Sexuality and Gender – A Special Report — By Living Waters

Kevin James Bywater draws attention to a significant, I dare say definitive, report regarding sexual identity. This research is rigorous, done at publicly funded universities and institutions by leading scientists, and seeks to depoliticize the issues. If nothing else, the executive summary details the findings for the busy reader.


Sexuality and Gender – A Special Report I think this report is essential reading here at the beginning of 2017. I don’t say that lightly. Given the pressing nature of these and related subjects, and given the ongoing politicization and social threatenings, being ignorant of reigning academic, psychological, and political claims, as well as their…

via Sexuality and Gender – A Special Report — By Living Waters

Μονογενής in the Church Fathers: A Response to Kevin Giles, Part 5 — The Upper Register

A good summary post by Dr. Irons on how we should think about biblical communication. Also, throughout this series, the importance of church history is revealed. History’s use here by Dr. Irons discloses how these early Christians interpreted their native language and thus gives us valid insights to the Greek text.


Μονογενής in the Church Fathers: A Response to Kevin Giles, Part 5 — The Upper Register

“Only Begotten” or “Unique?”

Most Christians are familiar with John 3.16 which says that Jesus was “only begotten” or some versions: “unique.” So which is it, or possible is it a combination somehow of these two ideas or something else? Lee Irons engages Kevin Giles to note his disagreement with translating the Johannine term (monogenase) which only occurs 5 times in Scripture. These instances of the word however are found in direct speech from which Christians derive important conceptions about the nature of God and Jesus and their relation to each other. This is already part 4 in a series upon which I was planning to write an introduction on the first post. Oh well!

Lee Irons and Kevin Giles both believe in the Eternal Generation of The Son which formulation for some adherents hinges at least in part to ideas from the term under examination: monogenase (only begotten, unique).

Adjacent issues to the understanding of the divine relationships are both practical (complementarianism or egalitarianism-since Paul uses divine relating to teach about Christian marital relationships in 1 Cor.11.1-16) and conceptual (Functional Subordination of The Eternal Son).

Lee Irons indicates that both Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware announced on the first day of the recent ETS meeting (Nov. 2016) that they now hold to The Eternal Generation of the Son. This conception I became convinced of a few years back and I credit Lee Irons explanation of it as what made sense to me. The Son is both eternal and generated, therefore: eternal generation.


Μονογενής in the Church Fathers: A Response to Kevin Giles, Part 4 — The Upper Register

132. “The Only Creature Without Sin” – Pope Francis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary — Vatican Files

January 1st, 2017 On December 8th each year, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated. On this occasion the Roman Catholic Church contemplates the belief that Mary was preserved from original sin. This view had been part of Roman Catholic teaching and devotional practices for centuries, but it was not until 1854…

via 132. “The Only Creature Without Sin” – Pope Francis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary — Vatican Files

Samson and Delilah (the Israelite Woman) — With Meagre Powers

Here is a post by Prof. Athas which I wanted to share earlier. I found his premise convincing that Delilah was an Israelite, and the connection to the Danites and Micah, intriguing.


In the book of Judges, we encounter the mighty Israelite judge, Samson. He is perhaps best known for his herculean strength. Yet, he is also known for his weakness for women—especially Philistine women. His relationship with Delilah, often portrayed as a sneaky seductress, was his undoing. She coaxed him into divulging the secret of his strength: his […]

via Samson and Delilah (the Israelite Woman) — With Meagre Powers

Covenant or Testament?

Here is what I wrote in response to a post at Streams in the Desert, a blog I often enjoy reading (in italics):

“YHVH’s new covenant with Israel is that their sins will be forgiven forever.”

The idea of a covenant is conditional. The idea of a testament is final since a death has occurred. The Mosaic Law was both covenantal: 1. “Do this and you will live” (only Jesus fulfilled this) 2. “you will live long in the land” (upon general national fidelity to the Laws regulations).
The testamental nature of the Law given through Moses entailed a provision when someone tried and failed to keep the Law perfectly. They were required to bring a sacrifice and symbolically transfer their sin upon the victim.
Jesus kept the Law without condition and so earned eternal life and He is our substitute.

There was not enough room in the response to elaborate, which I will strive to do coherently here. Also, I will reblog (reproduce) the wonderful post by Streams in the Desert. I do not disagree materially with Streams in the Desert but instead want to highlight a common misunderstanding of the word diatheke (“covenant”, “testament” in Koine Greek). Diatheke can mean either concept with the context for indication which reference is meant.

Heb. 9.15-20 (NET) clearly refers to a “will” (testament) and not a conditional covenant:

And so he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the eternal inheritance he has promised, since he died to set them free from the violations committed under the first covenant. For where there is a will, the death of the one who made it must be proven. For a will takes effect only at death, since it carries no force while the one who made it is alive. So even the first covenant was inaugurated with blood. For when Moses had spoken every command to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that God has commanded you to keep.”

So, while the NET translates diatheke as “covenant”, clearly the text speaks about a “will” (testament). To us moderns, the terms “covenant” and “testament” have different and specific meanings. What Jesus accomplished on behalf of humanity was a substitutionary sacrifice: an innocent for the guilty. Therefore Christians are under a New Testament.

Briefly, the Mosaic Law was multifaceted since it provided Israel many and varied blessings. On one hand this Law had an absolute promise: “do this (the regulations from Sinai), and you will live” (evidently, eternal life). Most Jews and Christians have at least tried (to some degree) to follow the 10 Commandments and have failed miserably. Both in deed and spirit all have transgressed God’s holy, good, and righteous Law. The remedy for transgressions was to bring a sacrifice and transfer the sin and guilt to it by placing the hands on the head of the victim and confessing the fault accordingly. One could almost say that half of the Law of Moses concerned the Redemptive Feasts, The Temple, and the laws of sacrifice. The redemptive sacrifices all indicated a testamental idea where death of a substitute victim sprung the confessor.

So we Christians are under a New Testament since Jesus has died for us and we claim Him our substitute. If we were to say we are under a New Covenant, it would imply (in some minds at least) a conditional idea that is missing from the text. Diatheke, the Greek term for covenant and testament, is better translated “testament” since it was the direct death of Christ which made it. The Mosaic signs, symbols, and shadows found fulfillment in the High Priesthood of Jesus.

This “testamental” idea was from before Moses and hearkens to the promise of a Savior in Gen. 3.15 who would receive a metaphorical snakebite due to humanity’s fall into sin.

Here is the Christmas post from Streams in the Desert:

Jesus Christ Came Into The World To Save Sinners – 24 Dec 2016

1Ti 1:15  Faithful is the Word and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Num 29:39  You shall prepare these to Yehovah in your appointed seasons, besides your vows and your free-will offerings, for your burnt offerings, and for your food offerings, and for your drink offerings, and for your peace offerings.

God did not command Israel to celebrate the birth of His Son, but He gave them – and us – the opportunity to celebrate as a free-will offering.  We do it because we want to, and we do it gladly unto the Lord.  What the Prophets foretold came to pass:  the Messiah was born!  Trumpets were to be blown in Israel on the day of our gladness. (Num 10:10)  Was/Is not the birth of the Lord a day of rejoicing for the heavenly host of angels who proclaimed the glad tidings to the Israeli Jewish shepherds, and to the shepherds themselves who heard and saw all that they were told; was it not a day of rejoicing for Simeon, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, who saw YHVH’s salvation in the new-born Child and Son; was it not a day of rejoicing for Anna, the widowed prophetess waiting for redemption in Jerusalem?  Is it not a day of rejoicing for all who have come to believe in the Son of God, who was born in the flesh, and who is the Father’s gift to His people?:  Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given!  God has forever changed the culture of His people:  rather than just remembering someone’s life when he dies, we now rejoice and celebrate the time of those we love for when they came into the world.  It all waited for the celebration of the first-born of creation, and His Father’s joy in that day!  It began as neither a Jewish nor a pagan holiday.  It is God’s holiday celebration, which is actually what the name of Haggai the prophet means (“my celebration”)!  It was Haggai to whom the LORD gave the date of this appointed time. (Hag 2:10-22)  Yeshua came to His holy but unclean people to save and to cleanse them from all their sinfulness, and to restore His Throne to His people and to the Gentiles.

What Israel and the Jewish people as a whole did not appreciate when He came to His own, and to the world that He made should not restrict us who have seen the glory of the birth of the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins on the cross, and whose sacrificial death was God’s plan before the foundation of the world!  His name is Yeshua because He will save His people from their sins.  YHVH is our salvation and Savior!

The new and significant year of 2017 is being ushered in by the perfect coinciding of Hanukkah and Christmas.  The 8th day and candle (the day of Yeshua’s circumcision) is the last night of this year, and the first day of  the next.  The God of Israel has given all the world a witness as to the time of His Son’s birth to the virgin, Mary.  Going back another 4 years to 5 BC does not alter things much.  But the world system has followed for centuries a calendar that points to the period surrounding the birth of the Lord, the King of the Jews.   When I was recently in Thailand, I noticed that the date on a package ended with the numbers 2559.  That seemed odd, so I asked what that was:  the Thai culture traditionally counts its years from the era of Buddha, who lived more than 500 years before Yeshua/Jesus.  Muslims count their years from 622 AD, the year that Mohammed went from Mecca to Medina.   Tonight is the lighting of the first candle for Hannukah; today is the 24th of the ninth month.  In the Jewish calendar, this is the month of Chislev; in the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world follows, this the 24th of the 12th month, December, but which is the ninth month when we count beginning with Israel’s first month in Aviv/Nisan/April! This date of the 24th of the 9thmonth was a day from which the [true] foundation of the Temple was laid, and YHVH would bless Israel and shake Heaven and Earth. (Hag 2:18-22)  These things did not find genuine fulfillment with the Maccabees, but do in Yeshua, the true Savior and Deliverer from Gentile and pagan thrones – both literally, and also in the hearts of those who truly believe.  (The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Yeshua.)

I want us to look at one example of the truth that Jesus came to save sinners:  the woman caught in adultery. (Jn 8:1-11)

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. (2) And early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him. And He sat down and taught them. (3) And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery. And standing her in the midst, (4) they said to Him, Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. (5) Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned. You, then, what do you say? (6) They said this, tempting Him so that they might have reason to accuse Him. But bending down, Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, not appearing to hear. (7) But as they continued to ask Him, He lifted Himself up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her. (8) And again bending down, He wrote on the ground. (9) And hearing, and being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (10) And bending back up, and seeing no one but the woman, Jesus said to her, Woman, where are the ones who accused you? Did not one give judgment against you? (11) And she said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I give judgment. Go, and sin no more.

In this scene, the self-righteous religious leaders and teachers came to Yeshua with a woman who was caught, somehow, in the act of adultery.   Where was the guilty man?  Under the Law, both were to be stoned. (Lev 20:10-12)  So their motive was not pure, but rather to trap Messiah and to show their disdain for women.  People did not matter to them with all their religiosity, but the “Law”, which they themselves did not keep.  Yeshua bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger, probably the sentence of death, which the Law of Moses demanded.  He had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  But then, the Lord showed His compassion in His identification with the sinner against her unjust accusers.  He also appealed to the conscience of them:  let he has no sin cast the first stone.  From the oldest rabbi first, the others followed in leaving the scene.  Jesus paid a price to mediate in this situation, with courage and compassion. Jesus did not acquit the guilty woman; neither did He condemn her:  He told her to go and sin no more.  Did she?  We don’t know.

Jesus came to save sinners.  He alone is without sin; He alone has moral authority to condemn.  But He desires to see sinners repent and have their hearts changed, sinning no more in the face of such grace and truth.  He takes the blame; He takes the uncleanness.  On the cross He bore our sin and our punishment.  Can any who know such love and forgiveness continue to sin against the holy God and Savior?!  Let each answer for himself, just as the Scripture leaves us without the answer to the rest of this woman’s life, and that of her accusers.

YHVH’s new covenant with Israel is that their sins will be forgiven forever.  Our message which we have received from Him remains the gospel to sinners:  repent and believe, and so receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit and of eternal life.

As I considered this passage about the woman caught in adultery, it reminded me of how Christians have historically accused the Jewish people before God for their spiritually adulterous unfaithfulness to Him, and of their sin and guilt in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Savior continues to reach out to both with His own understanding and righteousness to affect the hearts and minds of both.  All Israel will be saved when they look upon Him whom they pierced; and the Body of Christ will be purified when they humble themselves and show mercy to the Jews, even as they have received mercy from the God of Israel for all their sins in Jesus’ name.

We thank and praise God for giving us His Son (Is 9:6), and for what Messiah has done for us:  forgiveness and new life, which only He could bring by coming here to Earth (even to Israel!) and suffering for us — both during His life and climatically in His death on the cross.  Now He lives within us who are born-again from Above, and is with us in life and in death.  Even this last enemy can not overcome the believer, but only serves to bring us into the everlasting presence of the Lord!



The Debt Atheists Owe Christians (by Larry Hurtado)

Prof. Hurtado has released a snippet of his recent book Destroyer of the Gods. In it he notes the irony (last sentence) that present day atheists have Christians to thank for a reduced workload.


Early Christians were atheists! At least, that’s how some people of the time viewed them in the earliest centuries, and it’s not difficult to see why. Most importantly, they refused to worship the traditional gods. But also, judged by Roman-era criteria, they didn’t even seem to practice a recognizable form of religion. In the crucial first couple of centuries at least, they had no shrines or temples, no altars or images, and no sacrificial rites or priesthood.

Granted, early Christians were accused of various things. There were the wild claims that Christians engaged in cannibalism and sexual orgies, claims that circulated mainly among the rabble. More sophisticated critics, however, portrayed them as deeply subversive of the social, religious, and political structures of the Roman world. One of the other labels hurled against Christianity was that it was a superstitio, a Latin term that designated bad religion, the kind deemed stupid, even dangerous. But “atheist” was probably the accusation that most directly reflected the sharply distinctive, even troublesome, nature of Christianity in the earliest centuries.

Unlike the emphasis today, however, in the Roman world atheism wasn’t primarily a matter of belief or unbelief. Instead, what counted then as “piety” or being religious was mainly participation in worshiping the gods. In that setting, to refuse to do so was atheism. Ancient philosophers speculated about the gods, where they came from, what they really were, and even whether they really existed, but that wasn’t so much a problem. What mattered was taking part in the traditional rites devoted to the gods. And the philosophers who speculated about the gods didn’t particularly try to discourage participation in the traditional rites, or even withdraw (at least publicly) from taking part themselves. But Christians (who by the second century were mainly converted pagans) were supposed to desist from worship of the gods . . . all of them. Also, Christian teachings ridiculed the gods as unworthy beings, and what most people thought of as “piety”—participation in the traditional rites to the gods—was designated in Christian teaching as “idolatry.”

To appreciate what this rejection of the traditional gods meant, we also have to understand that gods and reverencing them were woven through every aspect of life. Families had household deities. Cities had their guardian gods. The Roman Empire at large rested upon the gods, such as the goddess Roma. Practically any social occasion, such as a dinner, included an expression of reverence for a given deity. Meetings of guilds, such as fishers, bakers, or others, all included acknowledging their appropriate god.

So, to refuse to join in worshiping any of these deities in a thorough-going manner was a very radical move, and a risky one too, with wide-ranging social costs. People understandably took offense, and Christians could be in for a good deal of anger and hostility that might include verbal and physical abuse. In some cases, the Christian rejection of the gods led to arraignment before Roman magistrates, resulting in punishments, even executions. By the third century, there were occasional spasms of imperial persecution against Christians that could include confiscation of possessions and death sentences. And from at least the late second century, there were full-scale literary attacks on Christianity, the one most well-known today by the pagan writer Celsus.

In these circumstances, it should not be surprising that Christians often made various compromises, negotiating their existence to avoid conflict where they could do so. But the pagan critiques about Christians suggest that they were known more often for refusing to honor the gods rather than bending to social pressures to do so.

Ironically, however, this early Christian atheism had a profoundly religious basis. It was a radical critique of traditional religion that was driven by powerful theological convictions. Christians who forsook the traditional gods turned to a different kind of deity. Their deity could not be represented in an image. This one deity was creator and ruler of all things and all peoples, and was alone worthy of worship. But Christians characterized this one all-powerful deity, perhaps above all, as motivated by an almighty love for the world and its inhabitants. This was an unprecedented claim in the pagan religious environment of the time. Moreover, the proper worship of this Christian deity was mainly verbal, in prayers and songs; and the piety that this deity demanded was particularly shown in love, for fellow Christians to be sure, but also, remarkably, even for enemies.

Of course, there was obvious indebtedness to the Jewish tradition in which earliest Christianity first emerged. Judaism, however, was always closely tied to its own ethnicity. To be a full convert to the God of Judaism meant changing your ethnic identity too. But early Christianity quickly emerged as a trans-ethnic movement, aggressively proclaiming its message and recruiting former pagans to its peculiar message on a scale that made it a threat in a way that was never true of Judaism. In religion, as in some other matters, early Christianity helped to destroy one world and create another. And the effects of this early Christian “atheism” linger to this day. Modern atheism as we know it is shaped by the Christian faith against which it reacts. For even modern atheists assume that there’s only one god to doubt!

Jacob’s Sheep

After a few thousand years absence, “Jacob’s Sheep” have returned to Israel—from Canada! From The Times of Israel: ” Biblical sheep in Israel for first time in millennia” The breed received the name “Jacob sheep” based on Genesis Chapter 30, where Jacob talks about leaving his father-in-law Laban’s home and taking part of the flock […]

via Jacob’s Sheep Arrive in Israel — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog

Passengers or The Bus: Conceptualizing the Church

Steve Hays has posted a fine way to think about the community of Jesus followers with the illustration of vehicles and those who take them.

What is the best way to formulate the abstract idea of “church” that will be in concert with the ideas of “members of one body” (1 Cor. 12.12), “living stones” comprising a spiritual house (1 Peter 2.5), and the various agricultural motifs such as branches bearing fruit (John 15 and others) or wheat with grain (Mt. 13 .1-9 and others)?

A common allegation of Catholic and Orthodox apologists is that their church is the original church. It goes straight back to Christ, whereas Protestant churches are upstarts. These didn’t pop into existence until the 16C.
One problem with that allegation is that it’s only as good as your paradigm of the church. Put it this way, do you define the church by the vehicle or the passengers?
How does the NT describe the church? As the community of faith. A fellowship of believers, and families of believers. They are united by the grace they share and their common faith in the message of Scripture. In addition, there’s a minimal polity (elders, deacons) and at least two sacraments (baptism, communion).
Basically, the NT defines the church by the passengers, not the vehicle. If the identity of the church is centered on the passengers rather than the vehicle, then the church can exist continuously even if the vehicle changes, just as passengers can change vehicles, but remain the same passengers.
The church as passengers goes back to NT times. Indeed, God has always had a community of faith. Protestants can trace the church back as far as you please. In the Reformation, they changed cars.

The Cyrus Cylinder’s Intersection with The Bible

Chris Rollston wrote an interesting post back in 2013 which covers much ground with emphasis on the Cyrus Cylinder. He gives a nice historical overview and discusses recent analyses of the Cylinder’s significance. 


Cyrus the Great of Persia is called “Meshiah” (that is, “Anointed One,” “Messiah”) in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 45:1 and Yahweh’s “Shepherd” in Isaiah 44:28. This sort of grandiose language may seem striking to some. It should, as it is striking. But the backstory provides the basic rationale for this lofty verbiage. Namely, several decades before Second Isaiah referred to Cyrus as “Meshiah“ and “Shepherd,” Judah had suffered mightily at the hands of the Babylonians. It all began in ca. 597 BCE. The gold and silver of the Jerusalem Temple and Royal Palace had been plundered, but both buildings still stood. King Nebuchadnezzar the Great of Babylon was marching victoriously back to Babylon, not only with these precious metals but also with several thousand Judean prisoners of war. Among them were King Jehoiachin and much of the Judean royal family (2 Kings 24). Things were bad, but they would get worse, as Nebuchadnezzar would return to Jerusalem some ten years later to avenge and to destroy. Nebuchadnezzar’s rationale was this: Zedekiah had become king of Judah after Jehoiachin was exiled but he had not been the loyal vassal for whom Nebuchadnezzar had hoped. Nebuchadnezzar was angry, he came to Jerusalem and besieged it for some eighteen to twenty months, beginning around 587 BCE (2 Kings 25).

Conditions inside Jerusalem soon became desperate. The book of Kings laconically states that during the terminal portion of the siege “the famine became so severe that there was no food for the people” (2 Kings 25:3). But the poet of Lamentations limns the picture more poignantly, “the hands of compassionate women had boiled their children, they became food for them” (Lam 4:10). Desperation reigned. Then things deteriorated further. The walls were breached and the Temple and Palace were burned to the ground, along with all the houses of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:9). And brutality of a different sort began as hand-to-hand combat concluded: “women in Zion were raped, virgins (raped) in the cities of Judah” and “princes were hung by their hands” (Lam 5:11, 12). Words could not adequately describe the horror.

Zedekiah had abandoned Jerusalem shortly before its fall. But he and his young sons were captured near Jericho, deserted by the armed Judean soldiers who had pledged to protect them. Nebuchadnezzar decreed that Zedekiah and his sons be brought forward. They were, and then Zedekiah’s young sons were brutally slaughtered before their loving father’s eyes. At that point, a Babylonian soldier gouged out the Judean king’s eyes, his last visual memory now a haunting one. Zedekiah was led away in chains to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7). The year was 586 BCE. This was the nadir of nadirs. From the hill of Zion profound sorrow and anger flowed. Raw human emotion is reflected in the words of a Psalmist: “O daughter of Babylon, you destroyer. Happy are the ones who seize your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8-9). Nebuchadnezzar’s campaigns against Judah had brought bloodshed, starvation, and destruction. Judah remembered Nebuchadnezzar as a brutal conqueror, and this he was.

But history is made of reversals and the tables were soon turned. East of the Tigris River, Cyrus the Great had begun to reign in Persia (around 559 BCE), and he soon began to weld together a full-fledged empire, defeating the Kingdom of the Medes and the Kingdom of Lydia. King Nabonidus (r. 556-539 BCE) was on the throne of Babylon, as one of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar the Great. But he would be Babylon’s last king. He had already spent around a decade of his reign at Tayma, an oasis in the Arabian Desert. There is actually an allusion to this tradition in an Aramaic Dead Sea Scroll called “The Prayer of Nabonidus.” In any case, based on the Mesopotamian texts at our disposal, there seem to have been some rumblings against Nabonidus even during his decade at the oasis, especially within the Babylonian priesthood. After all, he was said to have been most devoted to the Moon God Sîn rather than Marduk, the head of the Babylonian pantheon. Nabonidus was an apostate, or so it seemed to some. He returned from the oasis, disaster now looming across the Tigris River. Then Cyrus began to march, and the prize he wanted most was the kingdom of Nabonidus.

The ancient historical sources are not all in agreement about the battles that were fought between the Babylonians and the Persians. Cyrus himself boasts that he entered Babylon without a battle, hailed (he says) as a liberator even by the Babylonians themselves. But the full story was certainly bloodier, and the Babylonian supporters of Cyrus fewer (Herodotus suggests as much). Nevertheless, Cyrus gained his prize, Babylon was his in 539 BCE. The Persian Empire Period had begun. Babylon had fallen. The Judeans who had felt the brunt of Babylon’s war machine fifty years earlier probably shed few tears at this news.

But there is more. Cyrus not only brought the Babylonian Empire to its knees, he also decreed (according to the book of Ezra) that the exiled Judeans in his realm be permitted to return to Judah and to rebuild the Temple. According to the book of Ezra, he also allowed the exiles to take with them (some of) the sacred vessels which had been pillaged from the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. And the book of Ezra states that there was an edict of Cyrus that said: “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he commissioned me to build for him the Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1 and 6). In due time, work on the Second Temple would begin, and it would be completed by around 516 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great of Persia (r. 522-486 BCE). It is within this context that the words of Isaiah 44 and 45 are best understood. Cyrus of Persia had destroyed the (Babylonian) destroyers of Jerusalem, freed the Judean Exiles, and decreed that the Jerusalem Temple be rebuilt. I suspect that Second Isaiah was not alone in his jubilation about Cyrus.

Cyrus was certainly famous in antiquity (and in the modern period) for his benevolence, even among the Greeks, due in part to Xenophon’s lengthy work entitled “Cyropaidia” (literally, the ‘Education of Cyrus’). But during excavations in Babylon in 1879, the now famous “Cyrus Cylinder” was found, galvanizing further the reputation of Cyrus. Certain salient facts about this cuneiform text are worth mentioning at the outset: (a) In terms of size, it is quite small, about ten inches by four inches, and cylindrical in shape. (b) In terms of language, although Cyrus was a Persian, the Cyrus Cylinder is written in the Akkadian language (i.e., not in Persian, the native language of Cyrus). Of course, this makes sense, as the target audience for this inscription was Babylonian, not Persian. (c) In terms of the amount of textual content, the Cylinder is relatively short, just a few hundred words long, preserved in some forty to fifty lines of cuneiform text. (d) In terms of date, it arguably hails from the very first years of the reign of Cyrus. (e) In terms of archaeological context, it was found as a “foundation deposit” in an ancient Babylonian building.

The content of this text is priceless, and it is laced with some very savvy royal apologia. It is most impressive. Here is a synopsis of the content of the Cyrus Cylinder, using the translations of Irving Finkel of the British Museum. The text begins with a narrative in the third person (rather than the first person, that is, “he” not “I”) which condemns the Babylonian King Nabonidus (whom Cyrus had just vanquished, of course), along with statements impugning Nabonidus for not being a pious worshipper of Marduk. The Cyrus Cylinder says that because of Marduk’s anger for Nabonidus, He (Marduk) raised up Cyrus the Persian, “an upright king,” taking him “by the hand” and ordering him (Cyrus) to go to Babylon and remove Nabonidus from power. Moreover, Marduk was “like a friend and a companion” to Cyrus. Then, at line 20 of the Cyrus Cylinder, the grammatical first person begins to be used. “I am Cyrus, king of the world!” Cyrus himself then declares that he is the king “whom Divine Marduk and Divine Nabu love.” He also states that upon his arrival in Babylon, the Babylonian people welcomed him with joy as he entered. He affirms that they viewed him as a liberator. After he became nicely ensconced in Babylon, Cyrus states that many kings from various regions “brought me weighty tribute” and “kissed my feet.” In return, he decrees that the people from various regions that had come under his dominion (especially because he had just vanquished Babylon) should be allowed to return to their homelands and to rebuild their temples. In addition, he requests the following: “May all the Gods that I returned to their sanctuaries, every day before Marduk and Nabu, ask for a long life for me, and mention my good deeds.” Finally, he also affirms that he has “enabled all the lands to live in peace.” The Cyrus Cylinder is a stunning archaeological artifact.

We do not know much at all about the personal religion of Cyrus the Great, but it is most reasonable to contend that he worshipped some of the Persian Gods, perhaps especially the God Ahuramazda. This was, after all, the case for several of the Persian kings who succeeded Cyrus. Therefore, it is all the more interesting that that Cyrus declares in the Cyrus Cylinder (written for a Babylonian audience) that he vanquished Babylon because the Babylonian God Marduk told him to do so! Of course, kings in the ancient Near East normally declared that they had divine patronage, but normally of their own Gods. In this case, however, Cyrus declares that the Babylonian God Marduk transferred His support from the Babylonian King Nabonidus and gave it to the Persian King Cyrus. Moreover, it is important to remember in this connection that the book of Ezra states that Cyrus had said something similar to the Judeans, namely, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me (Cyrus) all the kingdoms of the earth, and he commissioned me to build for him the temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (see Ezra 1 and 6). That is, according to these texts, Cyrus told the Babylonians that the Babylonian God Marduk told him to do what he did, and Cyrus told the Judeans that the Judean God Yahweh told him to do what he did. And I think that it is entirely reasonable to suppose that Cyrus told the Persian people that the Persian God Ahurzmazda told him to do what he did. I should note in this connection that this sort of brilliant royal apologia is not confined to Cyrus. After all, during King Sennacherib of Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE, the Assyrian Rab Shakeh uses (at least according to 2 Kings 18:25) the same sort of rhetoric, arguing that it was Yahweh the God of Judah who summoned him (Sennacherib) to attack Judah. And the Neo-Assyrian Kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal used similar rhetoric as well.

Of course, much has been made, especially during the past few decades, of the religious and political tolerance and generous diplomacy of Cyrus the Great. In fact, the Cyrus Cylinder itself has been referred to at times as an “Icon of Freedom” and even as “The First Bill of Human Rights,” oft repeated slogans as it is now in the midst of museum travels in the United States. Some thirty years ago, however, Amelie Kuhrt argued quite cogently that these sorts of appellatives might just be too grandiose. And most scholars within the field have concurred with Kuhrt’s corrective (demonstated again very nicely by Jacob Wright’s fine article on the Huffington Post several months ago). After all, the text of the Cyrus Cylinder is rather brief and much of the language contained in it can be found in earlier ancient Near Eastern Royal Inscriptions. And there is no grand affirmation of human rights within the Cyrus Cylinder, per se. And although Cyrus allowed the various people-groups (e.g., those who had been captured and exiled by the Babylonians) to return to their homelands, these people would certainly remain under Persian hegemony, and fealty to Persia would be demanded (including tribute). In short, there were some strings attached, big strings.

But I should also wish to emphasize that, at least for me, I remain very impressed with the words and actions of Cyrus. After all, not all conquerors in the ancient Near East were so kind to the conquered as Cyrus arguably was. Nebuchadnezzar’s treatment of the Judeans is an obvious demonstration of that. And I must also affirm that the basic deference of Cyrus to the religious sensibilities of the conquered is most admirable. True, Cyrus was not the only suzerain to be tolerant of the religious practices of a vassal (for discussion, see especially Beaulieu). But I would counter that not all suzerains were so tolerant, thus, I consider this to be a benevolent act. Someone might retort that his actions were more “savvy diplomacy” than “religious tolerance.” Perhaps so, but I admire his actions still. And, of course, it is both striking and important that a Judean writer of the late 6th century understood the actions of Cyrus to be good and noble, so much so as to cause him to refer to Cyrus as Yahweh’s “Shepherd” and his “Meshiah.” I take this as pretty good evidence (because it is close to being contemporary with the actual decree of Cyrus) that Cyrus was viewed by many in antiquity as a benevolent monarch, with regard to both politics and religion.

Some final musings: Within the contemporary world, people often attempt to mine ancient texts for models, virtues to be embraced or vices to be shunned. This can certainly be a useful thing, but it can also be a precarious venture, as it is all too easy to read too much into these ancient texts. But in days such as ours, full of many political and religious tensions across much of the globe, I must admit that some of the words and deeds of Cyrus resonate with me. I think something can be learned from these words. They deserve to be studied as important diplomatic and religious statements, as potent words from some two and a half millennia ago that were moving, at least in part, in good directions. And as for me, I’m happy to see movement in the direction of more tolerance, regardless of the ancient or modern texts in which it can be found, and regardless of whether the form is fledgling or fully developed.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Destruction of Jerusalem, The Cyrus Cylinder, and the Building of the Second Temple

New Testament Transmission

Generally speaking, it was previously thought that most copyists of Christian sacred texts were unimpressive amateurs given how rapid and wide-spread the message of the Messiah dispersed during the middle and later half of the first century. I have stated as much in some blog posts. Of course, I need to acknowledge further research and, if needed, be corrected with subsequent evidence.

I am now happy to report based on Larry Hurtado’s review of Alan Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts:  A Study of Scribal Practice(Tuebingen:  Mohr-Siebeck, 2016) that the scribes who were involved in this production were much more technical and even possibly “professional.”

Mugridge mounts this case against previous scholarly views that in the earliest centuries Christian texts were copied “in house,” informally by Christians themselves.

The labor that went into this book is prodigious.  Mugridge examined over 500 papyri, noting the characteristics of the copyist of each, these data given in the valuable “Catalogue of Papyri” that comprises pp. 155-410 of the book.  These papyri include copies of Old Testament texts, New Testament texts, “Apocryphal” texts, Patristic writings, Hagiographic texts, Liturgical prayers, hymns, etc., Gnostic and Manichaean texts, and “Unidentified” texts.  Tables at the end of the book present the manuscripts in these categories, each item described as to contents, writing material (papyrus or parchment) and whether it derives from a bookroll, codex, sheet, or wooden tablet.

The analysis of these data take up the first 154 pages.  After laying out the scope and approach of the book, the papyri included for study, and an introduction to writers and writing in the Roman imperial period, the following chapters focus on particular scribal features.  Chapter 2 deals with “Content, Material, Form and Size”;  Chapter 3:  Page Layout; Chapter 4:  Reading Aids; Chapter 5:  “Writing the Text” (which covers a wide variety of matters including letter height, interlinear spacing, letters per line, lines per column, critical signs, marginal notes, decorations, abbreviations (with a special section on the nomina sacra), stichometric counts, and a few other matters.

A full engagement with this book will obviously require readers seriously interested in the details of how early Christian texts were copied.  But the issues addressed are larger than simply papyrological minutiae.  As I emphasize in my own recent book, Destroyer of the gods, early Christianity was a distinctively “bookish” movement among the new religious movements of the Roman imperial period.  Texts were central, and Christians devoted impressive resources to composing, copying, and circulating them.  So, this major and detailed study of the material evidence of these activities is “solid gold” for anyone seriously interested in historical knowledge of early Christianity.

I judge Mugridge to have made a major contribution in this book, and I also think that his analysis of the several hundred manuscripts studied is (so far as I am able to test it) fair and accurate:  most early Christian texts were copied by individuals with some skill and dedication to their task.  I have hesitations about a few matters, however.

First, I think that Mugridge too readily makes evidence of a competent/skilled copyist as indicating a “professional” scribe, i.e., a copyist who was paid for his work.  Only a very few early Christian manuscripts have the stichometric counts that we usually judge to be evidence of a professional copyist.  The features of early Christian manuscripts reflect generally skilled and experienced copyists, but it is another question as to whether they did the work for hire.

I also don’t share Mudridge’s confidence that many early Christian texts were copied by non-Christians.  He argues that non-Christian scribes could have been instructed in the distinctive early Christian scribal practice known as the “nomina sacra.”  Yes, but why should we favour that over what still seems to me a simpler notion, that early Christian texts were typically copied by Christian copyists acquainted with this scribal convention.

Another matter that doesn’t receive adequate treatment by Mugridge is the remarkable early Christian preference for the codex.  This was certainly not a typical bookform for literary texts, and so not likely a form with which most “professional” copyists would have been accustomed to use.  Moreover, constructing a codex required decisions and skills in addition to those usually required in copying a bookroll.  So, again, it seems to me a more reasonable supposition that the copyists of most early Christian texts were themselves Christians, who knew and accepted the early Christian preference for the codex.

But, despite these hesitations over some specifics, I commend this study heartily, which should be received with gratitude to Mugridge for the massive amount of work reflected in it.


Credibility: A Terrible Thing to Lose

John William Burgon became Dean of Chichester Cathedral in 1876 and is usually referred to as “Dean Burgon.” He is remembered for his passionate defence of the historicity and Mosaic authorship of Genesis and of Biblical inerrancy in general. (Wikipedia)

While he may be commended for his defence of the Bible’s veracity, he was also somewhat simplistic and took seemingly leaps of faith where empirical evidence should have been his anchor. One of Burgon’s rivals, F.J.A. Hort, exposes Burgon’s methods reviewing his book on the ending of Mark’s Gospel:


The Rev. J. W. Burgon maintains unreservedly the authenticity and originality of The Last Twelve Verses of St. Mark, in 323 pages of somewhat acrid declamatian interspersed with minute research. It was worth while to show, in detail, that the writers in various centuries who notice the absence of this section of our Gospel from MSS., few or many, were for the most part only copying Eusebius; for their names are arranged in the editions too much as if they were all independent witnesses. An investigation of the neglected Catenæ on St. Mark and of certain marginal scholia found in late MSS. has corrected some errors of collators, and slightly reduced the force of this patristic evidence. Under these heads Mr. Burgon has done good service, grave errors and exaggerations notwithstanding. As a new and “decisive” testimony on the other side he sets up “the Lectionary of the East,” that is, the system of lessons which Bingham’s diligent reading of Chrysostom proved to have been used in northern Syria late in the fourth century, extended by imaginative processes to all the Greek and Syrian churches, and backwards in time almost to the Apostles. The new and striking facts about + τέλος +, which stands within the text of many Cursive MSS. after xvi. 8 and 20, point not to the marking of ancient lections, but to the recognition of a first and a second ending to this one Gospel, just as many Armenian MSS. insert Εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μάρκον in both places. Mr. Burgon’s way of exhibiting the principal evidence could not fail to mislead an unwary reader. He never displays it all together, and often speaks of a part as if it were the whole. He treats the short duplicate ending of the Gospel as if it had no bearing on the question at issue. He boldly cites the Old Latin as rendering “emphatic witness” to the genuineness of the twelve verses, though its three primary MSS. are wanting here, and one of the surviving three substitutes the duplicate ending ; and though Tertullian and Cyprian never cite the section, as they must certainly have done had they known and accepted it, Tertullian, De Baptismo, 12, 13, Cyprian his Testimonia and divers epistles, if not (both writers) elsewhere. The one Latin testimony previous to Augustine and Jerome comes from an African bishop at the Council of Carthage in 256, as the one clear Greek ante-Nicene testimony (Mr. Burgon numbers six) is that of Irenæus : and the inherent weakness of negative evidence cannot be pleaded for such verses as the last six of St. Mark. But when authorities are in conflict, clear principles of criticism become indispensable, and here Mr. Burgon signally breaks down. Etymological guessing, without knowledge of the filiation of languages, is a true image of textual criticism of the New Testament conducted without reference to the hidden genealogies and circumstances of transmission to which the extant evidence owes its form. With all his industry and learning Mr. Burgon betrays no conception of the delicate and complex investigations by which alone it can be decided how far an authority or a group of authorities can be safely trusted in a given reading. This is the more unfortunate as he desires his book to lead the way in displacing multitudes of readings which have been adopted on early manuscript evidence within the last hundred years. In the present state of our knowledge even the most conservative criticism, if it be unscientific, must generate only universal doubt and confusion. Mr. Burgon, it ought to be said, successfully disposes of many applications of the “Concordance text,” by which Mark xvi.9–20 has been distinguished from the rest of the Gospel, while he injures the effect of his argument by refusing to see the two or three real difficulties of this kind which remain. He does not notice the significance of the opening phrase Ἀναστὰς δὲ πρωῒ πρώτῃ σαββάτου, so otiose in its triple repetition of facts already told, if taken as an original part of the chapter ; so natural and apposite as the first words of a complete succinct narrative from the Resurrection to the Ascension, transferred entire from another record, whether written or oral. The high antiquity of the narrative cannot reasonably be doubted, and almost as little its ultimate if not proximate Apostolic origin. F. J. A. HORT.

One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Besides constructing a Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate issued a series of bronze coins—perutahs honoring the Emperor Tiberius.  He minted these coins in Jerusalem b…

Source: One of Pilate’s Coins — Emperor Worship in Judean Territory

Where the Romans breached Jerusalem wall — Ferrell’s Travel Blog

There is abundant evidence of the presence of the Romans in Jerusalem and the land they would later call Palestine. Now comes specific evidence of the place where Titus’ army breached the Third Wall of the city. The Israel Antiquities Authority released this information earlier today. — “ — Impressive and fascinating evidence of the […]

via Where the Romans breached Jerusalem wall — Ferrell’s Travel Blog

NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12)

At one time I saw an advertising slogan which, to me, seemed very effective: “The closer you look, the better we look.” This slogan invited the prospective buyer to carefully examine the product on offer  to see the manufacturer’s attention to the minute details of the item.

This same slogan may be applied to the bible. We moderns possess a staggering wealth of relevant historic sources which attest to an underlying accuracy of the biblical record.


Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:12). Acts 18:12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” Acts 18:14 […]

via NT Inscriptions — Gallio Proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12) — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog

New Testament Inscriptions — Erastus of Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:13; 2 Timothy 4:20) — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog

Part of a pavement found near the theater of Corinth which mentions “Erastus” who was the aedile of the city. An “aedile” was in charge of the financial matters of the city — and was very wealthy. The pavement was laid about A.D. 50. The New Testament book of Romans was written by Paul from […]

via New Testament Inscriptions — Erastus of Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:13; 2 Timothy 4:20) — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog

Gate Complex at Tel Lachish, Israel and Hezekiah’s Reforms Connected by Archeological Discovery

A truly fascinating discovery occurred recently in the field of Biblical Archaeology. The suggestion of symbolic defilement by use of representative articles at worship sites informs much to us about ancient cultic practices. Of course it validates Israel’s ancient existence (some groups deny Israel existed in antiquity) and is  consistent with the biblical record.

Haaretz; Hamevaser; The Jerusalem Post, September 29, 2016

An Israel Antiquities Authority dig has found a Baal shrine the Lachish city gate, dated to the 8th century BCE, which appears to have been broken during King Hezekiah’s reforms. The gate, which has now been uncovered in its entirety, is preserved to four meters in height (originally 24.5 m. by 24.5 m.) and contains three chambers on each side, “befitting Lachish’s status as second in importance after Jerusalem,” says Sa’ar Ganor, IAA leader of the dig. The first chamber contained benches with arms, jars, scoops for loading grain, and jar handles stamped with the name of the official or a “lamelech” [belonging to the king] impression, which may have been connected with preparations for the war against Sennacherib. The temple was found in the third chamber, and it is intriguing to note that the horns of its altar were “intentionally truncated,” with a stone next to it carved as a toilet. Although the archaeologists initially did not realize the connection, reading about Jehu’s reforms in II Kings 10:27 has led them to surmise that placing the toilet in the temple was meant to defile it. However, as no phosphate remains were found the supposition is that these were symbolic acts, after which the room was sealed. Calling the find “a discovery that deepens our connection to our ancestors who walked this land,” Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said, “It boldly commemorates the way of our forefathers, the prophets, the kings and the judges.”

The dig at Tel Lachish was conducted by the IAA in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, and the Environmental Protection Ministry “to further the development of the historic park.”

129. Roman Catholic Theology after Vatican II: An Interview — Vatican Files

October 1st, 2016 Excerpts of an interview published in Unio Cum Christo. International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life, Vol. 2, No. 2 (October 2016). Since Martin Luther’s reformation, three major events in the life of the Roman Catholic Church have marked its reaction not only to Protestantism but also to developments in the modern…

via 129. Roman Catholic Theology after Vatican II: An Interview — Vatican Files

Genesis 19: Has Lot Lost The Plot?

George Athas claims that Gen. 19 uses the rhetorical device of “detail omission” to tell its story and to “surprise” the reader later with additional information  with which the reader can finally make an informed decision regarding the “righteousness” of all the actors in the account. I find the argument Dr. Athas has put forward convincing and pass it along.

This view aligns very well with NT scripture which sees Lot as righteous: (2Pet. 2.8), and the admonition by the Lord to remember Lot’s wife (negatively, looking back, while Lot and the daughters are delivered from destruction).

Have you ever been shocked by Lot’s suggestion to the mob at Sodom in Genesis 19? Have you ever been puzzled by why he would ever do such a thing? Well, it’s because the narrative has s…

Source: Genesis 19: Has Lot Lost The Plot?

Crossway Overreach?

[sarcasm on] How in the world did the church ever have any insight in what God was saying in His word without an English translation? [sarcasm off]

Stanley Porter questions the publisher’s recent announcement and at the same time gives insight into why a translation cannot be absolutely definitive.


Crossway recently announced that, after 17 years of cumulative work in establishing a near-perfect English translation of the Bible, a final edition, or Permanent Text, of the English Standard Version was achieved in the summer of 2016. In fact, the ESV translators did not even translate most of the ESV, and hence did not even need to develop a robust translation philosophy for their translation, as the ESV is based on the RSV (Crossway apparently bought the copyright). The ESV “translators” have simply “corrected” or made the RSV to conform to their particular translational or theological agenda (is it legitimate to call a translation one’s own if over 90% of it was done by someone else, simply by buying the copyright? What if an author bought the copyright of a book by another author, changed less than 10% of it and then put his or her own name on it as author? Recent discussion over the use of other people’s material makes this an interesting question to raise).

Nevertheless, this decision to fossilize the ESV means that no future edition of the ESV will be made, much like the King James Version was solidified in 1769 (after 150 years of use and correction, not 17 years as with the ESV). Of course, we know that followers of the KJV Only movement have contributed greatly to biblical scholarship, especially in the area of textual criticism, so this must be a good idea, right? While the ESV oversight committee and the people at Crossway have the right to make any decision they so desire, there are some serious flaws and concerns that underlie such a decision.

First relates to the possibility of an “accurate” translation. The fact is that no two languages are exactly alike, so a translation is always going to miss (even if a little of) something. As the saying goes, traduttore traditore, which is Italian for “translator traitor.” But even in that statement, the pun is lost in the English translation! Anyone who is multilingual knows that there are certain sayings, even words, in one language that just do not translate perfectly into the other language; some call it the property of untranslatability. But it is apparent that “literal word for word” translators are not really aware of this fact. They seem to treat Greek like some secret code that requires translating into English. But let’s be clear, just because a translation doesn’t perfectly convey the original words of Scripture (can any translation?) does not mean it is not a good translation. It just means we should, if we want to be accurate, be realistic about the limitations of any translation.

Second, and related to the first point, this decision betrays a wrong understanding or lack of understanding of how languages work. The problem with a “literal word for word” translation (for at least the part that was done by the ESV people) is that it by necessity views all languages as working essentially the same, as if each language has the same system, just different corresponding lexical items. Such a position, then, views translation like a plug-and-play type of activity; there is a right translation and a wrong translation. Of course there are wrong translations, but there may be several ways of translating a particular phrase or clause. For example, it is typical in Korean, when eating a meal as a guest at someone’s house, to say jal muk get sum ni da, which translated (using a “literal word for word” translation approach) would be I will eat well. Say that the next time you are invited over for dinner somewhere! (You might get a weird look.) What that phrase really means is an expression of thanks for the food, which is conventional in Korean but awkward in English. Consider also the German word Ohrwurm, which literally is earworm in English. But it really refers to when you have a song stuck in your head, like a worm has wriggled itself into your brain through your ear. Try telling someone that you have an earworm in English and see if they get it. The ESV committee really needs to reconsider whether their claim to a “literal word-for-word” approach accurately reflects how languages work. We don’t think it does.

Third is an inappropriate, and even hubristic, misappropriation of 1 Tim 6:20, “guard the deposit entrusted to you.” They state that they were given the responsibility (by God) “to guard and preserve the very words of God as translated in the ESV Bible.” Wait, what? The very words of God as translated in the ESV Bible? First of all, Paul was speaking to Timothy in this passage (context anyone?). The “deposit” is not a reference to Scripture (certainly not a reference to the ESV!) but a broad and general statement for Timothy to guard whatever was given to him, such as the doctrines that Paul taught him for the development of the early church—not to the ESV people to protect their English translation (without any theological or political agenda, mind you). For the ESV committee to apply this Scripture to themselves implies that they believe God has given themthe special responsibility to “protect” and “guard” this infallible and superior translation. Sounds like KJV Only. Sounds elitist. Sounds like a power move, using God’s name to gain support of naïve and gullible people. Shame on them for using manipulative language like that. Or perhaps we should mark 2016 as the year in which God gave for a second time the inerrant English Word of God, and we have the people in the ESV oversight committee and Crossway to thank.

Finally, this whole enterprise smacks of incredible arrogance. For a committee to say that they have done the work of translation and that there is no room to improve or change their product means that they think of themselves as infallible translators, creating a “new standard” as the KJV once was. For them to say “Thus, with the work of translating the ESV Bible now completed, we would give our work back into the hands of the Lord…” is to use spiritual language to couch the fact that they think of themselves more highly than they ought to and have falsely given themselves this high honor. Perhaps there will arise a generation of ESV Only people, but in this case they will need a lesson or two on scholarship, textual criticism, translation, and humility.

It’s a disgrace to use God’s name and his honor to promote this translation as a final word. God is not honored by that “gift.” We can only wait to see if the ESV establishes itself as the literary and cultural icon that the KJV became and is—but we strongly doubt it.

— Stanley E. Porter and David I. Yoon

House of Cards?

By Michael Patton (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary)

One of the first things that I have to teach my students this: The Christian faith is not a house of cards.

Most assuredly, there are foundational issues of the faith that, if taken away, will destroy Christianity. Issues like the existence of God (there is no such thing as a “Christian atheist”), the resurrection of Christ, the reality of God’s judgment and grace through Jesus Christ, and Christ’s atoning death on the cross. However, there are many details of the Christian faith that can suffer adjustments without destroying the entire faith. Christianity is not like a house of cards where you can take any one card away and the rest fall.

I have seen many people leave the faith and the catalyst of their departure was a rejection of inerrancy (the belief that the Bible does not have any errors, historic, theological, or scientific). I have seen others leave because they felt they had to adjust their view of the early chapters of Genesis, creation and the flood. I have seen others who thought that if there was any redacting (editing by the authors) of the Gospel narratives, their faith was destroyed. Still, I have actually been in contact with one who was shaken to the point of petrification because he was starting to consider the multiple author theory for Isaiah. These are issues to be sure. But they are not issues which can cause any harm to the essence of Christianity in any way.

It is normally those who are brought up in rigidity who are susceptible building this house of cards theology and to letting non-cardinal issues crash their faith. This is why you see so many who are “former fundamentalists.” Fundamentalism feeds on unnecessary rigidity and therefore, unfortunately, is quite a seedbed for graveyards of Christians. As well, this type of thinking makes education—true education—virtually impossible.

While I believe strongly in many issues that are of non-cardinal value, I don’t hold on to these too tightly. This is a fundamental philosophical precursor to dealing with so many theological problems today. The inability to identify, isolate, and distinguish between essentials and non-essentials often causes the entire house of cards to fall.


Bible Texts Written Earlier — Streams in the Negev

From tests done on archeological finds near Arad in the Negev, scientists are reconsidering the literacy skills of the Jewish people with respect to dating the writing of historical writings in the Bible:

via Bible Texts Written Earlier — Streams in the Negev




Read Books of the Bible in One Sitting — Andy Naselli

Here’s my latest ally for why you should read books of the Bible in one sitting: Glenn R. Paauw. Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016. (See my DG article “Three Tips for Better Bible Reading” and my follow-up post that supplements it.) I…

via Read Books of the Bible in One Sitting — Andy Naselli

Aspects of Textual Transmission

Here is an interview with textual scholar Alan Millard concerning how the bible was produced.

Often, today, there is an almost clamor to fix (or unfix) the historicity of Jesus by means of the evidence from the period. This interview succinctly explains why that task is so difficult. Though the topic of transmission has been an area of study for me, I picked up new information from this interview.

Did Christ leave a Paper Trail?

An interview with Alan Millard, author of Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus.

For Christians and non-Christians alike, one of the mysteries of Christianity is the lack of proof that Jesus ever existed. Most of what we rely on is found in the New Testament, none of which was penned during Christ’s lifetime. Paul’s letters to various Christian groups around the Middle East were written about twenty years after Christ’s death – and Paul never met Christ while He was alive. The four Gospels all appear to date to after 70 A.D., and none of them were written by writers who ever met Jesus. So all of our main writings about Jesus even in the bible are second hand accounts.

This begs the question of why Jesus’ followers weren’t furiously taking notes while He was alive.  Had Jesus arrived today, he would have easily entered people’s diaries, emails, newspaper articles, magazine profiles, police crime reports, probably even some television broadcasts. In short, anyone who was making this much of an impact on even a small number of people would have created a paper trail. Indeed, in Brooklyn right now, a Jewish sect called the Lubavitchers are furiously debating whether their latest rebbe, who died in 1994, is really a Messiah who will return from the dead. That debate is creating a big paper trail. Was life so different in Jesus’ time that no one took notes? Were diaries unknown? Why didn’t the Romans, a bureaucratic state with a paper obsession, at least record some details of Jesus’ death? Or is this one of those faith tests – is Jesus deliberately invisible as a test of our will to believe?

To help solve some of these riddles, The Turning spoke to Alan Millard, who has recently written a book entitled, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus.

THE TURNING: How soon after Christ’s death do scholars think the four Gospels were written?

MILLARD:  They generally assume that the four Gospels were not written until about A.D. 70.  Some people think that Mark’s Gospel may have been written a little before that.  But it’s thought that the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70 was a catalyst.  The dispersion of Christians from Jerusalem is thought to have led people to suppose that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry would quickly disappear and it was necessary to make records of what he had said and done.

THE TURNING: Is there any evidence that the people who wrote the Gospels actually knew Christ first hand during his lifetime?

MILLARD:  Well, the tradition is that Matthew wrote one Gospel and he was Levi, the tax collector, who had been one of the disciples.  John wrote the fourth Gospel and again he is thought as being the one described in that Gospel as the beloved disciple.  Mark also was a follower of Jesus, according to the Gospel.  Luke was not and would have gained his information from presumably eyewitnesses and other people.  In the prologue to his Gospel, he says that he took great care to do his research properly and to get reliable information he could use in writing his Gospel.  It is assumed that there was relatively little writing going on in the first century  Palestine and people simply wouldn’t have been interested in writing down the records of the doings and sayings of Jesus.

THE TURNING:  Now, you were saying that traditionally people believe that these are the identities of the Gospel writers.  Are twenty-first century scholars accepting tradition or do they question it?

MILLARD:  Most 21st century scholars would follow that line and some take a very skeptical view and argue that very little in the Gospels is actually reliable information about what Jesus did or said.  They suppose that most of what we read in the Gospels was invented by the Church, in the decades after the crucification and resurrection and words were put into Jesus’ mouth to give them authority.

THE TURNING:  And what’s your view on this?

MILLARD:  Tradition with perhaps a certain amount written down, but not a Gospel as we know it. Since the nineteenth century, there’s been a general view among New Testament scholars that much of the Gospels come from the early Church, rather than from what the disciples heard Jesus say.

THE TURNING:  Now, I guess one of the things, which we’ve all heard, is the reason they didn’t copy it down was because basically the Jews of that time were essentially an oral culture and they didn’t have much literacy anyway.  But that’s not a conclusion I drew from your book.  You seem to find quite a bit of evidence that the Jews of that time of Galilee and Judea would have been reading and writing, at least some of them.

MILLARD:  Yes, I was studying some inscriptions found at Masada near the Dead Sea, written by Jewish refugees who were holding out against the Romans there from 70 to 73 (A.D.) . And I was struck by the amount of writing. Not formal monumental writing, but writing of everyday affairs scribbled on bits of broken pottery, which was the ancient scrap paper, indicating that people there in that situation were doing quite a lot of writing in their daily life.  And that led me to investigate the use of writing in Palestine in that period and it seemed to me that in the 1st century (A.D.), there was much more reading and writing going on then people had previously assumed.

What I had discovered was that no one had collected the information together.  The writings of the Jewish Rabbis from the 3rd century give the impression there was very little writing, that pupils were not supposed to put their master’s teachings into a book, probably in case it was confused with scripture. And so it was generally deduced that it was an oral culture. But, what I discovered, not only those scribblings from Masada but other graffiti and inscribed potsherds, and writings of different sorts on nonperishable materials, showed that there was quite a lot of writing going on for ephemeral day to day purposes .

And then the Dead Sea scrolls showed a library, I think we can call it a library, of books that had belonged to a group of Jews that lived near the Northwest corner of the Dead Sea in the 1stcentury BC and 3rd century AD. They had copies of the book, of the Hebrew bible, in some cases they had multiple copies, and they had other books, books they had written themselves, and other books that came from elsewhere.

And not far from where they lived, further down the shore of the Dead Sea, were some more caves, which had been occupied by Jewish rebels who tried to shake off Roman rule between 132 and 135, called the 2nd Revolt or the Bar Kochba Revolt.  Refugees from the Romans had hidden in the caves by the Dead Sea at that time.  They died there with their possessions and when archaeologists discovered these caves, they found quite a number of documents written mostly on papyrus , which had survived because they were dehydrated.  A lot of them are in Greek, some of them are in Napatian, language of the kingdom East of the Dead Sea at the same time.  These are legal deeds, deeds of loan, wills, divorce and marriage documents, letters from the early 2ndcentury and some of them date back into the 1st century.  There’s one that dates as early as 66, I think, which show the sort of legal documents that were current in the 1st century as well as in the 2nd century.  And Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that when the rebellion broke out against the Romans in AD66, one of the first things the rebels did in Jerusalem was to burn the archive building, which held all the death notes and other documents which could be used against them.

THE TURNING:  So, let’s imagine if we had a time machine, and we could go back to the time of Christ.  If someone were taking notes about Christ after they met him, what form would those take?

MILLARD:  I think probably they would have written the notes on little wooden tablets coated with wax, which were the common notebooks of the time, often small enough to hold in the palm of one hand.  You scratch the writing on with a pointed stylus and either transfer it to a leather or papyrus roll or if you don’t want it, simply smooth over the wax and use it again.   I can envisage people taking notes like that.  Some of them might have been priestly people, religious people, who sent their information to Jerusalem to priests there who were opposed to Jesus.  Others might have been people like the soldiers whose son or slave Jesus healed and he might have sent a letter to his brother serving in the army in another part of the world, telling him what had happened.  I think too, that the people who heard and saw the remarkable things that went on made notes for their own benefit or for their family’s benefit and some notes could have formed the basis for some of the Gospel writer’s works.
THE TURNING:  I guess for most of us, we assume that the book, that thing with pages that you open up, that’s got a cover on each side is something that’s been around forever. But in the 1st century, are we really talking about a book as we know it?

MILLARD:  No, no, we’re talking about a leather or papyrus roll or scroll.  The Dead Sea scrolls, for example, are simply long rolls of leather.  The most complete one is the copy of the Book of Isaiah from the Hebrew Bible and it’s about twenty-four feet long, eight meters long.  So, to read the book, you have to unscroll the leather with one hand and roll it up with the other and a long book, like Isaiah was a long roll, the average roll would only be twelve to fifteen feet long.  The Isaiah roll is about eleven inches high.  We shouldn’t imagine these ancient rolls were as big as the scrolls you see in a modern synagogue for example.  Some of them were much smaller, only five or six inches high and you could quite easily put one in the fold of a coat, cloak and carry it along with you.

THE TURNING:  So, if there were scrolls in the synagogues, which obviously were rather official kind of documents-

MILLARD:  That’s right, yes.  Synagogue scrolls today are ornamental and official as you say for public reading.

THE TURNING:  But  if the some Jews bumped into Christ and were impressed by what they were hearing, they would be scribbling it down on those wax and wooden tablets, so why not scribble it down on a scroll?  Was there something about who was doing the scribbling that determined how they were writing it down?

MILLARD:  The scroll was a bit more expensive as the writing material, the papyrus had to be imported from Egypt.  It was a manufactured paper and the leather scroll again had to be prepared so it was more likely that they would have written on wax tablets.

THE TURNING:  And one of the points you make in your book is that some people ask, ‘well why don’t we have some original documents from the 1st century that show Jesus was alive? But how much original material do we have at all from that period, including Roman records and that kind of thing?

MILLARD:  Well, the Dead Sea scrolls are an unusual and unexpected find because in most parts of the Roman world, the soil is damp and if you have leather or papyrus documents in a ruined building that’s buried, they’ll rot away quite quickly just as a newspaper would if you buried it in your garden.  But the area around the Dead Sea is extremely dry and these documents are simply dehydrated.  The same happens in Egypt, the Egyptian papyri that we see and the thousands of Greek papyri from Egypt survived because they were either buried in tombs in the desert or they were in rubbish dumps of Roman villages, which were abandoned when the water supplies dried up and so the rubbish dumps were dehydrated and in the 19th and 20thcenturies, people recovered the waste paper in effect from them.

THE TURNING:  So it sounds like the stuff which survives is actually in some ways exceptional rather than the run of the mill sort of things, which the Romans and the Jews would have been dealing with in the 1st century.

MILLARD:  That’s very true.  One of the things I’ve pointed out in my book is that we have no administrative archives from the city of Rome and throughout the Roman Empire, there is nothing.  We know where the archive building was.  The archives have all disappeared and they’ve been burnt when Rome was sacked or they simply rotted away or people have used them as waste paper and simply discarded them.  It’s only in unusual circumstances that theses documents do survive and so we’re very, very fortunate to have things like the Dead Sea scrolls.

THE TURNING:  So I guess if the Romans had say criminal records of this fellow Jesus, who had been brought in after having made a ruckus in the temple, that stuff could have well existed, but could it have survived do you think?

MILLARD:  It could have existed, but I don’t think it could of survived because records that were kept in Jerusalem were probably destroyed in revolt in the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans.  There is a Christian writer in the end of the 2nd century who assumes in one of his writings that you could go to Rome and find records of the trial of Jesus under Pontius Pilot in the imperial archives there.  But we don’t have those archives to be able to check.

THE TURNING:  I guess the next question is then, if lots of people could have been taking notes, and those notes were destroyed, why is it that we have the Gospels at all?  Why did they end up getting written if everything else was sort of getting thrown into the dustbin of history?

MILLARD:  Well, the Gospels were written and like many other ancient Greek and Roman books, they’ve been preserved because people were interested in them, went on copying them all over the Roman world and some of those copies were handed down, recopied and handed on and recopied until it survives until today.  One of the remarkable things of the New Testament books is that we have copies found dehydrated in Egypt. Many of them, many of them not complete, which go back to the year 200 or even before.  Whereas for most of the famous Roman’s books like Caesar’s Gallic Wars or Cicero’s speeches, we have to rely on copies made in the early middle ages.

THE TURNING:  So in some ways, it was the dedication of the early Christians in terms of-

MILLARD:  That’s right.  They believed that this was inspired scripture.  It contained the words of the Saviour.  They copied them and disseminated them quite widely which is why I think there are many copies.

THE TURNING:  Now, we talked about earlier that people were writing things down on waxen tablets as well as if something really mattered, they put it down on scrolls, but of course the Christian tradition has Bibles.  It has books.  How did that transition happen?  Why didn’t we have a bunch of scrolls?

MILLARD:  It seems the book with pages was beginning to be used in the 1st century.  There’s a Roman writer called Marshall, who says to his friends, this idea of having books written on pages rather than scrolls is very convenient if you’re traveling; it’s easier to use such a book.  It’s also more economical because scrolls were usually only written on one side whereas with a book, you use both sides of the page.  This sort of book seems to been used for possibly technical handbooks in the 1st century.  And in the 2nd century, there are just a few examples from Egypt of Greek literature written in this form and they are mostly legal texts and things like that.  It’s possible that it is a form of book that’s more common in Rome than in Egypt in the 1st and 2ndcenturies, but we simply don’t have any examples from Rome.  The ones found in Egypt might be written outside the country.  It’s impossible to tell and I think the Christians thought this was a very convenient, economical form of book.  They may also thought that it was less likely to draw attention to itself than a scroll in situations where Christianity, being the illegal religion, owners of Christian books might well be persecuted.

THE TURNING:  So it’s sort of the original pocketbook, in a sense?


THE TURNING:  Now is there any sense of when the 1st book, Christian book, may have been put together?

MILLARD:  The oldest pieces we have probably date from 150.  The dating is only done on the basis of the form of handwriting and comparing the form of handwriting in these manuscripts we’ve dated legal deeds and letters.  So the dating is not very precise.  But there’s a fragment in the University library of Manchester from a page from the Gospel of John.  It’s certainly a page, it has writing on both sides, which says this type of book was already in use by the Christians in Egypt and not in Alexandria, the capital, but someway up the Nile by 150.  So I think it would been in use in a more sophisticated center like Alexandria earlier than that.

THE TURNING:  So do we thank the Christians for having promoted the idea of the book or would the Romans have got there on their own?

MILLARD:  I think they helped to popularize it certainly, yes. And when in the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legal religion, it then became easier for Christians to have quite large books and put all the books of the Bible into one or two volumes.  Previously, they may have had the four Gospels together, Epistles together as single volumes, but we don’t have any evidence for a complete New Testament and certainly not for a complete Old Testament before the 4thcentury.

THE TURNING:  Now as scholars go through the Gospels and the rest of the writings in the New Testament, are there any hints from there of possibly preexisting texts that they were referring to that we just don’t have anymore?  You’d said that people could easily written down more than we’d got because things perish so easily.

MILLARD:  In the opening verses of Luke’s Gospel, he refers to the research he’s done.  He doesn’t refer specifically to books, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had access to the notes that people had made during Jesus’ lifetime.  He says many took to draw on account of things being fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses.  So it suggests that before Luke’s time, there were people writing from a sort of Gospel.

THE TURNING:  Do you think there’s any chance we’ll ever come across one of those notebooks, say in an archaeological dig or something?

MILLARD:  Well, one of the attractions of archaeology is you never know what you’re going to find next.  It’s possible.  It’s very unlikely because as I’ve said it’s only in extremely unusual circumstances that such documents can survive.

THE TURNING:  I just wanted to ask you, has this research changed your perspective on Christianity or your faith in anyway?

MILLARD:  It’s what shall  I say a support.  I don’t think my faith depends on this sort of discovery, but it helped by such information and I think that scholars who’ve argued at a lot of what we read in the Gospels, invented after the death and resurrection of Jesus, have argued partly in a vaccum because they thought that there was no original material and so at early times as the lifetime of Jesus.  My argument is that there could well have been, and  once material written down.  It’s much harder to alter.  Of course, it can be changed, but it’s that much harder to alter.  And so I think we can argue that this sort of research leads to a greater reliability in the Gospel text.

THE TURNING:  I guess one argument people could make is that the way a text survives is through recopying,  then that means every copy is an opportunity to change the text.  But is that the way Jews would say, the 1st century, were dealing with their own sacred texts?

MILLARD:  Oh, they were extremely careful to be accurate.  We find in the Dead Sea scrolls that they did make mistakes.  We find they read through the texts and corrected a lot of the mistakes.  Some still crept through.  Anyone who tries to copy out the Book of Isaiah, all sixty-six chapters, I think will soon find that they’re making mistakes.  But when we compare different copies of the same book, it’s easy enough to see mistakes.  Often they are quite elementary mistakes described, I may jump from the first word of one line to the first word of the next line, which happens to be identical and you miss out on words in between.  But wherever we can check, the Jewish scribes seem to be very careful and certainly at a later date in the early middle ages, they had a lot of regulations to help them to absolute accuracy in their copying and I think we can see these regulations have much older roots.

127. Is the Ecumenical Martin Luther the Real Luther? — Vatican Files

August 1st, 2016 As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is approaching, it is no surprise to find books wanting to offer fresh accounts of Martin Luther’s theology and legacy. Who was this man? What was his message then and how do we understand it five centuries after? Walter Kasper’s recent volume on Luther…

via 127. Is the Ecumenical Martin Luther the Real Luther? — Vatican Files

Bible Word Studies (Greek)

In a post reviewing an intermediate grammar the reviewer notes the authors’ guidance towards the exercise:

  1. Prioritize Synchrony over Diachrony – here the importance of contemporary meaning and semantic shift is highlighted, along with the dangers of the etymological fallacy (i.e., thinking the history of a word’s meaning has any necessary link to the word’s current meaning – it doesn’t).
  2. Do Not Confuse Words and Concepts – the danger here is that not every instance of a word refers to the same concept (e.g. “bank” meaning side of a river vs. “bank” meaning financial institution), and not every instance of a given concept is prompted by the same word (e.g. “speech” and “oration” both refer to one concept of public speaking).
  3. Do Not View Word Study Tools as Inerrant – Jackpot! I loved to see this. Lexicons are not infallible.

Furthermore, the reviewer himself recognizes the treacherous path of simplistic lexical reports:

  1. Usually scholarly word studies are terrible, woefully incomplete or flawed and thus entirely unhelpful.
  2. Pastors tend to do them, usually very poorly, and often draw far-flung and erroneous conclusions.

Call me a skeptic. I call myself a lexicologist. Now, lexical semantics can get pretty complicated and abstract in a hurry. There is a swathe of approaches, each with its own range of terms. That said, it is important to have conceptual clarity and precision when talking about word meaning precisely because it is a slippery thing.

For the full review and source:

Delilah, the Israelite

George Athas is Dean of Research at Moore Theological College, Sydney. Here is a post of his where he analyzes this account in the Book of Judges. I believe his post highlights how sometimes readers of the text (me included) take certain things for granted. I, along with most readers assume too much from a story we think we know without taking the time to carefully consider the text. The bible tells us to meditate upon God’s word and to search it out for our benefit. I believe Dr. Athas’ article is very reasonable and ‘rings true.’ It is easily understood and well argued.

via Samson and Delilah (the Israelite Woman) — With Meagre Powers

samsonIn the book of Judges, we encounter the mighty Israelite judge, Samson. He is perhaps best known for his herculean strength. Yet, he is also known for his weakness for women—especially Philistine women. His relationship with Delilah, often portrayed as a sneaky seductress, was his undoing. She coaxed him into divulging the secret of his strength: his long braids of hair. Though they were the symbol of his devotion to God, they were also his “Achilles’ heel.”

But was Delilah a Philistine?


Throughout the ages, she has been portrayed as a Philistine. Indeed, she takes her place alongside the other Philistine women in Samson’s life. His wife (for all of a week) was a Philistine girl from the town of Timnah (Judges 14.1–2). Samson also visited a prostitute in Gaza, which was one of the five towns of the Philistine ‘Pentapolis’ (Judges 16:1). But was Delilah actually a Philistine too?

Let’s look at the evidence.

First, unlike the other two women in Samson’s life, the biblical text never identifies Delilah as a Philistine. All it says is that she was “in the Valley of Sorek” (Judges 16:4). Where was this valley? Was it in Philistine territory? Well, not quite. The Valley of Sorek begins in the highlands, a few miles from Jerusalem. It twists and turns westwards, descending down into the foothills (the “Shephelah”). At this point, the valley formed the border between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. It keeps descending until it eventually hits the Coastal Plain, which is where the Philistines lived. At that point the land flattens out—it is a plain after all. The seasonal stream that runs through the valley continues across the Coastal Plain and eventually hits the Mediterranean. If the biblical text is referring to this seasonal stream, then Delilah could have lived anywhere along its course—from the highlands of Judah to the Mediterranean coast.


But the biblical text makes a particular statement that means Delilah could not have lived by the Sorek stream on the Coastal Plain. Judges 16:5 tells us that the Philistine leaders “went up” (Heb: ויעלו) to Delilah and paid her to trick Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. That is, they ascended into the hills in order to reach her. This means she was most likely not in Philistine territory. If she was, she was at best on the very edge of it.

Yet, if Delilah was a Philistine, why do the Philistine leaders not simply command her to trick Samson? Why do they each pay her 1100 pieces of silver to do the deed? Since there were five Philistine rulers from the five Philistine centres (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath), that’s probably 5500 pieces of silver! Would not the threat of death by a direct authority be enough? Why are they so willing to empty their coffers for her, but never once empty their scabbards?

samson-et-dalila-1949-05-gSome modern depictions of Delilah portray her as the opportunist seductress, who uses her wiles and lack of scruples to make a quick buck. Some view her as a prostitute making a bit of extra cash while tricking her trick. Of course the Philistine leaders would pay for her services! Why, perhaps she even once serviced them? But Delilah was not the prostitute whom Samson visited in Gaza along the coast. Delilah didn’t live in Gaza! She lived up in the hills in the Valley of Sorek. And the biblical text never so much as implies that she was a prostitute. It seems that, as with Mary Magdalene, Delilah has been mistakenly thought of as a hustler when she wasn’t!

So if Delilah wasn’t a wily seductress or an opportunist prostitute, how did she come to have a dalliance with Samson? The biblical text simply states that she was a woman in the Valley of Sorek with whom Samson fell in love (Judges 16:4). This was Samson’s own home territory. He grew up in Zorah, Eshtaol, and Mahaneh Dan (Judges 13:2, 25)—all sites on the northern side of the Valley of Sorek. Samson simply fell for a local girl. Perhaps she was a Danite woman, since this territory was associated with Dan for a time. Or perhaps she was an Ephraimite woman, since the area was also associated with Ephraim.

Moreover, Delilah didn’t hatch the scheme to trap Samson. She did not approach the Philistine leaders, like Judas did with the Jewish leaders when he agreed to betray Jesus. She was not agreeing to trap the nemesis of her own people. Rather, the Philistine leaders “went up” to her and enticed her with a princely sum—1100 pieces of silver from each of them—to put theirnemesis in chains. The exorbitant amount they paid her makes sense if they were asking her to betray one of her own—a leader of her own people, no less!

Samson unwittingly foiled the whole scheme to capture him three times. Rather than being tricked, he himself tricked Delilah (and the Philistines sponsoring her). On each occasion, the Philistines waited to pounce on him. And just when Delilah thought that Samson’s strength had left him, she called out, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” (Judges 16:9, 12, 14). This doesn’t sound like the cry of a Philistine woman in Philistine territory referring to her own countrymen. Perhaps if she referred to “guards” or “soldiers” or even “men,” we might suspect that Delilah was herself a Philistine. But to Delilah, the would-be captors of Samson were “Philistines”. They were other—people to be referred to by their ethnicity as different to “us.”

Evidently Samson didn’t make the connection between leading Delilah on and the sudden appearance of pouncing Philistines. So on the fourth occasion, Samson finally revealed the secret of his strength to Delilah. We’re told that it was because she harangued him constantly until he told her (Judges 16:16–17). If Delilah was a Philistine, perhaps Samson would have seen through the whole situation. Telling her the truth of his strength would have seriously endangered him. But he seems to trust her, albeit after considerable nagging, probably figuring that there can be no harm in revealing the secret to a fellow Israelite. Once he does, though, Delilah the Israelite betrays him. She summons the leaders of the Philistines to “come up” once more into the hills (Judges 16:18). They capture him and then “bring him down” to Gaza.

There is one further tantalising possibility that may suggest Delilah was an Israelite. We meet Delilah in Judges 16 when the Philistine rulers each agree to pay her 1100 pieces of silver for Samson. After Samson’s death, in the very next chapter, we are introduced to an Ephraimite (and therefore Israelite) man named Micah who steals 1100 pieces of silver from his unnamed mother (Judges 17:1–2). The correspondence with the sum paid to Delilah is uncanny. And coming immediately after the Samson and Delilah narrative, we are led to wonder whether this unnamed woman is, in fact, Delilah. The unnamed woman’s husband is never mentioned. Is it because he is dead? Is it because the woman was never married and had a son out of wedlock? Is Micah the son of Samson born to Delilah the Ephraimite after Samson’s death? Interestingly, this Micah narrative dovetails with the story of the migration of the Danite tribe (to which Samson belonged) from its land around the Valley of Sorek to land in the far north near Laish/Dan. It is, therefore, a fitting epilogue to the narrative of Samson the Danite. The fact that the woman with 1100 pieces of silver is not named means we cannot be sure that this is Delilah. Perhaps the 1100 pieces of silver are simply a thematic association that helps explain the placement of the two chapters (16 and 17) within the book of Judges. But the placement and narrative contexts are very suggestive.

mhicid5aktakjow6j_jivtaIn any case, it seems we have been treating Delilah as a Philistine, when she is actually an Israelite. She is not a conniving professional seductress, but a local girl who betrays a leader (albeit a very flawed one) of her own people. She was more traitor than temptress. In that way, she is perhaps the antithesis of Jael, wife of Heber, who causes the downfall of Sisera in Judges 4. This would be in keeping with the upending of Israel’s fortunes throughout the book of Judges and the portrayal of Israel’s descent into chaos. Delilah is still a sinister figure, but for perhaps slightly different reasons to what we previously thought.

Jewish Rabbis and Gen. 3.15

Here is an illuminating study highlighting some history of how Rabbis approached Gen. 3.15 and Gen. 4.1. I knew that Gen. 4.1 was a reference back to the Promise in 3.15 but didn’t know all the issues of the grammar. HaDavar Ministries has a good discussion as to her statement: “I have gotten a manchild, The Lord” in 4.1:

A “Targum” was an explanation of the scriptures by the Rabbis much as a commentary is to a written Christian work. Also, when this article mentions “accusative” it refers to the *case* of word-form languages. As far as I know, most languages are word-form in their logic as opposed to English, which has as its logic: word-order. So, in English: Jack kissed Jill, we know who the subject and direct object are by the order the words appear relative to each other. Whereas, in a word-form language, the order of the words have much less relevance. Instead, the word-form language will change the form (spelling), add a suffix or prefix, or in certain ways denote to the reader (or hearer) what place the word has in the sentence. So, the accusative case of the word denotes the direct object (the direction of the verb).


Genesis 3:15 is taken as Messianic by these rabbinic authorities.

  • Rabbi David Kimchi:

As Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people by the hand of The Messiah the Son of David, who shall wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked.[1]

  • Midrash Rabbah(23):

Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, Eve has respect to that Seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the Messiah, the King.[2]

Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9), mentions additional rabbinic opinions supporting the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah.

This well-known passage is paraphrased, with express reference to the Messiah, in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the so-called Jerusalem Targum. Schottgen conjectures that the Talmudic designation of “heels of the Messiah” in reference to the near Advent of the Messiah in the description of the troubles of those days may have been chosen partly with a view to this passage.[3]

Dr. Edersheim’s remark is confirmed by Franz Delitzsch in his work, Messianic Prophecies in Historical Succession, with the addition of a Messianic link to one of the midrashim.

The Palestinian Targum testifies that in Gen. iii.15 there is promised a healing of the bite in the heel from the serpent, which is to take place “at the end of the days, in the days of the King Messiah.” In the Palestinian Midrash to Genesis (Bereshith Rabba xii) we read: “The things which God created perfect since man sinned have become corrupt and do not return to their proper condition until the son of Perez (i.e. according to Gen. xxxviii. 29, Ruth iv. 18 ff. the Messiah out of the tribe of Judah) comes.”[4]

Additional Messianic links are revealed by Joseph Samuel C.F. Frey in his two volume work, Joseph and Benjamin.

Our ancient Rabbis, as with one voice, have declared that by the seed of the woman, who was to bruise the head of the serpent is meant the Messiah. You know as well as I, their common saying, “that before the serpent had wounded our first parents, God had prepared a plaster for their healing; and as soon as sin had made its entrance into our world, the Messiah had made his appearance.” Hence both the Targums, that of Onkelos, and that of Jonathan, say “that the voice which our first parents heard walking in the garden, was the Memra Jehovah, ie. the word of the Lord, or the Messiah, who is always meant by this expression;… In the Targum of Jonathan, and that of Jerusalem, it is said, “the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent, and they shall obtain healing, or a plaster for the heel, (the hurt received by the Serpent,) in the days of Messiah the King.”[5]

It is self-evident from these references that our understanding of Genesis 3:15 as a prophecy of the Messiah falls within the Jewish frame of reference. It is not a position dreamed up by some non-Jewish missionary intent on deceiving gullible Jews into forsaking their people and their religion. The Messianic impact of this prophecy is very clearly seen by the rabbis.

However, there is more significance lurking in Genesis 3:15. Eve’s understanding of Genesis 3:15 is revealed in her remarks found in Genesis 4:1 regarding the birth of her first son.Genesis 4:1 reads, (literally), “I have brought forth a man – Jehovah.” Most versions do not translate Genesis 4:1 in this manner.

The translation issue circles around the little Hebrew word “et.” this little word can be either an accusative particle indicating the definite direct object or it can be a preposition. Prepositions are placed before certain words to form a phrase that indicates a relationship such as in, on, by, etc. Most translators evaluate the word as a preposition and therefore translate the verse, “and she said,’I have gotten a manchild with the help of (et) the LORD.’”[6] This translation decision, or very similar renderings, are found in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New Living Translation (NLT), New International Version (NIV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), American Standard Version (ASV), New King James Version (NKJV) and Tanakh versions.

Two Aramaic paraphrases of Genesis 3:15 make this decision as well.

And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, “I have acquired the man from before the Lord.”

And Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, “I have acquired the man from before the Lord.”

In spite of the translation decision of these standard translations and two Targumims, we believe evaluating “et” as an accusative particle is the better position. Why would such a minority position be a better position to take? There are a number of reasons


The first reason is found in the context in which the word is found. The accusative particle is used five times in verses one and two of Chapter 4. It is not seen in the English translation because its function is to identify the direct object of the sentence. It is not a translatable word. A literal rendering of verses 1 and 2 into English will enable the non-Hebrew reader to understand the context.

Now the man knew (et) Eve his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to (et)Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild (et) Yahweh.” Again, she gave birth to his (et) brother (et) Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

Genesis 3: Rabbinic Support

When we look at the context, we see that the name Yahweh falls right in the middle of consistent constructions. The four proper nouns Eve, Cain, Yahweh, and Abel along with the common noun brother are all preceded by et. In four of the constructions, et is properly rendered as a particle indicating the direct object of the verb. Only in the case of the proper noun, Yahweh, have the translators chosen to render et as a preposition. Consistency in translation would dictate a consistent usage of the word et. It is better to take the word consistently as an accusative particle and translate the verse, “I have gotten a man – the Lord” because this rendering does not violate the pattern of the context.

Rabbinic Agreement

Another support for this position is found in of the Targumim, Targum Jonathan. Targum Jonathan to Genesis 4:1 reads:

And Adam knew his wife which desired the Angel, and she conceived and bare Cain, and said, ‘I have obtained THE MAN, the Angel of Jehovah.’[8]

In this rendering, the translator rendered the proper noun Yahweh with the substitute phrase “The Angel of the Jehovah.” In addition, no preposition such as “with the help of” is utilized. Et is rendered as an accusative particle indicating that the direct object of the verb is “The Angel of the Lord.”

In addition, supporting insight is found in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

The evidence from the versions (LXX, dia tou theou; Vul., per deum) suggests that the accusative sense of “I have brought forth a man, the Lord,” was not acceptable to the early translators, and they avoided that sense by means of a free translation. The modern translation “with the help of the Lord” (NIV)… is not attested elsewhere in Scripture.[9]

The comment that evaluating et as a direct object indicator was not acceptable to early translators is substantiated by rabbinic comments in Bereshith Rabbah xxii. 2.

WITH THE HELP OF (ETH) THE LORD. R. Ishmael asked R. Akiba: ‘Since you have served Nahum of Gimzo for twenty-two years, [and he taught], Every ak and rak is a limitation, while every eth and gam is an extension, tell me what is the purpose of the eth written here?’ ‘If it said, “I have gotten a man the Lord,’” he, replied,’ it would have been difficult [to interpret]; hence ETH [WITH THE HELP OF] THE LORD is required.’[10]

The point of the exchange between Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba is the evaluation of et (spelled ETH in the Soncino Midrash Rabbah). Rabbi Ishmael clearly understands the implication if et is evaluated as a direct object indicator. If et is a direct object indicator, then Eve is stating that she believes she has given birth to God or a God/man. Concerned about this implication, he asks the advice of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Akiba clearly understands the implications as well and acknowledges this by replying that if et is evaluated as a direct object indicator, “it would have been difficult [to interpret].” In other words, that sense would not be acceptable to rabbinic theology and therefore et must be evaluated as a preposition. As a result, the free translation [WITH THE HELP OF] THE LORD is the required translation.

The little particle et is significant enough in Genesis 4:1 to cause a bit of controversy. The context favors evaluating it as a direct object indicator. However, those who cannot accept the implications of the context and that evaluation are forced to evaluate the particle differently even though the outcome is a free translation rather than a literal translation.

Dr. David L. Cooper summarizes the issue.

In Genesis 4:1 – the statement of Eve when Cain, her first son, was born, “I have gotten a man even Jehovah.” She correctly understood this primitive prediction but misapplied it in her interpreting it as being fulfilled in Cain, her son. It is clear that Eve believed that the child of promise would be Jehovah Himself. Some old Jewish commentators used to interpolate the word “angel” in this passage and say that Eve claimed that her son was “the angel of Jehovah.”[11]

The significance of this exercise lies in the fact that Eve thought she gave birth to a supernatural deliverer, a Divine Messiah, a God/man. This insight is the significant fact lurking in the background of Genesis 3:15. In Genesis 3:15, God is promising that a supernatural deliverer will and devastate Satan. Eve understood the prediction in precisely those terms. Her mistake was in thinking that her son, Cain, was that supernatural savior.

In approximately 700 BC, Isaiah would predict the coming of the supernatural deliverer when he was given the revelation of the virgin birth. The supernatural deliverer would be Emmanuel – God with us. This prediction was realized in the actual birth of the supernatural deliverer, the God/man, Yeshua HaMashiach. With that comment, we move into the next segment of our study, the fulfillment in Yeshua.

  1. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” Good News Society, p. 5
  2. ^ Ibid.
  3. ^ Edersheim, A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (electronic ed.), p.689
  4. ^ Delitzsch, Franz., Messianic Prophecies in Historical Succession, (Eugene, Wipf, and Stock Publishers, 1997), p. 39
  5. ^ Frey, Joseph Samuel, C.F., Joseph and Benjamin, (Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2002), p. 154-155
  6. ^ The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1977).
  7. ^ Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, (Deutsche Bibelgessellschaft Stuttgart) 1990.
  8. ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah,” p. 5
  9. ^ Gaebelein, F.E. Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), p. 63
  10. ^ Soncino Classics Collection: The Soncino Midrash Rabbah, (Chicago: Davka Corp.)
  11. ^ McDowell, Josh., Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1972), p. 145