Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 4


My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So far in Chapter Six:

  • Daniel’s sister Lacey visited the class so that Jeffries could ask her what she remembered about the skateboard.
  • Jeffries asked her a few questions and proceeded to ignore her completely in favour of starting this week’s apologetics lesson.
  • Lacey clearly knows more about the skateboard than she’s letting on, but this went unexplored in this chapter as Jeffries, as usual, considers apologetics more important than actually teaching cadet-related stuff.
  • I suspect Lacey herself of being the mysterious former owner, but we have not yet been told whether this is the case or not.
  • Jeffries is claiming that a report of someone else’s report counts as an eyewitness statement. I’m fairly sure it doesn’t.
  • Jeffries believes we have good evidence that gMark (the gospel according to Mark) was written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter.

So far in background information:

And now… Jeffries is going to explain to us/the cadets what his evidence is for gMark having been written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter! Yay! This is the bit I’ve been looking forward to.

Because I was genuinely interested in this part, I did quite a lot more background reading than I usually do for these posts. After reading the CCCFK chapter, I went on to read the corresponding section in Cold Case Christianity (which, as you probably either know or can work out, is Wallace’s original ‘how to use police methods to investigate Christianity’ book and is aimed at adults) in order to get Wallace’s full argument. Then, I found an online Bible site where it was possible to get the whole of each gospel on one page, searched each gospel in turn for mentions of Peter under either of his names, made a list of all sections in each gospel that mention Peter, drew up a comparison table of the different Peter-mentioning stories in each gospel, and used my copy of Gospel Parallels (all right, all right, my parents’ copy that I borrowed in my teens-and-twenties phase of investigating Christianity and never gave back) to read and compare the different versions of the stories in each of the synoptic gospels, using an online Bible site to read the corresponding stories in gJohn. Sometimes you just gotta let your geek flag fly.

I wish I could say I’d reached some deeply profound conclusion as a result of all this, but I didn’t (I’m not counting the conclusion that I spend far too much time on trivia; I knew that long ago). Still, it was interesting.

(A quick note: Wallace, of course, refers to the author of this gospel as Mark all the way through this section. Since the entire point of this particular discussion topic is that we don’t know who the author is, this is technically somewhat question-begging. However, to be fair, it’s also more convenient, so I will do the same thing. If the author’s name was not in fact Mark, then my apologies to him, whoever he was.)

The explanation in CCCFK consists of a list of five points, followed up by Jeffries giving a short explanation of each (plus doing more whiteboard-drawing to illustrate each point; on this occasion his drawings included a calculator and a microphone, which struck me as a bit incongruous, but in fairness I suppose they’re just meant as symbols).

The list of points Jeffries gives in CCCFK is:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

The corresponding CCC list contains one extra point, which is:

Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’.

OK… let’s work through.

Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel.

Jeffries’ explanation in CCCFK is ‘Mark’s gospel mentions Peter a lot more than Matthew’s gospel’. This, unfortunately, isn’t accurate even according to Wallace’s info; in CCC, I learned that gMatthew actually mentions Peter three times more than gMark does. What Wallace means is that gMark mentions Peter proportionately more, once you take the shorter length into account. I’m pretty sure Wallace’s inaccurate statement in CCCFK was an inadvertent result of his attempts to simplify the argument to child level rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead his child readers, but it’s a bit sloppy.

I also can’t help feeling Wallace has given himself a bit of a problem here, as far as gospel authorship is concerned. If the proportionately greater number of mentions of Peter in gMark compared to gMatthew did mean that Mark was likely to have known Peter personally, wouldn’t the flip side of that be that the author of gMatthew was less likely to have known Peter personally? And wouldn’t that then cause problems with the traditional Church teaching that gMatthew was written by the apostle Matthew, who would have known Peter very well indeed? Wallace seems to be coming up with an argument in favour of traditional Markan authorship that effectively stands against traditional Matthean authorship. Not sure you thought that one all the way through, Wallace.

Anyway… looking at the argument Wallace is aiming for here (that Mark mentions Peter proportionately more often for the length), how well does it stand up as evidence for Markan authorship?

I don’t think it does. The extra material included in Matthew compared to Mark largely consists of a) the nativity/infancy narrative, b) the Sermon on the Mount, c) the long ‘scribes and Pharisees’ rant, and d) a short description of resurrection appearances. (If I’ve missed any major bits I should have included on that list, do let me know.) Peter obviously wouldn’t be expected to get a mention in Jesus’s nativity story, and there’s no obvious reason why he would get mentioned in a sermon Jesus is giving to multitudes or in a rant against another group of people. We could reasonably expect him to get a mention in the resurrection appearances (as he does in both Luke and John), but then, that whole argument leaves us with the awkward question of why Mark doesn’t mention the resurrection experiences at all, so that doesn’t really help Wallace’s case here.

In short, Mark doesn’t seem to be mentioning Peter disproportionately more than would be expected considering the material he and Matthew are covering. (In fact, I found several places where another gospel mentions Peter yet the equivalent passage in Mark doesn’t, or Mark leaves that story out entirely.)

 

Mark writes about Peter as a friend

The phrasing, again, is a product of Wallace’s attempt to simplify this for children; in CCC, this point is phrased as ‘Mark identified Peter with the most familiarity’. The CCCFK phrasing struck me as a bit ironic, because Mark actually doesn’t write about Peter ‘as a friend’; the entire gospel is narrated dispassionately in third person, with no direct statement or suggestion at all that Mark knew Peter.

The point Wallace is actually trying to make here is that Mark only ever uses one of Peter’s names (‘Simon’ or ‘Peter’) rather than calling him Simon Peter in full. He’s the only gospel writer who doesn’t use the name in full at any point; Wallace contrasts him with John, who, apparently, uses ‘Simon Peter’ seventeen times. From another quick wordsearch, I confirmed that Matthew and Luke do indeed each use the term ‘Simon Peter’ once, so Wallace is technically correct in saying that Mark is the only one never to use it. Given how often both Matthew and Luke use single names for Peter, I didn’t find that particularly significant; it seems both of them were also quite happy to refer to him by his first name. In fact, that’s the way people generally were referred to in those times, since surnames weren’t widely used at that time.

Interestingly, another problem with Wallace’s argument here is that he seems once again to be shooting himself in the foot. If the use of just ‘Peter’ rather than ‘Simon Peter’ is an important indicator that the author knew Peter well, then, conversely, the author of John would seem to be the one who knew Peter least well, since he uses the full name far more often than any of the other three. Yet, of course, Church tradition – and Wallace’s belief – has it that the author of this gospel is none other than the apostle John. John was an apostle together with Peter and a pillar of the early church together with him and James after Jesus’s death; they spent most of their adult lives together as companions and workmates. John would have known Peter even better and more closely than one of his followers. If Wallace’s argument about naming actually does hold water, wouldn’t that mean that he’s just given us a good reason to believe that the gospel of John wasn’t written by John?

 

Mark treats Peter kindly

Wallace’s claim here is that Mark ‘seldom says anything unkind about Peter’ even when writing about his mistakes. In CCC, Wallace gives examples of this:

  • In the account of Jesus walking on water, Mark does not include Peter’s failed attempt at doing the same or Jesus’s consequent description of him as a doubter/a man of little faith.
  • Mark doesn’t include the story of the miraculous catch of fish, which portrays Peter as doubtful of Jesus.
  • There are incidents (not specified by Wallace) where other gospels attribute some awkward question or statement to Peter but where Mark doesn’t give an attribution.
  • In the account of Peter declaring that Jesus’s death would never occur, the ‘most edited and least embarrassing’ version occurs in Mark.

This claim, I couldn’t help but notice, contradicts what Church father Papias has to say about Mark’s gospel; Papias states that Mark ‘took especial care not to omit anything that he had heard’ in writing his account of Peter’s teachings. Does Wallace really want to claim that Papias is wrong? Since this same quote from Papias is our earliest claim about the authorship of Mark’s gospel, that could have unfortunate implications for his argument.

Anyway, more to the point… Mark also includes the story of Peter being unable to stay awake to watch with Jesus and getting rebuked for it, the triple denial, and the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ scene. I’m really not convinced that Mark’s tried particularly hard to avoid showing Peter in a poor light.

 

Mark shares little things that only Peter would know

The corresponding claim in CCC is milder; rather than claiming that only Peter could have known these details, CCC says that the details ‘point to Peter’s involvement in the shaping of the text’. Examples are:

  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter (Simon) and the other disciples went looking for Jesus when he was praying on his own.
  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter was the one who commented on the withered fig tree.
  • Mark was the one who named the specific disciples who asked Jesus when the destruction he was predicting would happen
  • In the account of Jesus visiting Capernaum, Mark writes that the people heard Jesus had ‘come home’ even though Capernaum wasn’t Jesus’s home. Wallace points out that it was Peter’s home, so Peter might well have described Jesus’s visit there thus.

The last point is a really good one; I hadn’t noticed that comment in Mark, and it is pretty odd. So, yes, that could point towards a story that came originally from Peter.

The others are not actually that impressive in context; when I read through the different accounts together, I noticed that each of the gospels seem to mention Peter in some context where the others don’t. gMatthew names Peter as the disciple who asks about the handwashing parable.  gLuke names Peter a few times; in the scene with the woman with persistent bleeding he’s the one who expresses surprise that Jesus asks who touched him, in the scene where Jesus tells the parable of the thief in the night Peter is the one who asks whether this is for them or for everyone, and in the scene where Jesus asks the disciples to talk to a man to get the Passover meal ready Peter is named as one of the two disciples sent. Luke and John both include Peter finding the empty tomb. gJohn has the ‘Feed my sheep’ scene. Did Mark choose to leave all these out? Or is it just that Peter, as the main disciple, was an obvious choice to refer to when a gospel author wanted to add a bit of verisimilitude to the tale? Either way, the mentions in gMark don’t seem particularly convincing as a sign of the author having known Peter.

 

Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

What this means, apparently, is that neither Mark nor Peter includes the birth narratives or ‘other details of Jesus’s private life that are found in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels’ (Wallace doesn’t specify here which ones). Which could mean that Mark got his story from Peter, or could mean that, at the time Mark was writing, the extra details hadn’t been added to the tradition yet.

 

Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’

This, Wallace explains, means that Peter is both the first and the last disciple mentioned in the text of Mark’s gospel, which Wallace states to be an example of ‘inclusio’. Inclusio is, apparently, a literary device used often in the Bible in which a particular phrase or theme is echoed at the beginning and end of a section in order to emphasise the section. I’m not sure this particular example counts as inclusio, since technically it’s neither a phrase nor a theme (there’s no particular similarity between the first mention of Peter and the last mention of Peter). I do think it fair to say that those mentions are one of the indications that the author wanted to emphasise Peter as a significant character – and, of course, Peter is a significant character in all four of the gospels – but it’s really a bit of a stretch to say that this indicates he got his information from Peter.

 

So, that’s the list. Bottom line… This analysis had the benefit of being something new in apologetics, which does not happen all that often. However, most of the points Wallace presents here as evidence don’t really hold up, and the overall level of evidence does not stack up well against the reasons for doubting traditional Markan authorship.

And that’s the end of Chapter Six (which I have reached just barely in time to avoid another tiresome round of footnoting the initial blurb with a ‘Katie is actually now X+1 years old even though she was X when I reviewed this chapter with her’ update).

One final point, from me; Remember Lacey’s evidence, guys? The witness statement that Jeffries completely dropped so that he could give his apologetics talk for the day? Well, we’re now up against an interesting question; did Jeffries come back to that statement at all in this session, or is he leaving it until the next session? Leaving it the way he did was bad enough, but leaving it for an entire week would be even worse. Everyone’s memories of it will be pretty fuzzy by then, and either they won’t have Lacey there to check any follow-up questions with her or Lacey will have to make an extra trip back to the police station because Jeffries didn’t have the courtesy to get her part of things wrapped up while she was actually there. And, since Wallace has so far stuck to the one-session-per-chapter format, it seems extremely likely that this is indeed meant to be the end of the session.

However, the book doesn’t specifically say this to be the end of the session, so we have a Schroedinger’s Ending situation; it is technically possible that Chapter Seven will be a continuation of the same session. So, Jeffries, you get the benefit of the doubt for a little longer on this point. We’ll find out in the next chapter.

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