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 at .  (You may need an up-to-date version of RealPlayer to watch the video.) .

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 at .

  • March 30, 2010 – Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green discusses the Green Collection and the plans for a Museum of the Bible, at .  (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 (at ) 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 (at ) “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: .  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 (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 ), “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 at .  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 (at ):  “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 , 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 ).  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 – 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 ) 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 .)

The Discover the Evidence seminar is described at .  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  ) 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 .  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 ; 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.

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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

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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.

Homecoming of Earl Radmacher

Dr. Earl Radmacher Image via Grant Hawley's tribute to Dr. Radmacher at

Dr. Earl Radmacher, writer, speaker, and longtime faculty member and president of Western Seminary, has passed away. Recovering Grace readers will remember Dr. Radmacher as a determined proponent of investigation and genuine restoration in the wake of the 1980 Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC) scandal, and of dialogue between Bill Gothard and theologians concerning IBYC/IBLP’s teachings.

As early as 1973, when the Basic Seminar was near the height of its reputation and popularity, Dr. Radmacher attempted to privately address theological concerns with Institute teachings. As he learned more of the pragmatic effects of Gothard’s conduct and teachings on the Institute staff, he became a tireless advocate for bringing the truth of the situation to light for the purpose of restoration and healing. Don Veinot and Ron Henzel described him thus: “Drs. Earl Radmacher and Ronald B. Allen stood as lonely watchmen, crying out in the night of evangelicalism’s heedlessness, watching in horror as Gothard’s teachings bore the tragic fruit of scandal in the 1980’s, much as they had predicted…We believe that Radmacher and Allen were role models for the kind of corporate response that conservative evangelicalism should have given to Gothard from the beginning.”

Below are links to tributes from Dr. Radmacher’s colleagues and students, and links to four Recovering Grace pieces wherein Dr. Radmacher’s work as both a peacemaker and an advocate for truth are chronicled. His family and friends must find comfort in the evident fruit of Dr. Radmacher’s life. Some fruit takes decades to ripen, and we want the family to know that his faithful service continues to help set captives free.

“Before Abraham was , I Am” (John 8.58)

Michael Kruger effectively proves early Christian communities held to the divinity of Christ in addition to the original witness of the apostles.

Did the Earliest Christians Really Think Jesus Was God? One Important Example

Jesus paintingOne of the most common critiques of Christianity is that some of its major tenets are late inventions. Core Christian doctrines, we are told, were never believed in the earliestphases of the church but were developed only at a later time period. Orthodoxy, therefore, was not early but late.

The most obvious example of a doctrine that was purportedly added later (we will cover another such doctrine in a future post) is the divinity of Jesus.  The popular internet-level narrative goes like this:  Jesus was not God, nor did he claim to be God. He was just an ordinary man.  At a later point, his followers began to assign attributes to him that were semi-divine–like an angel.  And it wasn’t until even later, around the fourth century council of Nicea, that Christians began to conceive of Jesus as the one and only creator God of the universe.

Of course, this is not the place for a full-scale assessment of early Christology. But, it is worth noting that some of our earliest Christian sources outside the New Testament don’t at all seem confused about the divinity of Jesus, but affirmed that he was fully God in every sense of the word.  One example is the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, a popular early Christian work that affirmed a very high Christology.  Here are a few select passages:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans.  To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler…but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between–this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

This is a remarkable description of Jesus–especially so early. Notice that the author expressly states that Jesus is NOT an angel, or any other divine servant.  Moreover, the author goes out of the way to say that Jesus is the very creator of the universe.  Indeed, the author drives this point home by examining every part of creation–heavens, see, sun, moon, stars, animals, heights, depths–and showing that Jesus made it all.

Although angels received many attributes that made them seem semi-divine, there was one thing they were never given, namely the status as creator.  For Jews, that was an attribute that God and God alone possessed.

In the very next passage, the epistles goes on to say:

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all.  But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans.  So that he might bring salvation. (7.3-4).

Here we see the epistle invoke plain language that Jesus is the “Son” of God, and then expressly state that Jesus was sent “as God.”  Ehrman’s translation of the Epistle to Diognetus translates this as “a god” (indefinite article and lower case) but there is no warrant in the Greek text for doing so. In fact, the original 1917 Loeb edition of the Apostolic Fathers translated this phrase as “he sent him as God.”

It is also worth noting that while the author fully affirms the divinity of Jesus, he also affirms the full humanity of Jesus when he says God “sent him as a human to human.”  Here we see the beginning of the doctrine of the incarnation, namely that Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.

A final example:

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly.  Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father.  For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints.  This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2-4).

The author’s use of “Word” (logos) suggests he is familiar with John’s gospel, or at least teaching based on John’s gospel. His high view of Jesus as the pre-existent God is evident from the phrase: “the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient.” What a fabulous, and profound, way of describing how Jesus is both God and man.

Although more patristic sources could be called as witnesses, it is at least worth noting that this patristic source, the Epistle to Diognetus, has a view of Jesus in the second century that supposedly was not invented until the fourth century.

Distinctions between Apologetics and Philosophy (by Dr. Cone)

Biblical apologetics is a form of evangelism (1 Pet 3:15), and not a form of polemics. Also, Biblical apologetics technically has nothing to do with philosophical argument. However, in practice, the term apologetics is traditionally used to refer to principles and arguments for defending the faith. But more precisely, these are two separate categories. The first (Biblical) is simple evangelism, and the second (arguments) is more philosophical. Of course, I think it is vital that Christians use their brains and do philosophy, but doing philosophy isn’t the same thing as evangelism. Both are needed, but for different reasons and in different contexts.   Where would philosophy come into play, then? Biblical apologetics = aspects of evangelism Traditional apologetics = category of philosophy So, it depends on what you are asking. I would suggest philosophy doesn’t come into play in evangelism, generally (not prohibited, but not part of the gospel message). Now, if one defends – as part of the hope within them – the Biblical worldview, that is certainly not wrong, but it is not the essence of evangelism, nor is it modeled anywhere in Scripture as a part of evangelism. But with respect to traditional apologetics, as a category of philosophy, I would suggest that we need to do a more comprehensive philosophy than just developing a few lines of argument that favor the Biblical worldview. Here are two challenges with traditional apologetics: (1) it often claims to be its own discipline and it isn’t (it is part of a larger discipline: philosophy), and (2) it often claims to have a necessary role in evangelism, and it doesn’t (necessarily, though it can).   In practice, where does addressing faulty presuppositions come into play when dealing with a lost person, whatever flavor his lostness has chosen? Case by case. As long as we acknowledge that a person is not going to be converted by admitting faulty presupposition. Here is the issue: of course they have faulty presuppositions, they are lost. But they are not willing to receive good ones without Christ (1 Cor 2:14). Now, someone might deeply appreciate the elegance of the Biblical worldview, and might “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8) and might believe in Christ, but it is just as possible that they might appreciate the elegance while remaining unconverted (James 2:19). The issue with those who are spiritually dead is that they need Christ, and Peter, for example focuses on the aspect of hope (1 Pet 3:15). Certainly Paul focuses on knowledge/ignorance, but all in relation to Christ (e.g., Acts 17).    Do we ignore questions and present the gospel without addressing questions, or correcting faulty foundations?   Certainly not. It is not that we sidestep or ignore the questions, it is that our focus in evangelism is introducing the lost to Jesus Christ, and so much of that focus involves concepts like love, hope, peace, etc. For example, changing someone’s mind about the probability of design won’t in and of itself draw them to Christ, so that is not the end goal. Of course we need to be able to answer questions, and of course we need to be able to correct faulty foundations, but I would still suggest we do so within the context of 1 Peter 3:15 – the focus is our giving an account for the hope within us.   Do we practice what Schaeffer called taking the roof off – taking them to the logical conclusion of their faulty system – or how Bahnsen demonstrated – they can’t account for their own ability to reason based on their own epistemology, etc? That depends on the person. You see, rather than having a one size fits all method, Biblical evangelism seems more about relationship and responsiveness than about argument. even in Acts 17, Paul was very gracious to those he spoke, and he did not eviscerate their worldview (though it was deserving) – instead he positively asserted a component in their worldview that they apparently hadn’t considered. We have much freedom here, and it is very important that a believer allow the word of Christ to richly dwell within him (Col 316), and that our feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel (Eph 6:15). So I would never argue that we should be ignorant of apologetic/philosophic issues, but I would argue we need to use these things in a Biblical way.   So if I’m going to teach evangelism do I try to help them learn to answer, or approach the answers to the questions by using an epistemological approach?  Or do I teach them to simply give Scripture without taking account of any other information? The answer to that question is not an either or, it is a both and. We need to be able to answer the philosophical questions – I think that can be a part of giving account for the hope that is within us. We also need to be able to work with the Scriptures, as they are suitable for what is needed. The bottom line is we need to be able to do both, and we need to recognize what the situation calls for and demonstrate the gentleness and reverence requisite for one who has the hope of Christ. It is simply a matter of priority, that is what I am saying: I can be exceedingly skilled in the rhetorical art of polemics, and I can be exceedingly skilled in the philosophical disciplines, and I can even be skilled at presenting the gospel in such a way as to be most convincing. But if I do not have love, I am no more than a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). I would like to see people equipped with and by Scripture, capable to reason things out in their philosophy, and interested in showing love and compassion to those who are perishing rather than seeing those who don’t know Christ as an intellectual challenge to be vanquished. – See more at:

Prayer Changes Us not God’s Will- As expounded by A.W. Pink (courtesy of Timothy Hammons)

I have really enjoyed re-reading A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, and noticed that the last time, I didn’t finish it. I had one chapter to go: God’s Sovereignty and Prayer. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book, for it really dispels the belief that we can change God via our prayer.

This is a common misconception among evangelicals. They tell stories of how certain people prayed so much and because of that, were able to do so much. The story is often told that Martin Luther would pray three hours a day. Well-meaning Christians often point out that this is why God used Martin Luther to start the Reformation. I think those people get it completely backwards. God did not use Martin Luther to start the Reformation because he prayed three hours a day. Martin Luther prayed three hours a day because God used him.

After all, if God is sovereign, how in the world do we change God?

This is the main point that Pink makes in his chapter on prayer. God’s will is unmovable from his eternal council. He will bring about His ends and His purpose to His satisfaction, whether we pray about it or not.

Who do we think we are that we can change God at all? What arrogance we fill ourselves with when we tell people that this country is going to hell in hand basket, but if we pray, God will change all that. That is utter nonsense.

Just look at the psalmist who wrote their prayers for us. Do we find God being changed in any of the pleas? Not at all. The only thing that changes is the psalmist, and his understanding of his plight.

Some might ask: “if God is sovereign, then why pray at all?” To which Pink gives us three answers:

  1. Prayer has been appointed that The Lord God Himself should be honored. God requires we should recognize that He is, indeed, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity (Isa. 57:17).”
  2. Prayer is appointed by God for our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. When seeking to learn the design of prayer, this should ever occupy us before we regard prayer as a means for obtaining the supply of our need. Prayer is designed by God for our humbling. Prayer, real prayer, is a coming into the presence of God, and a sense of His awful majesty produces a realization of our nothingness and unworthiness.
  3. Prayer is appointed by God for our seeking from Him the things which we are in need of. (Pink them reminds his readers of God’s sovereignty and decree of all things). Prayer is not for the purpose of informing God, as if He were ignorant,… but it is to acknowledge He does know what we are in need of. Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need, but is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of need… God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honored by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.

You can see that Pink seeks to exalt God while helping us see our need for humility. When we see that God has truly decreed all things, and all things will work out according to His foreordained will, we remember our place as creatures, coming before our Lord in humble submission instead of coming before making demands that He change His plans before is. No, prayer does not change God, it changes us and helps us see our need to enter into His presence in humble reliance.

Timothy Hammons is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

Birth Pains/Seals Parallel ~ NOT!

Alex the Less:

Here is a refinement of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the church view. It may be a bit lengthy but the position is fully explained.

Originally posted on The Orange Mailman:

I can remember reading Marv Rosenthal’s book, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church, for the first time. I was fascinated by this presentation of end time events which I hadn’t read anywhere else. I “devoured” it reading some portions several times. I can remember shortly after thinking, “I believe in a Sixth Seal, Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church.” I had already been studying end times Bible passages searching for answers, but everything I was reading in the scriptures contradicted the Pre-Trib rapture notes I had in all my Bibles.

I also remember reading about Rosenthal’s presentation of the parallel between the birth pains of Matthew 24:4-8 and the first four seals in Revelation 6. I thought it was interesting and compelling, and for quite some time, I believed in that parallel seeing that those two sets of events occurred within the same time frame. Later, on a discussion board, one…

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Eyelashes and Morals

Alex the Less:

Here is a message that bears repeating: The internal/external dichotomy.

Originally posted on THE CHRISTIAN PUNDIT:

BB-BeaIt doesn’t take much life experience to know that, given a choice, a young man will choose a young woman with a beautiful face and gorgeous figure over an average woman with weak eyes. Even biblical patriarchs were susceptible to an attractive external. “Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel” (Genesis 29:16–18a). He picked the pretty girl. And in a time before Maybelline, she was probably born with it. She didn’t beat Leah at the win-the-man game because she was better at application and had contacts. God made Rachel more beautiful than her sister, and it won her the love of the husband.

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TRV (Two Reading View or Christotelic) Explained

Here is Richard Gaffin (long time professor at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia) explaining TRV and why it is deficient. The entire article (response) appears here:

This happens through its “first read-second read” treatment of the Old Testament that it adopts. The first read seeks to establish the original historical meaning or original human author meaning of an Old Testament passage on its own terms without any reference to the New Testament. The second read of the passage then seeks to show how in the light of the New Testament it is about Christ, to disclose its Christotelic content.

This approach as a whole is ill-conceived and seriously flawed. Though it is motivated in part by the legitimate concern to avoid reading New Testament meanings back into Old Testament texts–no doubt a danger–there is a difference between reading the New Testament back into the Old and reading the Old Testament in light of the New. The former is wrong; the latter is not only legitimate but also requisite. As it is carried out, the first read tends towards highlighting the “messiness” of the Old Testament, as its proponents put it, towards finding unrelated or discordant trajectories of meaning in the Old Testament. It obscures both the organic connection between the meaning of the divine author and what the human authors wrote as well as the organic connection and unity between the Old Testament and New Testament.

Multivalent, even contradictory trajectories will appear to be the case when the Old Testament documents are read “on their own terms” in the sense of bracketing out their fulfillment in Christ and the interpretive bearing of the New Testament.

For new covenant readers submissive to both the Old and New Testaments as the word of God, such a disjunctive reading of the Old Testament is illegitimate, as well as redemptive-historically (and canonically) anachronistic. To seek to interpret the various Old Testament documents for themselves and apart from the vantage point of the New exposes one ultimately to misinterpreting them. The Old Testament is to be read in the light of the New not only because Jesus and the New Testament writers read it this way, but also because Jesus and the New Testament writers are clear about the continuity in intention and meaning that exists between themselves and the various Old Testament authors and what those authors wrote in their own time and place. Passages like Luke 24:44-45, John 5:39-47 and 1 Peter 1:10-12, not to mention numerous others, put this beyond question—unless we are to dismiss such passage, as advocates of Christotelic interpretation characteristically do, as reflecting a Second Temple Jewish hermeneutic that attributes meaning to Old Testament passages that is not their original human author meaning.

The Old Testament reveals a unidirectional path or a set of multiple paths that leads to Christ. Certainly at points that way is obscure and difficult to follow; that remains and will always be a challenge to sound interpretation of the Old Testament. Nor did the Old Testament authors grasp with any fullness the meaning of what they wrote. But, as Vos says elsewhere, that they “did not understand all this in detail is not relevant” (Reformed Dogmatics, volume 2, forthcoming, on the unity of the covenant of grace). At the same time, their understanding of what they wrote does not disclose discordant and inorganic discontinuity. As Vos immediately adds, “But without doubt, they would have grasped the heart of the matter.” To cite a few examples among many more: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41). Not only did Isaiah speak (or write) but also, in speaking, he himself saw or understood. In fact, with an eye to the syntax of verse 41, he spoke “because he saw”; he said it because he saw it. Again, the intense interest of the Old Testament prophets as a whole was in what “the Spirit of Christ” at work in them was disclosing about his own eventual coming, his sufferings and consequent glory (1 Peter 1:10-11).

As Vos indicates in the first quote above, at stake here is what is essential for the Reformed faith (e.g., WCF, 7:5-6; 8:6; 11:6; WLC, 33-35), for true, Biblical religion since the fall: the unity of the religion of the Old and New Testaments focused on Christ. Central for the faith of the former is the future fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah to come, for the faith of the latter, the realized fulfillment of that promise.

Finally, it seems fair to observe that the term “Christotelic” has been coined in part to replace “Christocentric.” Advocates of Christotelic interpretation will speak of the Old Testament being “Christological” in a general sense, in view of the pervasive reference to Christ that the New Testament finds in the Old   Testament in all its parts. But they avoid applying “Christocentric” to the Old Testament because in their view, their “first read” approach shows that its original historical, human author meaning is, all told, not Christ-centered.

There can be no objection to “Christotelic” in itself. But Scripture is Christotelic just because it is Christocentric. It is Christotelic only as it is Christocentric, and as it is that in every part, the Old Testament included. Or, as we may, in fact must put the issue here in its most ultimate consideration, Christ is the mediatorial Lord and Savior of redemptive history not only at its end but also from beginning to end. He is not only its omega but also its alpha, and he is and can be its omega only as he is its alpha.

An Answer to Dr. Bill Evans

Alex the Less:

Here is a good defense on the organic unity of scripture contra the TRV (Two Readings View) of some.

Originally posted on Green Baggins:

Dr. William Evans has written several posts on the Christotelic controversy. I wish to focus on this post. As I see it, the key issues here surround the initial similarity between Poythress/Ferguson/Hodge, on the one hand, and the Christotelic interpretation, on the other. In fact, Evans does not seem to find any difference at all between the two. I beg to differ.

The first thing I wish to point out is that I believe Evans has not quite described Green’s critics accurately. Evans writes:

Green’s critics, however, contend that such thinking effaces the “organic connection” between the Old Testament and the New. They believe that grammatical-historical interpretation is the normative method of biblical interpretation, and that the meaning of the text resides in the human author’s intention. However, the grammatical-historical method is redefined and expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation…

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102 Will God reward us openly? (Mat.6:4)

Alex the Less:

Herman Grobler again provides clear reasons to help us determine exactly what God says in His word.

Originally posted on Bible differences:

102. Expected Addition Mat.6,4,6,18

One of the interesting variations that is sometimes found in manuscripts is the addition of expected words. As an example, let us look at Matthew 6:4

NIV: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
KJV:”…thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

People love to use opposites together Darkness against light, black versus white and even so secret versus openly. It is most often expected together. Therefore it is almost unthinkable that one would deliberately remove the expected “openly” from the sentence above, had it been in the original autograph. On the other hand it is easily acceptable that “openly” could have slipped into the text, had it not been part of the autograph. Whatever the case might be, both could not render the original. One must be an alteration of the original. But how could one…

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Salt Losing its Flavor: Luke 14: 34-35, Matthew 5:13

This instance recorded in Matthew and Luke occurs as part of the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain). Another reference to salt losing its flavor is found in Mark 9:50 and most likely is given at another time. The rationale for seeing Mark’s account as given at a different time relates to the nature of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Often the message given was the same but the places changed such as the “Kingdom is at Hand” proclamation. Of course many of the accounts recorded in the Synoptic Gospels are parallel and given from another perspective when they are not in exact agreement, but not all of the sayings of Jesus were given only once since not all of the disciples were with Him at all occasions and others (who would become part of the 500 who witnessed His resurrected person) needed to hear the same message in different towns. Newspapers and other media did not exist so it should not be surprising that the same teachings were repeated at different times and places.

The Sermon on the Mount starts as a description of the character of Jesus’ disciples (see Lk. 6.20a). Here I reproduce Mt. 5.1-12 since this section defines the “salt of the earth”

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Therefore, with seeing these traits, it is easy to see exactly what “the salt of the earth” is. Conversely, also, what losing its “flavor” means.

V. 13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people.

A note about the word “morantha” (from moraino) translated as “loses its flavor” in both Matthew and Luke’s account given in the “Sermon on the Mount.” In this instance, as I regard the passage, it is a wrong translation. It should read: “become foolish” for these reasons: 1. To translate the word “loses it flavor (lose its saltiness)” is from Mark’s  account which I have previously explained was most likely given at a different time than the Matthew and Luke sections. The related content in Mark clearly shows this is the case.

2. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is already using a figure of speech in terming His disciples as “salt”, why would He use a term such as “moraino” which clearly means “to make foolish” as another figure of speech within a figure of speech? No, in this instance, Jesus is clarifying what He means: that the disciples not turn to folly and be characterized opposite of the traits Jesus just described in verses 2-12 of Matthew chapter 5.

3. Jesus was speaking to His disciples to whom He explained figures of speech in instances where they asked. In Lk. 14.35 Jesus warns: ” The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” He wanted the disciples to clearly understand the message to them so He uses: “become foolish”. This is how both Matthew 5.13 and Luke 14.34 should both be translated: “become foolish”.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes foolish how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. (v.13)

I.Howard Marshall in his commentary on Luke notes “no attestation” of moraino than “to make folly, become foolish” but still thinks Luke 14.34 should read: “lose its saltiness”. I respectfully disagree for the previously cited reasons. No matter how one translates the word, one thing should be clear: the meaning of “losing its flavor” is “to become foolish.”

In other posts I hope to discuss more about the figure of salt used in the bible and also “The Covenant of Salt”. All bible references: NET Bible.

The New Covenant in 1 John

In 2 Corinthians 3.6 Paul defines aspects of the New Covenant which are different from the Mosaic Covenant of the “letter”: who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NET) Here Paul describes one of the Law’s functions: “to kill”. The sense of what Paul is saying is that the commandments of the Old Covenant exposed our deficiency to keep those commandments perfectly and thus the Law of the Sacrifice was necessary to atone for that sin by bringing a substitute for the offender, a sin offering. The person would place their hands on the animal and confess their sin then the priest would offer it on the altar after it had its throat cut.

The good news of the New Covenant is that Christ has atoned for sin once for all time and the Spirit is given on that basis to those who turn to Christ in faith. This New Covenant was promised in a detailed manner especially in Jer. 31.31-34 toward the end of Israel’s Theocratic Kingdom:

“Indeed, a time is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.  It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the Lord. “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” (NET)

Before we look at 1John, a few notes on the time frame of when this New Covenant was to happen: “after I plant them in the land” (“after these things”-Heb.). Jeremiah had long prophesied that Judah would be exiled but then allowed to return after 70 years (605-535 BCE). Also, Dt. 30.1-6 promises “heart circumcision” after the exile due to breaking the Old Covenant. Additionally, Ezekiel 11.14-20 promises a removal of the stony heart to be replaced with the fleshly heart after the restoration from the Babylonian Captivity. Again, Ezekiel 36.24-27 promises after Israel returns from captivity that 1. Cleansing 2. New heart and spirit 3. Fleshly heart 4. The Spirit enabling to keep God’s regulations.

The last OT prophet Malachi promised the “Messenger of The Covenant” who will be the Lord Himself: “I am about to send my messenger, who will clear the way before me. Indeed, the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom you long for, is certainly coming,” says the Lord who rules over all. (Malachi 3.1 NET) John the Baptist was the first messenger who cleared the way for the Messenger of the Covenant who was Jesus who was longed for to pay redemption’s price for all of humanity.

Without specifically mentioning The New Covenant, the Apostle John in his first epistle described the new relationship (covenant) that believers in Jesus enjoy. 1 John 2.20 contrasts those who have not left the faith of verse 19 as having the anointing (Holy Spirit) and that they all “know”: Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. While true that some manuscripts have the accusative form (in the Koine Greek) and additional “things”, this certainly doesn’t make sense. Even the apostles in the first century were not cognizant of many aspects. Also, it would be normal for the scribes hearing the epistle read would naturally add “things” to give the verb its object when in reality the clause ends with “know”. It is abundantly clear to many scholars that this is a reference to Jer. 31.34 where they (believers) would all “know” the Lord. Therefore, the Greek nominative case (subjective-“you all know”) is preferred over the accusative case (direct object-“you know all things”).

1 John 2.27 again mentions this anointing as a person (the Holy Spirit) who teaches the New Covenant believer to abide in Christ: Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him. (NET)

“Chrisma” is the word in Greek which referred to the anointing oil such as what the High Priests would be anointed with in the OT. This OT oil was a symbol for the NT Holy Spirit promised in the New Covenant.

An aspect of “the times of the Lord” (Lev.23) was the festivals which every male Israelite was to attend. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice: Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough—you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. (1Cor. 5.6-8 NET) All three synoptic Gospels (Mt., Mk., Lk.) mention Christ at the Last Supper referring to the cup of wine as His symbolic blood of the Covenant which was expected (New). Christ would shed His own blood (and so enacting The New Covenant) in our stead accomplishing redemption. The Last Supper was during the time of the first lamb of Passover (Christ’s crucifixion occurred at the ‘second lamb’ is my view).

The second festival of the “times of the Lord” all male Israelites were to attend was Shavuot or in Greek, Pentecost (50 days). Jesus instructed His disciples to wait for “the promise from the Father” (“another advocate”) which happened when the Spirit descended on the 120 believers assembled together for the festival Shavuot. This is the anointing which John speaks about in his epistle: the Holy Spirit’s indwelling all faithful to Christ. It is how Christians “know” the Lord.

The Winners’ Prizes — Dead Vegetation?

Alex the Less:

Many Christians, when they read this admonition to run to win the race, think of racing many opponents because this is a feature of modern competition. Christians can be confused as to who they are competing against and may think this verse speaks of competing ministries. I do not think the verse refers to competing against other Christians, rather, the struggle between the “old” and “new man” within a believer. Paul here refers to a two person race as evidenced by the accompanying figure of boxing the body negating the lusts of the flesh (beating the body to submit it to the new person). Both metaphors are for the ultimate purpose of not being disqualified through the lack of self control. It is the same as presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12.1-2). The old person is rendered inoperable by denying the old self and taking up their cross in following Christ (Mt.10.38-9).

Originally posted on HolyLandPhotos' Blog:

In a previous entry I shared some pictures related to “Running the Race.”  The winners of such competitions were awarded, among other things, victory crowns—the composition of which depended upon the games.

GSATNMMI02 Modern Recreation of Victory Wreaths — On the left a Pine Wreath for the winner of an event at the Isthmian Games and on the right a Laural Wreath for the winner of an event at the Olympic Games — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The games at Isthmia were held twice during the four year Olympic cycle.  The city of Corinth was in charge of these games and Isthmia was only 6 miles from Corinth.  The games included athletic as well a music contests.  It is very probable that the games were held during Paul’s stay at Corinth.  Indeed, he writes to the church at Corinth:

1Cor. 9:24     Do you not know

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Ezekiel 17.1-5: Tells the riddle of Nebuchadnezzar coming to Lebanon to pluck the top sprig (Jehoiachin) from Israel (Judah) and placing a seedling (Zedekiah) in its place. A question in my mind is: why mention Lebanon? The answer becomes clear when we realize that Judah had no suitable place for encampment for Nebuchadnezzar’s army and court. The broad and fertile plain of Riblah in the land of Hamath (Lebanon area) did however and the Babylonian King likely used this site as he did later in 587/6 BCE when Zedekiah’s court was executed (Jer. 53.9-11).

17:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 17:2 “Son of man, offer a riddle, and tell a parable to the house of Israel. 17:3 Say to them: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says:

“ ‘A great eagle with broad wings, long feathers,

with full plumage which was multi-hued,

came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar.

17:4 He plucked off its topmost shoot;

he brought it to a land of merchants

and planted it in a city of traders.

17:5 He took one of the seedlings of the land,

placed it in a cultivated plot;

a shoot by abundant water,

like a willow he planted it.

Premillennialism in Church History, Part II

Alex the Less:

Good historical summary of PMill. thought by Lynda O. in this post.

Originally posted on Scripture Thoughts:

Continuing from Part I in this series, now for a brief look at the early medieval period, when the martyr doctrine was itself martyred. As well established from the available writings of the early church, the true church pre-Constantine (those who were of the Christian faith and not heretics) affirmed chiliasm. Nathaniel West’s essay points out the connection between the martyrs and their “martyr doctrine,” the hope of the future reign with Christ. Premillennialism is the doctrine of the martyred church, a great truth that has no place in apostate Christianity, that false faith that springs forth in times of peace, free from persecution.

This part of the history is more known to premillennialists, at least in general terms: the allegorical approach in the Alexandrian school, and Augustine formulating what is now called amillennialism, including “progressive parallelism” as a “spiritual” answer in response to the “carnal” excesses of some chiliast…

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Methuselah – The Palm Tree

Alex the Less:

Modern agricultural techniques such as in vitro germination are impressive but more impressive is the original design allowing this seed to remain viable all these years. The oasis of En Gedi (pictured also) was an important place when King David was hiding from Saul as there are springs of water that sustained the soldiers. In the future En Gedi will be a fishing village (Ezekiel 47.8-12).

Originally posted on HolyLandPhotos' Blog:

View of “Methuselah” the Judean Date Palm tree on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura in the Rift Valley of Israel—about 30 mi. [50 km.] north of Eilat.

DLPLTRDP10 “Methuselah” the Date Palm — sprouted from a 2,000 year old seed that was found in the excavations of Masada — Photo: March 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Methuselah sprouted in 2005 from a 2,000 seed that was found in the excavations of Masada.  It was transplanted to the earth in 2008.  This picture was taken in March 2014 and it seems to be doing well.

To view an interesting 8 minute video on this Judean Palm Tree that was sprouted from a 2,000 year old date pit found by Yigal Yadin at Masada Click Here.

Yishai Fleisher interviews, on site, Dr. Elaine Solowey, who supervised the sprouting of the pit and the nurturing of the seedling back…

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The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.4)

Alex the Less:

The Millennial sacrifices proclaim Christ’s death similar to how Church Age “Lord’s Supper” observances do. Both “Believer’s Baptism” and “The Lord’s Supper” memorialize Christ’s atoning work: the once for all sacrifice at Calvary’s cross. If the Old Testament sacrifices were shadows of Christ’s one sacrifice then it may be helpful to look at them as morning shadows. Now, and in the Millennium, they are evening shadows. Christ’s redemptive event is pictured from two perspectives: before and after.

Originally posted on DR. RELUCTANT:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

In this last part of our study of the “Priestly Covenant” I will try to answer some of the main objections which might be thrown at  what I have already stated.

1. If Christ is the Final Sacrifice for sins, how can there be a temple and sacrifices in the future?

This objection is based on a misunderstanding of the Book of Hebrews.  Mixed in with this is a subtle prejudice (usually of the non-pejorative sort) against the very idea of a temple and sacrifices.  I shall address the former issue more than the latter.

In Hebrews 7:12 the priesthood is said to be changed.  That being so, how can Levites officiate in any future temple?  The answer, of course, is that it is the High Priesthood which is under consideration in Hebrews (Cf. Heb. 4:14-5:5; 7:1-3, 11-13,23-27; 9:6-10, etc).  Interestingly, there is no…

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The Forgotten Covenant (PT.3)

Alex the Less:

The early church (1st-3rd century CE) was clearly awaiting an earthly kingdom that the Father would set up and thus were Premillennial in their outlook toward future blessings. Here is part 3 of Dr. Henebury’s series “The Priestly Covenant.”

Originally posted on DR. RELUCTANT:

Part Two

After the vision of the enormous temple which ends Ezekiel one is left with some questions.  How could such an immense structure fit in Jerusalem as we know it?  Why would any cultic priesthood be necessary once Jesus had come and died for our sins?  And, doesn’t the Book of Hebrews negate the whole idea of priests and sacrifices?

I am going to leave aside the last two questions until I examine some objections in Part Four.  But this post will answer the first problem.  But before I do that I want to fill in the picture a little more by looking at some more prophetic references.

In Daniel’s prayer of confession in Daniel 9 we see him specifically make supplications for “Your city Jerusalem” (9:16) and “Your sanctuary” (9:17).  Gabriel’s answer addresses Jerusalem (9:24, 25) and the temple, which is doomed to destruction (9:26).  I am not…

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Context Dictates Usage, not Word Definitions

Craig Keener gives sage advice for understanding and interpreting the bible:


Context is the way God gave us the Bible, one book at a time.  The first readers of Mark could not flip over to Revelation to help them understand Mark; Revelation had not been written yet.  The first readers of Galatians did not have a copy of the letter Paul wrote to Rome to help them understand it.  These first readers did share some common information with the author outside the book they received.

We’ll call this shared information “background”: some knowledge of the culture, earlier biblical history, and so on.  But they had, most importantly, the individual book of the Bible that was in front of them.  Therefore we can be confident that the writers of the Bible included enough within each book of the Bible to help the readers understand that book of the Bible without referring to information they lacked.  For that reason, context is the most important academic key to Bible interpretation.

Often popular ministers today quote various isolated verses they have memorized, even though this means that they will usually leave 99% of the Bible’s verses unpreached.  One seemingly well-educated person told a Bible teacher that she thought the purpose of having a Bible was to look up the verses the minister quoted in church!  But the Bible is not a collection of people’s favorite verses with a lot of blank space in between.  Using verses out of context one could “prove” almost anything about God or justify almost any kind of behavior–as history testifies.  But in the Bible God revealed Himself in His acts in history, through the inspired records of those acts and the inspired wisdom of His servants addressing specific situations.

People in my culture value everything “instant”: “instant” mashed potatoes; fast food; and so forth.  Similarly, we too often take short-cuts to understanding the Bible by quoting random verses or assuming that others who taught us have understood them correctly.  When we do so, we fail to be diligent in seeking God’s Word (Proverbs 2:2-5; 4:7; 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

One prominent minister in the U.S., Jim Bakker, was so busy with his ministry to millions of people that he did not have time to study Scripture carefully in context.  He trusted that his friends whose teachings he helped promote surely had done so.  Later, when his ministry collapsed, he spent many hours honestly searching the Scriptures and realized to his horror that on some points Jesus’ teachings, understood in context, meant the exact opposite of what he and his friends had been teaching!  It is never safe to simply depend on what someone else claims that God says (1 Kings 13:15-26).

I discovered this for myself when, as a young Christian, I began reading 40 chapters of the Bible a day (enough to finish the New Testament every week or the Bible every month).  I was shocked to discover how much Scripture I had essentially ignored between the verses I had memorized, and how carefully the intervening text connected those verses.  I had been missing so much, simply using the Bible to defend what I already believed!  After one begins reading the Bible a book at a time, one quickly recognizes that verses isolated from their context nearly always mean something different when read in context.

We cannot, in fact, even pretend to make sense of most verses without reading their context.  Isolating verses from their context disrespects the authority of Scripture because this method of interpretation cannot be consistently applied to the whole of Scripture.  It picks verses that seem to make sense on their own, but most of the rest of the Bible is left over when it is done, incapable of being used the same way.  Preaching and teaching the Bible the way it invites us to interpret it—in its original context–both explains the Bible accurately and provides our hearers a good example how they can learn the Bible better for themselves.

If we read any other book, we would not simply take an isolated statement in the middle of the book and ignore the surrounding statements that help us understand the reason for that statement.  If we hand a storybook to a child already learning how to read, the child would probably start reading at the beginning.  That people so often read the Bible out of context is not because it comes naturally to us, but because we have been taught the wrong way by frequent example.  Without disrespecting those who have done the best they could without understanding the principle of context, we must now avail ourselves of the chance to begin teaching the next generation the right way to interpret the Bible.

Many contradictions some readers claim to find in the Bible arise simply from ignoring the context of the passages they cite, jumping from one text to another without taking the time to first understand each text on its own terms.  To develop an example offered above, when Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Romans 1:5).  James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18).  In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning.  If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined.

The Forgotten Covenant (Pt.2)

Alex the Less:

Here is the second part of Paul Henebury’s “Forgotten Covenant”. We are right to expect a 4th Temple (Ezekiel 40ff) and a list of arguments is given By Dr. Henebury for its literal completion.
The treatment of “The Covenant of Salt” is not as developed as I hoped however and I will write on it after my research is complete giving my own views on the concept.

Originally posted on DR. RELUCTANT:

Part One

Biblical Covenantalism tracks the covenants through Scripture for the sake of putting together a composite picture of God’s plan.  The covenants are the backbone of Scripture.  If we pay careful attention to these covenants as they arise, we will not be able to bypass the everlasting “covenant of peace” which God made with Phinehas and his descendents in Numbers 25.  The fact that a covenant of this kind is casually passed over with barely a mention and not traced out in Scripture is telling.  I think what it tells is that we tend to want to read our endings to the story into passages like this.  Coming to the covenants like this tends to muffle their testimony with a pious overlay of ‘the finished work of Christ.’

The Witness of Ezekiel

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, was a priest (1:3), but evidently not in the line of Phinehas.  In chapters…

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The Puritans, and Online Resources

Alex the Less:

Lynda O. has listed some Puritan resources which I want to pass on to others. If time is limited however, the bible is the first and best read possible.

Originally posted on Scripture Thoughts:

In 1987 Dr. S. Lewis Johnson observed the negative slant our culture puts on the Puritans, while emphasizing the positive aspect of true Puritanism:

There is a genuine New Testament Puritanism. A separation from sin and evil that a genuine Christian must cultivate. Even Arminians and Calvinists who don’t agree on soteriological truths, do agree here if they’re believers in Christ. Christians are to separate from evil and sin in their Christian life. …. New Testament Puritanism is no harsh, repellant thing eradicating the affections. It’s the opening of the heart to eternal love, to eternal joy, to eternal comfort in rich fruitfulness. There is puritanism in the New Testament. It’s for everyone of us who named Christ. May God help us to illustrate it in our lives.

Yet in recent years within evangelical Christianity, the Puritans have made a “comeback,” with increased popularity as their writings have become…

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