scripture is errant based upon such an understanding is to misidentify an error used in communication (whether believed to be true by the author or not) with the content of what is being communicated. Errancy, in this case, then, is a category error.

In short, to paint the Scripture as errant because of things like this is not only non-academic in terms of its conclusions, as it employs horrible reasoning to argue its case, it's also non-academic in terms of its laziness in doing research in order to investigate the matter before it comes to its conclusions. The default position of an errantist is to conclude that it's simply Scripture making an error, but that is neither a display of good research skills, logic, or a consistency with his claim that the Bible is still the Word of God.

But which presupposition you hold onto will largely determine what path you take in answering the question of the discrepancy. My only point here is that there may be a lot more going on than we realize and merely passing something off as error speaks more to the beliefs of the person than it does to pursuing what the text might actually be saying. 

1 comment:

  1. A very fine piece of deep-level argumentation. Kudos Bryan!