Titles of Psalms (2)

Part two of Stephen Cook’s analysis of Hebrew superscripts and postscripts. It should be noted that none of the ‘outcomes’ of these analyses materially changes any fundamental doctrine, instead it exposes in part the process of translating and interpreting the text. Also, how the text came to future generations is fascinating.

A significant problem confronting Christians today is reading the bible anachronistically as somehow it was written to us. It was certainly written for us in a sense and being able to distinguish relevant portions in application constitutes much of our task in “trying to find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5.10).

source: Titles of Psalms (2)

The Generic Use of “Adam”: Humanity

In the early chapters of the book of Genesis it uses “Adam” to refer to ‘humanity’: When humankind [Adam] began to multiply on the face of the earth (NET Gen. 6.1). This then is what people are: Adamites. Acts 17.26 records Paul address to Greek philosophers at Athens where he claims this same idea of the unity of all people: and he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (ESV).

Sometimes a person will say they never asked to be born or that they had nothing to do with Adam’s sin, and that God should deal with them apart from other’s failures (Adam’s). But this is not the case in point. The bible teaches that we participated with Adam in the fall in Rom. 5.12: So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned. The verb “sinned” is aorist in the Koine Greek indicating point-in-time action. So all of humanity at the same time participated with Adam in his fall. A similar concept is found in Heb. 7.9-10:   And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s body when Melchizedek met him. The writer of Hebrews affirms action of Levi before he was born: paying tithes! This is how we are to count our situation now since the bible clearly presents humanities’ predicament as prior action while either genetically participating, or as the ancestor (Adam) as representative for the whole. In theology this study is called the Headship of Adam with the two major views: natural (genetic) and Federal (representative).

My view is that the sin was actual and not representative. To me this takes Rom. 5.12 normally which mentions nothing of putting forth a representative but attributes the fall to everyone. This view is also harmonious with the concept of Levi paying tithes before he was born. The remedy of course is the second and last “Adam” (Jesus):  So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living person”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven. Like the one made of dust, so too are those made of dust, and like the one from heaven, so too those who are heavenly. And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven (NET 1 Cor. 15.45-49).

Will the Return of Jesus be “Soon” or “Sudden”?

The last chapter of Revelation records Jesus saying three times that His return will be with “quickness” (tachu). This is the best translation of this Greek word to English. The angel also says those things revealed to John and Jesus’ servants will happen “quickly” (vs.6). The angel uses the same stem of the Greek word: takei.

The Greek word tachu is used only 12 times in the New Testament and every time the best rendering to English is “quickly” or “suddenly.” The English word tachometer indicates an instrument measuring speed and is derived from this Greek term. So the three repeated statements in the last chapter of the bible is telling us the nature of His return: it will be speedily when He does return. The second advent will be sudden and not gradual.

The disciples asked the resurrected Christ when He will restore The Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1.7). Jesus clearly told them that the timing was not theirs to know but was solely the prerogative of the Father. So, the Patmos vision given to John in Rev. 22 did not change this mystery. It is still the Father’s prerogative to set the duration of the age. Jesus will return the second time to save His people and he will do it suddenly and without delay when the time is right. He was not telling John that the return will happen shortly time-wise.

So those who mock the bible and think Jesus promised to return “soon” and now a long time has passed, they think he was wrong, mock in ignorance. Jesus, as clear as possible, said His return would be suddenly and dramatic (and universal from other statements). Yes, many early Christians thought Jesus would return in their lifetimes but they were mistaken more probably from enthusiasm than what the text said.

Counting the Cost

Dr. Cone exposes the duplicity of the argument that ‘the end justifies the means’ in the abortion debate. Using the analogy of the benefits Hitler provided Germany is correct and insightful.

During the fiscal years of 2009-2014 alone, Planned Parenthood performed 1,650,024 abortions.[1] In the same five years, Planned Parenthood provided more than twice as many breast exams (3,254,136)[2] as abortions – along with a host of other services related especially to women’s health. From their website, Planned Parenthood claims to be “one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, and the nation’s largest provider of sex education.” The group also claims that only “Three percent of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion services.”[3]   Even if one disagrees with how some of the non-abortion services are structured (as I do), it is inarguable that there are people who are benefitting from some services Planned Parenthood provides. The recent efforts of undercover videographers raise questions regarding whether or not young human beings are being carved up – even while alive – so that their various parts can be harvested for research. That research will presumably benefit many, but at what cost? Are we willing to look past some benefits to see atrocities for what they are?   It is well documented that Hitler greatly reduced unemployment in Germany in the early 1930’s. Though his methods were highly problematic, he benefitted many in Germany, and in large part that benefit he provided was the credibility seedling he needed in order to garner the nearly monolithic public support he had built by the time he plunged Germany into war. Yet history largely remembers Hitler for his atrocities, not for any beneficial policies he might have had (perhaps in large part because even those beneficial policies were grounded on atrocities themselves). At that time, the general populace was not willing to look past the benefits to see the atrocities.   Why are we humans so susceptible to the placation of our consciences through small benefits?   Planned Parenthood cites “real expert” R. Alta Charo, as saying “By using the public’s unfamiliarity with the history and realities of fetal tissue research as a back door for attacking Planned Parenthood, abortion opponents have added millions of people to the collateral damage of the abortion wars. This attack represents a betrayal of the people whose lives could be saved by the research and a violation of that most fundamental duty of medicine and health policy, the duty of care.”[4]   Charo suggests that the public’s unfamiliarity with the process of how fetal tissue research is gathered is being used against Planned Parenthood. Essentially it is an admission that the public is not yet calloused to those methods because those methods are new to public view. It is not lost on this reader that Charo’s comment acknowledges a concern for the wellbeing of some human life, but assumes a willingness to destroy other human lives with cold disregard in order to achieve that. How can “the duty of care” for some be engaged over the corpses of others who are being sacrificed in the name of that same care? This distorted view of the value of life is subjective based on the perspective of the valuer, and does not evidence any recognition that individual human lives have value.   Planned Parenthood also highlights in bold Charo’s comment that “Virtually every person in this country has benefited from research using fetal tissue.” Even if the claim were true, the implication is that the end justifies the means. Charo’s is an outcome based, utilitarian argument. That sort of subjective ethic would gladly sacrifice you if such a sacrifice contributed to the greater good. In this system, individual human life has no quantifiably objective value.   And that is the deep-seated problem that undergirds and facilitates the atrocities of abortion and Planned Parenthood’s (in these apparent cases) associated callousness regarding the way those abortions are conducted and how the bodies of these young humans are apparently being handled: as a society we fail to recognize why every life matters.   What Makes Human Life Special?   An organism exists at conception that did not exist before conception. In the case of human conception, at the point of conception, that organism has human DNA. Further, with natural, proper nurture, that organism will be born, and continue to develop after its birth into a biologically (at least) mature human being.   Even in the exceptional cases of monozygotic twins and tetragametic chimera (from a chimeric embryo), the organism(s) that immediately result from the conception process are distinctly human. One might argue that at the moment of conception there is no guarantee how many human lives have actually begun, but it is clear that human life has indeed begun. This is not mere potential for human life – it is by definition, fully human, and it is life.   But why does the distinctness of this new organism’s DNA, for example, grant this new living thing unique moral status? If, after all, a sperm and an egg are living things on their own, then why do they not each separately have their own protected status? In short, what makes fully human life so special, even if it is not yet fully developed with all the features it will have when mature?   That a child is not as fully developed as an adult does not make the child any less human. Even if one argues that life’s beginning is not associated directly with conception, such a one cannot look at the corpses of the slain “fetus” without awareness that what was distinctly human and alive is now broken and lifeless. Still, ultimately the primary question we have to resolve is not what particular stage of development must be achieved before the organism can be considered human, but rather what makes human life special at all.   The Bible answers the question directly. Humanity was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:17-29), and as a part of an ongoing covenant with every living thing on earth (Genesis 9:9-10), God demands that human life be treated with respect by all because He created them in His image and for a specific purpose (Genesis 9:5-7). All human life has value to Him, and as the Creator, He is the Ultimate Valuer, having the authority to make such value assessments and claims.   If we acknowledge the legitimacy of our Creator, we must acknowledge the legitimacy of His value claims. If God is the Creator of humanity, then the value of individual life is not arbitrary, but rather is determined by His purposes and revealed by His declarations. If we disregard Him, then we are – as Romans 1:18 and following verses describe – suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. That path is a dark one for human life, resulting in dishonor and lack of dignity (Romans 1:24-32). It is no surprise that such an outcome would result, but it is truly tragic.   The Bible’s clear presentation of the basis for the dignity of every individual human life begs us all to examine our own worldviews, to consider, upon what basis – if at all – should we value individual human life. How we answer that question will go a long way in determining how we understand and respond to the heartbreaking scenarios playing out before us with regard to abortion and the research being done with slain babies’ corpses. – See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2015/09/03/planned-parenthood-issues-symptomatic-of-deep-seated-problem/#sthash.Hm7LMds2.dpuf

The Inherent Weakness of Reformed Theology

Christopher Cone is incisive in his critique of Reformed Thought. Cone has earned three doctorates and is a great communicator. While I do not hold to his Dispensationalism, I do affirm Pre-Millenialism which was held by the Primitive Church. I, along with Cone, hold that authority is found in the Bible alone instead of the church development (“historic theology” in the article) of the Reformation and Roman Catholic Church of which Reformed Theology wants to find connection. God does build His Church but this is apart of any organizational or institutional inputs. Here I refer to the statement of Jesus in Mt. 16.17b-18a: “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The antecedent to “rock” is the revelation from the Father which Peter received and not Peter himself.

The Roman Catholic position on this verse is that there is a word play in the Aramaic that Jesus was speaking. They claim that Peter (petros) becomes the rock (Petra), and so a human institutionalism is created, with the church built on Peter (and his successors). So the Roman Church says that grace is dispensed from their institution instead of the risen Christ of which the scriptures affirm. This is an argument from silence as the text, which is inspired (see 2Tim.3.16, 2Pet.1.21) was recorded in Koine Greek. No, the entire scriptures affirm salvation is from God alone now mediated by Christ alone and apart from any institutional agency. Reformed Theology want to merely reform Roman Catholicism instead of finding authority solely in God and His word.

Two Deficiencies of Reformed Epistemology:  A Brief Commendation and Critique of Cornelius Van Til’s Epistemology

Here is why I argue that reformed epistemology isn’t sufficient on its own, and that dispensational epistemology must be distinct from it:Cornelius Van Til is brilliant on what I would call the first three pillars of Biblical epistemology (#1: Biblical God exists, #2: He has revealed himself authoritatively, #3: Natural man’s incapacity to receive), but his epistemology falls short in that he does not account for hermeneutics (Pillar #4) within his epistemology. In fact, in his Th.M thesis, “Reformed Epistemology,” he never once even discusses Biblical interpretation. Much of his critique of other thinkers, like Kant, includes considerable discussion of their deficiencies in the interpretation of experience, but not a word about interpretation of Scripture. Not one. How can Van Til build such an outstanding foundational framework on special revelation and then totally ignore the centrality of hermeneutic method for understanding that revelation?

VanTil-teachingYou see, it all has to do with where one places hermeneutics: I consider Biblical hermeneutics as an absolutely necessary component of epistemology. Hermeneutics falls within the realm of epistemology. Van Til does not seem to share that conviction, even though he critiques the hermeneutics of others’ bases of authority (i.e., experience) within an epistemological context.

Still, while not considering hermeneutics an integral part of epistemology, he does give hermeneutics attention elsewhere. In his The New Hermeneutic, for example, Van Til concludes, with these words, “…we would appeal to the Cahier’s men, to Wiersinga and to others, to build their hermeneutical procedures on the theology of Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, etc., (emphasis mine) and then in terms of it to challenge all men to repentance and faith in the self-identifying Christ of Scripture instead of making compromise with unbelief” (pp. 180). Notice his prescribed hermeneutical procedures are grounded in historical theology, rather than literal grammatical-historical. In short, Van Til is marvelously consistent in his epistemological method until he arrives at the hermeneutic component. At that point his writing shows, in my estimation, two deficiencies: (1) he does not grant hermeneutics its proper and necessary place in epistemology, and (2) when he does consider hermeneutics, he prescribes historical theology as the orthodox hermeneutic, rather than literal grammatical-historical – an unfortunate contradiction of his own expertly stated first principles.

The Biblical epistemological model does not share these two deficiencies, and leads me to consider that while Van Til is outstanding up to a point, we cannot simply adopt his reformed epistemology without ourselves walking more consistently down the reformed path.

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2014/04/28/two-deficiencies-of-reformed-epistemology-a-brief-commendation-and-critique-of-cornelius-van-tils-epistemology/#sthash.YIeJEveN.dpuf

Contra Universalism (All Will Eventually Go to Heaven)

Here is an article by Dr. C. Cone which explains clearly the lie of Satan with the resultant death of all humanity in Adam. Jesus described Satan in this same way in John 8.44b: 

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

While it is important to speak against the error of Universalism, another error is found oppositely in Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) of the wicked. In another post I will further expand the bible’s teaching on Conditional Immortality, or Conditionalism. This is the view of Edward Fudge in The Fire that Consumes.

The doctrine (ECT of the wicked) by its nature, has been neglected by theologians probably because the theologians themselves were not stakeholders of this judgment, and so, left it to philosophical ideas instead of biblical truth. Unfortunately, many doctrinal statements affirm ECT and with theologians having to toe institutional lines, cannot disclose their true stance for fear of their livelihood. I say this because from reading the exegesis and exposition these theologians affirm that immortality is something that was promised and not inherent in the human condition (see 2Tim. 1.10). Also, in 1Tim. 6.16 Paul gives his amen to that only God is immortal: He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.

The wicked will be punished commensurate with their sin in hell and then be no more, this is the second death. Let us now consider Dr. Cone against Universalism:

Hell No?

Satan’s encounter with Eve in the Garden is fascinating and very important for us to understand. His temptation of Eve, recorded in Genesis 3, represents several firsts:


It is the first instance of an epistemological alternative to God’s design. Satan offers to Eve a different way to have God-like knowledge. Satan argues that God is actually deceiving Eve into ignorance by keeping her from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan’s plan was both clear and appealing: Be like God by the assertion of your own will, and be free from God’s restrictive design. Declare your independence from God by doing it your own way – the result will be the same.

Satan’s temptation of Eve is also the first instance of a hermeneutic alternative to God’s design. Satan’s temptation of Eve was the first recorded instance of a non-literal interpretation of God’s word. Satan asks Eve, “Has God said…?” and then proceeds to distort what God had actually said (3:1). In contrast, Genesis 1-12 represents roughly 2,500 years of history, and during that time, of the roughly 31 references to God speaking, this is the only instance (besides Eve’s fumbling in response to Satan’s challenge) in which God’s word isn’t taken at face value.

These two firsts are hugely significant for how we think, how we know, and how we understand God’s word. But there is another important first: the dialogue between Satan and Eve represents the first denial of God’s judgment. In Genesis 2:17 God had warned Adam that if he ate the fruit from this particular tree (all the rest were permissible, but Adam was not allowed to eat from this one) in that day (Heb., b’yom) he would die. Well, we know the rest of the story: Adam and Eve ate, and Adam lived to be 930 years old before he died (Gen 5:5). Did God mean what he said, or was Satan actually right? According to Paul in Romans 5:12, through Adam death spread to all (Gr. pantes) men – even those who are still alive and have not yet experienced physical death. The death promised in Genesis 2:17 was not physical death – that was promised in Genesis 3:19 (“…to dust you shall return”). The death God promised Adam is the same death Paul described in Romans 5. The condition of that “spiritual death” is that we were enemies of God (5:10) who were condemned (5:18).

Satan simply and straightforwardly denies what God had promised: “You shall surely not die” (Gen 3:4), Satan said. But what happened? Romans 5 explains that all died “spiritually” (meaning they became enemies of God and were condemned), and Adam and Eve did indeed die physically, as God directly intervened to ensure that fate (Gen 3:22-24).

Through the years there have been echoes of Satan’s denial of God’s judgment – most recently by men such as Henry Emerson Fosdick and Rob Bell. These men deny God’s right to judge through the consequences of hell, because it is outside of their expectations for God’s character. The essential premise of these contemporary denials is simply that a “good” God could not possibly condemn a person forever. But we find many examples in Scripture where God makes judgments that just don’t generally match what we might tend to do. So we have a choice. We can argue that God must fit our own moral sentiments, or we can take Him at His word, and discover who He describes Himself to be.

Before presupposing (based on sentiment) that God shouldn’t have a hell, perhaps it would be better to avoid the Satanic temptation to deny God’s prerogative and promise to judge. God did promise death. Not only that, but He promised a second death – the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15, Gr. limne tou puros). This concept was first discussed in the final verse of Isaiah (66:24), and was later reiterated by Christ Himself in Mark 9:47-48 (where the Gr. gehenna is used).

Satan’s epistemology was a lie. The knowledge Eve gained by following it brought only death. Satan’s hermeneutic maneuver was a lie. It didn’t bring clarity to God’s word, instead it brought deception and confusion. Likewise, Satan’s prescribed personal eschatology – his claim about Eve’s future ­– was also a lie, and was disproven directly by God’s own actions. Satan’s lies are just as destructive today as they were then.

Of course the Biblical teaching of hell, death, judgment, and condemnation are awfully distasteful if we misunderstand God’s sovereign rights as the Creator – when we so disregard His holiness that we feel He has no right to make demands of that which He has created. But let’s look at things from God’s point of view (i.e., the view He revealed in Scripture) and we draw a different conclusion – a conclusion, by the way, He never asks us to like, but one He demands we understand.

In so doing, we can understand the great power of His grace, His love, His compassion. As Jesus said, “…he who is forgiven little loves little.” We need to realize of what great offenses we have been forgiven, and the kind of love with which we ought to respond, and what is really at stake in our lives and the lives of others.

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2014/10/30/hell-no/#sthash.9zsk4mrg.dpuf

Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Alex the Less:

This interview illumines many issues in biblical linguistics. I hope many will be helped from reading and studying this discussion.

Originally posted on With Meagre Powers:

Ken Penner talks about his recent research on Qumranic Hebrew—that very specific type of Hebrew that sits between the various styles of Biblical Hebrew and later Mishnaic Hebrew. This is one for the die hard Hebrew nerds.

The full interview can be found here:

Brian W. Davidson Interviews Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls — CACS.

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Disturb us Lord

Alex the Less:

great find by Walter Bright:

Originally posted on Walter Bright:

Disturb us, Lord, when We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love

Prayer by Sir Francis Drake

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Considering Adam, by Hans Madueme


Death of God by Poison

“Adam, where art thou?” The Lord’s rhetorical question in Eden is now the intense cry of incredulous Christians in a post-Darwinian world. Influential evangelicals are urging the church to jettison the doctrine of an original couple who fell into sin. Most believers in the world today would find this fact astonishing; they would never think to question that sin’s origin with Adam lies at the foundation of the entire biblical story (Gen 2-3). If you pressed them for scriptural support, they might invoke Adam’s integral role in the genealogies ofGen 1-11 and Luke 3:23-38, and in a biblical theology of marriage (Matt 19:1-11;Mark 10:1-9; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31); his existence is declared or implied throughout the canon (see Jack Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?[Crossway, 2011]). Without a historical Adam, most would think, we cannot make sense of original sin or the origin of evil, nor did any of the major branches of Christendom ever doubt the existence of Adam and Eve. That’s all just for starters.

But, for many, that Adamic edifice is collapsing. Two key reasons deserve mention. The first reason is scriptural interpretation, i.e., hermeneutics. Biblical scholars have experienced an explosion of growth in their understanding of the ancient Near Eastern contexts of the Old Testament; in turn that has led them to reinterpret the early chapters of Genesis (and other passages). The historical significance of Adam, as a result, is either radically diminished or entirely rejected. In denying Adam’s role in history, these scholars often make the distinction between biblical authority and hermeneutics: “We don’t deny the Bible’s reliability; we simply disagree with your interpretation of Gen 1-3, Rom 5, etc.” Properly understood, they insist, God’s Word no longer commits us to a historical Adam.

The second reason is the evidence from the natural sciences. For example, mainstream accounts from disciplines like paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, and population genetics leave no room for an original couple. People are thus left asking, is this our “Copernican” moment? If we keep defending Adam, don’t we risk becoming like the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century, digging in our heels and insisting that the Bible—interpreted through a particular lens—trumps all scientific theories? Many evangelicals are saying yes; in light of what scientists are reporting, we must recast biblical Adam in mythical terms. Serious Christians take science seriously; good science is an examination of general revelation, a gift of God’s common grace. We can’t be ostriches, they warn, burying our heads in the sand whenever the scientific facts rule against us.

I’m not convinced by either reason, and here’s why. Regarding the hermeneutical point, on one level, yes—a rousing Amen!—Protestants committed to sola scriptura insist on separating Scripture’s inerrancy from our interpretation of it. But we should tread carefully, because this valid Reformation insight can become a truism, a shibboleth, especially in the science-theology dialogue. I don’t know anyone who denies it. My problem is not with the principle of distinguishing the inerrant Scriptures from our fallible interpretations, except to note that using it rhetorically often begs the question, i.e., assumes the truth of what is precisely in question. Obviously, if you agree with scientists that a historical Adam is impossible, then devising fresh hermeneutical strategies to resolve the tension with Scripture is a logical move. In fact, however, the Bible does very clearly depict a historical Adam; such revisionist exegesis goes against the grain of the text, driven by scientific prejudgments that set epistemic limits on what the Bible can say. That’s a mistake; Scripture unshackled—not science—is the self-authenticating authority.

Turning to the scientific “facts,” let me call into question any commitment to methodological naturalism, the notion that we can only appeal to naturalphenomena when doing genuine science. Methodological naturalism is the status quo among scientists and enshrined in the scientific perspectives that conflict with the Adamic events of Scripture. Theologically speaking, methodological naturalism strikes me as deeply problematic. To use Alvin Plantinga’s language, it yields a truncated science; it does not appeal to the full evidence base—an evidence base that, I would argue, includes divine revelation and all the glorious realities to which it attests. Once we reject methodological naturalism, we will have a truer and richer appraisal of the biblical witness and the world it signifies. An appropriately expanded understanding of biblical reality includes Adam’s historicity and its vital theological implications; for those of us who find those implications compelling, any scientific opinion that rules out Adam will fail to convince.

And there’s the rub. One side judges an original couple impossible by dint of the scientific testimony; my side judges their scientific claims impossible by dint of Adam’s theological significance. We can unpack this last point with reference to soteriology and the doctrine of God. The incarnation and redemption were necessitated by Adam’s ruinous disobedience of God (Rom 5:12, 16). Notice the redemptive-historical logic. Adam, through whom we became sinners, sinned in history; Jesus Christ, through whom we have justification, brought salvation in history. “The two truths or facts by which all of Christian dogmatics is governed,” remarked Herman Bavinck, “are (1) the fall of Adam and (2) the resurrection of Christ” (Reformed Dogmatics 3:38). The tapestry of salvation history extends between Adam and Christ; take away Adam and the whole thing unravels.

Our picture of God is also in jeopardy. Whatever verdict we make on Adam’s fall has a direct bearing on our theology of evil. Why are human lives riddled with sin that never ceases and with the agonies of pain, suffering, and death? What is the origin of evil? There are only three possible answers to this ancient question. The first is Dualism, the idea that evil is an eternal, godlike principle that has always existed alongside God (e.g., Zoroastrianism; Manichaeism). The second is Monism—good and evil are forces jostling within God himself; God becomes morally ambiguous, unholy, light and darkness springing from the very being of God. Without Adam’s fall, evil is part of the fabric of creation, and the holiness of God—the Creator—is thus poisoned, incurably.

The only answer left, an answer fraught with theological moment, is that in history evil ruptured God’s good creation; that evil was the rebellion of a historical Adam, an event wondrously rescinded by the atoning work of a historical Jesus. Current scientific orthodoxy may judge this position impossible, but it is the only possible position for theological orthodoxy.

Hans Madueme is an Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and previously served as the Managing Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has published numerous journal articles and reviews, and edited the 2014 book, Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin: Theological, Biblical, and Scientific Perspectives.

Confessional Baptists

John Mason’s Hymn is the main reason I reproduce Paul Helm’s post on Baptist Confession. It is good to distill beliefs into summary statements when they are composed with great care. Such is the example of John Mason’s Hymn and, if I may say, The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689.


In an earlier post we noted the Baptist Confessional tradition (at least since 1689) consciously using the language of the earlier theology, and of the early church. This is linked in a way that is surprising to some to a greater confessional awareness among some Baptists at the present time. Not just a confession but awareness of it. A confessional awareness that links those who subscribe to such confessions to the theology, specifically to the theism, of the early church. The verse of John Mason’s great hymn given above expresses (with not too much license) the character of this theism. If you haven’t yet learned to treasure a confession of faith then learn Mason’s hymn. It is given in full at the end of this piece.

Theism is what undergirds the character of the remainder of Christian doctrine. You might say, as the theism, so the doctrine. Ours is not an age of doctrine,  but of morality. What divides and unites people is not doctrine (‘doctrine divides’) but morality (‘morality divides’); social morality, social ethics, sex and gender, life  and death, and so on. But what grounds ethics? The Christian church has maintained that ethics is grounded in the character and will of Almighty God and our love of it. Does the doctrine of God matter? It certainly does, it sets forth the character and powers of God.


To some the phrase ‘without body, parts and passions’ appearing in a Christian confession, matters not. What’s in a phrase? Isn’t this just rhetoric? No. it isn’t. This phrase compresses a whole theology, in the narrow sense of a doctrine of God.  ‘The Phrase’, as I shall call it here, expresses the purest theism, the theism of catholic Christianity. Note this use of ‘catholic’. It is distinct from ‘Roman Catholic’. In Roman Catholic theology every one of its councils speak the RC faith, for all of them are regarded as consistent. And the Pontiff settles any differences. In ‘catholic’ theology, the first seven councils are embraced, the ecumenical councils, councils that met and pronounced prior to the division into the Eastern and Western Church. ‘Catholic’ in this sense means the universal church, what is generally believed. Judged by this standard the use of the phrase ‘Roman Catholic’ can be oxymoronic: ‘The universal church that at one and the same time recognizes the authority of the Bishop of Rome as its Pontiff’. ‘Catholic’ in what follows is used in the ecumenical sense, not in the Roman sense.

If someone stops to think about The Phrase, they might wonder at the rather strange grammar, a negative clause. It’s about what God is ‘without’. Not what God is, or even what God is like, but what he is not. If John is without his umbrella when the shower suddenly drenches, he is without shelter. The phrase is negative, it tells us what John is not carrying, that he is lacking shelter. Likewise with The Phrase. It tells  us what God is not, and by implication is not like. Such negative language is frequently used of God in Scripture: He is immortal, invisible, without beginning, endless, uncreated. Using such negative expressions emphasizes God’s apartness, his ‘otherness’ as theologians say. He is not like ourselves who are mortal, visible, born and die, creatures. He is in a class by himself. That is not to say that all our language about God is negative. He is almighty, eternal, pure, holy, loving, jealous, abounding in mercy. He is our Creator and our judge. All these are positive expressions, telling us what God is and is like. The use of such negative expressions has the intention of guarding our thinking, our tendency to be familiar with God, thinking we know what God is like, even the tendency we have to think we know what it is like to be God. God is apart from us, transcending our world of time and space.

The other thing that might strike us is the including of  ‘without…passions’. Why single out the exclusion of passions? Without a body and without parts seems to be more manageable. We know that God is pure spirit and does not have hands and feet, and thus does not have parts. That does not quite say it all, however. God is not only without bodily parts he is also without temporal parts. He does not have a yesterday or a tomorrow. As Isaac Watts put it.

Eternity, with all its years,
Stands present in Thy view;
To Thee there’s nothing old appears;
Great God! There’s nothing new.

There is no past for God, no future, no memory, no part of his life is over, nor any part to come. For he is without  parts.


Returning to this negative expression, ‘without…passions’, it tells us quite a bit that us positive about God when we reflect upon it. To start with it tells us that the life of God is ‘above’  the goings-on in our lives, or in the lives of any other creature. It is a way of saying that God is changeless, whereas we change. He is not caused to change by his creation. Rather, besides creating and sustaining it,  he is the decreer of changes in his creation, including the changes that his creatures bring about. God decrees such changes and in that sense he brings them about or permits them. But that fact does not allow us to say that God does not care for his creatures, nor grants his grace to men and women. Care, grace, judgment, mercy are expressions of the fullness of God to us creatures, and (again) have to do with our changes, not with his. When we come to recognize that God loves  in Christ, and fills his people with joy and peace in believing, this is a change, and it leads to further changes in them. It was God’s eternal decree that this be so. If human lives descend into indifference to God, or blasphemous rebellion, these are other changes, different responses, different changes to the one unchanging God. Such changes have effects on our passions, or affections, but not on God’s.

A God without passions is not an uncaring God, or unconcerned, in a state of psychotic withdrawal. Nor he is a deistic God. On the contrary he is rich in mercy, abounding in goodness and truth. He will by no means clear the guilty. He will judge the living and the dead, according to his steady will.  So he is not fitful, given over to the onset of moods and spasms, irritable, impatient, quick-tempered, or languid, or indolent.

It is this side of things that is being chipped away by those who wish nonetheless to be thought of as ‘conservative evangelical’, not to speak of those with an altogether more ‘dynamic’ or ‘theo-dramatic’ approach to theology. Chipped away in the interests of presenting a God who is more accessible to us all.

The relation between the Creator and his creatures is an unequal one. Yes, an unequal one. He made us and not we ourselves. We are creatures of his hand, he is not a creature of our hands. Of course not, some may say. But neither is God our buddy, nor are we his buddies, though Christ tells us that his disciples are his friends, his children. We may want a God who is our buddy but that is not the God we have.


The loss of The Phrase from our consciousness is both the cause and the effect of profound changes in us. For our first and last thought should be that we are in the hands of eternal God. If we discipline our thinking about God in these ways then the manic panic that affects so much modern theology begins to abate.

The fact that there are Baptists who wish to affirm their confessional position emphasises their willingness to stand with the early church, and of course with the Reformers, and those who are similarly confessionally-minded who followed, and who follow them. More on this next month.

John Mason (1646?–94) was a calvinistic minister in the Church of England, a poet and a pioneering, influential hymn-writer.

How shall I sing that Majesty?

How shall I sing that Majesty

which angels do admire?

Let dust in dust and silence lie;

sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.

thousands of thousands stand around

thy throne, O God most high;

ten thousand times ten thousand sound

thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears,

whilst I thy footsteps trace;

a sound of God comes to my ears,

but they behold thy face.

I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,

with all my fire and light;

yet when thou dost accept their gold,

Lord, treasure up my mite.

Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,

inflame it with love’s fire;

then shall I sing and bear a part

with that celestial choir.

They sing because thou art their Sun;

Lord, send a beam on me;

for where heaven is but once begun

there alleluias be.

How great a being, Lord, is thine,

which doth all beings keep!

Thy knowledge is the only line

to sound so vast a deep.

thou art a sea without a shore,

a sun without a sphere;

thy time is now and evermore,

thy place is everywhere.

A Tree of Probation

Whether one holds to The Federal Headship of Adam (Adam as representative of  humanity) or Natural Headship (all humanity essentially participated) in The Fall, Romans 5.12 states: “We all sinned” in Adam’s choice of rejecting God’s warning of knowing evil.

God had made a world that was very good so Adam already knew goodness. He was also made in God’s image so was like Him. God knows evil as evil and is wholly apart from it. So, the lie of The Tempter accused God of withholding a certain knowledge from Adam (and thus mankind). That man didn’t have this knowledge was not to his detriment, quite the contrary. This is the knowledge that all humanity now possesses: inherent evil and the resultant temporal consequences (the final consequences are the “old man” being punished and destroyed).

Symbolically, in one sense, the cross of Christ may be thought of as a kind of “Tree of Life” in that this locates judgement upon a perfectly righteous substitute who conquered death on our behalf. The Resurrection signifies payment received so that life may be distributed to all who come to Jesus. Here are further thoughts on this “Probationary Tree”:


The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Nicholas Batzig has a nice meditation on the trees in the Garden of Eden and the cross of Christ in his blog post A Biblical Theology of the Trees of the Garden.  Here are a few comments about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:

This tree was a symbolic representation of what man could attain to, either by obedience or disobedience; it was a probation. Geerhardus Vos explained:
1. By this tree it would be made known and brought to light whether man would fall into the state of evil or would be confirmed in the state of immutable goodness.
2. By this tree man, who for the present knew evil only as an idea, could be led to the practical knowledge of evil. Or also because he, remaining unfallen, would still, by means of temptation overcome, gain clearer insight into the essence of evil as transgression of God’s law and disregard of His sovereign power, and likewise would attain the highest knowledge of immutable moral goodness.2
Vos explained elsewhere how Satan sought to pervert the meaning of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he wrote:
From the true conception of the purpose of the tree we must distinguish the interpretation placed upon it by the tempter according to Gen. 3.5. This carries a twofold implication: first that the tree has in itself, magically, the power of conferring knowledge of good and evil. This lowers the plane of the whole transaction from the religious and moral to the pagan-magical sphere. And secondly, Satan explains the prohibition from the motive of envy. … Again, the divine statement in Gen. 3.22 alludes to this deceitful representation of the tempter. It is ironical.3
Adam did indeed attain to the knowledge of good and evil, but, as Vos noted, he attained it from the standpoint of becoming evil and remembering the good in contrast to the evil he performed. He gained the experiential knowledge of good and evil from the evil side. If we make Genesis 1-3 our starting point, and then consider all the occasions in which man is called to make judgments (i.e. to decided between good and evil in each and every situation) we soon discover that he is always prone to choose the evil over the good in his natural state. When the LORD comes to assess Israel’s actions through the prophet Jeremiah this is what He concludes: ” For My people are foolish, they have not known Me. They are silly children, and they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge (Jeremiah 4:22). A little later on the Lord says of Israel, “‘they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me,’ says the LORD.” It was knowledge of the LORD that was the knowledge of good that men lack. There are many similar verses in the prophets, in which the LORD brings the charge that men, including His people Israel, had not learned how to do good.

Perseverance of the Believer

Dr. Craig Keener surveys the nature of ‘persevering in the faith’ from the Bible and corrects several false notions. I consider his treatment of this subject accurate and balanced. It is certainly easy to lose focus on Christ and resort to ‘self effort’, or to the other extreme of ‘false confidence.’


There are different definitions of once-saved-always-saved, and in this post I am challenging only one version. The point is not to make Christians nervous about their salvation; biblical writers assure Christians who have been persevering that they will persevere (Phil 1:5-7; Heb 6:9-10). The point is to recognize that apostasy is possible and that it happens sometimes.

If you have been a Christian very long, you probably know some who started with you in the faith who have since fallen away. I have known many who were zealous colleagues who no longer even claim to be Christians; some, in fact, claim to be something else.

Calvinists and Arminians may disagree on whether a person was provisionally converted or not, but they both agree that only those who persevere to the end will be saved. A Calvinist would say that someone who falls away was not genuinely converted to begin with (cf. John 6:64; 1 John 2:19)—that is, from the standpoint of ultimate salvation, which God already knows. An Arminian would say that, from the standpoint of human experience, which is what we can know, the person was provisionally converted but fell away and thus was not ultimately saved. But both agree that a person who turns away from faith in Christ and never returns is not ultimately saved. Both of these perspectives have biblical support, one from the standpoint of God’s foreknowledge and the other from the standpoint of human experience.

But “once-saved-always-saved” as it is commonly taught in many churches is neither Calvinism nor Arminianism. Many teach a cheap version of “Once-saved-always-saved,” wherein anyone who professes conversion remains in Christ no matter what happens. Let us say they become an atheist theologically, an axe-murderer morally, or even simply a spiritual couch potato that hasn’t thought about God for years. Are they still counted as believers in Christ? (Because this contorted hope seems to flourish particularly in some Baptist churches, I should note, lest you think I am picking on Baptists, that I’m a Baptist minister myself, albeit a charismatic evangelical one.)

Various texts warn that a person will be saved only if they persevere. Christ has reconciled you to present you to God, Paul warns, “if you continue in the faith” (Col 1:23). God cut off unbelieving branches and grafted you in, but if you do not continue in his kindness, you too may be cut off (Rom 11:22). (Paul speaks here of individual Gentiles, not of Gentiles as a whole, since in the context he did not believe that every individual Jewish person had been cut off.) The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2—3 repeatedly offer promises to those who overcome, conditioning the reward on perseverance. One must hold onto what one has, lest someone else take one’s crown (Rev 3:11), presumably the crown of life (2:10); those believers who overcome will not be blotted out of the book of life (3:5).

Jesus warned some who “believed” in him that they would become his disciples and know the truth if they continued in his teaching (John 8:30-32); they did not do so (8:59). In John’s Gospel, saving faith is faith that perseveres, not the faith of a fleeting moment. Jesus warns his own disciples to continue in him; if someone did not do so, they would be cast away and ultimately burned (15:5). (Fire was a familiar Jewish image for Gehenna, used also elsewhere in the Gospels.)

A wide array of texts warn that a person will be lost if they do not persevere. Because Galatian Christians were trying to be made right with God by keeping the law, Paul warned that they had been cut off from Christ and had fallen from grace (Gal 5:4); Paul was laboring again until Christ would be formed in them again (4:19). Paul even disciplined himself to ensure that he did not fail the test (1 Cor 9:27), but warned the Corinthians to check themselves to see whether they were failing it (2 Cor 13:5). Some of these references could be hyperbolic, dramatic ways of warning his hearers that they were on the verge of losing something they had not yet lost (cf. perhaps 2 Cor 5:20; 6:1, 17-18). Nevertheless, they hold out the terrifying possibility of apostasy.

This is especially emphasized in Hebrews. Punishment for turning from the way of salvation now is harsher than under the law (Heb 2:1-4). Those who turned from God in Moses’s time never entered God’s rest; how much more would that be true for those now who, hardened by sin, stopped believing Jesus Christ (3:7-15; 4:1, 11)!

Hebrews 6 warns particularly explicitly that those once converted could fall away. Being “enlightened” (6:4) refers to conversion (10:32); “tasting” the heavenly gift and future era (6:4-5) refers to experiencing it (the same Greek term applies to Jesus experiencing death in 2:9); being made “partakers of” or “sharing in” the Spirit (6:4) also refers to genuine believers (cf. the same Greek term in 3:1, 14). But if this person “falls away” (6:6; the language appears in the Greek version of the Old Testament for turning from God, e.g., Ezek 18:24; cf. different wording in Mark 4:17), they cannot be repent anew because they are crucifying Jesus again and publicly shaming him; they will be burned (Heb 6:8).

Because Christ is the only true sacrifice for sins (10:1-21), those who sin by continuing to resist him have nothing left but terrifying judgment (10:26-31). Those who turn back from faith face destruction (10:39). One should not be like Esau, who had no second chance (12:16-17). If those who rejected God’s message at Sinai were judged (12:18-21), how much greater is the judgment for rejecting the new covenant (12:22-29).

Some of the warnings in Hebrews sound as if those who fall away cannot be restored; yet many of us know some people who did fall away and yet were restored. This is explained in various possible ways (e.g., that their previous conversion experience was incomplete or that their apostasy was incomplete), but it is also possible that Hebrews is simply warning that there is no other way of salvation. If we leave Christ looking for something beyond him, we will not find it. James 5:19-20 sounds as if turning back to the way of Christ someone who strayed from it brings that person back to salvation and forgiveness.

Hebrews repeatedly exhorts its audience to hold fast our confidence in Christ (Heb 3:6, 14; 4:14; 10:23); we must not abandon our confidence (10:35), which has the reward of eternal life (10:34-39). We have become Christ’s house, heirs of the future world, the author declares, if we continue to be believers in him (3:6, 14; 6:11-12); if we fail to persevere, we face judgment (2:2-3; 4:1; 8:9; 10:26, 38; 12:25).

To persevere in faith, we should continue to trust in Christ (Heb 3:19; 4:2; 10:35—11:1; on the topic of faith in Hebrews, see http://www.craigkeener.com/faith-the-assurance-of-things-hoped-for-%E2%80%94-hebrews-111/); support one another in the faith (3:13; 10:23-26); and grow more mature in biblical understanding (5:11—6:12). Similarly, 2 Peter advises various virtues that will keep one growing and prevent falling away and so missing the Lord’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet 1:5-11).

Many beliefs today are popular because they appeal to our weakness rather than because they are biblical. Such beliefs include spiritual justifications for materialism, theological exemptions from suffering tribulation, and even justifications for not sharing our faith with others. The idea that someone who professes conversion will share eternal life even if they do not persevere as believers in Christ is another belief that is comforting—and dangerously false.

For some people with less self-confidence (sometimes including myself), such warnings are unnerving. But biblical warnings are qualified for those who have already been demonstrating perseverance and the seriousness of their faith (Phil 1:6-7; Heb 6:9-10). (Still, even this assurance could be accompanied by exhortation to persevere, Heb 6:11-12.) It is important to remember that the keeping does not depend on us having infinite strength; it is God’s own power that preserves us through our faith (1 Pet 1:5), and no one can snatch us from his hand (John 10:29).

If overconfidence in ourselves is an error, so is underconfidence in the one who drew us to himself to begin with. Our baptism is meant as a helpful reminder that we passed from one realm to another; we do not pass away from Christ because some bad thought comes to our mind or we fail one spiritual test. The latter misconception is probably a recipe for spiritual obsessive compulsive anxiety! Falling away refers to someone who is no longer following Christ, not someone who is simply imperfect in our maturity or discipleship.

The warnings are instead for those tempted to fancy that we are saved by a single act of prayer or physical washing rather than by Christ, who treat salvation only as a cheap fire escape instead of rescue from being alienated from God. It is God’s act in his Son’s death and resurrection that saves us, provided that we accept his gift, i.e., believe this good news. His gift is eternal life in his presence, an eternal life that begins when we truly believe—welcoming a new life in Christ.

Contra Gnosticism

Here is Richard Klaus’ outline on the deficiency and error of Gnosticism:


Loving Truth and Resisting Error

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gospel of Thomas: Lecture Notes

Here is the outline I used today in class to cover the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas

  1. Nag Hammadi library
  1. Discovered in 1945
  1. Translated into English in 1977
  1. 13 leather bound books (codices)
  1. Manuscripts dated AD 350-380
  1. Written in Coptic (Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet)
  1. Oxyrhynchus
  1. Discovered in 1890’s
  1. Greek fragments: unknown at time of discovery what they were but with the discovery at Nag Hammadi it was realized that these Greek fragments were pieces of Thomas
  1. About 20% of Thomas in three papyri
  1. P. Oxy 654 = Thomas 1-7, part of 30
  1. P. Oxy 1 = Thomas 26-33

iii.     P. Oxy 655 = Thomas 24, 36-39, 77

  1. Manuscripts dated AD 200-300
  1. Two views on origins and translation
  1. Greek to Coptic
  1. Syriac to Greek; Syriac to Coptic
  1. Thomas and Gnosticism
  1. Not full-blown Gnosticism but definitely Gnostic elements[1]
  1. Definition of Gnosticism:
  1. Dualism: mixture of good and evil in creation and man; distinction between good transcendent unknowable God and God who created the world.“The knowable God who is a projection into the creation is the Creator, while the unknowable God is over everything but is too transcendent to be directly involved with the creation.  The true God and the Creator God of Genesis are not the same thing.”[2]
  1. Cosmogony: dualism in the creation itself; “anti-cosmic dualism” which rejects the physical material world as evil and inferior.[3]
  1. Soteriology: “Salvation and redemption are understood primarily in terms of knowledge about creation’s dualistic nature.Salvation of the nonmaterial spirit or soul within a person is what matters, not a salvation of the creation or of the flesh.  In fact, the flesh is not redeemable.  There is no resurrection of the body from the dead.”[4]
  1. Eschatology: “one understands where existence is headed, namely, the redemption of the soul and the recovery of the creation into the ‘fullness’ or ‘pleroma’ that is where good dwells.”[5]
  1. See especially verses 18, 29, 36-39, 50, 77, 83-84
  1. Thomas 1 and John 11.25-26
  1. Thomas 1: “And he said, ‘Whoever finds theinterpretation of these sayings will not taste death.’”
  1. John 11.25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’”
  1. “Now we can see how John’s message contrasts with that of Thomas.Thomas’s Jesus directs each disciple to discover the light within (‘within a person of light there is light’ [24]) but John’s Jesus declares instead that ‘I am the light of the world’ and that ‘whoever does not come to me walks in darkness’ [8.12].  In Thomas, Jesus reveals to the disciples that ‘you are from the kingdom, and to it you shall return’ and teaches them to say for themselves that ‘we come from the light’; but John’s Jesus speaks as the only one who comes ‘from above’ and so has rightful priority over everyone else: ‘You are from below; I am from above …. The one who comes from above is above all.’ [8.23; 3.31] Only Jesus is from God, and he alone offers access to God.  John never tires of repeating that one must believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and confess him alone as God’s onlyson.  We are not is ‘twin,’ much less (even potentially) his equal; we must follow him, believe in him, and revere him as God in person: thus John’s Jesus declares that ‘you will die in your sins, unless you believe that I am he’ [8.24].”[6]
  1. “At the same time, I was also exploring in my academic work the history of Christianity in the light of the Nag Hammadi discoveries, and this research helped clarify what I cannot love: the tendency to identify Christianity with a single, authorized set of beliefs—however these actually vary from church to church—coupled with the conviction that Christian belief alone offers access to God.”[7]
  1. Pagels is challenged spiritually by Thomas. For example, verse 70 reads: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”  Pagels comments: “The strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and, with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me self-evidently true.”[8]
  1. Contents of Thomas
  1. Missing Gospel elements in Thomas
  1. No narrative
  1. No passion/cross

iii.     No resurrection

  1. Non-eschatological (i.e., Thomas 18)
  1. No “Jewish-ness”: Jewish language and concepts are used but are give a different, non-Jewish understanding

“One of the most telling weaknesses in the whole Q-and-Thomas hypothesis, it seems to me, is the presence within Thomas of sayings about the ‘kingdom of god’, or, as the book regularly calls it, the kingdom of the Father [3, 22, 46, 49, 97, 113, 114].  From our earlier study of the Jewish evidence, it is unthinkable that this motif should be introduced into a community from scratch with the meaning that it comes to have inThomas, i.e. the present secret religious knowledge of a heavenly world.  It is overwhelmingly likely that the use of this emphatically Jewish kingdom-language originated with an overtly Jewish movement which used it in a sense close to it mainline one, i.e. which spoke of the end of exile, the restoration of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the return of YHWH to Zion, and so forth, however much these ideas were transformed within the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his first followers.  If there has been a shift in the usage one way or the other, it is far more likely to have been from this Jewish home base into a quasi-Gnostic sense, rather than from a Gnostic sense, for which there is no known, or imaginable precedent, to a re-Judaized one—a shift which, on the hypothesis, must have taken place somewhere between an early Thomasand a later Mark.”[9]

  1. Thomas doesn’t fit “gospel” message or genre

“When the early Christians picked up the term ‘gospel’, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.  For example, the earliest Gospel, Mark, is mostly action—focusing on Jesus’ deeds.  It is doubtful that the earliest Christians would have seen a mere collection of teachings, without a recounting of Jesus’ saving activities, as a Gospel… On this account it’s doubtful that we should see the Gospel of Thomas, mostly a collection of teachings, as a Gospel.”[10]

  1. Dating the Gospel of Thomas
  1. Two views
  1. Early: 50-60 (Jesus Seminar)
  1. Late: 150-185 (majority of scholars)
  1. Arguments for late date
  1. Thomas knows many of the NT writings
  1. Thomas contains material from the Gospels that many scholars regard as late (i.e., M, L, John)

iii.     Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospel

  1. Thomas shows familiarity with traditions distinctive to Easter, Syrian Christianity that emerged in the middle of the 2nd century (i.e., name Judas Thomas)

“The attribution of the Gospel to ‘Didymus Judas Thomas’ (prologue) shows that it derives from the East Syrian Christian tradition, centered in Edessa.  It was only in this tradition (from which come also the Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas) that the apostle was known as Judas Thomas and regarded as a kind of spiritual twin-brother of Jesus.  Thomas was thought (perhaps correctly) to have been in some sense responsible for the founding of the church in this area, and it is probable that the oral Gospel traditions of this church were transmitted under the name of Thomas and that the Gospel of Thomas drew on these oral traditions. Its points of contact with other literature from this area and especially its probable use by the Acts of Thomas(end of second or early third century) confirms this hypothesis.”[11]

  1. Arguments for early date
  1. Form is like Q (collection of sayings without narrative) which is early
  1. Sayings in Thomas are more simple than parallels in canonical Gospels

Example: parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21.33-41; Mk 12.1-9; Lk 20.9-16; Thomas65)

iii.     Sayings in Thomas do not follow the order in Synoptic Gospels

  1. Answering the arguments for an early date
  1. “Form is like Q.”
  1. Q is a hypothetical construct; no manuscript evidence
  1. Q could have contained a narrative—who knows? Speculation abounds.
  1. “Simple sayings = early sayings.”

“Advocates of Thomas’ independence of the canonical Gospels often point to the abbreviated form that many of the parables and sayings have in Thomas.  One of the best known examples is the parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21:33-41; Mk 12:1-9; Lk 20:9-16; Gospel of Thomas 65).  In the opening verse of Mark’s version approximately eleven words are drawn from Isaiah 5:1-7 to form the backdrop of the parable.  Most of these words do not appear in Thomas.  Crossan takes this as an indication that the older form of the parable has been preserved in Thomas, not in Mark, which supposedly preserves an expanded, secondary version.  However, in Luke’s opening verse only two words from Isaiah 5 (“planted vineyard”) remain.  We have here a clear example of abbreviation of the tradition.  Other scholars have concluded that the version in Thomas is an edited and abridged form of Luke’s version of the parable.  The same possibility applies to the saying about the rejected stone (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10-11; Lk 20:17; Gospel of Thomas 66).  Mark’s longer version quotes Psalm 118:22-23.  But Luke only quotes Psalm 118:22.  Once again Luke, who depends on Mark and is further removed from the original form of the tradition, has abbreviated the tradition.  The shorter form also appears in Thomas.  Thus, it is risky to draw firm conclusions relating to priority on the basis of which form of the tradition is the shortest and appears abbreviated.  It is thus possible that Gospel of Thomas 65 and 66 are neither separate logia nor derived from pre-Synoptic tradition, but constitute an edited version of Luke’s abbreviation of Mark’s parable.”[12]

  1. “Sayings in Thomas are not in the same order as Synoptic Gospels.”
  1. Gnostic writers of the 2nd century customarily arranged material around themes/catchwords
  1. We know of one place for certain where the Coptic writer changed the order from the “older” Greek version (P. Oxy 1) to organize it around catchwords.
  1. The saying on “splitting the wood” which in P. Oxy 1 is at the end of saying 30 becomes part of the 2nd half of saying 77 in the Coptic version.
  1. This creates a link-word between 77a+b; both halves of the spliced verse contain the Coptic verb meaning “attain” or “split”[13]

     [1] Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 66-67.

     [2] Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianites (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2006, 19.

     [3] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [4] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [5] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.

     [6] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Vintage, 2003), 68-69.

     [7] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 29.

     [8] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 32.

     [9] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992), 440-441—boldface added.

     [10] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 97.  Also see Simon Gathercole’s discussion—“ Jesus, the Apostolic Gospel and the Gospels”—summarized at Steve Walton’s blog online: http://stevewalton.info/simon-gathercole-on-the-canonical-and-non-canonical-gospels/

     [11] Richard J. Bauckham, “Gospels (Apocryphal)” in Joel B. Green, et al.,Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers, Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 287.

     [12] Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 71—boldface added.

     [13] See Glenn Miller’s online essay “What about the Gospel of Thomas?” for details and further bibliographic information.  Online:http://christianthinktank.com/gthomas.html.

Monday Night Meditation

Alex the Less:

Great passage!
thank you Walter

Originally posted on Walter Bright:

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

(‭Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭15-17‬ MSG)

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A Fascinating Chronology

Humphreys and Waddington have cleared up several theological issues for me by the publication of their paper. Even though the published in 1992, the work was unknown to me until today. I think they are probably correct in their dating chronology of Christ and the references to His crucifixion. The blood moon rising just after the start of The Passover fulfilled Joel’s prophecy which Peter quoted fifty days later at Pentecost. This, to me, makes the most sense of Peter’s speech.

Another point also which I realized from this paper was the aspect of Christ being the “First fruits.” During Passover three “observances” are fulfilled: Passover, waving the first fruits of barley harvest, and seven days of eating bread without yeast (dough starter). Waving the barley sheaves of first fruits occurs the day after Passover (Nissan 16) which coincided with the Sunday upon which Jesus rose from the dead.

Also, the apparent conflict between the Synoptic Gospels and John has been resolved concerning the timing of Jesus’ death. It is now evident to me that the Last Supper was not a “Passover” observance since nowhere a lamb is mentioned.

Here is the summary:

Astronomical calculations have been used to reconstruct the Jewish calendar in the first century AD and to date a lunar eclipse that biblical and other references suggest followed the Crucifixion. The evidence points to Friday 3 April AD 33 as the date of the Crucifixion. This was Nisan 14 in the official Jewish calendar, thus Christ died at precisely the time when the Passover lambs were slain. The date 3 April AD 33 is consistent with the evidence for the start of Jesus’ ministry, with the gospel reference to 46 years to build the temple and with the symbolism of Christ as our Passover lamb. The mention of a solar eclipse at the Crucifixion in some texts of Luke is discussed and explained. A new chronology of the life of Christ is suggested.


He is Risen!

Here is Dr. Richard Ganz telling us the truth from the scriptures: http://richardganz.com/the-certainty-of-the-resurrection-of-jesus-christ-from-the-dead/

There is no doubt that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is, along with the cross, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. In fact, the resurrection is mentioned 42 times in the New Testament, and Jesus’ own words are clear. For example, we read in Matthew 16:21 that “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and raised again the third day.” And in Matthew 17:9 when He was coming down from the mount of transfiguration, Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone about what you have seen until I have been raised from the dead.”

This was a repeated message of Jesus to His people: “I will be raised from the dead on the third day.” And while the disciples dismissed it and forgot it, Jesus’ enemies never did. In fact, one of the first things that they did after the crucifixion was to give an order to have the tomb made secure and closely guarded. Why? Because, they said in Matthew 27:63: “When this liar was alive, He said He would rise again.” No, Jesus’ enemies didn’t forget. Jesus was dead, but they knew what Jesus had said, and they didn’t want Him rising from the dead, nor did they want anyone stealing His body so that it might be made to appear that had Jesus risen from the dead; and so they took serious measures to prevent both of these things from happening.

But, as seriously as Jesus’ enemies took Him, there isn’t even a hint that this was what Jesus’ own disciples expected or even thought. They weren’t looking out for Jesus’ resurrection, and they certainly weren’t considering stealing his body and trying to stage a resurrection. They were in fear and despair over Jesus’ death. They thought it was all over, and they were in fear of repercussions of Jesus’ death falling on them because of their past association with Jesus. They were like that atheist who concluded: “If someone is dead, he is dead, and nothing can bring him back to life, no matter how appealing the idea may be.” We read that several of Jesus’ closest disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses, Salome, other of the women, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, all went to the tomb; but there isn’t even a hint that their discussion included any idea that Jesus would EVER be anything other than absolutely, positively, and unalterably, DEAD!

The world did its best to make the death of Jesus sure, which I find amazing. They were so threatened by the death of Jesus, that even during the few days of His actually being in a burial tomb, all that they really wanted to do was to make sure that the ONE THING THAT JESUS WOULDN’T DO was to fulfill His word and rise from the dead! So they have the world’s best army secure His tomb, sealing the tomb with a huge stone that closed it securely, and then setting a Roman guard to vigilantly watch that tomb round the clock. The WORLD’S MOST RELIGOUS MEN, the religious leaders of Israel, have an absolutely atheistic mindset as well. They don’t believe Jesus’ words, they don’t believe that Jesus will rise, but also they don’t relax just because Jesus is dead. They take no chances. Theirs is not the mind that says, “Since Jesus is dead, now we have nothing to be concerned about.” Instead, they secure the tomb and have Roman guards put there to keep away any who would snatch the dead body of Jesus. These Jewish leaders knew that Jesus had predicted His own resurrection on the third day. They were confident His body would not be able to be stolen; and they were comfortable that Roman soldiers could prevent any possible resurrection from happening, and that is why when Jesus, in one of His confrontations with the religious leaders, rebuked these leaders in this way: “You know not the Scriptures or the power of God.”

So, even with the Scriptures and Jesus Himself predicting it, no one was looking for Jesus’ resurrection. And then, three days later, on the first day of the week, that is, on Sunday, while it was still dark, we read that these brave women went to the tomb; but they went to anoint the body of Jesus, not to meet the risen Jesus. But Jesus no longer needed anointing, and there was no power on earth that was then, or would EVER be capable of keeping Jesus locked into that tomb and dead in the grave.

The fears of the Jewish leaders that the disciples would steal His body and perpetrate a wicked deception was groundless, because the power of God had been at work, a power greater than any they had ever considered, or even imagine; a power which no man can stand against. And when the women get to the tomb, they see that the fierce Roman guards, trained to stand against anything, have fled in terror and that the tomb is empty. John’s account focuses in on Mary Magdalene and says that she ran back and got Peter and John as soon as she saw that the stone had been removed, and after they got to the tomb, they still didn’t get it. We read that: “They STILL did not understand from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

So what did they do? They then returned to their homes, but Mary stayed, weeping as she looked into an empty tomb, but still not understanding. And then she had a discussion with someone she assumed to be the gardener, who asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” She responds, “If you carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him.” We read that Jesus said to her, “Mary”, and hearing His voice, she recognizes that it is Jesus, risen and alive, who is in front of her speaking to her, and she calls Him “Rabbi”. Jesus then told her to tell the brethren that He had risen. Mary was presented with the most incredible commission EVER GIVEN to anyone, in the entire history of the New Covenant church from then until now, because Mary was commissioned to tell the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and of His soon-to-be ascension and return to the Father.

Friends, Jesus’ disciples weren’t looking for His resurrection. The reality of the resurrection of Jesus was only accepted after each person had evidenced it for Himself. They had to see it with their own eyes before they believed. This was not some plot of the early church to make the Christian faith palatable. In fact, there is no way that they could have convinced anyone else of it, for they couldn’t even convince themselves, and they knew it well. In order to continue to follow Jesus, and even give their lives for Jesus, they needed to actually see that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, and that although He was dead, now He is alive.

Our Lord Jesus went to the cross to fight death, and was battered by hell and by the wrath of God, but He came out of the tomb, and He emerged in glory as the conqueror. And now we, we who have been slaves to sin and have feared death and hell, can cry out: “O grave, where is your victory? O grave, where is your sting?” And Jesus told us in John 14:19: “Because I live, you also shall live.” This, friends, is the victory of Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection in Him!

New Archaeological Find in Israel

A month after the discovery of the gold treasure by divers off the coast of Caesarea, another report has reached the Israel Antiquities Authority of a find involving a cache of rare coins and silver and bronze objects 2,300 years old, in a cave in northern Israel. Officials in the Israel Antiquities Authority believe this is one of the important discoveries to come to light in the north of the country in recent years, and will require much time to study in order to crack the secrets of the cave.

Two weeks ago Reuven Zakai, his son Hen Zakai and their friend Lior Halony, members of the Israeli Caving Club, set out to make preliminary preparations for a visit by the club in one of the largest and well-hidden stalactite caves in the north.

The three lowered themselves down in the ground, into the stalactite cave, and wriggled through a narrow passage in front of the cave. They wandered and crawled between the different parts of the cave for several hours.

The youngest member of the group, Hen, 21 years old, says he forced his way into one of the narrow niches when he suddenly caught sight of a shining object. There he discovered two ancient silver coins which it later turned out had been minted during the reign of Alexander the Great who conquered the Land of Israel at the beginning of the Hellenistic period (late fourth century BCE). Several pieces of silver jewelry were found alongside the coins, among them rings, bracelets and earrings, which were apparently concealed in the cave, together inside a cloth pouch some 2,300 years ago.

A coin of Alexander of Macedon that was part of the silver cache. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

In the opinion of archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander, a time when the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander’s heirs following his death. Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it”.

The spelunkers realized they found an important archaeological discovery and reported it to inspectors of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority. This weekend officials of the Israel Antiquities Authority entered the cave together with members of the Israeli Caving Club. The IAA inspectors were excited to discover evidence of human habitation that occurred in the cave over extended periods.

A general picture of the cache of silver objects: two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings (probably made of silver) and a small stone weight. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At this point they believe they have found artifacts in the cave that first date to the Chalcolithic period c. 6,000 years ago; from the Early Bronze Age c. 5,000 years ago, the Biblical period 3,000 years ago and the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago. Numerous pottery vessels were also discovered in the cave. In some regions of the cave ancient pottery vessels were found on which stalagmites had developed. Some of the pottery vessels had bonded with the limestone sediments and cannot be separated. The Israel Antiquities Authority reports that the combination of a stalactite cave and archaeological finds is both fascinating and rare. The finds in the cave will allow the researchers – archaeologists and geologists alike – to accurately date both the archaeological finds and the process of stalactite development.


The Bible: Front and Center

The following post about commentaries alongside the text of scripture is by Dan Wallace. This post really resonated with me and I offer my testimony to scripture’s vitality. The bible is God’s word to warn us about dangers and to inform us of God’s love in Christ (yes, the bible is more than these items, but it is not less).

I had only been a Christian for barely a year when I started Bible college. Without a background of attending church and bible reading, I had much to learn. While training for ministry which I felt the Lord calling me to do, personal bible reading and practical outreach also figured into the preparation.

After completing bible college and seminary however, the Lord seemed to close the door to professional Christian service. I had gained much knowledge and even experience but in reality (looking back now) I was an immature Christian.

A phrase in those days was: “a Christian is either a missionary or a mission field”, so I was determined to be a lay person reaching out to others in secular fields. A good habit I maintained was daily bible reading which, I feel, did more to inform me than all my previous training. By reading large swaths of scripture systematically (a bible reading plan) many truths were realized that I had studied academically but not totally grasped. Also, by better knowing the whole, the various parts of the bible become clearer as well since God is the single author.

To know God better we need to inquire of Him and seek to understand His word. The other “advocate” that Jesus promised us will teach us by illuminating our understanding if we are truly led by Him. It is a walk of sure and steady steps as we obey what the Spirit teaches us. Of course the knowledge is not mysterious but grounded in traditional studies the Christian community has always pursued. It is the Spirit who reveals and gives wisdom that we may know Him better (Eph.1.17b). Here is Dan Wallace:

I’ve been pondering an aspect about NT manuscripts that I thought would be good to share with others. It has to do with commentaries. You see, many of our biblical manuscripts have commentaries written by church fathers included within the codex. Scholars are aware of about one dozen such manuscripts in which the NT text is written in majuscules or capital letters. Majuscules are what all of our oldest NT manuscripts are written in. Beginning in the ninth century, scribes began to write in minuscule, or cursive, letters. Minuscule manuscripts could be written much more rapidly and in a more compact space than their capital letter counterparts. By the twelfth century, virtually all the Greek NT manuscripts were minuscules. Quite a few of these later MSS included commentaries.

Over the years, I’ve examined such commentary MSS to prepare them for digitization. And here’s what I have discovered.

These MSS come in a variety of formats. Probably the most common one is for the text to be in larger script and centered on the page, with commentary wrapping around it on three sides (top, bottom, and outside of the leaf). Another format is to have the biblical text in one color of ink with the commentary in a different color. The color of ink for the biblical text is almost always a more expensive ink; one or two MSS even use gold ink for the scriptures. A third format is to have the NT written in capital letters and the commentary in minuscule. And finally, some MSS have an introductory symbol to the biblical text such as an asterisk or simple cross to set it off from the commentary.

Below are images of some examples of these varieties:

Biblical text centered and in larger script with wrap-around commentary

Biblical text centered and in larger script with wrap-around commentary

Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary

Gold letters for scripture, red letters for commentary

Capital letters for scripture, cursive for commentary

Capital letters for scripture, cursive for commentary

There is a common theme through all of these varieties: the biblical text is prominent, considered of greater importance than the commentary. These ancient and medieval scribes understood the significance of scripture and made sure to highlight it over comments about it. I am reminded of a quip one of my professors used to make: “It’s amazing how much light the text sheds on the commentaries!” Indeed, the refrain of focusing on the text, of constantly putting before the reader what is of the greatest importance, is a hallmark of these manuscripts!

This is not to say that these commentaries were unimportant. No, they were vital for the communities of faith. Christians then, as now, wanted to know how to understand the Bible, and the scribes did well to reproduce the reflections on scripture of the great thinkers in the history of the Church. But on balance, we would do well to remember that the scriptures were front and center and the scriptures were the main focus of these scribes. To these anonymous workers, who labored in adverse conditions, we owe a large debt of gratitude.


Kenji Goto: Faithful Witness

by on February 3, 2015 in Life & Ministry 3

Packer-Kenji-Goto-1200I like ideas, and (as you might have gathered if you have read this blog at all) find them fascinating and motivating. But the most significant changes in my life have usually come not because of ideas, but because of the examples of others. When I find a notion concretely expressed in the life and practice of another person, that’s when I can see how it could change my life.

And this last week I have been incredibly moved by the example ofKenji Goto. Goto studied at Hosei, a private university in Tokyo, after which he worked for a media production company. in 1996 he set up his own business, Independent Press, and it was the following year that he became a Christian. His faith appears to have shaped not just his personal life, but also his approach to his work. He never liked to be described as a war correspondent; although he often faced great danger, venturing into war zones that other reporters refused to enter, he did so to report not on the fighting, but on those who were vulnerable and suffering, particularly children. He reported on the blood diamonds and child soldiers in Sierra Leone, on the victims of the atrocities in Rwanda, on victims of AIDS in Estonia, and the plight of children (especially girls) in Afghanistan. As well as producing video material for broadcast in Japan, he also published five books.

Henry Tricks, a reporter for The Economist, knew Goto when he was based in Tokyo, and wrote him a moving tribute prior to his execution:

It is hard to reconcile the soft-spoken, gentle man, who once paled in a bowling alley because the sound of the balls reminded him of bombs dropping on Iraq, with the image of a hardened war correspondent. But he covers wars with a difference. Instead of focusing on who is winning or losing, he tells the stories of ordinary people, especially children, who are forced to endure conflict and the horrors surrounding them. It is their resilience that inspires him, he says. When you ask how he reaches the dangerous places he reports from, he says he follows the footsteps of normal people getting on with their lives. They show him the way.

Yet it wasn’t just his professional commitment which impressed people—it was also his personal manner, his care and his warmth.

“I want to cuddle with the people. That’s the best way to express my approach,” Goto, 47, said about his work. “By cuddling with them, I can talk with the people. I can hear their views — their pain and their hopes.”

He told the stories of children suffering violence, hunger and nightmares…In a testament to his charm and integrity, people responded with an outpouring of support to try to win his release…Those who knew Goto said he was a gentle and honest man.

It was this mixture of professional commitment, personal courage, and warm humanity which led him to Syria and his captivity. He wanted, first, to document the suffering of the people of Syria, to motivate the wider world to support them. Before he went there, hemade a short video in which he talks about the danger he will face there.

If anything happens to me, do not blame the people of Syria. They have already suffered for three years.

But he was particularly motivated by the plight of a fellow Japanese Haruna Yukawa. Yukawa appeared to be a troubled loner, who wanted to set up business as a military contractor, but was clearly out of his depth.

“He was hapless and didn’t know what he was doing. He needed someone with experience to help him,” Goto, 47, told Reuters in Tokyo in August.

Kenji-Goto--_3180964cWhen Yukawa was abducted, Goto felt obliged to do what he could to get him out of trouble. He thought that he would be treated differently from Western correspondents, in the light of Japan’s pacifist commitment which meant they had stayed out of the military conflict. But he was again realistic about the dangers he faced.

“I need to go there at least once and see my fixers and ask them what the current situation is. I need to talk to them face to face. I think that’s necessary,” Goto said, referring to locals who work freelance for foreign correspondents, setting up meetings and helping with the language.

“I have seen horrible places and have risked my life, but I know that somehow God will always save me,” he said in a May article for the Japanese publication Christian Today. But he told the same publication that he never risked anything dangerous, citing a passage in the Bible, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

It is hard to make sense of this tragedy in the light of Goto’s faith. But it is clear that he had no hesitation in ‘laying down his life for that of his friend’ (John 10. ) Goto joins a short but illustrious list ofnotable Japanese Christians.

Sadly, part of the legacy of Goto’s death could be to increase Japanese militarism. Christians in Japan are a small minority, consisting of only 1% of the population, and they universally support the current pacifist stance. According to Atsuyoshi Fujiwara, a professor of theology at Seigakuin University and founding pastor at Covenant of Grace Church in Tokyo:

Christians are strongly against the Abe regime as being militarily oriented and nationalistic. When you think about the opinions of Christians in Japan, you can almost assume that they are generally more anti-nationalistic, more non-violence-oriented than the public. Christians should be peace-making, yet we need to be wise as serpents and give alternatives to the Abe regime.

And yet, in contrast to this, he leaves a powerful personal legacy amongst all who knew him personally and professionally. His wife Rinko made this statement:

My family and I are devastated by the news of Kenji’s death. He was not just my loving husband and father to our two beautiful children, but a son, brother and friend to many around the world…. I remain extremely proud of my husband who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria? It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war.

In the book of Revelation, uniquely in the New Testament, Jesus is described as the ‘faithful and true witness’ (Rev 1.5, 3.14), and this is embedded in the text by repeating his name 14 times, the product of 7 (meaning ‘complete’) and 2 (signifying ‘witness’ fromDeut 17.6). The word ‘saints’ (lit ‘holy [ones]) also occurs 14 times; we are to follow Jesus’ example in being faithful witnesses, even to the point of ‘not loving our lives so much as to shrink from death’ (Rev 12.11). In exactly this sense, Kenji Goto has been, in life and death, a true witness, a martus after his Lord’s example.

And whatever legacy he leaves us, the last word on his life will be the one he hears from the Lord Jesus himself when he meets him face to face: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (Matt 25.21)


In the Beginning was Monotheism

Modern researchers want to reconstruct human history as humans first were animistic, then this developed into totemism. Eventually polytheism arose and that was supplanted with monotheism. This approach relies solely upon artifacts discovered and rejects any kind of “revelation.” The lingering question remains whether determining comprehensive beliefs from archaeology is even possible. Artifacts and reconstructions have their place as one part of the puzzle but this piece of the whole needs additional support.

The European discovery of America provided an instance where a developed culture supplanted a more primitive one. American aboriginal beliefs seem to indicate an original monotheism instead of the accepted scheme that belief started from the diffuse and terminated in the one (monotheism). Here is a post by Peter Leithart who reviews authors who challenge the accepted status quo.


Winfried Corduan’s In the Beginning God is largely an effort to rehabilitate the reputation and theory of Catholic linguist Wilhelm Schmidt, whose 12-volume Der Ursprung der Gottesidee (1912-54) argued that monotheism was the original form of religious belief.

As Corduan describes it, the “narrative behind the method” assumes that peoples migrate, that they take their cultures with them, and thus that cultural forms diffuse, penetrate, and mix. By a sophisticated set of criteria, Schmidt attempted to explain the evident similarities among religions against the background of this story-line. His conclusion was that the most “primitive” form of religion was not totemism, animism, or polytheism; it was monotheism.

Of the North American Indians specifically, Schmidt claims: “In their oldest pure forms they know neither totemism nor mother-right; they do not practice agriculture, but acquire their food by hunting, fishing, and collecting wild vegetables. Their simple social constitution is founded on the natural family, and their little village communities exhibit rudimentary chieftainship. Not, it is precisely among these three oldest primitive peoples of North America that we find a clear and firmly established belief in a High God, a belief which . . . is of quite a particular character by virtue of the high importance attributed to the idea of creation. . . . Quite a number of them have reached the highest summit of the idea of creation, denied even to Aristotle, viz. the belief in creatio ex nihilo, only by the will of the all-powerful Creator” (quoted, 199).

Schmidt took the biblical record of early man seriously, and found that it cohered with the ethnographic and linguistic data. As Corduan puts it, “Schmidt did not think one could do justice to the similarity and universality of the monotheism of the least developed people groups by positing nothing more than ancient people brooding over the mystery of Dasein. . . . his ethnographic conclusions entailed that the monotheism of the Primitive tribes must have been due, at least in part, to the fact that God revealed Himself to them” (221, 223). To quote Schmidt himself, “It is God Himself Who taught humans what to believe about Him, how to venerate Him, and how they should obey the expression of His will” (223).

Corduan is particularly incisive in showing why Schmidt’s arguments have been marginalized. Few plow through all 11,000 pages of Der Ursprung. Some dismiss Schmidt because he believed in revelation. Some unfairly characterize him as a rationalist or claim (as Eliade does) that Schmidt reduces the complexity of religion and ignores man’s encounter with the sacred.

What is most interesting about the dismissal of Schmidt is that most theorists offer no alternative account of the origin of religion. Some have concluded that we can no longer trace the origins of religion into the mists of the distant past. Apparently, they would rather give up the quest than consider the possibility that God had something to do with the origins of the worship of God.

New Papyrii Discovery Timeline


First-century Mark: A Timeline

Are you braced for the impact of the Green Scholars Initiative’s work on newly discovered New Testament papyri?  The most famous (or infamous) of these papyri is a fragment from the Gospel of Mark which has been assigned a production-date in the first century – but there are several important papyri among the documents which are scheduled to be published – hopefully – within a year.  Maybe two.  Or three.  In the meantime, here’s a timeline of events leading up to this eventual important event.

  • Late 1970’s-1990’s – Jaakko Frösén (Philology professor at theUniversity of Helsinki) develops methods to extract literary papyri from cartonnage.  A video of his conservation-technique is accessible athttp://www.helsinki.fi/hum/kla/papupetra/papyrus/cartonnage.html .  (You may need an up-to-date version of RealPlayer to watch the video.)

http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak/publics/papyri/pKraft/studies/cartonnage.html .

A papyrus fragment, from Dr. Kraft’s report

Kraft’s report, Studies in the (Mis)uses of Papyrus Cartonnage, and Recovery/Conservation of Its Layers, shows that readable papyri are being extracted from cartonnage, as shown by the example athttp://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/rak/publics/papyri/pKraft/images/cartonnage/078-2w-scan.jpg .

  • March 30, 2010 – Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green discusses the Green Collection and the plans for a Museum of the Bible, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLCNIZ3z_vk .  (At the time of the interview, Dallas was the planned location of the Museum of the Bible, but that has changed; it is being constructed in Washington, D.C.)  Codex Climaci Rescriptus, previously housed at Westminster College, Cambridge, is among the items in the collection.
Scott Carroll
Codex Climaci Rescriptus (0250)
  • May 19, 2011 – CBN reports (athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4L_TP6O_Q4 ) about Scott Carroll, the rapid growth of the Green Collection, and plans for the Museum of the Bible.  The reporter states that the Green Collection already contains over 30,000 items.  Several collection-items are in view in the report, including a Dead Seas Scroll fragment, an illustrated Ethiopic codex, and Papyrus 37.  At about 2:55, pages of the Codex Climaci Rescriptus are featured.  Dr. Carroll describes it as the fifth-oldest near complete Bible in the world.  He also claims, “The handwriting betrays that it actually was copied from something in the 100’s.”
  • Summer 2011 – Baylor Magazine describes (athttp://www.baylor.edu/alumni/magazine/0904/news.php?action=story&story=95829 ) “an unconventional research project” in which exterior mummy-coverings were “dissolved” and in which “More than 150 papyri texts” were extracted.  The report mentions that the Green Collection “provided the items for the study.”  The report names Scott Carroll as the “principal investigator” of the research; specialists involved in the research include David Kyle Jeffrey and Jeffrey Fish.
  • Fall 2011 – In a newsletter of Baylor University,Scott Carroll’s work on manuscript-extraction from mummy cartonnage is described:  http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/182749.pdf .  Jeff Fish was interviewed for the report:  “One day I received a call on the phone from Dr. Scott Carroll, who told me about a vast new collection of unedited papyri. . . . I have since found that Byron Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for the Study of Religion, was instrumental in getting Baylor involved with the Green Scholars Initiative.”
  • November 27, 2011 – Scott Carroll, known to be acquiring artifacts and manuscripts for the rapidly growing Green Collection, states on Twitter:  “Finished exhibit and lectures in West Africa with over 21,000 registered.  Now in Istanbul looking at a collection of unpublished papyri.”  Later the same day:  “My eyes feasted on classical texts, royal decrees, and Biblical and Gnostic texts; nearly 1,000 papyri hidden in this private treasure-trove.”
  • December 1, 2011 – Scott Carroll states on Twitter:  “For over 100 years the earliest known text of the New Testament has been the so-call John Rylands Papyrus. Not any more.”  [The John Rylands Papyrus to which he refers is P52.]  On Facebook, Carroll states:  “For over 100 years the earliest-known text of the NT has been the so-called John Rylands papyrus.  That is about to change with a sensational discover[y] I made yesterday.  Stay tuned for the update.”
  • February 1, 2012 – Daniel Wallace mentions the existence of “a fragment from Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century” during a debate with Bart Ehrman about the reliability of the New Testament text.  The debate is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kg-dJA3SnTA&feature=youtu.be (uploaded to YouTube on February 13, 2012).  One hour and 13 minutes into the debate, Dr. Wallace mentions the existence of the first-century fragment of Mark:

“In the last few months several very early fragments of the New Testament have been discovered.  These will be published by an international scholarly publishing house in a book one year from now. . . .  Among the finds was also a fragment of Luke that is from the early second century. . . .  The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment from Mark’s Gospel that is from the first century. . . . How accurate is the dating?  Well, my source is a papyrologist who worked on this manuscript – a man whose reputation is unimpeachable.  Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet.  His reputation is on the line with this dating, and he knows it, but he is certain that this manuscript was from the first century.”

  • February 15, 2012 – Ben Witherington III (New Testament professor at Asbury), after a lecture by Scott Carroll at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary – Charlotte, writes at his blog (at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/02/15/the-ripening-of-the-green-collection/ ), “The brief lecture by Scott Carroll at GCTS Charlotte last Friday night highlighted some of the most exciting aspects of the Green Collection. It is possible that a very early copy of the Gospel of Mark in Greek, possibly the very earliest is a part of this collection. An epigrapher from Oxford has already prepared to say that it is a first century copy!”  (Witherington also notes, “Sadly it does not include Mark 16.”)

[It so happens that Dirk Obbink is a papyrologist who works at Oxford.  He has been working with Jerry Pattengale (who is currently the Green Scholars Initiative’s Executive Director of Education) as General Editor for the Brill Papyrus Series, in which, it is hoped, the first-century papyrus fragment will be published, along with the other early manuscripts Scott Carroll has described.]

Daniel Wallace

February 24, 2012 – Hugh Hewitt’s interview of Daniel Wallace is published athttp://www.hughhewitt.com/new-testment-scholar-daniel-wallace-on-the-gospel-of-mark-discovery-and-other-biblical-papyri-with-it/ .  Near the beginning of the interview, Wallace states:  “First of all, there is a fragment of Mark, and it’s a very small fragment, not too many verses, but it’s definitely from Mark.  And the most amazing thing about this is that it’s from the first century.  We don’t have any other New Testament manuscripts that are written within the same century that the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament were written in.  This is the first. And it’s dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers, whose name I’m not allowed to reveal yet.”

Asked for an “absolute last date” when the newly discovered fragments will be published, Wallace states, “I have been told that a book should be out, a multi-author book, should be out early next year.  Now publishers sometimes take longer.  Scholars sometimes take longer.  So I’m not going to bet anything on that. But I’m pretty darned confident 2013 is going to be the year all of this is going to be published.”

  • March 22, 2012 – Daniel Wallace posts the following at his blog (athttp://danielbwallace.com/2012/03/22/first-century-fragment-of-marks-gospel-found/ ):  “At my debate with Bart Ehrman (1 Feb 2012, held at UNC Chapel Hill) over whether we can recover the wording of the New Testament autographs, I made the announcement that a probable first-century fragment of Mark’s Gospel had been recently discovered. I noted that a world-class paleographer had dated this manuscript and that he was pretty darn sure that it belonged to the first century. All the details will be coming out in a multi-author book published by E. J. Brill sometime in 2013.”  And, “When the fragment is published along with six other early New Testament papyri (all from around the second century), the scholarly vetting will do its due diligence.”
  • April 6, 2012 – Bart Ehrman, at http://ehrmanblog.org/first-century-copy-of-mark-part-1/ , expresses some frustration about the secrecy surrounding the first-century papyrus fragment of  first-century papyrus of Mark:  “I don’t understand why there is so much secrecy about this “manuscript.” Why NOT tell us where it was found, who found it, how extensive it is, who has examined it, what his grounds for dating it were, whether his views have been independently corroborated?”

August 13, 2013 – Updates are made to the Bibliographical Test Update (which is accessible at

https://s3.amazonaws.com/jmm.us/Bibliographical+Test+Update+-+08.13.14.pdf ).  Items are added to the list of Coptic New Testament manuscripts and Greek New Testament manuscripts.

Recto:  Mt. 6:33 Verso:  Mt. 7:4

Photos of some fragments are included; however, even though “The photos have been purposely obscured to protect copying of manuscripts before their publication,” some of them have a modicum of usefulness, such as a photo of a Coptic fragment containing text from Matthew 6:33 and 7:4.  Another photo that shows a Coptic fragment with text from First John 2:21.

Beginning on page 23 of the Bibliographical Test Update, there is a report of the contents of non-Biblical papyri from the second century B.C., extracted from a mummy-mask that is not the same mask that was featured in McDowell’s video.

Text:  First John 2:21
(from the Bibl. Test Update)

September 6, 2013 – A presentation given by Scott Carroll at the University of the Nations is uploaded to YouTube (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSUzWsuLpso – 2013  UofN WS: S11 Dr. Scott Carroll).  In the course of this video, Carroll describes the process that was used to extract literary papyri from mummy cartonnage.  Things get interesting about 23 minutes into the video.  (At 25:04, bottles of Palmolive are visible in the background as a mummy-mask is being prepared for deconstruction in a sink.  This appears to be the same extraction-method that was presented by McDowell.)  Carroll makes the following statements:
Min. 28:  Carroll announces his discovery of the earliest known text of Romans, lost works of Sappho, and “tons of Homer.”

Min. 29:  Carroll describes the multi-spectral imaging technology that is being used to read the underwriting of Codex Cimaci Rescriptus.  Other subjects are also covered, such as the use of lasers to recover text by measuring the microscopic imprint of the stylus where no ink has survived on the page.

Min. 33:  Carroll mentions that a text of Euripides has been recovered.

Min. 36:  Carroll mentions that he has (there in the room) the earliest text of Exodus 24.

Min. 37:  Carroll states that texts from “many of the Old Testament books,” have been discovered, “with New Testament books,” – “including a first-century text of the Gospel of Mark.  That will be the earliest text of the New Testament.”

Min. 38:  Carroll states, “We’re looking now at a text of Mark that dates between 70 and 110.  And there’s even something more important than that, that I’ve not even told David Hamilton.  And I’m not going to.”

Min. 39:  Carroll displays a Powerpoint-graphic with a list of manuscripts, including:

  1. Gospel of Mt c. 140
  2. Mt 6 mid-2c
  3. Gospel of Mark late 1c-early 2c
  4.  Gospel of Luke mid-2c
  5. Gospel of Luke mid-to-late 2c
  6. John 8 early-3c
  7. Early 4c fragment of John 3 in Coptic
  8. Acts 19 in Coptic
  9. Romans early-3c.

The next slide includes:

  1. Romans 14 early 4c papyrus in Coptic
  2. I Corinthians 9 mid-2c
  3. Codex quire of 2 Corinthians and Galatians 4c in Coptic
  4. Ephesians 4 Coptic
  5. Hebrews 9 early-3c
  6. Hebrews 11 mid-2c (the earliest text of Hebrews)
  7. 2 Timothy 3 papyrus (only surviving evidence for the epistle)

In the course of describing these items and others, Carroll mentions the existence of an ancient fragment that is a portion of Matthew 27-28 and “The earliest text in the world of Luke 16,” “the earliest text of Timothy,” a manuscript containing Second Corinthians chapter 6 through Galatians 3 (which would necessarily be several pages long), “The earliest text in the world of Genesis 17,” and “The earliest text of Second Kings 9.”  Referring to a text of First Samuel, Carroll states, “This text came from a mummy mask,” and says that it was found along with a fragment of the Iliad.

Min. 51:  Carroll refers to a fragment of Matthew 12 which will be the second-earliest New Testament manuscript when it is published, to a fragment of Matthew and Luke “dating to around 150,” to the earliest surviving manuscript of Luke 2, “dating to around 140,” and to a fragment of Luke 12, “dating to before 200.”

Other items mentioned in Carroll’s description of the newly discovered manuscripts:  “The earliest text of Acts 19,” the “earliest text of Romans, found in a mummy mask,” “earliest of Romans 14,” and the “earliest copy of any of Paul’s writings – First Corinthians 9.”  He seems to say that last-mentioned item (a manuscript of First Corinthians 9) was produced in 140 to 160, and was found in a box.  [Therefore we ought to keep in mind that some of the new finds are not from mummy cartonnage!]

  • March 24, 2014– Josh McDowell, in a lecture (online at http://vimeo.com/62646535 ) given at Gracespring Bible Church, describes an experience at the Discover the Evidence seminar (which took place Dec. 5-6, 2013) at which a mummy-mask was deconstructed to obtain literary papyri that were among its component-parts.
Josh McDowell

Beginning in the 26th minute of the video, the deconstruction of the mummy-mask is clearly shown:  it is submerged in a sink at specific temperature-levels, a gentle detergent (Palmolive) is applied, the material is massaged, and then the layers of papyri are gently separated.  This results in the destruction of the artwork on the surface of the mask.  In the 28th minute of the video, McDowell mentions that “three classical scholars” were involved in the identification of texts derived via this method of papyrus-extraction.  (Footage of the mask-deconstruction and papyrus-extraction is at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_gwgGcpD1M .)

The Discover the Evidence seminar is described at http://www.josh.org/discover/ .  The webpage includes detailed bios of Scott Carroll (Ph.D., Miami University, Ohio) and Josh McDowell (M.Div., Talbot Theological Seminary).

  • May 5, 2014 – Tommy Wasserman, at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, using information from Brice C. Jones, posts photos of some of the manuscripts featured in Josh McDowell’s video.  One of the photos is of a fragment containing First Corinthians 10:1-6.  Peter Head (who currently is a scholar involved in the Green Scholars Initiative, according to the list at http://www.greenscholarsinitiative.org/scholars-staff  ) refers to McDowell’s “outlandish claims” and describes the process of papyri-extraction as “slapdash” and “deplorable.”  Wasserman (who is alsocurrently a scholar involved in the Green Scholars initiative) concurs, briefly stating, “Slapdash is the word.”
  • May 15, 2014 – Jerry Pattengale, in a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLCNIZ3z_vk , describes the work of the Green Scholars Initiative, as well as plans for the opening of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
  • September 13, 2014 – Dorothy King compares Josh McDowell to the Taliban in a blog-post at

http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2014/09/i-come-to-bury-green-not-to-praise-him.html , stating, “If islamic fundamentalists destroy cultural property to propagate religious propaganda – whether it’s the Taliban or ISIS – we’re metaphorically up in arms.  Why do we treat Christian fundamentalists differently? Why do we make allowances for the Green Collection scholars destroying ancient Egyptian mummies?  If this ain’t religious discrimination, I don’t know what is.”

  • November 7, 2014 – Michael Holmes, the compiler of the SBL-GNT, becomes the Executive Director of the Green Scholars Initiative.
  • December 5, 2014 – Scott Carroll appears in a chapel-service at Dallas Theological Seminary (where Dan Wallace is a professor), online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htXrOgDahAQ , beginning at about 23 minutes into the video.  His title, in a caption in the video, is “Director, Manuscript Research Group, Grand Haven, MI.”
  • January 9, 2015 – Dirk Obbink releases information on newly discovered texts of Sappho, including a statement that these particular fragments were not obtained from mummy cartonnage.  In his report (which includes photos) at http://www.papyrology.ox.ac.uk/Fragments/SCS.Sappho.2015.Obbink.paper.pdf , Obbink refers to the material as “industrial papyri,” and offers a guess that it existed as a book-binding.  [However, I note that his basis for this is that “none of the fragments showed any trace of gesso or paint prior to dissolving or after.”  It seems to me that this does not preclude an origin in mummy cartonnage; it only implies that the fragments were not from its outer layer or layers.]  He mentions that his fellow-researchers included Simon Burris and Jeffrey Fish.  [These may be the “three classical scholars” alluded to by Josh McDowell in his 2013 lecture.]

Scheduled for 2017:  the opening of the Museum of the Bible.  The museum has a website at http://www.museumofthebible.org .  Passages, a traveling exhibit featuring items from the Green Collection, continues to draw public attention to the collection.  The current director of the museum’s collections is David Trobisch.  Dr. Trobisch is currently listed online as a Fellow of the Center for Inquiry at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/jesusproject/fellows/trobisch_david ; interestingly, the stated mission of the CFI, as stated at http://www.centerforinquiry.netabout , is “to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanistic values.”  [This seems very different from the candid Christian commitment that has been expressed by Dr. Carroll.  It also seems diametrically opposed to the priorities of the Green family.]


That about covers it.  We are still awaiting the publication of the first-century papyrus of the Gospel of Mark; I expect that it will be published by Dirk Obbink (perhaps along with Jeffrey Fish) in late 2015 or 2016, and that it will turn out to be a small fragment with text from Mark chapter one.  It is very possible that some of the other fragments to be published in the same series, which is expected to be prohibitively expensive, will turn out to make a much more significant text-critical contribution than the Mark fragment.  (Note to the GSI and Brill:  affordable digital copies would be a nice compensation for making everyone wait so long!)

Question Authority, Question Everything

Christopher Cone:

Epistemology’s First Task: Identifying the Source of Authority

In any worldview there is a necessary first step of establishing the source of authority. Simply put, our first step is a step of faith in determining who or what we will trust in order to answer the questions of life. This is the first task of epistemology. For Hume that source of authority is human experience through the lens of the senses. Hume trusts the sensory abilities as the only trustworthy means of determining truth. Descartes, on the other hand, argues that the senses are less than reliable, and truth must be gathered through a process of reason guided by his method. For Descartes the human apparatus of reason can be harnessed in such a way as to lead us to truth. Nietszche’s model is less reliant on either the senses or reason, and instead trusts the self as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Plato sees limitations of both experience and reason, and considers enlightened learning a better way to come to a true knowledge of reality. His divided line theory provides a model seemingly advantageous to the philosopher in arriving at truth.

targetThese first steps of faith suggested by Plato, Descartes, Hume, and Nietzsche have been broadly received, as they ground prominent worldviews. However, they do not account for the inherent limitations of learning, reason, experience, and perspective (the latter in Nietzsche’s case). Consequently, while they each are broadly explanatory, they are not, in my estimation, satisfactorily explanatory in the quest for truth.

The Bible, on the other hand, makes sweeping claims regarding the source of authority. Solomonic epistemology, for example, is grounded on the premise that competing epistemic groundings are vanity (e.g., Ecc 1:1). The pursuit of wisdom and learning, while certainly having practical value, is ultimately futility and striving after wind (Ecc 2:12-17; 7:23-29) and even leads to grief and pain (Ecc 1:12-18). The stimulation of the senses, though temporally rewarding, is vanity, striving after wind, and unprofitable (Ecc 2:1-11). The pursuit of self is inherently limited (Ecc 3:11), cannot aid in what comes after this earthly life (Ecc 6:10-12), and ultimately is characterized more by evil and insanity (Ecc 9:3) than wellbeing and certainty.

Solomon prescribes each of these terrestrial pursuits insofar as they have value, but only if the interlocutor is first willing to acknowledge that these pursuits are not ends in themselves. He advocates pursuing wisdom and learning, but only with the understanding that God will bring every resulting act to judgment (Ecc 12:9-13). Solomon advises the use of reason for its benefits (Ecc 10:10), but acknowledges that its use is limited in comparison to the certainties God possesses (Ecc 11:5). Solomon encourages the stimulation of the senses, but only insofar as they are used in the context of remembering the Creator, because those senses will become increasingly ineffective until ultimately they are silenced in death (Ecc 12:1-8). Finally, Solomon advocates following the impulses of the heart (the self), but only with the admission that God will judge the follower for those pursuits (Ecc 11:9-10).

Solomon answers each epistemological model with the same alternative: a beyond-the-sun worldview provides certainty, whereas an under-the-sun worldview provides none. Simply put, under the sun we do not know the activity of God who makes all things (Ecc 11:5). Consequently, for us to have a worldview grounded in certainty, it must be premised on an acknowledgement of the Creator. Solomon pronounces that records of truth – wisdom and delightful words – are given by one Shepherd (Ecc 12:9-11), and in so stating reveals that God’s word is the answer to the epistemological first inquiry regarding what is the source of authority. Elsewhere, Solomon recognizes that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), the beginning of wisdom, and that the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9:10).

Solomon writes so that his readers will know wisdom and instruction and have discernment (Prov 1:1), to instruct them in the fear of the Lord as the source of strong confidence and refuge (Prov 14:26). Consequently he prescribes that humanity must fear God (Ecc 3:14, 5:7, 12:13). And what is the authoritative source from whence we discover the fear of the Lord? Solomon answers this all-important question directly: “Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov 2: 5-6). God’s word, according to Solomon, is the source of authority whereby we can have certainty.

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2015/02/04/epistemologys-first-task-identifying-the-source-of-authority/#sthash.aNmKTZ7H.dpuf

First-Century Mark Manuscript: More News?

Alex the Less:

Here is more information about the papyrus fragment of Mark’s Gospel from 90 AD. Follow the links to read all Craig Evans said.

Originally posted on Earliest Christianity:

The Live Science website is not where most people turn for breaking news on biblical studies, but they have just published a helpful summary of some of the details surrounding the still-yet-to-be-published alleged first-century fragment of Mark’s gospel. A close reading might reveal a couple details not previously known by some readers of this blog. Read the entire article here. Craig Evans appears to be the main source for it. A couple excerpts from the piece (with my own emphasis added) include…

The first-century gospel is one of hundreds of new texts that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars is working to uncover, and analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, said Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia…

The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved,

View original 160 more words

Dr. Cone Exposits Psalm 90 for the New Year

Back when I was in Bible college in the early ’70s a chapel speaker challenged us students to memorize a chapter of the bible every week. The exercise was to both to know the bible better and to provide a discipline that would help us with our other studies. I did it for 3 weeks and it was all I could seemingly accomplish while holding a secular job along with college. One chapter was Psalm 90 (the others were Romans 5 and 2 Peter 1). I admit that memorizing these passages helped me immensely appreciate the content and message of those parts. Here is Dr. Cone for Ps. 90:

Of the 150 psalms that constitute the largest book in the Bible, Moses penned only one, so we approach Psalm 90 with particular interest. What was so significant about the prayer of this one who spoke face to face with God (Exodus 33:11), that his prayer would later be included in this important collection?

new yearThe psalm is introduced as “A prayer of Moses, the man of God,” telling us the kind of literature this is and identifying its author. Verses 1-2 focus on the character and sovereignty of God. He is transcendent (“even from everlasting you are God”), He is the Creator of all (“…you gave birth to the earth and the world”), and at the same time He is intimately involved with His creation (“You have been our refuge” [Heb., maon]). Because of who He is identified to be in verses 1-2, it is inarguable that He has the right to deal with His creation as the next verses describe.

Verse 3-11 consider God’s rightful judgment on mankind. God is active in the physical death of men (3), and in the coming and going of generations (5-6). Verse 7 accounts for His activity in the physical death of men. That death is judgment, and an aspect of being “consumed” by His anger and “dismayed” by His wrath. Why the judgment? God has set the iniquities of mankind in His presence (8) – they are ever before Him. In short, none can hide from Him. Because of His judgment (9), days turn (Heb., panah) or decline, and years finish with a moaning (Heb., hegeh). Human life is fleeting, short, laborious, and sorrowful (10), as a result of God’s judgment on the iniquities mentioned in verse 8. This is all just a glimpse of the power of His anger, and His fury is proportional to the fear that is due Him (11).

While this appears to be a very bleak situation, it is vital that we remember Moses’ opening stanza: “Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations” (1). God is holy, sovereign, transcendent, and fearsome, but these traits do not contradict the reality of His graciousness, and Moses appeals to that graciousness in the concluding verses of the psalm.

“Cause us to know (hiphil [causative] imperative, hiyodah) to count rightly our days, that we may cause ourselves (hiphil, [causative] wenabia), to come in to a heart of wisdom” (12).

Moses requests that God grant the proper perspective for His servants to consider the brevity of our days so they may use those days wisely. Moses appeals to God that He return and be sorry on behalf of His servants (13), and that He completely and utterly satisfy (piel [intensive] imperative, shebe’anu) His servants with His lovingkindness (14). Moses asks that God proportionally make His servants glad according to the afflictions of the years (15), and adds, “that it –your work – may be seen to your servants, and your glory to their children” (16). Finally, Moses requests the favor of Adonai Elohenu (the Lord our God) be on His servants, and emphatically requests twice – in the imperative – that God “make firm” the work of their hands.

In verses 12-17 Moses uses seven imperatives when talking to God: cause us to know, return, be sorry, satisfy us, make us glad, make firm, and make firm. He is emphatically requesting action on God’s part. But it is quite notable that Moses requests action on God’s part to enable action on the part of His servants:

Cause us to number our days – that we might cause ourselves to come into a heart of wisdom.

Completely satisfy us in the morning – that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Moses expected that God’s grace would enable His servants to respond with wisdom, joy, and worship. Moses asked the Lord for specific intervention, in order that God’s servants would respond to God the right way.

When we ask God to intervene in our lives and the lives of others, what is our ultimate desire? Is it so that we can simply enjoy more pleasures (as in James 4:3), or is it so that we can respond to Him in a more fitting way? As we embark on a new year – however much of it He allows to experience on this earth – perhaps we can be ever aware of the brevity of our days, so that we can respond properly to Him. If we are constantly and consciously aware of the reality of our situation, we have an opportunity to walk wisely, making the most of the opportunity He has given us

– See more at: http://www.drcone.com/2014/12/31/psalm-90-new-years-resolutions-for-every-day/#sthash.eiC1jhbC.dpuf

The Incomplete Mosaic Law

A verse that has always, at least to some degree, puzzled me is Jn. 1.17:  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ.(NET) What does this mean: Was the Law of Moses untruthful? No, since Rom. 7.12 states: So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good. (NET)

The solution for me came about by continuous and systematic reading the bible which I suggest solves many seeming quandaries which occur when only reading one section without taking the whole into consideration.

The image of a concept that is projected in our modern mind is often fallacious if we fail to read the bible closely and carefully think what the text is saying. One such concept is “law”. When many Christians read “law” they think of regulations governing behavior primarily between individuals. The 10 Commandments is an example of such regulations and deal with relationships to God, towards oneself (keeping the Sabbath holy was designed for rest as well as reflection and reinforcing both societal and family bonds), and others. The Mosaic Law however covered more than regulations of relationships, they carefully set “the laws of the sacrifices”. This is what John, the gospel writer, speaks about when saying: Grace and truth came about by Jesus Christ. 

So, as I noted: The commandment is holy, righteous, and good, but the problem was us since we couldn’t perform the regulations perfectly. Furthermore, and importantly, we incurred guilt. It is one thing to strive to overcome a specific sin and many folks are able to discipline themselves to not do certain things which are sinful. But this is not enough since one breaking of the commandment results in guilt (this is not about ‘feeling guilty’ rather ‘judicial guilt’). It is important to note that the Mosaic Law has “guilt offerings” as well as “sin offerings”.

Heb.7.18-19 brings out this concept of human need and the Mosaic Law: On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (NET) So it is easy to see how the regulation is perfect but unable to perfect erring people. The text of Hebrews goes on to explain how a better High Priest was needed who Himself could conquer death and graciously offer life (both abundant temporal and eternal) to humans.

Returning to John 1.17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. So how do grace and truth of Christ differ from the Mosaic Law? Firstly, when someone broke a command given through Moses, they would bring an offering to the Aaronic Priest and the supplicant would place their hands on the sacrificial victim’s (animal) head symbolically transferring punishment (death) for the sin to the victim. But Christ was different! He gave Himself for our behalf: a gracious sacrifice we did not provide! Absolute, pure grace!

Additionally, Christ was the truth. The book of Hebrews again helps to make this idea very clear: For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Heb. 10.4 literally translated from Greek). Animal sacrifices were never intended to remedy human sin, instead, they pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ for the sin of humanity. The Mosaic sacrifices (and those before Moses) were ‘types’ that supplicants offered in faith toward God. Jesus was the Truth, the antitype to which all the former sacrifices pointed. Therefore, so while Moses gave the Law of commandments and sacrifices, Christ was the true object the sacrifices pictured. Further, Christ kept all the commands blamelessly so to be an unblemished (perfect) offering to God.

By viewing the Mosaic Law correctly as containing both commandments and ‘laws of the sacrifices’ one can see how Christ was both gracious (He alone pleased God and now offers the New Covenant to all people on the basis of His sacrifice) and that He was the Truth to which the sacrificial types pointed.

Haters are Going to Hate

Credibility is no longer important to old-school publishers bashing Christianity.


A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1)

NewsweekIt is not unusual for Newsweek, and other major media magazines, to publish critical opinions of Christianity and the Bible during major Christian holidays. I have lost count of how many March/April issues of such magazines have cast doubt on the resurrection, just in time for Easter.

However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23rd, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.

Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the fact about the Bible.

Being ignorant of biblical facts is one thing. But being ignorant of biblical facts after chiding one’s opponent for that very thing is a serious breach of journalistic integrity. Saying Eichenwald’s article is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black” just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

There are a variety of categories where Newsweek needs to give Eichenwald a serious slap on the journalistic wrist. Given the length of the article, I will have to deal with it in two parts. Here are some serious problems with part one:

Easy (and False) Caricatures

Eichenwald begins (not concludes, but begins!) his article by describing Christians:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

So, Eichenwald’s well-balanced journalistic understanding of the Christian religion is limited to street preachers who scream at people, those who demand the 10 commandments be posted in schools, and the tiresome trope that all Christians are part of the Jerry Falwell moral majority?

Anyone who has studied evangelical Christianity for more than 10 minutes, using more than internet articles from the Huffington Post, would know that the average believer in America is none of these things.

Such stock accusations and caricatures are just low-hanging fruit that are unworthy of serious journalism. Eichenwald should know better.

Irresponsible Accusations

But, Eichenwald isn’t done. He is not nearly finished expressing his moral outrage against Christianity:

When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

Notice that Eichenwald (still in his introduction) just tosses out these (very serious) accusations and generalizations with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. One wonders whether we are reading a news article or the editorial page. Could a journalist ever get away with such evidence-less accusations if it were made against Islam?

Take for instance the charge that Christians are all about “banishing children.” Seriously? If Eichenwald had actually investigated which part of the population is leading the way in adopting children without homes the answer would have been readily available. Evangelicals. Not Muslims. And certainly not liberal media elites.

But, even more than just being factually wrong, Eichenwald seems completely unaware that he is engaging is own moralistic diatribe—the very thing he accuses Christians of doing. Remember, he complains that Christians are like the “Pharisees” always going around telling people they are wrong. Yet now Eichenwald is doing exactly the same thing. Why, then, is he not guilty of the very charge he levelled against Christians, namely “hate and condemnation”?

Apparently only Christian moralizing is “hate” whereas Eichenwald’s own moralizing is just fine.

Overplaying Transmission Problems

Eichenwald attempts to discredit the Bible by pointing out problems in its transmission. However, the real problem is not with the Bible but with Eichenwald’s misinformed accusations. For instance, he claims:

About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.

This is patently false. Collections of New Testament writings were functioning as Scripture as early as the second century (and, to some extent, even in the first).

Eichenwald tries again:

While there were professional scribes whose lives were dedicated to this grueling work [of copying manuscripts], they did not start copying the letters and testaments about Jesus’s time until centuries after they were written. Prior to that, amateurs handled the job.

Again, this is false. There is no evidence that the earliest Christian scribes were amatuers (whatever that means). On the contrary, the earliest evidence suggest Christian scribes were multi-functional scribes who were used to copying all sorts of literature from letters to literary texts and beyond (see chapter 7 of my book The Heresy of Orthodoxy).

Eichenwald is misinformed another time:

Not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words.

This is an egregious claim about earliest Christian scribes. There is no evidence that the earliest Christian copyists could be, in any way, characterized as illiterate. Eichenwald may be referring to a reference in the Shepherd of Hermas, a popular second-century text, where an individual was asked to copy a book who could not read. However, there is no indication that this individual was a scribe, nor that this was typical for scribes!

Again, another mistake:

But in the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries.

This is absolutely false. The number of NT manuscripts is a little more than 5,500 (and still growing), but not 10,000. In addition, Eichenwald mentions the high number of manuscripts as if it were a negative! Truth is that the more manuscripts we possess, the more certain we can be about the integrity of the NT text.

Moreover, Eichenwald never mentions (or perhaps doesn’t know) that the NT is in a class by itself when it comes to the number of manuscripts. Most other ancient texts from the first century (or thereabouts) are preserved in around 10-20 manuscripts (and some only in a single manuscript). Thus, the 5,500 NT manuscripts of the NT is impressive indeed.

Overplaying Textual Variations

In an effort to shock the reader, Eichenwald appeals to two significant textual variations in the NT, namely the long ending of Mark (16:9-20) and the pericope of the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11). These are the same ones that Ehrman highlights in his bookMisquoting Jesus—which is evidently a big influence on Eichenwald.

But, Eichenwald only tells part of the story. First, he doesn’t tell the reader that these are the only twosignificant variations in the entire New Testament. He presents them like they are typical when they are not. Second, he doesn’t explain how text-critical methodologies allow scholars to identify these changes as later additions. And if they can be identified as later additions, then they do not threaten our ability to know the original text.

Even more, Eichenwald continues to make factual errors about these changes. He states:

Unfortunately, John didn’t write it. Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages. It does not appear in any of the three other Gospels or in any of the early Greek versions of John. Even if the Gospel of John is an infallible telling of the history of Jesus’s ministry, the event simply never happened.

This statement is riddle with errors. For one, scribes probably didn’t make the story of the adulterous woman up—it probably circulated as oral tradition. Second, it was not added in the “Middle Ages” as he claims, but probably sometime in the second century. Third, we don’t know that “the event simply never happened.” On the contrary, scholars have argued it may be an authentic event that circulated in the early church for generations.

Overplaying Translational Issues

Eichenwald next hones in on the issue of translations, claiming that English translations are utterly unreliable and written simply to reinforce traditional Christian beliefs that, otherwise, have no support. He states:

And so each time προσκυνέω appeared in the Greek manuscript regarding Jesus, in these newer Bibles he is worshipped, but when applied to someone else, the exact same word is translated as “bow” or something similar. By translating the same word different ways, these modern Bibles are adding a bit of linguistic support to the idea that the people who knew Jesus understood him. In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse.

This paragraph reveals a stunning misunderstanding of the way translations and texts really work. The fact that translators use different English words at different points is not due to some diabolical plot to trick people into believing in the divinity of Jesus, but is simply due to the fact that words mean different things in different contexts.

Moreover, Eichenwald is unaware that even the more progressive English translations do exactly the same thing! For instance, the NRSV of Matt 14:33 reads: “And those in the boat worshiped (προσκυνέω) him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

Overplaying Diversity in the Early Church

No critique of early Christianity would be complete without trotting out the standard claims that early Christians couldn’t agree on much of anything and everyone was busy fighting over early Christian doctrines. At this point, apocryphal gospels (such asThomas and Peter) are often highlighted as evidence that Christianity was confused about what it really believed.

Eichenwald executes this part of the refute-Christianity-playbook perfectly. After repeating the standard trope about how “Christianity was in chaos in its early days,” he even offers the claim that Constantine (diabolical fiend that he was) really created modern Christianity as we know it:

And then, in the early 300s, Emperor Constantine of Rome declared he had become follower of Jesus, ended his empire’s persecution of Christians and set out to reconcile the disputes among the sects. Constantine was a brutal sociopath who murdered his eldest son, decapitated his brother-in-law and killed his wife by boiling her alive, and that was after he proclaimed that he hadconverted from worshipping the sun god to being a Christian. Yet he also changed the course of Christian history, ultimately influencing which books made it into the New Testament.

Eichenwald seems utterly unaware that this whole course of argument is patently false and drawn directly from internet chat rooms and books like the Da Vinci Code. The truth is that Constantine had nothing to do with which books were placed into the New Testament, nor did the council of Nicea for that matter.

But, undaunted, Eichenwald digs his hole even deeper:

To understand how what we call the Bible was made, you must see how the beliefs that became part of Christian orthodoxy were pushed into it by the Holy Roman Empire. By the fifth century, the political and theological councils voted on which of the many Gospels in circulation were to make up the New Testament. With the power of Rome behind them, the practitioners of this proclaimed orthodoxy wiped out other sects and tried to destroy every copy of their Gospels and other writings.

Yet again, Eichenwald is flat out wrong. There was no fifth century “vote” about which Gospels would make it into the NT. On the contrary, the four gospels had been well-established in the church since the second century.

In sum, the first part of Eichenwald’s article is an unmitigated disaster. Its factual errors are legion, its bias against Christianity is palpable, it makes serious and yet unsubstantiated moral accusations against followers of Jesus, and, all the while, offers zero historical evidence backing up its claims.

This is not journalism. This is Eichenwald’s personal diatribe. Newsweek should really offer a formal apology.