The Social Setting of Textual Transmission

Garrick V. Allen reviews Alan Mugridge’s study of early papyri to determine if aspects of the setting can found in the production of these copies. Mugridge’s work and Allen’s review highlight for the non-specialist the various areas under examination. Transmission studies have always fascinated and confirmed the historicity of the text for me.


Alan Mugridge. Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice. WUNT 362. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016. xx + 558 pages. ISBN: 9783161546884.

Review by Garrick V. Allen, Dublin City University.

In this valuable resource, Alan Mugridge examines the codicological features of 548 early papyri originating from before the fourth century CE in an effort to be understand the social setting of their production. He is particularly interested to ascertain whether the copyists of the early Greek papyri transmitting early Christian works were ‘Christians’ (not necessarily professional scribes), or if communities hired professional copyists outside their immediate social context. The entirety of this detailed volume is devoted to the argument that “the copyists of the majority of Christian texts were trained scribes, probably working in a variety of settings, and that there is no firm evidence that the copyists were generally Christian” (p. 2). This argument has drastic implications for how we understand the textual transmission and variation of early Christian documents.

In his first chapter (“The Papyri and their Handwriting”) Mugridge lays the foundation for this study by defining “Christian Papyri” (pp. 2–5). He also identifies a small control group of non-Christian papyri (pp. 5–6). He examines the date, languages, the writing material used in the example documents (papyrus, parchment, wood), the presence of non-Christian material among Christian documents, and the provenance of the material (heavily weighted toward Egypt). Mugridge also clears the ground by providing a taxonomy of writing activity in this period, which proves essential to his evaluation of the “professionalism” of particular manuscripts (pp. 11–22).

The second chapter (pp. 26–50) examines the features of the papyri identified in its title: “context, material, form and size.” Mugridge examines the correlation between the quality of a manuscript’s palaeographic profile and its other features. He notes that most literary or sacred works tend to have a higher quality producer and that of other types of works. Additionally, multilingual features of a papyrus indicate a learned producer, and Mugridge notes examples of Coptic glosses, Latin translations, and the presence of other languages among the Greek exemplars (e.g. Syriac, Demotic, Hebrew onomastica). However, he argues that the form of a manuscript (codex, roll, sheet, or wood) does not necessarily correlate to the quality of writing. He concludes by comparing the palaeographic profiles of his corpus against the size of the exemplars, noting that the professionalism of the copy does not necessarily have any relationship to its size. The producers of Christian papyri fit into the overall trend of the corpus, with some exceptions (p. 49).

Next, the layout of the corpus is compared to the skill of the palaeography in an effort to divine a relationship between the two (pp. 51–70). Mugridge concludes that the wide margins, narrow columns, and wide inter-columnar spaces generally correspond to well-trained hand (esp. in rolls), but that these features are not absolutely correlated to scribal expertise. The most prescient feature is the consistency of margin sizes, which closely corresponds to the quality of the hand.

The next chapter (pp. 71–91) examines the presence of reading aids in his corpus to explore the relationship between the level of professionalism in palaeography and the presence of these aids. Mugridge explores a number of paratexts, including pagination, titles and headings, section markers, sense units, stichometry, punctuation, and a series lectional notations. He concludes that there is no difference in the deployment of these paratexts in skilled or unskilled copies, and “Christian” and “non-Christian” copies.

The final substantial analytical chapter – “Writing the Text” – explores a variety of scribal habits and copying mechanics preserved in the corpus (pp. 92–143). Again, the analysis of these features is correlated to the quality of an exemplar’s palaeography to explore the relationship between “skilled” scribes and the mechanics of a manuscript’s production. Especially in his discussion of nomina sacra (pp. 121–37), Mugridge is keen to argue that the personal convictions of a scribe are not necessarily borne out by the content or features of their copy. We need not think that the copyist of a manuscript with nomina sacra was a Christian.

The last chapter of the book (pp. 144–54) is a summary of Mugridge’s conclusions, in which he argues that the level of professionalism in Christian papyri through the fourth century was relatively high and that the format and size of manuscript bearing Christian works are commensurate to the broader textual culture. From this, he concludes that “most copyists were not simply occasional writers who turned their hand to copy manuscripts of personal value to themselves or to friends” (p. 148). Early Christian works were produced like all other works in the Roman world at the time – primarily by trained professionals (p. 149). Here, Mugridge comes to his underlying contention: because it is not possible to identify the scribes of Christian works as Christian themselves, one cannot ascribe perceived theological changes in texts to scribes. Also, the use of professional scribes ensures the accuracy of copying, indicating that the early Christian papyri offer a special insight into the text of the works they contain. The analysis portion of this work is supported further by twelve tables of data, ranging from the content of the papyri to various marginal measurements to the presence of nomina sacra, that serve as the foundation for Mugridge’s conclusions (pp.  445–517).

Following the conclusion, Mugridge includes a “Catalogue of Papyri” (pp. 155–413), which is by far the most valuable aspect of the volume. For each papyrus in his corpus, he provides the date, provenance, publication information, contents, location, various catalogue numbers, a brief bibliography, locations of plates, a terse description, and comment on the hand. This vast aggregation of data should prove beneficial for future papyrological studies on early Christian artefacts. The book also necessarily includes a concordance that compares Mugridge’s numeration system to the systems of the Leuven Database of Ancient Books, Rahlfs, Turner, van Haelst, the Repertorium, and Gregory-Aland (pp. 518–36).

All in all, this thick volume represents an arduous and prodigious effort on the part of the author. Its organization, scope, and methodological tenacity are characteristics to which studies of this type should aspire. I am convinced by Mugridge’s argument that early Christian manuscripts are not of a lesser quality or different nature to exemplars that transmit non-Christian works. Careful craftsmanship and an appreciation for the norms of production are the markers of the majority of these early exemplars. It would, in fact, be strange to imagine that early Christianity possessed a textual culture devoid of any influence from contemporary practices of artefact production.

However, I am less convinced by Mugridge’s conclusion that, because these manuscripts show signs of professionalism, they were likely produced by non-Christian professionals responsible also for the production of pagan literature and documentary material. In all probability, some early Christian manuscripts were produced by those outside the community, but the evidence remains ambiguous. The material evidence that Mugridge musters fails to conclusively point in either direction. The rarity of stichometric notations would seem to indicate that very few of the remnant manuscripts, as far as we can tell, were produced for a profit. Also, while he asserts that by the fourth century many scribes were Christians, he assumes that professional scribes in an earlier period were not. He insinuates that professional copies mean that they were produced by non-Christians for profit. In fact, the underlying argument of the book seems to be that, because early Christian literature was copied by non-Christian professionals, then the reliability of the text of these exemplars is very high for two reasons: (1) professionals generally copied more accurately that non-experts, and (2) non-Christians would have no reason to alter the wording of a text for theological reasons. If this is Mugridge’s underlying argument (a sort of anti-Ehrman polemic), a textual analysis of this corpus would seem more appropriate than a material one, since the best way to observe the religious conviction of a copyist is to judge the textual changes made to a copy, especially when those changes are exegetically motivated or show a level of awareness of remote parallels. Although, even then, it is difficult to distinguish between the work of the scribe, his or her copy, and an antecedent exegete or exegetical tradition.

Garrick V. Allen
Dublin City University
garrick.allen [at]

The Seven Christian Disciplines: 2 Peter 1. 5-15 (Part One)

In 1973 I enrolled in a bible college to study the scriptures. I was warned that this college like the many others in the Fundamentalist Orbit had strict rules on all kinds of activities such as keeping one’s dorm room clean. If the bed was not made or the room unkempt then demerits would soon be issued by the hall monitors who would check them before chapel and it would not take many infractions before expulsion from the college occurred. The exhortation from The Apostle Peter however is starkly different from the Fundamentalists both in its goal and nature. If this institution would have focused upon biblical motivations and goals then Christian training would have been better accomplished in the lives of their students. As a point of record I never received any demerits while at the college but others were actually expelled because of demerits. I, in misguided zeal, myself became a stickler of all things ethical and moral in the lives of other Christians for a period of time. I was following Christian leaders after all and these leaders had, at best, a fuzzy understanding of the Christian life as explained in the scriptures.

These qualities or disciplines that Simon Peter lists are regarded as crucially important to the early Christians in that he wants to repeatedly remind his readers of their deployment in in their lives (vss. 12-13). These followers of Christ already knew the disciplines, but Peter thought they were so important as to continually remind his audience of them and to even record them for posterity before his own prophesied death (vss. 14-15). These qualities then form very important instruction for The Church of Jesus since they were given by an Apostle of Christ, and as such have received completed instruction (John 16.12-13) and are placed first in the Universal Church (1 Cor. 12.28).

Conceptually, how should these exercises or disciplines be viewed in regard to other instructions in the bible? Firstly, in the family of God, His revelation is given to us to study and continually ponder and reflect upon for our benefit (see Dt. 6.4-9). In analyzing The Book of Proverbs it is easy to recognize the work as instruction for godly living to someone operating in the context of a redeemed community yet exposed to dangers and temptations. Solomon’s Book (divinely inspired) deals with relating horizontally among others whereas The Mosaic Law dealt primarily about the vertical relationship between a person and God (yes, of course societal and other benefits accrued from The Mosaic Law as well). The Book of Proverbs helps believers during their time on earth to navigate their way successfully. The proverbs instructs on how to build character or discipline oneself to interact with others while on sinful earth. Neither Solomon’s Proverbs or Peter’s list of disciplines promise any direct reward for keeping them. Rather they (the disciplines) function as preparatory for other blessings. This then, is quite different than working for sanctification which is almost what the Fundamentalists were doing. Sanctification is a grace by The Spirit where the believer becomes more reflective of Christ. Christ is seen in the believer by the Spirit’s presence. The degree of the Spirit’s operation in the believer, as I understand it, is directly rewarded at the judgement. The Book of Proverbs and the list of disciplines in Peter instead provide ‘a ground’ or a basis of continually living successfully on earth (2Pe.1.10: “you will never stumble”).

I propose that these qualities in 2 Peter resemble the instructions given in the O.T. book of Proverbs. In Pr. 1.2 a summary statement appears at the beginning of Solomon’s work indicating purpose: “to know wisdom and instruction” this idea of knowing (lada’at) speaks of realizing, perceiving, personal internalization according to Bruce Waltke’s study of The Book of Proverbs. This “experiencing of wisdom” that Solomon calls his listeners to in 1.2 is, in essence, what Peter says the disciplines he lists accomplishes by the term epignosko (knowledge) of Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1.8. This is a fuller knowledge than in 1.5 since that term “knowledge” (gnosin) is distinguished as preparatory and in part toward the knowledge (epignosko) of Jesus Christ. All the elements Peter lists completes this knowledge so it seems in context that epignosko  indicates a fuller orbed  realization or an experiencing of the spiritual wisdom that is in Christ. In Col. 2.3, Paul agrees with this sentiment saying: that in Jesus are “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Of course in the eternal state the redeemed will have no need for the wisdom contained in Proverbs or 2 Peter. These disciplines enable a blessed life during the evil days of this world. As redeemed Christians we are still responsible for our own fall in Adam so no room exists for complaints about our troubles now.

In part 2 I will discuss the disciplines while this post introduced their nature and how they fit in an over all conception of biblical instruction.


T. S. Elliot on Unconscious Influence

James Anderson points out Elliot’s observation on what often affects us unwittingly. Both the Old and New Testaments of the bible tells us to watch our words and deeds. The only real way to do this is to consciously decide to observe the command. It is another matter entirely that when we try to do right that we fail. This is because we attempted righteousness from ourselves. This is not possible without aid from God and is for a different post (I should say that this is where God often shows a person that forgiveness and reconciliation are found in Jesus whether prospective in The Old or retrospective in The New).

Some insight from Eliot’s essay “Religion and Literature” (1935):

Now what we get, as we gradually grow up and read more and more, and read a greater diversity of authors, is a variety of views of life. But what people commonly assume, I suspect, is that we gain this experience of other men’s views of life only by “improving reading.” This, it is supposed, is a reward we get by applying ourselves to Shakespeare, and Dante, and Goethe, and Emerson, and Carlyle, and dozens of other respectable writers. The rest of our reading for amusement is merely killing time. But I incline to come to the alarming conclusion that it is just the literature that we read for “amusement,” or “purely for pleasure” that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular plays of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely. And it is chiefly contemporary literature that the majority of people ever read in this attitude of “purely for pleasure,” of pure passivity.

The relation to my subject of what I have been saying should now be a little more apparent. Though we may read literature merely for pleasure, of “entertainment” or of “aesthetic enjoyment,” this reading never affects simply a sort of special sense: it affects our moral and religious existence. And I say that while individual modern writers of eminence can be improving, contemporary literature as a whole tends to be degrading. And that even the effect of the better writers, in an age like ours, may be degrading to some readers; for we must remember that what a writer does to people is not necessarily what he intends to do. It may be only what people are capable of having done to them. People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced. A writer like D. H. Lawrence may be in his effect either beneficial or pernicious. I am not sure that I have not had some pernicious influence myself.

One can only imagine what Eliot would have concluded about the influence of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos on our “moral and religious existence.”

Subtle and Deceptive Terminology

Leonardo De Chirico is a pastor in Rome, Italy. His PhD is from Kings College London. Here he examines the use of term by Roman Catholics which now carries new meanings.

Words to those in Thessaloniki by Paul in the First Century seem appropriate:  Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil. (The Message)

Evangelization seems to be a popular word. Being traditionally part of the vocabulary used by evangelicals (often referred to as “evangelism”), it has become increasingly used by Roman Catholics too. It was Paul VI with his 1975 exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi who introduced it in Catholic language. It was Benedict XVI who launched in 2010 a new Vatican department to support efforts towards the “new evangelization”. It is Pope Francis who regularly speaks about and practices forms of evangelization, making it a central task of the Church, as attested in his 2013 exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.

The word “evangelization” is therefore used across the spectrum of the Christian world. The question is: What is the meaning of it? How is it defined? What does it refer to? In his last motu proprio (i.e. a document signed by the Pope on his own initiative) on April 1st, 2017, Pope Francis opens a window on what he has in mind when he speaks about evangelization. The document is entitled Sanctuarium in Ecclesia (The Sanctuary in the Church) and transfers the competences on the sanctuaries to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Vatican department inaugurated by Benedict XVI. The basic idea is that sanctuaries and shrines are thought of as being primary places where evangelization takes place and must be encouraged.

Focus on Sanctuaries

What is a sanctuary? Fatima, Guadalupe, Aparecida, Lourdes … these are places where major sanctuaries attract millions of pilgrims and visitors every year. These are shrines dedicated to Mary or to a particular saint, at which special devotions are practiced and promoted in the form of rosaries, prayers, pilgrimages, contemplation of sacred images, etc. They are home to popular forms of spirituality that endure in spite of the steady decline of religious practice associated with the local parish.

Francis explains that sanctuaries are places “where popular piety has felt firsthand the mysterious presence of the Mother of God, the saints and the blessed”. In approaching and entering them, many people “deeply experience the closeness of God, the tenderness of the Virgin Mary and the company of the Saints: an experience of true spirituality that cannot be devalued”. God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints are all considered to be part of the same spiritual experience. Moreover, “many Shrines have been perceived as part of the lives of individuals, families and communities to the extent that they have shaped the identity of entire generations, even affecting the history of some nations”.

Therefore, given their inspirational and symbolic importance, “walking towards the Sanctuary and participating in the spirituality expressed by these places is already an act of evangelization that deserves to be valued for its intense pastoral value”. It follows that “the Shrines, in the variety of their forms, express an irreplaceable opportunity for evangelization in our time” and “a genuine place of evangelization”.

What Evangelization Are We Talking About?

We come back to the question previously asked. The word evangelization is used here; the practice of it is apparently endorsed. Evangelicals, for whom the word strikes deep spiritual chords, may celebrate the emphasis that the Roman Catholic Church is putting on evangelization. Yet a careful and honest reading of the document shows that the kind of “evangelization” the Pope is advocating for here is something utterly distant from the biblical meaning of the word.

According to the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, perhaps the most representative evangelical document of the 20th century, evangelism is “the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God” (n. 4). Notice the different elements of this neat and clear definition: “proclamation”, “historical and biblical Christ”, “persuasion”, “personal reconciliation to God”. None of these elements can be found in what happens in and around the shrines according to the Pope. There is no proclamation of the biblical gospel, but rather contemplation of sacred images and the practice of other forms of Catholic piety. There is little focus on the biblical Saviour and Lord, but rather devotion to Mary and the saints. There is no persuasion to abandon one’s own idols to turn to the living God, but rather encouragement to cultivate deeply entrenched forms of spurious spirituality. There is little or no talk of the necessity of being reconciled to God, but rather the reinforcement of the idea that pilgrims and nations already “belong” to God.

What evangelization are we talking about? The word is the same, but the meaning is far different. In its understanding and practice of evangelization, the Roman Catholic Church legitimately brings in the whole of its theological system, which is based on a combination of the Bible and traditions, Christ and the saints, faith and folk piety, and so on. Its evangelization promotes and commends this kind of blurred and erroneous gospel. Before celebrating the fact that the Catholic Church has become seriously engaged in evangelization, one needs to understand what kind of evangelization Rome stands for.

Paul Helm Discussing Judgment

The philosopher introduces a book by his Christian friend and adds his own perspective. I want to state however, other existing formulas to Gal. 3.23-5. Helm portrays the plural variously: “protection, correction or discipline, destruction.” These do not seem to align neatly. Other commentators see a singular law being the guardian of many people. Believing the latter idea, I merely quibble a minor point which in no way distracts from the whole.

It is a great pleasure to be asked to write some words of introduction to the latest book of my long-time friend, Melvin Tinker. He has many gifts, one of which, not the least, is as an apologist for the faith. Melvin’s contemporary  style, his wide reading, his knowledge of the Bible, and his theological grasp enliven and inform all that he has to say.

The new book may be thought of as an exercise in consistency, or better in Christian integrity. None of us have any difficulty in finding warm and comforting words from the Bible: Psalm 23, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or the way Jesus welcomed children, or fed the hungry and healed the sick. But the Bible has a darker side. Not only Jesus’ kind words and deeds, but his anger, his driving men from the Temple with a hand-made whip, his pointed remarks about the division his teaching will cause, and his statements on Hell as well as on Heaven, for example.

In this book Melvin is dealing with this darker side. If the Christian teaching about the Bible being one book, with one overall theme or message, is true, we must not overlook its darker side. The  darker side of Jesus’ ministry, but also the deeds of the ‘God of the Old Testament’. In a day when the Bible is dissected by the critics, or divided by specialists, this in itself is a welcome emphasis.  The Bible is the one word of God, and its entirety is to be taken seriously and faced honestly. The darker side cannot simply be brushed under the carpet. Apart from anything else, this is simply to push the culture further away from the sunnier side of its teaching. For as was aptly said, ‘If you belittle the disease you belittle the physician.’ The Lord our God is one Lord. Integrity demands that we form a consistent judgment of both the shadows and the sunshine.

Preparatory to this, we need to be reminded of God’s character. Any attentive reader of the Bible can see that it is impossible to make sense of it without the idea that God has a mind of his own. He is not simply the rather ineffective help to satisfying the latest desires of men and women. In any case, these are constantly shifting, with an ever-enlarging portfolio of ‘rights’ to benefit from.  God is not a human agent, not even a human prime minister or president or business leader, but our Creator and Lord. He is not driven by his desires to please us, but is just and holy. Because of this his love, disclosed in his covenant with Abraham and in Jesus the Mediator of the Covenant, is not moody, but deep and unwavering, rooted in his own unchanging character, and involving the humiliation and death of God incarnate. God did not spare his Son but delivered him up for us all.

God has a plan. Much of the detail of this plan is hidden from us, but it is clear that it involves the choice of a people, the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and of blessing of them through a gracious covenant. This arrangement both allows for the  people’s chastisement if and when their fidelity to the covenant falters, and their protection from the attacks of surrounding nations intent on snuffing them out. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, says that in the Old Testament the people of God were under age, ‘under guardians and managers’ while being surrounded by bitter enemies. Both the correction  and protection of his people required that their God undertook acts of holy discipline and destruction.

In other words, Melvin is arguing from the Bible itself, that it is necessary to contextualize the darker side of things. These are not isolated events which show us that God, is capable of losing his temper, or of being vicious and bloodthirsty. This is not how the destruction of the Canaanites is to be seen. Rather they are instances of his protective care of his people, just as the disobedience of his own people has to be visited with the destructive-corrective action of God. These are parts of one consistent picture, what Melvin refers to as the non-partisan action of God. Not an isolated case of bullying or of loss of composure, but the understanding of God as ‘the judge of all the earth’ who ‘does what is just’. Though God is high and lifted up, nonetheless he has a deep commitment of grace and love to his unprepossessing people. The nations surrounding Israel were not pure and innocent, but idolatrous and abominable. Their actions revealed their detestable character, calling for righteous  punishment.

God does not suddenly grow up, as if the caterpillar of the Old Testament becomes the butterfly of the New Testament. However, his revelation does develop from being focussed exclusively on Israel to his concern for the international church of Jesus Christ.  This is the true, the full, ‘Israel of God. ’It is in Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, that we see God’s wrath and grace best refracted.

To spell out these dark themes in some detail is characteristic of the courage and commitment to the truth that is Melvin’s outlook. Some of this makes uncomfortable reading, but then Melvin’s  aim is not  to ‘speak to us smooth words….illusions’, but to be faithful to the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As he says, both Testaments portray ‘God in his holiness as implacably opposed to all sin which issues in judgment, and yet in his love he shows mercy which calls for repentance’.


The Burial and Empty Tomb of Jesus


Instead of trying to wax eloquent about my understanding of the empty tomb, here is Craig Evans contextualizing the scene.

So if the body of Jesus received proper burial late Friday afternoon, why did women visit his tomb early Sunday morning? The Gospels tell that the women brought spices with them (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1). They did this because of the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb of the recently deceased every day for one week (Josephus, Ant. 17.200; Semahot 12.1; cf. Gen 50:10; 1 Sam 31:13). This was primary burial, or the first funeral, as it were. The spices and perfume helped mask the unpleasant odor of the decomposing corpse. One year later, as prescribed by Jewish custom (b. Qiddushin 31b), family members gathered up the skeletal remains and placed them in a niche, or in an ossuary (m. Sanh. 6:6; Semahot 12.9). In the case of one executed, the remains were collected from the burial place of shame and placed in the family tomb or other place of honor (m. Sanh. 6:5–6; Semahot 13.7). The belief was that after one year of death, and the consequent wasting away of the flesh, removed the stain of guilt.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the tomb of Jesus was sealed, which made it clear that his body could not be removed and placed elsewhere. The famous Nazareth burial inscription (SEG VIII 13) is probably relevant here. Tampering with tombs was a serious offence. If such happens, Caesar orders that charges be laid. However, visiting the tomb of an executed criminal and weeping quietly were permitted (m. Sanh. 6:6). This is what the women plan to do, so they wonder who will assist them in moving aside the heavy stone (Mark 16:3), that they might enter the tomb, anoint the body of Jesus, and silently pray and grieve.

As it turns out, all of their preparations and plans were thrown to the wind. When they arrive at the place of burial, they find that the stone has been rolled aside and there is no body of Jesus to be anointed. There will be no one week of private, quiet mourning. What has happened? It is probable that they assumed that the body of Jesus had been removed by the Jewish authorities, perhaps on the grounds that the body should have been placed in tomb previously used and designated for the burial of the executed. Perhaps the kindness of Joseph of Arimathea in making his not-yet-used tomb available for Jesus had been overriden by the high priest. It is not likely that the first thing that popped into the minds of the women was resurrection.

What persuaded the women, and soon after several of the male disciples, that Jesus had in fact been raised from the dead was not the empty tomb but actual appearances of Jesus to them. The appearances demonstrated that Jesus still lived; the empty tomb made it possible to speak of resurrection and not merely ghostly apparitions. After all, according to the Jewish understand, resurrection was the raising up of the dead from their dusty graves (as in Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2).

The appearances of Jesus, not only to disciples, supporters, and friends, but also to the indifferent and hostile, offer strong evidence that he had in fact been raised from the dead, that the Easter proclamation was not a hoax or silly urban legend. The resurrection of Jesus, which includes the story of his death and burial, is consistent with all known evidence and makes very good sense of the narratives that the four New Testament Gospels give us. It is therefore important to become familiar with the relevant background archaeology and literature.

Resources for Reply

Prof. James Anderson has conveniently listed his writings that help Christians “give reply” for the reason they hope in Christ’s work. “Apologetics” is a funny name to give to the study of defending the faith but initially, in the first Christian century, the use of that Greek word meant: “to give answer,” or “reply.” Some methods are better than others and by studying God’s word we will be  more competent. The calling, convincing, and saving of sinners is an act of God where He ordains the means as well. As Christians we are to disciple all nations until the full number of the Gentiles are brought into the fold. 

One criticism of presuppositional apologetics is that its advocates rarely if ever offer serious arguments for their distinctive claims (e.g., the claim that our ability to reason presupposes the existence of God). The criticism is overstated, but there is a measure of truth to it. I count myself a presuppositionalist, but I’ve been frustrated in the past by presuppositionalists who seem to imagine that declaring what Van Til’s “transcendental argument” purports to demonstrate is tantamount to actually making that demonstration. Simply asserting that “without God you can’t prove anything at all” or that “your very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God” does nothing whatsoever to explain why those weighty assertions should be believed. Likewise for the failure of non-Christians to answer questions asking them to account for their ability to reason, to know truths about the world, to make meaningful moral judgments, etc., in terms of their own worldviews. Questions cannot substitute for arguments, no matter how pointed those questions may be.

So it’s important for presuppositionalists to present arguments in support of their claims, and to ensure their critics are aware of those arguments so that they can be critically evaluated. In that spirit, I thought it would be useful to gather in one place my own presuppositional arguments, as well as my attempts to explain or reconstruct the arguments of other presuppositionalists:

In addition, my book Why Should I Believe Christianity? offers a broadly presuppositional (and evidential!) case for the biblical Christian worldview.

Indeed, He Wrote of Me (John 5:46)

“Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?” (NET)


For the longest time the clause: Indeed, he wrote of Me at the end of verse 46 of John 5, I, like most other readers I consulted, believed the writing referred to the prophecies of Christ’s coming in predictive form such as Balaam’s oracles: “A Star  out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”  However, looking at the wording of Heb. 10. 5-10, another more pervasive, albeit implicit reference is indicated.

The key verse in my contention is Heb.10:7 – Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come—it is written of me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.’ This clause connects well with the claim in John’s Gospel of Moses writing about Jesus since the content spoken about in Hebrews 10.5-10 is solely written by Moses (sacrificial system) while predictive prophecies of Christ’s advent in Moses’ writings are far rarer.

A note about the Law of Moses at this juncture is appropriate since Christians, along with society in general today, are removed both in thought and practice of animal sacrifices. First, Num. 3.10 indicates that only Aaron and his sons are to serve as priests. This is why Jesus could say in Mk. 2.26: “When Abiathar was High Priest.” Narrowly (and falsely), Abimelech was High Priest and Abiathar was a son among many other of Abimelech’s sons. Additionally, some may say that these sons of Aaron in Num. 3.10 refer to his sons after he (Aaron) has died. According to several biblical sections, the living sons of Aaron seemed to perform the High Priestly work while Aaron was living. Therefore, it seems best to regard all of The High Priest’s sons as alternate High Priests. This reality seems implicit since any number of reasons could occur to render the father either unclean or possibly ill and so, a son could stand in the father’s stead to perform the yearly entrance into the most holy place on Yom Kippur. The succession of the priesthood would be the firstborn son with the other sons then relegated to other priestly duties but not as alternates which would then be inherited by the new High Priest’s sons.

The rationale of animal sacrifices is the substitution of an innocent victim in the stead of the sinner. Most Christians who I know regard the institution of these sacrifices at the Fall of Humanity in Eden. The covering of the guilty pair required animal skins, hence a sacrifice. The Mosaic Law of sacrifices greatly expanded and codified the observances to further reflect The Redeemer. So, when thinking about the “Law of Moses,” it is primarily about the law of sacrifices instead of the laws of human regulations like the Ten Commandments. The Law of Moses included both of these observances.

Returning to our text, John 5: 45-47, this section seems a discrete ‘sense unit’ where the flow is closely related in the narrative. Jesus presents His purpose in a partially veiled way: He did not come to condemn the world but to save it as He said elsewhere. The false hope of Moses’ “regulations keeping” such as the punctilious Sabbath observance by the Pharisees while they plotted murder in their heart, is what will condemn them in the end. The reason is clear: no one has or is able to keep the Mosaic regulations flawlessly except Jesus.

This is where the prescribed sacrifices for purification from sin appear in the text as a remedy for failure to perform the regulations: The “sin offering” code involved putting one’s hands on the head of a prescribed animal and confessing the sin they committed. Then the substitute victim would be slaughtered and the blood ritually splashed on the exterior of the Bronze Altar. Also, once a year The Day of Atonement purified the observant worshipers for that previous year. Thus, the real blessings of the Mosaic code was not the performance of laws tediously kept, but the laws of the sacrifices, since they were shadows of the “the good things” to come in Christ.

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10.1-10 NRSV)



Nash Reviews Van Til

Douglas Douma reproduces Nash’s review in which he points out some items which seem ‘loose ends’ in the theology of Cornelius Van Til. Gordon Clark was the most prominent and bitterest rival to Van Til in formulating Christian thought. These two theologians’ thoughts organize into Presuppositional (Van Til) and Evidentiary (Clark) Apologetic stances.

No student of Christian theology and philosophy should regard his education as complete until he has carefully worked his way through at least one of Professor Van Til’s books. In this extension of his earlier Defense of the Faith, Van Til continues his attack on all systems of thought that exalt the autonomy of man at the expense of the sovereign God of the Scriptures. If God is sovereign, nothing can be above him (such as the law of logic) or can exist independently of him (such as “facts”). Human knowledge is impossible unless man’s knowledge is analogical of the divine knowledge, that is, unless man thinks God’s thoughts after him. Van Til’s purpose in this book is to show modern man the relevance of Christianity by demonstrating that only Christianity has the answer to the questions that modern thought seeks in vain.

The thesis of modern theology, philosophy, and science is that “nothing can be said conceptually about a God who is above what Kant calls the world of phenomena, the world of experience.” But, Van Til counters, if the God of Christian theism does not exist (or cannot be known), then Chance is ultimate. And if Chance is ultimate, then nothing (neither words, nor thoughts, nor events) can have any meaning. But if nothing has meaning, it is impossible to deny (or affirm) the existence of God or anything else. The effort to eliminate God turns out to be self-defeating. “If Christian theism is not true, then nothing is true…. So far as modern thought is not based upon the presupposition of the truth of Christianity it is lost in utter darkness. Christianity is the only alternative to chaos.” The “death of God” is simply the inevitable result of the elevation of autonomous man over God. It is what we should have expected all along.

The foundation of all non-Christian thought is the presupposition of human autonomy. Van Til is especially hard on non-Reformed Christians who try to support their faith by appeals to logic, to “facts,” or to probability. If God is sovereign, neither he nor his Word can be compromised by such appeals. Van Til also attacks (correctly, I think) the modern dialectical approach to Scriptures, which prides itself on its “dialogue” with modern man. The dialogue is spurious, Van Til contends, because the Christ presented by dialectical theology is a Christ that no one can know.

While Van Til devotes space to several of his critics (Floyd Hamilton and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.), his book does not contain one reference to the man who over the years has offered the most serious objections to his position. I am referring to Van Til’s “fellow Calvinist,” Gordon Clark of Butler University. Clark continues to be concerned over the qualitative difference that exists in Van Til’s system between the divine and human knowledge. According to Van Til, God’s knowledge and man’s do not (and cannot) coincide at a single point, from which it follows that no proposition can mean the same thing to God and man. Clark’s contention is then that Van Til’s view leads to skepticism, because if God knows all truth and man’s “knowledge” does not coincide with what God knows at a single point, then man does not possess knowledge. Until Van Til answers this objection, I must agree with Clark.

I have several objections of my own, also. All Van Til’s conclusions are supposed to follow from the principles set forth in his first three chapters, but it is exactly at this point that his argument is weakest. Take, for example, his defense of the Scriptures. Like Van Til, I believe in the authority and the inspiration of the Bible. But so far as the ultimate validity of his system is concerned, everything depends on Van Til’s ability to defend the authority of the Scriptures without making any appeal to logic or to “facts.” He argues then that the authority of the Scriptures is self-attesting.

As I see it, a self-attesting truth is one that cannot be questioned. A good example of a self-attesting truth would be an analytic statement like “All bachelors are unmarried man.” No evidence can be offered that could throw the truth of this statement into questions; no evidence is even needed to support its truth. But in the case of the Scriptures, even Van Til admits that there are problems. He does not think the problems are sufficient to undermine the authority of the Bible, but the important thing here is his recognition that problems do exist. I fail to understand how a system of truth that faces problems which even Van Til admits may never be fully resolved (see page 35) can be self-attesting.

A second problem concerns Van Til’s peculiar understanding of the term fact. It is impossible, he argues, to separate a fact from its ultimate interpretation, which means God’s interpretation. I am willing to grant this, but how is a sincere disciple of Van Til supposed to know when his facts are God-interpreted? When they are consistent with the Scriptures? Hardly, for the Bible says nothing about most of the facts in question. When our interpretation coincides with God’s? Hardly, for we must never forget that there is no point of identity between the divine and human knowledge. I content then that Van Til’s use of “facts” is vacuous, since there is no way for man to know when his facts are God-interpreted.

Finally, I am most uncomfortable in the presence of Van Til’s treatment of logic, which he derides as a test of truth. Yet at the same time, he warns that we must not take the biblical teaching about both divine sovereignty and human responsibility as a contradiction. In fact, he admits on the bottom of page 38 that the presence of a logical contradiction in the Bible would be evidence against the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God. For the life of me, I cannot understand this vacillating use of logic. It looks very much as if Van Til introduces logic when it is convenient and ushers it out the back door when it is no longer needed.

I believe these problems are serious. But I do not think they detract from the importance of this book or from Van Til’s stature as one of the most important and original Christian apologists of this century.

Questions that Inform

Sometimes a question is asked and and the hearer learns items from how the question is asked or maybe the content of the question tells the one asking certain things about the questioner. For instance: a class of students may ask the lecturer questions about the lesson where the lecturer gauges the general and specific comprehension of the students. However, this is not my focus.

Language usage has fascinated me from my youngest years. I almost couldn’t help it. Whenever my parents wanted to talk among themselves something they didn’t want their children knowing, they would speak their native language, which wasn’t native to their children. Also, the language of our home was different from the surrounding culture. So, I had one language to talk with my friends and at school, another with which to converse with my sister, brothers, and parents, and one to try to figure out what was being kept from me. All languages have ways to ask questions, give commands, and make statements according to Peter Cottrell and Max Turner in Linguistic and Biblical Interpretation.

However, these authors note, about 70% of the interrogatives in the New Testament are rhetorical, and as such, they give information rather than making a quest for content. The authors give a few examples to highlight this feature: When the writer of Hebrews states: “How shall we neglect so great a salvation? (2.3)” he is not expecting his audience to formulate creative ways of neglect. Additionally, in John 7.51, Nicodemus asks his fellows at the Sanhedrin: “Does our Law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” It is not that Nicodemus didn’t know the answer to his question, but to remind them of what they were ignoring.

Hammer Strikes Anvil Moment: Gal. 4.4

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (Gal. 4.4a)

Here, Paul sets forth in a logical sense what needed to happen for the redemption of humanity. I stress this logical connection since no verbal connection exists explicitly. No argument is presented that would point to any nascent Gnosticism among the recipients as to why “born of a woman” is used if in fact Paul was combating the idea that Jesus was an unimbodied spirit. Paul’s appeal to the Galatian Christians uses theological reasoning to show the dire consequences of leaving Christ to return to human efforts such as the Jewish O.T. observances formulated in syncretism with the faith of Christ.

Exploring the clause contextually shows that The Law’s regulations functioned to enslave (v.3). Yet this Law Christ fulfilled in our stead: “born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (vss.4b-5). So we are enslaved sinners by nature and freely adopted by grace.

Thus, no explicit reason seems to exist for the clause “born of a woman” but several implicit ideas are present to suggest a connection. Previously, Paul spoke of the “Seed of Abraham” being Christ and those who belong to Christ as the resultant “seed of Abraham” (see ch. 3), this is the significant ‘one and the many’ examples of the use of “seed” in scripture. Paul clearly says “seed” is singular and the reference is Christ, then further in ch. 3 he says the resultant believers in Christ constitute also “the seed of Abraham.” This is exactly what the sentence imposed in Gen. 3. 15 does with this word “seed”: it uses it collectively and in a singular fashion at the same time. It will not do to just translate the word “offspring” and be done with it. This was the practice of some in the past which clouded the issue. The best resource to fully explain the ‘one and the many’ usages of “seed” is John Sailhamer’s Meaning of the Pentateuch.

So I have already given it away what I believe the implicit use is for the clause “born of a woman.” Since Paul has already mentioned “the Seed of Abraham” a few lines back “born of a woman” refers to the “seed of the woman.” When God called Abram, it was in light of the previously imposed sentence on the serpent, namely, the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent as the final judgment. That this Seed would have its heel pierced by the snake speaks of the priestly office in dying and conquering death for the collective “seed” (humanity).

So God’s call to Abram with the promise that “in your Seed all the nations would be blessed” (Gal.3.16-modern translators have obscured the citation to “seed” in many places but in 3.16 it would be nonsensical to render it “offspring” as it defeats Paul’s usage), has as its antecedent the Gen. 3.15 passage of the “seed of the woman.” Therefore, in a compositional and logical sense, the clause “born of a woman” connects with the previous “Seed of Abraham” since that clause itself has its foundation in the promise of redemption in Gen.3.15 of that “Seed of the woman” who would vicariously die instead of us. So it is a hammer-anvil moment where a definitive moment occurs: God sent His Son, born of a woman to fulfill the crucial requirement of being the Last Adam. Hence, because of the virgin birth, Christ has no connection with Adam’s failure and becomes the Savior of the world.


Interpreting Funerary Scenes



Here are a few images posted on Prof. Rasmussen’s site ( In his post, Carl Rasmussen points out the dog underneath and connects it with the account of Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman to show the typical domestic scene and the plausibility of the narrative.

These images depict idyllic moments which those, now interred, would have participated in during their earthly life. The scenes portrayed seem to render periods of the deceased while in the prime of life and not immediately before their death when they would have been enfeebled generally (This observation is not limited solely on these ancient Grecian reliefs but reflects this author’s familiarity with other Grecian, Etruscan, and Latin ossuaries and sarcophagi).

Some preliminary observations, which await confirmation, can be made from these scenes:

1.Only the men ate reclined while the woman is seated and may have served the food.

2. The servant is always younger, naked (to show no weapons are secreted by the servant while the man is prone).

3. The reclining and drinking of the man probably depicts the eventual drowsiness and resultant sleep of that activity. The woman would wait and assist with this eventuality and tuck the man in for the night.



Steve Hays: Christ, Christmas and Children

This is a great post and shows how Jesus meets our needs in unexpected ways. We have a wonderful God.
Recently I was thinking about the value of Christmas or Christmas Eve services for children. Christianity has a natural appeal or connection to children that’s lacking in Islam or rabbinical Judaism because God became a child. When children sing Christmas carols, they can personally relate to those carols, because God personally related to their situation by becoming a child and passing through the stages of maturation. In the Incarnation, God relates to humans at our own level, and not just in a generic sense, but from infancy through adulthood.
At the other end of the lifecycle, we can relate to Jesus in part because he shared in the experience of human mortality. Once again, Islam and rabbinical Judaism lack that vital connection.
Likewise, Easter speaks to the elderly, as well as those who lose loved ones through death. It carries the hope of restoration and reunion in the face of the grave.

Prof Hurtado’s Survey of Early Christians

Here is an informative snippet from Larry Hurtado:

In the plentiful cafeteria of religious options available in the first three centuries, early Christianity stands out. This was truly a time of religious diversity and development that included the traditional Roman and Greek pantheons, of course, as well as the deities of the various other peoples and localities encompassed in the Roman Empire. Among the latter were city gods (such as Artemis of Ephesus), and deities of areas such as Phrygia, Syria, and Egypt. There were also lesser divinities of families and households, and even spiritual beings thought to be linked to such specific sites as bridges and kitchens. Additionally, there were new (and refashioned) religious movements aplenty. The title of a book on Roman-era religion captured well the overall religious situation: it was “A World Full of Gods” (Keith Hopkins, A World Full of Gods: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire [Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999]).

So, on the one hand, early Christianity appeared as only one option among many, and only one new religious movement among others. To use another metaphor, early Christianity entered “the ‘traffic’ as a new movement on a very crowded and well-traveled highway of religious activity.” (I lift the phrasing here from my somewhat fuller discussion of “The Religious Environment” of early Christianity in my book, At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion [Eerdmans, 1999], 7 [7-38].) On the other hand, early Christianity was quite distinctive in that setting, even in the diverse and pluralized religious options of the time. Indeed, for many observers then, it was objectionably different, and seen as even a serious threat to Roman-era piety, to family solidarity, and to society. In my recent book, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press, 2016), I focus on several features of early Christianity that made it unusual, even odd, in the first three centuries. I also note that these same features have become cultural commonplaces for us, through the influence of Christianity in Western culture. In this essay, I can only touch on a few of the matters discussed more fully in this book.

Early Christian Impiety

The first thing to emphasize is that early Christianity was often criticized as impiety, even atheism. Here’s why. In the Roman world, in principle all gods are valid and so deserve worship (sacrifice). Traditionalist Romans might object to the importation of foreign gods into Rome, and might consider the religious practices of some other nations strange or even odious. But they did not call into question that the gods of the various peoples were real and valid recipients of worship, at least by the nations to which they were attached. The gods guarded families, cities, and the Empire, and so reverencing them was a key way of demonstrating social solidarity and of contributing to the health and stability of one’s various social circles. To refuse to worship a god was a serious matter. It was deemed an anti-social action, and could even generate the charge of atheism.

Early Christians, however, were expected to turn away from worshiping the various “pagan” gods, all of them, and to confine their worship to “the true and living God and … his Son … Jesus” (1 Thess 1:9-10). Christians were to regard all the other deities as “idols,” a derisive term inherited from Jewish tradition and signifying their unworthiness to be treated as gods. The early Christian stance did not so much involve denying the existence of the pagan gods. Instead, it was the validity of worshiping them that was the issue. Paul, for example, referred to the various pagan deities as “demons,” unworthy beings, and declared that worshiping these beings was incompatible with devotion to the one true God (1 Cor 10:14-22).

This early Christian “cultic exclusivity” was, of course, inherited from the Jewish matrix in which the Jesus-movement emerged. But, generally it seems, pagans regarded the Jewish abstaining from worshiping the pagan gods simply as a particularly singular and annoying feature of Jewish ethnicity. So far as most pagans were concerned, every nation had its own peculiarities, and Jews more so! But Jewish “cultic exclusivity” was, in the main, tolerated. Jews did not typically denounce the gods, and did not try to encourage their cultic exclusivity among pagans.

The early Christian movement, however, quickly became trans-ethnic, increasingly recruiting adherents from the larger pagan population. So, upon their conversion to Christian faith, individuals who had formerly taken part readily in the worship of the deities of their families, cities, and nation suddenly refused to continue to do so. But in the eyes of their society, these former pagans had no right to act in this manner. Their shift in religious practice represented what many took to be a worrying break with their previous social ties. And if the welfare of families and cities depended on keeping the gods happy (especially with sacrifices), the secession of Christian converts from their former religious practices could even be perceived as endangering their wider social circles.

We also have to recognize the ubiquitous place of the gods in the Roman era. In addition to daily reverence of one’s household deities, there were gods acknowledged in practically any significant social setting. City council meetings opened with acknowledging the tutelary deity/deities. Guilds and associations typically had patron deities. Dinners were held in honor of this or that deity, functioning also as social occasions.

So, conscientious Christians in that setting had to consider how to negotiate a wide range of social activities and settings. We see this in Paul’s extended, and somewhat intricate directions to his pagan converts in Corinth (1 Cor 8—10). But a consistent abstention from joining in worshiping the pagan gods could not avoid readily the criticism that it amounted to impiety, and even atheism (as reflected in Martyrdom of Polycarp 9.2).

I emphasize that, among the various new religious movements of the time, such as the so-called mystery cults, early Christianity was unique in this “cultic exclusivity.” One could be a devotee of Isis or Mithras without it having any effect on one’s obligations to the various other gods of your family, city, or nation. But to be a conscientious Christian required a radical break with one’s previous religious activities. In our modern “secular” cultures, it will require an effort to grasp adequately the extent of the consequences for early Christians of the demand that they abstain from “idolatry.” And we may take it for granted, today, that there is only one “God” to believe in or to doubt, but that only reflects how much our assumptions have been shaped by the influence of Christianity.

A New “Religious Identity”

I propose also that this early Christian stance amounted to a novel kind of “religious identity.” Typically, in the Roman world one’s gods were conferred at birth and were part and parcel of one’s ties to family, city, and nation. In our terms, one’s “religious identity” was connected to one’s social and ethnic identity. As a particular reflection of the link between gods and ethnicity, pagans who became Jewish proselytes were expected to depart from their families and join themselves to the Jewish people, taking on a new ethnicity along with their adopted religious stance and exclusive commitment to the Jewish deity.

But pagan converts to early Christianity were not required to sever their ties to families and their people. They remained Greeks, or Egyptians, or Phrygians, or Galatians, for example. But they were to desist from their traditional gods, confining their religious commitment to the one God proclaimed in the Christian gospel, and they were to identify themselves as devotees of this deity exclusively. This, I contend, amounted to a novel distinction between ethnicity and religious identity.

In modern societies, there are periodic censuses of the population, in which we may be asked to indicate in one question our ethnic identity, and in another question our religious affiliation. This reflects the notion that one’s religious identity is distinguishable from one’s ethnicity. We take this now for granted, but in the ancient Roman world it was a rather novel notion. And it appears that in early Christianity we see the first appearance of this notion.

Social and Political Consequences

The distinctiveness of early Christianity in that ancient Roman setting meant that there could be serious social and political consequences of being a Christian then. (I discussed these matters initially in my book, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus [Eerdmans, 2005], 56-82: “To Live and Die for Jesus: Social and Political Consequences of Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.”) These could include tension, harassment and even ostracism from family and friends, and similar difficulties in wider social and vocational ties. Moreover, in some cases, Christians were denounced to local authorities, and this could result in serious judicial consequences.

In an oft-cited letter to the Emperor Trajan written ca. 110 CE, the newly appointed governor of Bithynia and Pontus, Pliny “the Younger,” relates his handling of Christians denounced to him (English translation with brief notes in A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church to A.D. 337, ed. J. Stevenson [SPCK, 1974], 13-15; and Trajan’s reply, 16). If they denied being Christians and were willing to comply with his demands that they reverence the traditional gods and, particularly noteworthy, if they were willing to curse Christ, Pliny let them go. As to those who refused, if they were Roman citizens, he sent them off to Rome for disposition. Those of lower social levels, he executed.

The key question, of course, is why Pliny took such firm measures. Part of the answer may be given in his references to the decline in attendance and offerings in the pagan temples, and his assurance to Trajan that his handling of the Christians will rectify this. That is, in at least this case, Christian disengagement with the pagan gods (and perhaps also their denunciation of “idols”) appears to have generated serious anger that led to Christians being denounced to the governor. In short, these early Christians were perceived to be a social and an economic threat.

A fascinating early Christian text that particularly reflects a concern to avoid social tensions while, nevertheless, maintaining Christian distinctiveness, is The Epistle to Diognetus (Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 3rd ed. [Baker Academic, 2007], 686-719). The author insists that Christians eat the same food, wear the same clothing, and in many respects live as others, and so, in so far as possible, seek to avoid social tension with pagan neighbors. But, equally firmly, the author declares the particularities of Christian faith in the one God and in Christ, and some of the behavioral requirements of Christians as well, that set them off against their prior pagan history. From a slightly earlier time, 1 Peter likewise counsels early Christian readers how to behave in circumstances where they may be harassed or even brought before authorities on account of their Christian faith.

Given that Christian faith uniquely generated such social and political consequences, we might well ask why people became adherents. They could become followers of Isis or any of the other voluntary religious movements of the time without suffering such consequences. Only early Christian faith required converts to absent themselves from worshiping the gods. In another recent book, I have posed directly the question of why people chose to become Christians in that setting (Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? [Marquette University Press, 2016]). Scholars have often noted the spread and growth of early Christianity, but it is only when we take adequate account of the negative consequences of becoming a Christian then that we can perceive more clearly how remarkable that growth was.

We must presume that there were factors in early Christianity that made it sufficiently attractive and meaningful that individuals judged it worth the negative consequences attending to becoming an adherent. I am not sure myself that we scholars have done justice to this topic. It is clear that there were similarities of early Christianity to other voluntary associations of the Roman world, but the social and political consequences of being a Christian were not shared by adherents of other religious movements. So, there must have been positive, distinctive features of early Christianity that drew converts and that compensated for the social and political costs of being a Christian.

These distinctive features likely included emphases in early Christian beliefs and behavioral teachings. For example, the emphasis on the Christian deity as motivated by love for humans seems to have been novel, and was likely meaningful for many (and ridiculous in the eyes of some others). In sum, despite the considerable body of scholarly work on early Christianity, I think that there is more to be done to appreciate adequately what becoming a Christian in the first three centuries involved, and how Christian faith then was a very different and distinctive phenomenon.

Laodicea — Menorah and Cross

In 1979 two seminary friends and I self-organized a tour of the seven churches of Rev. 1-3. We sort of had to ‘wing it’ in Turkey since English was hardly used in the western part. An archaeologist working at the ancient site at Sardis told us that: “it gets a bit wilder the further east you go” when we told him about being surrounded by a mob who harassed us previously. We survived, however, I got a serious bout of dysentery during our return to Greece and had to spend an extra day or two on the island of Samos for the infection to pass. We were able to go to six of the “churches” or the ruins thereof but the Laodicea area was deemed too far afield for our time frame. It was fortuitous also that we didn’t venture to ancient Laodicea since only shortly after the decision, the dysentery struck. Thankfully we made it back to Greece. So much for the personal travails, here is information about ancient Laodicea:


Laodicea is the last of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14–22). In the letter there may be a number of allusions to the local setting of Laodicea: the lukewarm water…

Source: Laodicea — Menorah and Cross

John 10.8: Thieves and Robbers

All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. (Jn. 10.8)

Just recently I was reading a learned scholar who struggled with the meaning of Jesus’ statement about the thieves and robbers prior to Jesus. The scholar thought Jesus might have been somehow referring to biblical writers before the time of Christ. This is not the case. If we remove the reference numbers from our versions and observe the discourse as a whole, we can see our Lord is addressing the Pharisees (see 9.40) in a parable .

The following is a reproduction of Mt. 13.10-15 (NET) and shows the rationale for the parables, namely to hide spiritual truth from the superficial and hypocrites.

Then the disciples came to him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not.  For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand.  And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand,

you will look closely yet will never comprehend.

For the heart of this people has become dull;

they are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes,

so that they would not see with their eyes

and hear with their ears

and understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.

In the very next verse (Mt. 13.16) Jesus says “but your eyes are blessed, for they see” (speaking to the disciples). So Jesus knows His disciples and rejects these punctiliously observant religious leaders who were not His. Further in Matthew’s Gospel (ch.23), Jesus calls them snakes and offspring (seed) of vipers. This expression hearkens back to Gen. 3.15 where it indicates the two groups of people now inhabiting the world: the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman (who is Christ and they who belong to Him).

ASIDE: The One and the Many 

In biblical thought “seed” refers to a singular as well as a collective. Without going into the how or why this conception operates in this manner, perhaps it is best illustrated from an instance in scripture. There are several times this occurs in the O.T. but Paul’s explanation in Gal. 3.15-29 presents the idea the fullest. In Gal. 3.16, Paul says the seed is referencing a singular: Christ. Yet all who belong to Christ are Abraham’s seed (vs. 29). The same term is used in vss. 16 and 29 to refer to  the singular and the collective. For a full explication of the idea, please see John Sailhamer: The Meaning of the Pentateuch.

Now back to the thieves and robbers in John 10: notice that Jesus identifies these as “climbing up some other way” besides the door as the thieves and robbers in verse 1. This cannot refer to biblical writers since they were showing the true way in counter distinction to the false the prophets in their days. So in our verse 8, these same thieves and robbers appeared before Jesus was on the scene. The verb tense is present (not “were” but “are”), so the translation: “all who came before are thieves and robbers.” This use of the present tense at least identifies those living are the referents since the now departed false prophets in previous times are not now thieving and robbing. The prime candidates for the moniker would be the Pharisees before Him but it may also refer to the Herods and Herodians (who were closely connected to the Pharisees). The messianic pretensions of the Herods however is for another post.

Cautions in Translating the Bible

Here is a list of things to watch out for as we try to determine meanings. Knowing more than one language helps to see the differences folks use in expressing the same idea across cultures.


From Evangel University professor Bill Griffin:

Here’s are some tell-tale signs that people who claim to have “special insight about Hebrew secrets” have no idea what they are talking about:

1. They treat Hebrew as a code to be deciphered, rather than as a language.

Ancient Hebrew was a _language_. People did not wonder about the mystical meanings of various letters when they were engaging in ordinary speech, making contracts, arguing, or trading with other people.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, not because the language is inherently holy, but because that’s what the people spoke! It is basically the language of Canaan, and anyone who knew Hebrew could talk with their Moabite neighbors who basically spoke a variant of the language (the difference between “Hebrew” and “Moabite” is the difference between how people speak in Iowa and Arkansas). When Moabite King Mesha had an inscription written, in which he brags about defeating Israel, he is not talking about Jesus when he exalts Chemosh over Yahweh and uses the aleph-tav in his inscription.

2. They cite Strong’s Concordance as an authoritative Hebrew resource.

Strong’s Concordance has a “dictionary” in the back which can give a little extra information about Hebrew and Greek words to the English speaker. However, it is not designed for someone who knows Hebrew, and it lacks the precision of a “real” Hebrew lexicon (that’s a fancy word for “dictionary”)–a precision which only someone trained in Hebrew can use.

3. They show you an interlinear and claim that certain words are not translated and therefore have a special meaning.

An “interlinear” is a text which has Hebrew or Greek words with English equivalents written below. Many people who use interlinears are unaware of the word order differences between Hebrew and English, and they also do not know or understand Hebrew _syntax_. (Syntax is the relationship between various words and the meanings which combinations have which might not be the same as what one would expect from individual words–context is quite important.)

Humans convey meaning by combinations of words, rather than by arbitrary definitions of individual words, and a context is needed to figure out what someone means.

For example, take the English words “put” and “up” or “down”. “Put” implies placing something somewhere, and “up” is a direction which is the opposite of down. But “put up” can mean “tolerate” or “place somewhere above”, depending upon other words. Thus “He put up with John’s speech” means he tolerated John’s speech, while “He put up a painting on a wall” means he hung a painting on a wall. “He put his cup down on the floor” (placed it on a low place) is different from “He gave John a put-down” (insulted John).

4. They assign mystical meanings to Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew alphabet is based on the Phonecian alphabet, and those letters are basically pictographs of ordinary objects. There is no spiritual significance to a house, door, throwing stick, camel, ox, or water.

5. They convert Hebrew letters to numbers and make mystical claims.

During Old Testament times, letters were not used to represent numbers. Instead, they wrote out words to represent numbers, just like we use “three”, “two thousand”, or “seventy”. The practice of (think in terms of English) having A=1, B=2, C=3 (but w/Hebrew letters) did not begin until after the Old Testament was completed.

6. They cherry-pick Hebrew words (such as names) and string them together to make an English sentence which is supposed to have spiritual significance.

Even if it was legitimate to pick a word here or there and put it together (and it is not), Hebrew word order is quite different than English word order. If you have studied _any_ human language other than English, you are aware of the differences between the order of one language and another. Biblical Hebrew likes to put verbs at the beginning of sentences, before the “whodunnit” (subject). We put the whodunnit before a verb. When people extract a bunch of Hebrew words, put them together in an English order, and then claim that God intended a particular meaning in the original Hebrew, the level of irrationality in which they are engaging and which they are promoting is difficult to quantify.

William P. Griffin, Ph.D.

The Sign of Circumcision Defined: Phil. 3.3

For me it seems very clear exactly what the sign of circumcision meant for Paul virtually explains it in Phil. 3.3:  “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— “(NIV)

Paul goes on to explain what “confidence in the flesh” means in the following verses as either being (for example-“of the tribe of Benjamin”) or, doing (“as for zeal, persecuting the church”). So, in the flesh, Paul could boast about these things from a natural, fleshly perspective.

Circumcision is however a removal of a piece of flesh and given as a sign of an inward condition as in Dt. 10.6: “circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff necked any longer.” Dt. 30.6: “The Lord will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Jer. 4.4: Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” These O.T. verses were given to Jews who were physically circumcised but lacked spiritual vitality since they were uncircumcised in their heart.

Back to our verse in Phil. 3.3, Paul’s boast was in Christ and not his own doing. It was the Spirit’s ability in whom Paul relied. So it seems the sign shows grace and not self effort. This lines up to Abraham’s experience since he was called graciously and believed God and later received the sign of this righteousness in circumcision. So those who rely on the Spirit’s power  instead of fleshly efforts are the true circumcision.

For a somewhat different take on the rite, please see John Piper here:

Preying Women

As Christians we are commanded to “prove all things” or, as another states: “examine everything carefully.” This, I believe, is what we find in the following analysis.

The evangelical crisis about gender roles is much worse than you think. I know this because discerning, biblically-grounded complementarian friends read Gospel Hope in Hookup Culture by Owen Strachan, and thought it was pretty good.

It was not pretty good. It is lightly-rebranded feminism.

Why is the Gospel Coalition sponsoring an articulation of “biblical sexuality” that is basically rebranded feminism? Why is that articulation coming from a former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—an organization dedicated to correcting this sort of error? And why are discerning, biblically-grounded complementarians reading it without their bullshit detectors going off?

Because see the first sentence of this article.

Satan used just enough truth when he tempted Eve to prevent any red flags going up. The same thing is happening here. Owen’s points are just truthful enough for us to nod our heads and keep reading, instead of saying, “Wait a minute, what about…”

Let’s work through each of his four points. I’m going to start with point 2 first, because it comes logically prior to point 1—and the fact that Owen seems oblivious to this is almost certainly part of the problem:

2. Promote God-honoring romance, not sexual utilitarianism.

This is a lopsided secular caricature of what the Bible actually says about the relationship between sex and love. God designed sex to image covenant love—not romantic love. I think the ideal covenant love within marriage does involve romance, but it is the covenant that sanctifies the sex, not the romance. Romance doesn’t purify sex, and sex without romance is not dirty. Marriage purifies sex, and sex without marriage is dirty.

This Disney-chivalry notion of romance has a great deal to do with where we are today. Once romance became all that was required to legitimize sex, fornication became a matter of course.

1. Promote an ethic that focuses on the whole person, not ‘hotness.’

This is the standard feminist solution to perceived problems of objectification. The issue is not that it’s wrong, per se, but that it promotes an indirect solution to physical attraction, instead of the direct solution which the Bible explicitly advocates. What about…marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9)? If you’re going to “hook up” with someone, the way the Bible says to do it is to marry.

Here’s another way of getting at the problem: Owen is suggesting we should encourage serial fornicators to consider that God would rather they treated people as more than just objects of sexual desire. The implicit hope is that they will therefore realize that purely physical sex degrades both parties, and so stop fornicating. But that isn’t realistic, and it doesn’t represent what God would have them do anyway:

  • It isn’t realistic because what will actually happen is that since their sexual urges won’t go away, they will think that God would rather they chose their sexual partners on the basis of more than just looks (see: romance sanctifies sex)—and they will keep fornicating anyway.
  • It isn’t what God would have them do, because God would have them repent of their fornicating and make proper use of their sexual urges by marrying someone to have sex with.

Moreover, couching the solution in terms of the “whole person” secularizes what the Bible says about the qualities to desire in a spouse (aside from hotness): namely, virtues like fidelity, responsibility, wisdom etc. Once you’ve disconnected marriage as the proper context for sexual urges, and connected up romance instead, you naturally become quite coy about what to look for in a partner, because you’re thinking like a romcom instead of like a Christian.

3. Train men to care for women, not prey on them.

Obviously we don’t want men preying on women. But as commenters on the article asked, does Owen have any actual working knowledge of hookup culture? Like them, I doubt it. From the first-hand accounts I have read, it is the women who typically prey on the men. Indeed, it is a cliché in our culture that women are in control of sex. Men always want it; women exercise power by selectively granting it.

Owen’s point here is especially insidious because if you react against it, there’s a presumption that you are soft on rape. Well, no. I’m as hard on rape as the Bible is. But if you’re trying to offer a solution to women’s consistently and insistently treating men as sexbots, and your solution is, “teach men to behave better,” I am going to point out that you are a fool, because the problem starts with the women behaving badly. You don’t fix a leaking roof by putting a bucket under it.

4. Help students see they are not defined by their sexuality.

Yeap, once again true…except look at how Owen describes the problem:

Hookup culture is equally corrosive for women. According to Wade, “Sexy costume themes” at campus parties “reward women for revealing and provocative clothes, stratify them and put them into competition, all while reminding them that it’s their job to make parties sexy” (195). By Wade’s own testimony, the postmodern approach to sex robs women of their dignity, puts them into competition, and plunges them into unhappiness by rendering them as mere objects.

Notice the grammar. Who are the actors in this paragraph? It is not the women. The women are passive. It is the “parties” and the “postmodern approach.” Since parties and approaches are merely proxies for the real actors, the clear implication is that it is men who are doing this to women. But that is simply garbage. The entire philosophy underpinning what Owen describes is feminism: driven by women. Enabled by men, certainly—but driven by the sin of women’s envy. And in terms of the practice, if you consult first-hand sources, you will discover that again, while men often enable this behavior, it is women who eagerly jump into the most provocative outfits they can find; women who establish hierarchies and competition with each other; women who see it as their jobs to make parties sexy; women who are the first to bid men to treat them as mere objects (and, of course, the first to complain when men comply).

If I were to put my criticism another way, I’d perhaps say this: Owen claims that he is advocating for a gospel hope in a hookup culture, but he fails to actually anchor a single point he makes in the gospel. He doesn’t even anchor them securely in the facts. He mostly just regurgitates received cultural wisdom—aka feminism.

Jerusalem to Emmaus and Back: An investigation.

A fascinating post by Dr. Bivin reproduced on Holy Land Photos’ blog.

David N. Bivin, founder and editor–in–chief of the Jerusalem Perspective has produced a wonderful article A Farewell to the Emmaus Road. Bivin writes: The Emmaus Road narrative is the climax of Luke’s Gospel. In it, two of Jesus’ disciples encounter their resurrected Lord as they follow the road leading west from Jerusalem. Not only do […]

via The Road to Emmaus — A Farewell — HolyLandPhotos’ Blog

Markos reviews Latta: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing

Louis Markos teaches English at Houston Baptist University. He also holds a distinguished chair at the school. Prof. Markos gives clear voice to as to how to communicate effectively: say what is meant in concrete and understandable terms. This is fresh air for me.

In this review he describes all the benefits of Latta’s work in combing his personal correspondences to analyze Lewis’ work.


Could there be any two people more different than George Orwell, an atheist and socialist who worked as a policeman in Burma, spent a year living as a hobo in Paris and London, and fought in Spain on the loyalist side, and C. S. Lewis, a bookish Oxford don and Cambridge professor of English who never held a job other than teaching and who, after many years as an atheist, matured into the foremost Christian apologist of the twentieth century? And yet, the similarities between their lives and works are striking.

Orwell (1903-1950) and Lewis (1898-1963) both spoke over the BBC during WWII helping their fellow Brits understand what they were fighting for. Both wrote dystopic novels–Animal Farm and 1984; That Hideous Strength–that exposed the dangers of totalitarianism from the right or left and that warned against social engineering and the loss of personal freedom. Both spoke to the common man and both deserved the title of apostle of common sense.More to the point of this review, both men were prose stylists of the highest order who equated clear writing, not only with clear thinking, but with moral clarity as well. In his seminal essay, “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell exhorts his readers to use simple, concrete language, avoiding such rhetorical pitfalls as abstract terminology, academic jargon, tired clichés, pretentious syntax, and weak, foggy euphemisms.Poor and lazy writers succumb often to these pitfalls, but so do wicked writers who manipulate language for their own nefarious ends. The political propagandist uses abstraction, jargon, and euphemism as a way of hiding his atrocities. For the Nazi or Communist ideologue, the goal of writing is not clarity but obfuscation; words are not meant to reveal goodness, truth, and beauty, but to lend an aura of respectability, or at least inevitability, to inhuman thoughts and actions that should be unthinkable.Although Corey Latta does not mention Orwell in his new book, “C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing,” he makes it clear that Lewis approached writing with the same type of aesthetic and moral seriousness. Writers are not people who play with words, but stewards entrusted with a precious gift. Latta, an author, teacher, and public speaker who has written on Lewis, the imagination, apologetics, and literary theology, demonstrates that Lewis, from early childhood to the closing weeks of his life, identified himself primarily as a writer, one equally devoted to his own individual writing and to the community of writers that God put in his path.Latta’s contention that Lewis’s dedication to writing lies at the core of his being should come as no surprise to lovers of Lewis. And yet, no critic to date has devoted a book to the fascinating subject which Latta describes in his lengthy subtitle: What the Essayist, Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic, Apologist, Memoirist, Theologian Teaches Us about the Life and Craft of Writing.In keeping with his subtitle, Latta quotes passages from all the various genres in which Lewis wrote; however, what makes his book a treasure trove for Lewis lovers is the time Latta has spent combing through the thousands of letters Lewis wrote to achieve an admirably rounded and nuanced view of him as a writer. What emerges from Latta’s loving interaction with Lewis’s letters is the portrait of an Inkling whose veins ran with ink: “There is hardly an area of Lewis’s life untouched by writing. Every relationship. Every loss. Every fear. Every ambition. Every hope. Every disappointment” (5).Composed as it is of brief, impressionistic, kaleidoscopic chapters, C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing is a hard book to summarize, but its mostly chronological approach draws out facets of Lewis’s character missing from most of the standard biographies:

  • Lewis wrote because he had to, because he was a writer: “I am sure,” he wrote in one of his letters, “that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development” (134).
  • Lewis the writer possessed, as his atheist tutor Kirkpatrick pointed out in a letter to Lewis’s father, “fixity of purpose, determination of character, [and] persevering energy” (109).
  • Though dedicated to his craft, Lewis was discerning enough to know when a project needed to be dropped; contrariwise, he had a long enough memory to be able to pull out an idea he had dropped decades before and bring it to completion.
  • Lewis’s dutiful letter writing–much of which he dreaded–included not only personal and spiritual advice, but his reading and commenting at length, often with considerable detail, on poems, stories, and essays that had been mailed to him by friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
  • Lewis’s experience and philosophy as a reader and writer are inseparable: “Each work Lewis wrote was an attempt to give the reader a new view of the world. To turn readers into witnesses of and participants in what was for Lewis a transcendent act” (76).
  • Lewis downplayed the role of originality in writing, not only on aesthetic grounds, but because of his spiritual understanding of the relationship between God the Creator and the human artist: “Beauty descends from God into nature,” wrote Lewis in a letter to his longtime friend Arthur Greeves, “but there it would perish and does except when a Man appreciates it with worship and thus as it were sends it back to God: so that through his consciousness what descended ascends again and the perfect circle is made” (145).
  • Lewis also downplayed originality because he believed “the writer wasn’t responsible for–or even capable of–original thought, [but] was more of a translator for pre-existent truths” (165-166); and not just any translator, but one who translated “existent ideas into accessible language, into vernacular” (166).

Most lovers of Lewis will know that Lewis’s colleagues at Oxford were highly critical of his popular and Christian works and that his dear friend J. R. R. Tolkien–whose Lord of the Rings Lewis championed–was dismissive of his Narnia books. Most will also know that Lewis’s original ambition was to be a celebrated poet, an ambition he never realized.Still, even here, Latta brings a fresh approach and new insights to the table. It was not until Lewis was able to die to his early desire for fame, not until he was able to embrace his gift for writing as an end in itself, that he was able to persevere through all setbacks and mature into a truly accomplished writer: “It’s when, Lewis believed, the writer stops seeking reputation as one who communicates great ideas and starts loving the ideas for themselves that he can actually write. It’s dying to the novelty of being a writer that frees one up to go and write. Lewis discovered this unlikely artistic version of ‘he who wants to gain his life will lose it’ by writing for himself. Without the motivation of the public’s praise, Lewis found the act of writing its own reward” (133-134).Finally, in the midst of painting his rounded portrait of Lewis the author, Latta offers plenty of sound advice on how to become a good writer. He culls this advice mostly from Lewis’s letters, particularly one he wrote to a young American girl in which he listed five rules of thumb for crafting prose. Latta sums up those five points for us–“1) make quite clear what you mean, 2) prefer the plain, 3) never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do, 4) instead of telling us a thing, describe it, and 5) don’t use words too big for the subject” (4-5)–and then devotes a number of chapters to fleshing them out, with Lewis, of course, as his model. As an added bonus, Latta invites us to become Lewis-like writers ourselves by providing, at the end of each chapter, a series of probing questions and thought-provoking assignments.

C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing makes a fine addition to the ever growing number of books about Lewis, offering yet another reason why Lewis remains a major literary and popular figure. Indeed, reading Latta’s book and comparing it with the life and work of George Orwell has convinced me that God chose Lewis, not only to be a defender of the faith in a time of unbelief and an apologist for beauty in an age of ugliness, but to be an advocate for clear, common-sense truth at a time when totalitarianism from the right and left threatened to extinguish it forever.

– See more at:

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