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Summing up the Internal Evidence
By: Erick Nelson
Last Updated: Monday May 24, 2004
We have seen that attempting to use passages within the gospels as evidence of intent, relative to the MG Theory, is problematic. However, we can find a set of meta-gospel statements: statements about the meaning and intent of the gospel stories.
Affirming the MG Theory
Surprisingly, there is not one meta-gospel statement that directly affirms the MG theory or even implies it.
The limited amount of indirect evidence cited - contradictions, theory intersection, Paul's view of the resurrection - have been, I contend, shown to be based on fallacies.
Opposing the MGTheory
There are eight passages, or sets of passages, that seem to provide the sharpest evidence regarding the theory, with clear and unequivocal statements refuting it.
Can we find statements in the gospels that sum up what the author is trying to do, especially in regard to the MG question? Many companies and project have "mission statements": carefully crafted, succinct descriptions of their purpose and goals. This is, of course, the most direct and most obvious meta-gospel statement of all. Yes, this is provided in Luke's prologue. Luke claims that he investigated the gospel stories thoroughly, going back to the eyewitnesses, put them together in an orderly fashion in order to tell what really happened. He uses the literary form typical of historiography.
Matthew's Editorial Asides
Are there statements where the author makes comments directly to the reader? Certainly, there are places where gospel writers explain traditions, customs, and Aramaic phrases. Do they also say anything about the factuality of the stories; or do they caution us against interpreting things too literally? At Matthew tells the story of bribing the guards to say the disciples stole the body, the author steps out of the narrative and says that this explanation - that the disciples stole the body - was current even at that time. The implication, of course, is that a literal empty tomb was part of the gospel message.
John's Eyewitness Claim
The Fourth Gospel appears to present the 'literal' deity and resurrection of Jesus. It explicitly claims to be the work of, or at the very least based on the work of, an eyewitness - the beloved disciple.
Paul's Statement of the Deity of Jesus
Paul is, of course, the primary commentator about the application of the gospel message to our lives, and of the theological meaning of the gospel. Does he explain what is meant by the deity of Christ? In Philippians, both universally acknowledged to be from Paul himself, he describes the deity of Jesus clearly and succinctly. He certainly does not follow the MG interpretation.
Paul's Statement of the Resurrection of Jesus
Does Paul take a stand on the corporeality of the resurrection? In 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Romans, again universally acknowledged to be from Paul himself, he describes the resurrection of Jesus directly and in detail; he even answers follow-up questions. He most certainly describes a transformation of the physical body
Resurrection and Fulfilled Prophecy in the Acts Kerygma
While not specifically meta-gospel statements, there may be places where the relationship between stories or passages makes more sense when viewed either through the lens of the MG theory or the traditional view. There are several scenes in Acts where the gospel is being defined and articulated by the apostles. It is logical to assume that these speeches might be used to make the meaning of the gospel clearer. Do the apostles present a metaphorical gospel, or do they appear to present the opposite? The kernel of the kerygma, we can see, is the very claim of the physical resurrection, and the argument from fulfilled prophecy.
Deutero-Epistles - Myth vs. Fact
1 Timothy, 2 Peter, and 1 John (often called 'deutero-epistles' because it is thought by some scholars that they were composed by followers of Paul, Peter, and John rather than the apostles themselves) specifically and consciously attempt to refute the 'myth' view of the gospels with eyewitness claims. They stress the point that these are not cunningly devised stories, but are events that took place in the real world. It appears the authors were opposing 'false teachers' (in their view) who taught a form of the MG theory.
Deutero-Epistles - Jesus vs. Christ
One might think that the 'Historical Jesus' vs. the 'Christ of Faith' was a modern invention (or discovery, if you accept that view); however, in reality this is an ancient distinction. In a sense, the MG view is correct - there were teachers in the first century who separated 'Jesus' and 'the Christ'; but they were, according to 1 John, false teachers.
As we look for meta-gospel indications, we find a consistent thread affirming the "factuality" of the issues in question (as I define at the beginning of this work) and expressly denying the Metaphorical Gospel Theory.
I have resisted the temptation to follow three fruitful lines of approach: (a) appeal to the 'ring of truth' of the gospel accounts, judging by their form that they are to be understood factually; (b) use narrative criticism to determine the matter; (c) appeal to world-class scholars such as N.T. Wright and/or use his arguments.
Instead, I have pursued the 'meta-gospel' approach, in part so the non-specialist reader can see for him/herself what the evidence is, and can wrestle with the implications. Meta-gospel statements give us a unique perspective on the stories, a perspective that comes from outside the stories themselves.
The gospel writers occasionally preface their narratives, or interrupt them, to let us know what they mean. The epistle writers come right out and explain what they mean by certain theological statements. And the preaching of the gospel itself is represented as being "factual" at its core. All the relevant evidence convergences in one direction.
According to the internal evidence, the MG Theory is demonstrably false.