This is the second and hopefully last installment in a rebuttal of Dan Barker. Barker’s Easter Challenge was taken up by Pastor Stephen Kingsley, and Barker issued forth a 70 page answer. Here is my review of Kingsley’s ‘Answer.’ Here is my first reply to Barker’s rebuttal. You are reading my second. Barker has not, to my knowledge, publicly released his rebuttal. If he ever does, I will link to it.
Barker’s response could have easily been slimmed down to 5 to 10 pages, easily. It is filled with inaccuracies, diversions, and tangents. The main objection is not easy to pick out against all of the background, but we can sum it up I think this way:
Pastor Kingsley achieves his harmonization by breaking up Matthew 28:1-8 in a way that is unsustainable given Matthew’s use of time. On this basis we can see that Matthew 28:1-8 “is a discrete, unbreakable element of Matthew’s story.”
There is an obvious flaw in this objection. Namely, Barker is asking for a plausible harmonization, which by definition requires a blending of the four Gospels, but setting himself up as the judge, jury, and executioner, as far as how and when a portion from one book can be spliced between the passages of another book. Barker consistently says that one can indeed do such splicing and just as consistently rejects any and every attempt. Why should we accept that Matthew 28:1-8 is a ‘discrete, unbreakable element’? Because Barker says so, that’s why.
I am not calling for slicing and dicing regardless of ‘common sense.’ When I look at Matthew 28:1-8 I see several places where there could be room between the clauses. For example, I see no time marker that requires dismissing any notion of time between verse 1 and 2. In fact, to me, 2-4 seem more like a ‘discrete element’ to me. Another place would be within verse 8, on the plausible possibility that the disciples were actually scattered throughout the region and couldn’t all be reached within a short period of time.
Barker writes as though in 1st century palestine it was a simple matter to hop into a car and drive out to Peter’s place while dialing up John on the cell phone to let him know. Barker insists that we take Matthew on Matthew’s terms alone (sort of throwing cold water on notions of harmonization) and if we did that we’d see that Matthew tells us nothing of the disciple’s locations. If one reasonably supposed that each disciple was sleeping in their own place, than one plausibly suppose that the women are going to have to track down 11 different people in 11 different locations. Or, they were all together- the text of Matthew is silent on the point, which means that there could be all sorts of time, or little at all, bundled into verse 8 alone.
For that matter, beginning in verse 1, one can plausibly suppose that the women had their own homes, too, and weren’t all necessarily traveling together. Indeed, they may have arrived at different times coming from different directions. And how much time does it walk through a city bloated to the brim on account of the Passover? Again, there could be plenty of time involved here, but Barker will allow nothing of the sort. Matthew 28:1-8 is a discrete unit. The events described in it must have hit on each other BAM BAM BAM BAM.
Barker pins this analysis on the use of time in Matthew’s account and in doing so proves exactly the opposite. Barker is insistent that the whole story happened in successive sequence, all with the narrative goal to get the disciples to Galilee forthwith so that they can finally see Jesus (for the first time). So for example, he contends that in verse 16 where it says, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee” this happened that very day. I mean, how ambiguous is ‘then,’ right?
But this just proves CS Lewis’s statement that if you can’t read books written for grownups, you shouldn’t talk about them. Before I lay bare the tremendous silliness of this supposition, let’s get Barker’s words out here for all to see:
And finally, the disciples (who by now most certainly got the message) do as they were told: “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:16) Notice that although there is a time marker here, it is relative. Matthew didn’t say, “Jesus told his disciples to meet him in Galilee and on the sixth hour of the second day of the third week after that, they went up there to meet him.” Matthew says “Then.” This is clearly right away, not days or weeks later.
If you doubt this (I’m sure you do, based on what you wrote), then back up and look at Matthew’s whole story, in context. He uses the word “Galilee” four times: Galilee, Galilee, Galilee, Galilee—Jesus said it to the disciples, the angel said it to the women, Jesus said it to the women, then the disciples went to Galilee to meet Jesus. Ignoring, for the moment, what any of the other writers may have written, we have to determine what Matthew meant to say: the appearance of Jesus to his disciples in Galilee was the first post-mortem appearance. Anyone who is reading Matthew, and Matthew alone, can come to no other conclusion. If that is not what really happened—if Galilee was not the first appearance—then Matthew has grossly deceived his readers. (emphasis mine)
Grossly deceived? Or perhaps Matthew could never have envisioned a scenario where a reader would not only be ignorant of the geography of Palestine but wouldn’t stop to think looking at a map might be wise. Let’s do that now.
Here is a very large map if the one I’ve provided doesn’t do it for you. What I want you to notice is that Jerusalem is in the south, nearer to the Dead Sea, while Nazareth in Galilea, is in the north, nearer to the Sea of Galilee. Just spit balling it on the distance here, we’re talking about 80 to 100 miles (we are not told where in Galilee).
On Barker’s reckoning, they went up to Galilee that very day, or if we are being charitable, maybe the next day. He said: “This is clearly right away, not days or weeks later.”
I would just like to ask my reader how fast they think they could make 80 miles if they had only their feet. Let us remind ourselves that the disciples would not have been able to hop onto a plane, or grab a train, or even bike. Let us remember that they were in Jerusalem with their families, for the Passover. Let us remember that hundreds of thousands of God fearing Jews had been doing the same thing and now were also on their way home. Let us remember that these people are not making their way through the crowds on nice Interstate high ways, but on mountain paths and on roads that are nothing like the roads we’ve come to think of. Then I ask you again, how long do you think it would take you to make 80ish miles?
Could you do it today? Could you do it by tomorrow? Could you do it in three days? You may be nodding at that one- but what if you had to wait up for your wife and kids, your parents and in-laws, your brothers and sisters and their kids, etc, etc? I will tell you what, if I had to travel on foot with my bundle of kids it would take me a solid month or more to make 80 miles!
So, what to make of vs. 16 and the immediacy suggested by ‘Then’? Anyone with any common sense and the ability to read a map will see right off that it can’t be as sudden as it sounds. Probably, since Matthew we are told was writing for Jews, it would have been unnecessary to spell out the logistical realities involved here. The original audience wouldn’t have dreamed of interpreting ‘Matthew’s Story’ as though the disciples pulled up stakes that day and immediately began the trek to Galilee, making it in a day or so.
But see now what has happened. Instead of Matthew’s narrative suggesting a series of events all happening one on top of the other, common sense and a little research shows that in one place where he uses an ‘immediate’ time marker, he’s really passing over 2-4 weeks in time. If Matthew is willing hasten over a great deal of time at the end of the chapter, what about at the beginning?
In short, we take Barker’s statement:
Look at [Matthew’s] habit. He’s telling us a story, and he has been careful to follow a style not only in the material before 28:1–8, but also in the material that immediately follows. We must conclude, based on what (and how) he has been communicating to the readers, that there is no temporal break in those verses. (pg 25, emph mine)
and must come to the opposite conclusion for the same reason he gives. The material that immediately follows shows Matthew sprinting past whole weeks with the brief marker ‘Then.’ It shows the opposite of what Barker says. Not only can we not say that there is no temporal break in those verses, plain reason requires us to acknowledge that there is a huge temporal break involved here. And if he uses that narrative device at the end, why not at the beginning? Right? That’s Barker’s reasoning, not mine.
In conclusion, while we need not suppose that there were weeks between the leaving of the women to tend to Jesus’ body and the earthquake, we need not suppose either that there was ‘no temporal break.’ One might even infer that Matthew is pretty much indifferent to time and sequence altogether. Maybe 28:2-4 are a parenthetical. Or, maybe they happened at the exact same time the women left for the tomb, and understanding that the women probably had a 30 minute walk in front of them, maybe it actually happened exactly how it is listed. There are all sorts of plausible possibilities here.
Notice that I have not sought to argue for Kingsley’s proposed harmonization here. Even if I debunk Barker on this point it is still possible that Kingsley didn’t nail it. But we must remember that the challenge demanded only plausibility. It is not too much to ask that the one authoring the challenge shouldn’t in turn issue his own implausibilities in his attempt to paint Kingsley’s (or other’s) attempt as implausible. To help make the point, I hereby issue this challenge:
If Dan Barker can set out on foot from Madison to a point that has reasonably been determined to be equal to the distance between Jerusalem and ‘the mountain’ in Galilee, and arrive no later than the second day (for the third day would be ‘days’ and Barker insisted it was not ‘days later.’ I am being generous giving him even the second day), I will withdraw my argument. I will partially withdraw my argument if he can do it on horseback. I will generously allow him to travel alone, which, though probably not at all how it happened at the time, is a plausible possibility.
Name the day, Mr. Barker.