The Virtue of Intolerance

by Jim West

The chief weakness of Christianity is and always has been its sometime willingness to acquiesce to the demands of society in order to find acceptance, ‘tolerance’, or whatever.  From time immemorial, as soon as the Church has agreed to the world’s terms, it was weakened.   As Adolf von Harnack noted, the Church’s mission was to go into the world but instead the world came into the Church (in the era of Constantine the Foul), and that was when disaster struck.

In our own time churches are caving in to the cravings of culture and ‘giving the people what they want’ instead of what they need- the Gospel.  Nothing could be less appropriate, or less Christian.

Accordingly, it really is time for Christianity to say to the World: this is who we are, this is what we believe, this is how we behave, and if you don’t like it or want no part of it, good riddance.

Enough of the pandering and the whining and the capitulating; enough of the lying!  The Church needs to be the Church and remember that as the Bride of Christ the very gates of Hell cannot prevail against it.  Why, then, should a whiny Millennial?  Or a sniveling ‘seeker’?

Church, just be the Church, and to Hades with those who demand you surrender.  The world needs the Gospel.  The Gospel doesn’t need the world.  Pastors need to be Pastors, not capitulaters.

“I Have Given the Blood to You” Lev. 17.11- By Jay Sklar

Many people think (wrongly) that God or His redemptive plan resembles a sort of cosmic vending machine in that we humans only need to find the right currency to deposit, and wah-lah, we have salvation. Jay Sklar shows that God turns sacrifice on its head in that it is He who pays the price:

During the Lord’s Supper, we pause to remember and celebrate the central event of Good Friday: Jesus’s death on our behalf. Each time I prepare to eat the bread and drink the wine, I find myself —perhaps surprisingly to most!—repeating a verse from Leviticus: “And I have given the blood to you on the altar to atone for your lives, for it is the blood, by means of the life, that atones” (Lev. 17:11). I repeat that verse because it reminds me of the central realities of Jesus’s sacrificial death.


In Leviticus 17:11, the Lord is explaining to the Israelites how sacrifice is able to result in atonement, which, simply defined, is what happens when God in his love makes a way to deal with our wrongs so that we might be right with him. His explanation of how this happens in sacrifice consists of three points.

First, in sacrifice, an innocent party takes the place of the guilty. The sacrificial lifeblood “atones for your lives,” which are guilty because of your wrongs and justly condemned for the ways you have defiled and vandalized God’s world of goodness, justice, mercy, and love. But the blood—the lifeblood—of a blameless animal has been placed on the altar on your behalf, and that blood, “by means of the life” it represents, makes a way for your wrongs to be forgiven. The penalty that justice requires is not denied, but transferred, taken on by another. The animal’s blood is accepted in place of yours; its blameless life is given as a substitute for your guilty one. It has died that you might live and be forgiven and be made right with God.

This is a picture of exactly what happened on Good Friday. Thus, Peter proclaims, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And Paul exults, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus has died in our place that we might live and be forgiven and made right with God.


The second part of the Lord’s explanation relates directly to the first: in serving as a substitute, a sacrifice ransoms the life of the guilty party. Most scholars agree that the phrase “to make atonement for your lives” refers to ransoming the offerer’s life. In support is the fact that the same phrase occurs in only two other instances and both times has the sense “to ransom your lives” (Exod 30:15–16; Num. 31:50). This means that the animal’s lifeblood serves as a ransom, that is, a mitigated penalty, in place of the one deserved, that delivers the offerer and restores peace to their relationship with the Lord.

Today, we often think of a ransom as the payment made by an innocent party to a guilty one to secure the release of a kidnap victim. But ransom worked differently in Israelite society: the guilty party paid a ransom to the innocent one. For example, if the owner of a dangerous ox knows it is dangerous but fails to guard it, and it kills someone, the owner is held responsible and sentenced to death (Exod. 21:29). The owner can escape this penalty only one way: the victim’s family can choose to allow the owner to pay a ransom in place of dying (21:30). So, the guilty owner pays a ransom to the innocent family, but the innocent party is not obliged to allow this for the guilty one; doing so is an act of mercy and grace.

This picture of ransom is at the heart of sacrifices that make atonement. God is not obliged to make a way for our wrongs to be forgiven. He chooses to because he is a God rich in mercy and grace. And he does so by allowing an innocent life to substitute for a guilty one and in this way ransom us from the penalty we deserve. In his commentary on Leviticus, biblical scholar Baruch A. Levine, citing the acclaimed medieval rabbinic scholar Rashi, brings the idea of substitution and ransom together:

Rashi states: “Blood represents life, and it can therefore expiate for life.” Basic to the theory of sacrifice in ancient Israel . . . was the notion of substitution. The sacrifice substituted for an individual human life or for the lives of the members of the community in situations where God could have exacted the life of the offender . . . This explains the specific intent of the Hebrew formula [behind the phrase] “for making expiation for your lives.” Literally, this formula means “to serve as . . . ransom . . . for your lives.” God accepts the blood of the sacrifices in lieu of human blood.

And he does so as an act of grace. In the place of death—in the place of ending the relationship between himself and the sinner—the Lord allows the sacrifice to serve as the ransom payment. He accepts the animal’s life in place of the offerer’s, saying, in effect, “Though it is far less than you deserve, I will accept this as satisfying the penalty for your wrong, and no longer hold that wrong against you.”

Again, this is a picture of what exactly happens on Good Friday. Jesus himself describes his mission in terms of ransoming the guilty: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And, once again, in his mercy and grace, the Lord accepts this ransom payment on behalf of the guilty. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7). And that leads us directly to the third part of the Lord’s explanation.


While it is not always as evident in English translations, the Lord emphasizes in Leviticus 17:11 that he himself is making the ransom available. Translated woodenly, the phrase reads, “And I, I have given [the blood] to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives.” The first “I” is unnecessary and emphasizes that the Lord is the one doing this. This is in keeping with the fact that ransom is always an act of grace: the offended party is not obligated to make ransom available but chooses to do so as an act of mercy toward the guilty party. In the case of sacrifice, the offerer tends to think, “I am putting this blood on the altar for the Lord.” But here, the Lord turns that idea on its head. As scholar Baruch Schwartz explains in his essay “Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood”:

What our clause does, in its unique, metaphorically graphic way, is to take a set phrase, the “placing” of the blood on the altar, and to reverse the conceptual direction of the action: “It is not you who are placing the blood on the altar for me, for my benefit, but rather the opposite: it is I who have placed it there for you—for your benefit.”

In his mercy and grace, the Lord has provided a way for guilty sinners to be forgiven.

This becomes even more remarkable when we think of what happened on Good Friday. With animal sacrifice, the guilty brought their own sacrifices before the Lord. With Jesus, it is the Lord—the very one we have betrayed and rebelled against—who provides an atoning sacrifice for us! In a stunning reversal that can only be brought about by love, the one who was wronged pays the penalty for those who have committed the wrong so that we might again have fellowship with him. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom. 5:8).

And so, every time I prepare to take the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper, I repeat Leviticus 17:11, and glory that Jesus is my substitute, my ransom, the one who God himself has provided to me in love in order to make a way to deal with my wrongs so that I might be right with him.

Hurtado Reviews “Mary Magdalene:” The Film

March 28, 2018

Viewing the recently released film, “Mary Magdalene,” wasn’t quite as boring as watching paint dry, but the comparison did come to mind.  I did wonder at various points how much longer it would go on.  And that’s a shame, because Mary of Magdala is an intriguing character.  We don’t really know all that much about her, but there is at least an interesting “reception history.”

She was from Magdala, often identified as a village north of Tiberias on the western side of Lake Galilee.  Per Luke 8:1-3, she was one of a number of women who followed Jesus along with the familiar twelve disciples, and is said to have been delivered from seven evil spirits (by Jesus we presume).  In Mark 15:40, she and other women disciples see Jesus die, then where he was buried (15:47), and then discover the empty tomb (16:1-8).

It is the Gospel of John, however, that developed her further as an individualized character.[1]  In John, she alone discovers the empty tomb and informs Peter and another disciple (20:1-10), and then there is also the touching account where she alone encounters the risen Jesus (20:11-18), and thereafter announces to the other disciples “I have seen the Lord.”[2]

In later texts, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary (both 2nd century?), the figure is appropriated to make certain emphases that seem in a “gnosticizing” or esoteric direction.  In the Gospel of Thomas (logion 114) there is the curious incident where Peter objects to her as a woman being among Jesus’ entourage, and Jesus replies that it will be OK, for he will “make Mary male” (which likely reflects the ascetic emphasis of the text and the image of maleness as spiritual strength and superiority). [3] The Gospel of Mary attaches her name to a text that seems to express a somewhat similar polemical attitude toward what was then becoming the mainstream of Christian teaching.[4]

In the 6th century, Pope Gregory identified her as the unnamed woman “sinner” who washes Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50, which became thereafter influential upon nearly all representations of her in Western Christianity (but not Eastern):  a former prostitute who becomes a devout follower of Jesus.  (This is the character reflected in Jesus Christ Superstar.)[5]

Oddly, this movie seems to have taken particular inspiration from the later appropriation of Mary of Magdala in the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Mary.  These both seem to me to have appropriated the character from the Gospel of John, but with very different intents from John. I say “oddly” because both GThomas and GMary are much later texts, and obviously reflect a polemical stance against what was by then mainstream Christian teaching on some matters.  That is, they hardly can be used as if they somehow preserve authentic traditions about Mary.  But the script writers have chosen to do so, producing a caricature, a naïve use of obviously tendentious sources.

Aside from the dubious quality historically, it’s too bad that a film focused on her is so very slow-moving and, well, often boring.  The actor playing her, Rooney Mara, obviously took her role seriously.  She spends long and frequent spells of staring intently at Jesus, and they occasionally exchange shy smiles in a way that I presume is supposed to convey some secret, or interest or connection or . . . something.

And the actors are so old!  Joaquin Phoenix plays a Jesus who has to be at least in his early fifties.  No wonder this Jesus seems so tired and wan most of the time.  That itinerant preaching, healing, etc., travelling on foot up and down hills and coping with the crowds, starting a new religious movement intended to win over the nation, that’s a younger man’s work!  And also, what’s he been doing for the preceding 50 years or so?

Jesus’ circle of male apostles in the film, likewise, are far too old for their roles.  The youngest looking is perhaps Judas Iscariot, and he’s got to be well into his 30s.[6]  Several others are quite obviously senior citizens.  But, by any reasonable reckoning, Jesus was likely no more than thirty, and “the twelve” were probably young men, in their 20s.

For that matter, where are the many children and young people more broadly?  In that society a goodly percentage of the population would have been children and youths.  There should be gaggles of children running around the streets, but in the movie they’re populated more like adults-only villages.

Speaking of “the twelve,” I counted perhaps nine males tramping about with Jesus in this film.  So, couldn’t they afford three other actors?  Or did the director think twelve too many for the camera shots?  Or what? Many scholars think that Jesus likely did appoint twelve followers as a symbolic expression of addressing the hopes of ancient Israel.

The film has some bizarre (or at least historically dubious) scenes, such as the one where those convinced that Mary has a demon try to perform an exorcism by repeatedly dunking her in a lake.  I don’t recall that technique mentioned in the various ancient exorcism texts.  The film makes a lot also of Jesus baptizing, and assigning Mary the role of baptizing women.  Scholars actually debate whether Jesus himself baptized at all, and the evidence isn’t all that clear.

Or how about the scene where Jesus and his disciples come into a village, and everyone there is lined up to meet them, holding lit candles in little bowls.  Candles??  People in first-century Galilee used oil lamps (of which there are many found in archaeological digs there).  And, anyway, it’s broad daylight, so why the lights?

Or consider the lengthy segment where Peter and Mary (yup, the two of them travelling on their own) go to, wait for it, Samaria!  There, they find a village that’s been ravaged by Roman soldiers, which allows Mary to take the lead in caring for the victims left to die. Really?  Is any of these things based on anything, or even plausible?

I mentioned the tired and almost vacant way that Jesus is portrayed in the film.  It’s not entirely Joaquin’s fault.  The script gives him such vapid lines.  The lines convey no fire in his belly, no eschatological excitement to his message (except in a few of the disciples, which we’re to take as ill conceived).  Oh, sure, he urges peace and love and forgiveness.  All very nice.  But it hardly seems the stuff to move individuals to abandon their livelihoods and hit the road with Jesus.

Even the resurrected Jesus/Joaquin retains this placid, perhaps pensive, but rather vacant demeanour.  You’d think that being raised from death into new and immortal existence would make you kind of . . . excited, maybe, with something to say.  The depiction of the risen Jesus certainly doesn’t draw on any of the early reports of the people who claimed to have seen him.

Now, as I say, some of the disciples harbour eschatological hopes, and aim for Jesus to be recognized as the royal Messiah of Israel.  But where on earth would they have got such ideas, given the bland diet of what Jesus espouses in this film?

And what on earth would have led to this Jesus angering the authorities sufficiently to apprehend him, torture and degrade him, and them execute him by crucifixion?  The film gives no hint.  But isn’t that a pretty important question?  Jewish teachers who only espoused the virtues put in Jesus’ mouth in the film didn’t tend to get this kind of treatment by the authorities.

Ah, but, of course, this isn’t really a film about Jesus (as the title makes clear).  Jesus is more the occasion for a particular representation of Mary Magdalene.  Implausibly, early in the film, Jesus’ little “I’m OK, you’re OK” talk with her not only substitutes for the exorcism referred to in the Gospel of Luke (8:2), but also somehow suffices to make her a devoted follower.  Thereafter, she quickly becomes Jesus’ closest disciple who uniquely understood him, on whom, indeed, Jesus depends for emotional comfort and support.

In the final moments, in addition to claiming to be the first witness of the risen Jesus (taking the Gospel of John above the other Gospels here), Mary also sketches a new/revised understanding of Jesus’ purpose and the future direction that his followers should go.  In place of Peter’s emphasis that injustice and other evils remain and need eschatological remedy, Mary urges inner enlightenment as a way of making the world a better place (echoing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”?).  It’s kind of mindfulness in lieu of messianism, I guess.

Peter is portrayed as jealous that Jesus favoured her over him and the others, and insists that he will chart the future of the Jesus-movement, and Mary should keep her theological views to herself.  So, we got a bit of a Davinci-code type thing going on here in the script, it seems, the putative source of the Papacy shutting down alternative voices (especially women) already in 33 AD!

It ought to be difficult to make stories as riveting as those in the Gospels bland and uninteresting.  But the Hollywood record largely shows them fully up to the task, and, sadly, this film is no exception.  In focusing on the Magdalene, and in not portraying her as a “fallen woman,” the film is technically notable.  But, aside from its numerous historical mis-steps, including its characterization of the title figure, it also has to be judged a poor-to-middling movie (as seems reflected in the several newspaper reviews).


[1] This, however, is only one of several characters that get a more developed persona in the Gospel of John.  The others include Thomas, Nicodemus, Philip, Nathaniel, and Mary and Martha (of Bethany).  This highlighting of certain individuals seems to have been a feature of the author’s literary practice.

[2] The narrative in John is the obvious basis for the recent Papal decree designating a Feast Day for Mary Magdalene (22 July), and referring to her as “Apostle of the Apostles.”  Curiously, this ignores the equally important role of other named women in the other Gospels.

[3] See now the extended discussion of this logion in Simon Gathercole, The Gospel of Thomas:  Introduction and Commentary (Leiden:  Brill, 2014), 607-16.

[4] Christopher Tuckett, The Gospel of Mary, Early Christian Gospel Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[5] See, e.g., M. Starowieyski, “Mary Magdalene,” Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, ed. Angelo Di Berardino (Downers Grove, IL:  IVPAcademic, 2014), 2:724 (with bibliography).

[6] The portrayal of Judas’ intention in arranging for Jesus’ arrest (to provoke Jesus into messianic action) may be derived from the ideas of a former colleague in the University of Manitoba, William Klassen, Judas, Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996).

It Was Not the Season for Figs-Mark 11.12-14

This clause, “it was not the season for figs” in Mark needs to be taken in its wider theologic import and typology. Jesus, His disciples, and anyone else familiar with figs in Israel knows about breba figs- those trees which bear fruit early as a first crop just after winter time during initial leaf set. Here is a picture taken today in Israel one week before Passover (March 24, 2018) showing these early figs:

(picture credit:

Attestation to breba figs in the O.T.: When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert; when I saw your ancestors, it was like seeing the early fruit on the fig tree. (Hosea 9.10 NIV)

Is. 28.4b: will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer; whoever sees it, eats it up as soon as it comes to hand(NRSB)

All your fortresses are like fig trees with first-ripe figs—if shaken they fall into the mouth of the eater. (Na. 3.12 NRSV)

Song of Solomon 2.13a: The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom (NRSV). Note that the grapes are in blossom in the spring season and the fig tree here is setting fruit at the time. All familiar images of breba figs attested in the O.T. Therefore, the clause: “It was not the season for figs” needs to be nuanced to give understanding. The main crop of figs is after summer but many varieties of figs produce a breba crop and an indication of brebas is abundant leaf set in the spring season. So the statement of Mark, “it was not the season for figs” cannot be construed as an irrational motivation when Jesus subsequently curses the tree.

Luke 22:43-44. Is the Angel and the Sweat like Drops of Blood an Early Addition? — The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge

Here is an account of our Lord’s suffering that most biblical editors regard as factually true but possibly “not literarily true” (to quote the note in the NET Bible- the event happened but Luke did not write it originally in his account). In this article, Dirk Jongkind, seems more open to the inclusion as authentic. 

Dr. Jongkind spent some 10 years editing sources (along with others) to produce Tyndale House’s edition of the NT Greek text. He has been posting the rationale behind the choices as to the final shape of text. This discussion is technical but not so much as to lack benefit for a generally informed reader. For someone looking to acquaint themselves more fully with the production and transmission of the bible, Dr. Jongkind’s posts in this series offer many insights of how (and possibly why) the bible says what it does. The upshot from an apologetic angle is the reliability and veracity of the bible as a whole.  


This post is part of a series [2018] on some of the textual variants found in the Passion narratives. We will discuss the rationale behind the text adopted in the Greek New Testament as Produced at Tyndale House in (1) Mt 27:16,17, (2) Mt 27:49, (3) Mk 14:30, 49, 72a, 72b, (4) Lk 22:31, (5)…

via Luke 22:43-44. Is the Angel and the Sweat like Drops of Blood an Early Addition? — The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge

Weighing the Identity Options of “The Isaiah Inscription”

The ‘Isaiah Bulla’ and the Putative Connection with Biblical Isaiah: A Case Study in Propospography By Christopher Rollston, George Washington University ( The Old Hebrew bulla excavated by Dr. Eilat Mazar, and published in Biblical Archaeology Review (March-May 2018) in an article entitled _Is this the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature(pages 65-73, notes on page 92) is…

via The ‘Isaiah Bulla’ and the Putative Connection with Biblical Isaiah: 3.0 — Rollston Epigraphy

Who Wrote the Torah According to the Torah? Prof. Christopher Rollston

Here is a succinct yet fairly comprehensive post on the authorship of the first five books of the Bible. It includes a writer profile and footnotes at the end.

Jewish and Christian tradition ascribes authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses in the 13th century B.C.E. Is this what the Pentateuch itself implies about who wrote it and when?

People participate in helping a scribe complete a Torah scroll. Wikimedia

The first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch or the “Torah,”[1] are cherished and revered by Jews and Christians, as these books are part of the foundation of all of Scripture.  People have pored over the content of these books for millennia, debating many aspects of them including their authorship.

Traditionally, the Pentateuch is read as one work, by one author—hence the popular name “The Five Books of Moses.”[2] And yet, already in the 17th century, certain Bible scholars began to question whether the text was really a unified composition or whether it showed signs of multiple authorship.

This approach to the study of Pentateuch (and other biblical texts) has grown over the past two centuries into an important subfield of biblical scholarship called “source criticism.”[3] By paying close attention to elements such as cohesiveness or non-cohesiveness within a story, changes in terminology or outlook, doublets and contradictions between texts, source criticism attempts to delineate the contours of sources as well as indications of their authorship and approximate dates of composition.[4] 

Pushback against Source Criticism

The overwhelming consensus among Bible scholars for the past two centuries has been that the Pentateuch is a composite text, made up of multiple sources which were written by different people or groups of people in different periods of time. Nevertheless, some scholars have challenged this consensus.

For example, Joshua Berman, a Bible scholar from Bar Ilan University, recently wrote an article “The Corruption of Biblical Studies,[5] in which he questions “whether some of its central conclusions really deserve the high pedestal on which they have been placed.”  He contends that,

[T]he guild of source critics has been unable to develop a canon of best practices and accepted norms in pursuit of the putative earlier stages of a biblical text’s development… [T]he debilitating consequence is that very little is a matter of professional consensus.

According to Berman, this is the case because source critics “rely on frankly intuitionist justification for its methods—a reliance that has led it into confusion and professional crisis.”  He concludes that source critics are basically engaged in an “elusive search for the sources of the Pentateuch.” He believes that source criticism is in this crisis because of “the fatal inability of the discipline to self-correct,” and this is “perpetuated by a species of denial.”

Thus, Berman considers source criticism of the Pentateuch to be bereft of consensus, and thus defunct, without good methods. Gleason Archer Jr. (1916-2004) of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is one of several Christian scholars who uses similarly strong language in his assessment of source criticism in general, especially the “weaknesses and fallacies of the Wellhausian Theory,”  i.e., the Documentary Hypothesis—the theory that the Pentateuch is a combination of four documents.[6] 

Archer says,

[I]t is very doubtful whether the Wellhausen hypothesis is entitled to the status of scientific respectability.  There is so much special pleading, circular reasoning, and questionable deductions from unsubstantiated premises that it is absolutely certain that its methodology would never stand up in a court of law.

Berman and Archer both believe that “liberal bias” is a key factor in the dominance of the otherwise failing discipline of source criticism. Archer explicitly advocates for single authorship of the Torah in the wilderness period by Moses, arguing:

[W]hen all the data of the Pentateuchal text have been carefully considered, and all the evidence both internal and external, has been fairly weighed, the impression is all but irresistible that Mosaic authorship is the one theory that best accords with the surviving historical data.[7]

Berman contends that “perhaps the truest answer… is that we may not be able to know when it was written.” Nevertheless, he has also written “the first person in the Hebrew Bible to probe the Torah of Moses was Joshua,” a statement of Berman’s that some might understand as a rhetorical flourish and some might understand as a putative attribution of authorship. In any case, he certainly believes that scholars who contend for a biblical text’s “unity and coherence,” or “historical accuracy” or “antiquity”are viewed as conservative and are marginalized within the guild of biblical scholars.

But let’s clear the air for a moment.

Scriptural Source Criticism:
Explicit Sources

The idea at the base of source criticism, namely, that the Pentateuch was written on the basis of earlier sources and that it incorporates these sources or parts of them, fits with what we know about biblical books according to their own testimony. The Pentateuch itself makes reference to “the Book of the Wars of YHWH” (Num 21:14), suggesting the writer was using this as a source.[8]

In fact, the Hebrew Bible is filled with references to sources upon which various biblical texts are ostensibly based or which the biblical authors knew of and read:

  • “The Book of Yashar” (e.g., Josh 10:13; 2 Sam 1:18);
  • “The Book of the Acts of Solomon” (e.g., 1 Kings 11:41);
  • “The Books of the Annals of the Kings of Israel” (1 Kings 14:19; cf. also 2 Chron 33:18; 2 Chron 20:34);
  • “The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah” (1 Kings 15:7);
  • “The Records of Samuel the Seer” (1 Chron 29:29);
  • “The History of Nathan the Prophet” (2 Chron 9:29);
  • “The Records of Shemaiah the Prophet and Iddo the Seer” (2 Chron 12:15);
  • “The Annals of Jehu the son of Hanani” (2 Chron 20:34);
  • “The Records of Hozai” [or “the Seers”] (2 Chron 33:19).[9]

Some contend that these putative sources are fictional, and that these statements are merely placed within these biblical texts to create an aura of historical accuracy.  That is an important debate, of course.  But even if these statements are not factual, it is evident is that the authors of these texts presupposed that it was acceptable for them to use sources.

Implied Sources

In addition to explicitly referenced works, the presence of sources may be deduced from an inductive reading of certain biblical pericopae that repeat in other biblical books. This demonstrates dependence on a shared source or dependence of one biblical book on another biblical book as a source:

  • The narratives about the siege of Sennacherib (Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Kings 18-19);[10]
  • The conquest of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25 and Jer 52);
  • Large swaths of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles (passim);
  • David’s prayer “after being saved from Saul” (2 Sam 22 and Ps 18);
  • The list of returnees from exile (Ezra 2:2-64 and Neh 7:7-66).

These texts to do not cross-reference each other or claim that they are utilizing sources, but since we have both versions we know that at least one is (perhaps both are).

Code of Hammurabi: A Pentateuchal Source
We can make a similar observation about the biblical lex talionis (law of equals), “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” found in Exod 21:24 (also Lev 24:20 and Deut 19:21). This same rule, with the same phrasing, is found in Akkadian law collections such as the Code of Hammurabi (196-200), which was chiseled into stone centuries before Moses was even born (cf. Code of Hammurabi, paragraphs 196-200). Thus, this ancient Mesopotamian legal principle—if not Hammurabi’s code itself—functions as a source for the author of the Pentateuch.[11]

An Author Using Sources?
These observations demonstrate that source criticism has its roots in the statements of the Bible itself and, at least in theory, does not contradict single authorship, since authors, including ancient authors, often make use of sources. In fact, one of the key fathers of source criticism referenced by Berman, the French physician Jean Astruc (1684-1786), believed it was Moses who combined the two documents he identified as the sources of Genesis.

Nevertheless, even if we were to accept that the Pentateuch had a single author, would the default really be Mosaic authorship and a 13th century date? I think the evidence from the Pentateuch itself, taking the book at its word, is a resounding “no.”  To understand this point, we must look at how the Pentateuch presents itself.

Mosaic Authorship: Traditional View

Ancient traditions often assume or imply the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.[12]

  • The books of Joshua (8:31-32, 23:6) and Kings (1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6, 23:25) refer to the torah of Moses, or the scroll of the torah of Moses—though these are likely references to (some form of) Deuteronomy, not the entire Torah in its current form.[13]
  • The much later books of Ezra (3:2, 6:18, 7:6) Nehemiah (1:7-9, 8:1, 14, 9:14, 10:30, 13:1), Daniel (9:1, 13), and Chronicles (2 Chron 23:18, 30:16, 34:14) also refer to “the torah of Moses” or paraphrase laws from the Pentateuch as laws of Moses.[14]
  • In the New Testament, Luke (2:22) refers to “the law of Moses” and Mark (12:19) states “Moses wrote” followed by a citation of Deut 25:5-6.
  • In the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Baba Bathra (14b-15a), Moses is listed as the Pentateuch’s author.

Similar assumptions can be found in other ancient authors such as Philo of Alexandria (d. ca. 50 CE),[15] Josephus (d. ca. 100 CE),[16] and the Early Christian writer Clement of Alexandria (d. ca. 215 CE).[17] Nevertheless, as already noted by Spinoza,[18] these are far from eye-witness accounts. More importantly, these are not statements from the Pentateuch but about it.

Presentation of Moses in the Torah

The Pentateuch does not present itself as being written by Moses, but as an anonymous account about the history of the world and the Israelites up to and including the life of Moses.

No Moses in Genesis
In fact, the name “Moses” never occurs in Genesis, and nothing in the Torah itself implies that he authored this book. He is first mentioned in Exodus, which records his birth and begins the story of his life. Compare this with how the book of Jubilees[19] presents itself, for instance, in its opening lines:

This is The Account of the Division of Days of the Law… just as the Lord told it to Moses on Mount Sinai when he went up to receive the tablets of the Law and the commandment by the word of the LORD…[20]

This passage explicitly presents Moses as, if not the author, then the transcriber of Jubilees.[21] In contrast, Genesis opens with an anonymous authorial voice describing the creation of the world. Nothing in the biblical book of Genesis is presented as having been “revealed” to Moses; it is simply a series of stories told by an anonymous author. Unlike a reader of Jubilees, the reader of Genesis would have no reason to imagine Moses, or any other named person, as the author (or transcriber) of the book.

Third Person
Furthermore, Moses is referred to about six hundred times in the third person in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (“Moses said this,” or “Moses did that”).[22] It is readily apparent from such statements that someone else is writing about Moses, rather than Moses doing (all) the writing himself.

Moreover, the book of Numbers writes:

במדבר יב:ג וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה (ענו) [עָנָיו] מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.
Num 12:3 Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. (NRSV)[23]

Not only is this third person narration, but it is certainly not the sort of thing that a humble person would say about him- or herself!

First Person Accounts
Some ancient authors wrote or at least presented their works as first person accounts. The Moabite Mesha inscription is a first person account ostensibly from King Mesha, and the Tel Dan Inscription is a first person account, ostensibly from the Aramean king Hazael.[24]

The Bible also has first person accounts, most notably the book of Nehemiah, which is framed (accurately or not) as Nehemiah’s memoir:

נחמיה א:א דִּבְרֵי נְחֶמְיָה בֶּן חֲכַלְיָה וַיְהִי בְחֹדֶשׁ (כסלו) [כִּסְלֵיו] שְׁנַת עֶשְׂרִים וַאֲנִי הָיִיתִי בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה.
Neh 1:1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah. In the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capital,

Thus, the simplest understanding of the Pentateuch’s own presentation is that someone with (real or perceived) knowledge of the history of the world, and the Israelites in particular, wrote the Pentateuch, and that this person was particularly interested in teaching his readers about Moses and the many messages he believed Moses received from God.

What the Torah Actually Describes
Moses Writing Down

The Pentateuch does not refer to Moses as its author, although it refers to Moses writing down select passages.

God’s Promise to the Amalekites – After a battle with the Amalakites,

שמות יז:יד וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כִּי מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם.
Exod 17:14 Then the LORD said to Moses: “Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: ‘I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’”

Here it seems that Moses was either supposed to write down the sentence, “‘I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven,” or a summary of what happened with Amalek, including God’s promised vengeance.

The Covenant Collection – After the core legal section known as the Covenant Collection (Exod 20-23), the narrative says,

שמות כד:ג וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וַיְסַפֵּר לָעָם אֵת כָּל דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה וְאֵת כָּל הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים…כד:ד וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה…
Exod 24:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances… 23:4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD…

According to this, Moses wrote down the Covenant Collection on a scroll.

The Decalogue and the Ritual Decalogue – After the destruction of the original stone tablets (Exod 32), God tells Moses to cut two new tablets upon which God will write what was on the former tablets (Exod 34:1-4). Then, after a prayer from Moses (Exod 34:6-9), God makes a covenant again with Israel, including a list of laws (Exod 34:10-26) which scholars refer to as the Ritual Decalogue.  The text follows these laws with the following notice:

שמות לד:כז וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתָב לְךָ אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּי עַל פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית וְאֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל. לד:כח וַיְהִי שָׁם עִם יְהוָה אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַל וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתָה וַיִּכְתֹּב עַל הַלֻּחֹת אֵת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים.
Exod 34:27 The LORD said to Moses: “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”34:28 He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Although the text is a little hard to follow, it suggests that God writes the same Decalogue again on tablets, whereas Moses writes the new covenant rules, the Ritual Decalogue, perhaps on a scroll.

The List of Stops in the Wilderness – Numbers 33 lists all the places where the Israelites stopped on their way through the wilderness. The chapter begins:

במדבר לג:ב וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת מוֹצָאֵיהֶם לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל פִּי יְהוָה…
Num 33:2 Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by command of the LORD…

According to this, Moses wrote down that list of stops.

Haazinu – Before he dies, Moses teaches the Israelites a song and even wrote it down:

דברים לא:כב וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַשִּׁירָה הַזֹּאת בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וַיְלַמְּדָהּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Deut 31:22 That very day Moses wrote this song and taught it to the Israelites.

The Core of Deuteronomy – The closest any verse in the Pentateuch comes to stating that Moses wrote the Torah comes towards the end of Deuteronomy, which states:

דברים לא:ט וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וַיִּתְּנָהּ אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי לֵוִי הַנֹּשְׂאִים אֶת אֲרוֹן בְּרִית יְהוָה וְאֶל כָּל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Deut 31:9 Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.

But to what does “this law” (torah) refer? The context suggests that it refers to the core of Deuteronomy, which is introduced at the beginning of the book as “the torah.”

Deut 1:5
בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב הוֹאִיל מֹשֶׁה בֵּאֵר אֶת הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאתלֵאמֹר.
Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:
Deut 4:44
וְזֹאת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר שָׂם מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
This is the law that Moses set before the Israelites.

Since chapter 31 is a 3rd person account of what Moses did after he delivered the law (torah) to Israel, including the third person reference to Moses writing the law down, clearly the author of this chapter does not think that what he was writing was part of this torah or on that scroll.[25]

In other words, the author of Deuteronomy (not Moses) is claiming that included in his book (Deuteronomy or the Pentateuch) is the law that Moses taught to Israel and then wrote down. This is not a claim for Moses writing Deuteronomy, only for much of Deuteronomy coming from a scroll that Moses wrote.

The Torah Uses Moses’ Writings
In short, not only do these texts not claim that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, they actually claim that Moses wrote only certain passages, and even in these narratives, Moses is referred to in the third person. The clear implication is that the author of the Pentateuch, who is emphatically not Moses, is saying that he made use of texts written by Moses, such as the Covenant Collection, the Haazinu Song, etc., and has included them in his book.  But he also included texts and traditions that he does not describe as deriving from Moses, such as the quote from the book of the Wars of the Lord (Num 21:13-15), the poem of the balladeers about Heshbon (Num 21:27-30), Lamech’s song to his wives (Gen 4:23-24), and likely many other sources that the author makes use of but does not quote.

Dating the Torah: Long after Moses

Not only does the Pentateuch present itself as having been written by a third party about Moses, it presents itself as written at a later time. In other words, the Pentateuch is retrospective, speaking about Moses the way it speaks about Abraham or Noah. This fact was already appreciated by some of the classical rabbis and medieval commentators.

Moses’ Death
One glaring example of the post-Mosaic authorship of the Torah is its description of Moses’ death.

דברים לד:ה וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד יְהוָה בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב… לד:ז וּמֹשֶׁה בֶּן מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה בְּמֹתוֹ לֹא כָהֲתָה עֵינוֹ וְלֹא נָס לֵחֹה.
Deut 34:5 5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab… 34:7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.

As already noted by the Talmudic rabbis (b. Baba Batra 14b-15a; Menachot 30a) and the medieval commentator Abraham ibn Ezra,[26] Moses could not have written about his own death.

Why Joshua Cannot Be the Torah’s Author
The Babylonian Talmud (op cit.) records the suggestion that this passage was written by Joshua, but nothing in this passage or in the Pentateuch implies that Joshua wrote it. The rabbis are choosing Joshua because he is Moses’ successor and thus, closest in time. In fact, verse 9 describes Joshua’s actions after Moses’ death in the third person, again implying that someone else is writing.

דברים לד:ט וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן מָלֵא רוּחַ חָכְמָה כִּי סָמַךְ מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדָיו עָלָיו וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֵלָיו בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה.
Deut 34:9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Moreover, the continuation of this passage makes clear that the author cannot be Joshua or anyone who lived at that time:

דברים לד:י וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ יְהוָה פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים.
Deut 34:10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.

The sentence is in past tense. This evaluation only makes sense if offered by someone livingmuch later than Moses, who can look back and say that since Moses, never has his equal arisen. It would be just as absurd for Joshua to make such a claim as it would be for Moses.

Editorial Comments about
Post Wilderness Period Events

In a handful of places, the Pentateuch makes references to matters that show that the author is living in the Cisjordan, long after the wilderness period and the conquest. Many of these were noted by the medieval Jewish commentators R. Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167)[27] and R. Judah the Pious (1150-1217).[28]

Canaanites in the Land – Abram’s arrival in the land is said to be when “the Canaaniteswere in the land” (Gen 12:6; 13:7).[29] Clearly, the author is living during a time when Canaanites were no longer in the land, yet according to the Bible, the conquest of Canaan occurs after Moses’ death.[30]

On the Lord’s Mountain – After the binding of Isaac, Abraham names the spot “Adonai-Yireh” (“The Lord will Provide”, Gen 22:14), which is why, the author tells us, “it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.’” This refers to a popular ancient Israelite saying about Mount Moriah,[31] which would only make sense after the construction of the Solomonic Temple. This implies that the author of the Pentateuch lived no earlier than the time of Solomon.[32]

First King of Israel – At the end of the description of Esau’s descendants comes the “Edomite King List” which opens with:

בראשית לו:לא וְאֵלֶּה הַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר מָלְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
Gen 36:31 These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.

The first king in Israelite history according to the Bible is Saul (1 Sam 9), and he reigned long after the wilderness period. This again implies that the author must have lived no earlier than the reign of Saul.[33]

Manna – In Exodus, the account of the manna falling ends with the following statement:

שמות טז:לה וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָכְלוּ אֶת הַמָּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה עַד בֹּאָם אֶל אֶרֶץ נוֹשָׁבֶת אֶת הַמָּן אָכְלוּ עַד בֹּאָם אֶל קְצֵה אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן.
Exod 16:35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

This verse is written from the vantage point of a writer living after the manna had ceased since it is referring back in time to when it stopped falling. According to Joshua 5:12, this occurred after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River:

יהושע ה:יב וַיִּשְׁבֹּת הַמָּן מִמָּחֳרָת בְּאָכְלָם מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ וְלֹא הָיָה עוֹד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מָן וַיֹּאכְלוּ מִתְּבוּאַת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִיא.
Josh 5:12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

The Other Side of the Jordan – Deuteronomy begins by describing where Moses and the Israelites were when Moses began to deliver (or write) the speech recorded in Deuteronomy:

דברים א:א אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן…
Deut 1:1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan…

If Moses is beyond the Jordan, then the author must not be on that same side (otherwise it wouldn’t be “beyond”). This implies that the author is writing from the Cisjordan, after the Israelite settlement.[34]

The Conquest that Happened – When describing the history of Mount Seir, Deuteronomy writes:

דברים ב:יב וּבְשֵׂעִיר יָשְׁבוּ הַחֹרִים לְפָנִים וּבְנֵי עֵשָׂו יִירָשׁוּם וַיַּשְׁמִידוּם מִפְּנֵיהֶם וַיֵּשְׁבוּ תַּחְתָּם כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לְאֶרֶץ יְרֻשָּׁתוֹ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן יְהוָה לָהֶם.
Deut 2:12 Moreover, the Horim had formerly inhabited Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them, destroying them and settling in their place, as Israel has done in the land that the LORD gave them as a possession.

The author describes the conquest of the Cisjordan as something that happened in the past; by definition, this must have been written after the settlement period.

Og’s Bed – After describing the conquest of the Bashan, Deuteronomy writes:

דברים ג:יא כִּי רַק עוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן נִשְׁאַר מִיֶּתֶר הָרְפָאִים הִנֵּה עַרְשׂוֹ עֶרֶשׂ בַּרְזֶל הֲלֹה הִוא בְּרַבַּת בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן…
Deut 3:11 Now only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. In fact his bed, an iron bed, can still be seen in Rabbah of the Ammonites….

The text refers to Og’s enormous bed as being in the capital city of Ammon, Rabbah. How did it get there? Would it not have been in Og’s palace in the Bashan, now Israelite territory? This implies that the author is living at a much later time, and that the bed has somehow made its way from the Bashan to Rabbah and is on display there for any who care to see.[35]

Evaluating Authorship
without Special-Pleading

The above evidence shows that the Torah’s author is not Moses.  This author or these authors must have lived in the Cisjordan no earlier than the time of King Saul (the Edomite Kings List) or even Solomon (the saying about Mount Moriah). Granted, some traditional commentators have attempted to reinterpret some of these texts, saying, for instance, that Moses was the first king of Israel,[36] or that Moses was consciously writing “as if” he lived in the Cisjordan, where the Israelites were soon to go. Nevertheless, to quote Archer, this is “special-pleading.”

The Author of the Torah Continues beyond the Pentateuch
Reading the Pentateuch as stopping after Deuteronomy is arguably artificial. If it weren’t for the traditional claim that Moses wrote the Torah only, and that the Torah was canonized by Jews (and Samaritans) as separate from the prophetic books, it would certainly be possible to argue that the same anonymous authorial voice continues into Joshua,[37] and perhaps even Judges, Samuel and Kings. This is actually the view of some contemporary scholars, who refer to this whole complex as the Primary History or the Enneateuch (meaning “nine scrolls”).

And so, if we take the Pentateuch seriously, it is clear that all it claims is to be privy to somesources written by Moses, and to knowledge of discourse between Moses and God, or Moses and Israel, just as it does with Abraham, Jacob, Noah, etc. Certain traditions may claim Moses as its author, and thus suggest a 13th century date, but this does not come from the Pentateuch itself; if anything, it flies in the face of the Pentateuch’s self-presentation.

Anonymity is a Common Feature of Ancient Near Eastern Literature
It is worth emphasizing that we often do not know the names of the authors of literary masterpieces from the world of the Bible. For example, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, replete with its flood account, is anonymous.[38]  We do not know who composed it originally, nor do we know how long it was transmitted orally before it was written.  And the Mesopotamian creation account known as Enuma Elish is also anonymous.

The great Ugaritic epics known as Ba‘alKirta, and Aqhat are all anonymous. Ilimilku was a scribe who copied this text, but he did not author it. Similarly, the Middle Kingdom EgyptianProphecy of Neferti contains a number of first-person quotations, but Neferti is referred to in the third person, thus, not the author of this tremendous piece of literature.

Along those same lines, you can read the canonical New Testament gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) from beginning to end and nowhere in any of them will you find a statement declaring authorship.  That is, these too are anonymous (the names that we use for the gospels are second century in origin, and not from the gospels themselves).

In short, the Pentateuch is in pretty good company, as many of the great masterpieces of the ancient Near Eastern world are anonymous.  Beautiful, deeply meaningful, and moving, but anonymous.

Personal Reflection:
Liberal and Conservative

During my youth, I was taught that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.  As I’ve shown, the Pentateuch never makes this claim, but I would hasten to note that I believe Moses to have been a historical figure and that he was literate. I also believe that there was an exodus of Israelite slaves from Egypt.  But I cannot embrace the notion that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.  It is just not a Pentateuchal claim—and is in fact contravened by evidence in the Pentateuch itself.

Some would suggest that the “liberal position” is that Moses did not write the Pentateuch and that the “conservative position” is to contend that he did.  I think the case could be made that this language is reversed. As the Pentateuch never claims Mosaic authorship and strongly implies that it was written hundreds of years after him, the “conservative” position—i.e. the position that is bound to the testimony of the Pentateuch itself—should really be that Moses did not write it, and that the Pentateuch does not date to the 13th century.

Alternatively, ignoring the Pentateuch’s self-presentation, and claiming that Moses wrote it in the 13th century is really a liberal position (though not the only one of course), since it is “free”—the Latin word “liber” means “free”—from the constraints put upon it by the Pentateuch’s self-presentation.

Of course, many scholars who identify as conservative may not appreciate my usage of the term “liberal” when describing traditional views supported by religious dogma, and admittedly, I am being playful with the terms. But I suspect that the reader sees the point that I am making.

At the end of the day, I think that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have little utility, and that when people use these terms, it reveals more about themselves than it does about the person they are describing. Thus, I have friends in the field who consider me liberal and I have friends in the field who consider me conservative; this is not because my own positions have changed, but it reflects where these colleagues feel they are standing relative to me.[39]

The Pentateuch With and Without
Source Criticism

As for the Pentateuch, my own view is that source criticism is alive and well.[40] Admittedly, debates and differences of opinion among source critics—about the precise delineation of sources, how they were combined, whether they were originally independent (documentary) or built on each other (supplementary), and when to date each—are rife.[41] And yet, the overwhelming consensus remains that the Pentateuch shows clear signs of multiple authorship, and that, as David Carr put it, “the Pentateuch was formed through a combination of a Priestly layer, a non-Priestly layer… and a core portion of Deuteronomy.”[42]Nevertheless, in this piece, I have tried to show where the chips fall, even without invoking source criticism.

If certain scholars believe that source criticism is not succeeding—and this is not my view—then maybe a good place from which to “begin again” is with how the Pentateuch presents itself: an anonymous text, incorporating early sources, some of which it identifies as having been written by Moses, and composed in the Cisjordan hundreds of years after the wilderness and settlement periods.


Professor Christopher A. Rollston is Associate Professor of Northwest Semitic languages and literatures in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University (Washington, DC). He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Rollston works in around a dozen ancient languages and dialects, especially Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Ugaritic, Akkadian, and Greek and has held two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Much of his research focuses on scribes and literacy in ancient Israel and Judah​,​ and his volume, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age was selected for ASOR’s “Frank Moore Cross Award for Epigraphy” in 2011. Among his recent articles are “The Writing of the Pentateuch and Inscriptional Evidence for Early Israel’s Intellectual Infrastructure: Methodological Principles and Caveats” and “Scribal Curriculum during the First Temple Period: Epigraphic Hebrew and Biblical Evidence.”


[1] The term “Pentateuch” comes from two Greek words: pénte meaning “five” and teûkhosmeaning “scroll,” or “book.”  The term “Torah” is an ancient Hebrew term meaning “teaching” or “law,” since the Pentateuch is filled with laws. This has been the standard term used in the Jewish tradition for millennia, including Greek speaking Jews (and later Christians) who referred to the Torah with the Greek equivalent, “Nomos.”

[2] Some biblical books such as Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, and Daniel already use the phrase Torah of Moses in reference to the Pentateuch; see discussion later.

[3] The word “source” does not elicit much of a visceral response, but the word “criticism” often does.  Thus, at first blush, the term “source criticism” does not sound all that auspicious or good (I have similar feelings about terms such as thanatology, tort law, and romex).  But in the real world of productive work, the technical term is friend, not foe.  It facilitates things. I often wish that the term “source analysis” could be substituted for the term “source criticism,” as I believe many people would find such a term more palatable.  But technical terms often have a dogged persistence, and so this one is arguably with us to stay. See discussion of the term in John Barton, The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 1-8.

[4] Thus, source criticism is one of the tools in the toolbox of the student of the Bible, as is the broader field of biblical criticism as a whole, succinctly discussed in a wonderful handbook, Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, 4rd ed.  (Louisville: WJK, 2011).

[5] The article’s byline is: “Academic Scrutiny of Scripture, a Discipline Prey to Intellectual Fashion since its Inception, is Today Pursued by Many in the Service of Secular Liberal Positions.” Berman’s article has already garnered several responses: Marc Brettler “Biblical Studies: No More Corrupt than any Other Discipline,” (2017); David Carr“Academic Biblical Criticism Is not Corrupt,” Mosaic Magazine (2017); Jon Levenson“Deeper Reasons for the Bias in Biblical Studies,” Mosaic Magazine (2017); Craig Barthalemew, “Why Biblical Scholars Should Declare Their Worldviews,” Mosaic Magazine(2017); and Ben Sommer “Biblical Scholars Are Open to Self-Correction: And They Listen to Conservatives Too,” Mosaic Magazine (2017). Berman wrote a follow up in response to these pieces, “What’s Next for Biblical Studies?” Mosaic Magazine (2017). See also, most recently, Michah Gottlieb, “Orthodox Judaism and the Impossibility of Biblical Criticism,” The Lehrhaus (2017).

[6] Julius Wellhausen’s name is often associated with this theory, as in 1878 he penned the most detailed and classical statement about it: Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel [reprint of the edition of 1885] (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994). Wellhausen believed that there were four major strata of material in the Pentateuch, that is, four major sources.  Wellhausen died about a century ago (1844-1918) but because his work was so detailed, so anchored in the Pentateuchal materials themselves, it became, and continues to be, a touchstone. For Archer, it was a lightning rod.

[7] Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament: Introduction, rev ed (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 2007), 89-94 and passim.

[8] Editor’s note: See discussion in Ed Greenstein, “What Was the Book of the Wars of the Lord?” (2017).

[9]  For a fuller list of the sources referenced in the Hebrew Bible, see (among others) Lee Martin McDonald, The Formation of the Biblical Canon, Volume I: The Old Testament, Its Authority and Canonicity (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 128-129; 103 [fn 71].

[10] See especially Isa 36:4-22 and 2 Kings 18:19-37.

[11] See a detailed comparison between the Laws of Hammurabi and the Covenant Collection in David P. Wright, Inventing God’s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). For a trenchant response to  (an earlier iteration of) Wright’s views, see Bruce Wells, “The Covenant Code and Near Eastern Legal Traditions: A Response to David P Wright,” Maarav 13 (2006): 85-118.

[12] Editor’s note: For a discussion of the tendency of ancient books and traditions attaching themselves to Moses, see Hindy Najman, “The Ancient Practice of Attributing Texts and Ideas to Moses,” (2016).

[13] See David Glatt-Gilad, “Deuteronomy: The First Torah,” (2016).

[14] Malachi 3:22 also refers to the torah of Moses, but it is unclear that this passage refers to a book as opposed to a tradition of revelation of laws to Moses. Editor’s note: It is uncertain whether Ezra and Nehemiah have the entire Torah as we have it. See discussion in Lisbeth Fried, “Sukkot in Ezra-Nehemiah and the Date of the Torah,” (2015).

[15] See, e.g., On the Change of Names, in which he quotes Genesis 1:26 and says “Moses teaches us here by implication the doctrine which he so often lays down that God is the maker of the wise and good only” (4.32, F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934, page 159).

[16] For example, in Jewish Antiquities, Josephus (d. ca. 100 CE) begins his discussion of Genesis with these words “I shall now accordingly turn to the narrative of events, first mentioning what Moses has said concerning the creation of the world, as I find it recorded in the sacred books.  His account is as follows: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…” (1.26-31, H. St. J. Thackeray’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978, pages 13-14).

[17]  For example, he cites the Shema and attributes it to Moses: “the inspired Moses turning us away from all idolatry, utters this truly noble cry: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is thy God; the Lord is one” (Exhortation to the Greeks, 8.68, G.W. Butterworth’s translation in the Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979, page 181).

[18]  Baruch (Benedict) de Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise  [1670] (New York: Dover, 1951).  See especially chapter eight of this work.

[19] Jubilees is an ancient Jewish work dated by most scholars to the 2nd century BCE. The book is preserved in Geez; most of the original Hebrew has been lost, though parts of it were found preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran.

[20] Trans. from James L. Kugel in Outside the Bible vol. 1 (eds. Louis H. Feldman, James L. Kugel, and Lawrence H. Schiffman; Philadelphia: JPS, 2013), 282.

[21] It also assumes that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, and that Jubilees is his second book.

[22] The name “Moses” is mentioned around 290 times in Exodus, around 85 times in Leviticus, around 230 times in Numbers, and around 35 times in Deuteronomy.

[23] All Bible translations are taken from the NRSV.

[24] For the text and translation of the Tel Dan Stele, see, Christopher Rollston, “The Tel-Dan Inscription,” Bible Odyssey.  For a synopsis of the significance of the Mesha Stele, see Erasmus Gaß, “The Mesha Stela,” Bible Odyssey.

[25] This point was made by Menachem Haran. See Menachem Haran, The Biblical Collection vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2003), 66-68 [Hebrew]. Editor’s note: Ibn Ezra seems to have a similar thought in mind as he includes this verse among the verses that Moses could not have written (gloss on Deut 1:1-5).

[26] Editor’s note: See his gloss to Deut 34:1 here.

[27] Editor’s note: See for a discussion of ibn Ezra’s position, see Zev Farber, “Ibn Ezra’s Secret: Late Editorial Comments in the Opening Chapters of Deuteronomy,”; ibid., “The Significance of Ibn Ezra’s Position that Verses Were Added to the Torah,” (2014).

[28] Scholars debate whether this insight comes from him or from his son, Moshe Zaltman, who wrote down his father’s commentary. See discussion in, see Eran Viezel, “R. Judah he-Hasid or R. Moshe Zaltman: Who Proposed that Torah Verses Were Written After the Time of Moses?,” Journal of Jewish Studies 66:1 (2015): 97–115.

[29] Gen 13:7 says “Canaanites and Perizzites.”

[30] Editor’s note: This example, noted by ibn Ezra, is discussed at length in Eleazer Bonfils’ supercommentary on ibn Ezra (Tzafnat Paneachad loc.), see Hebrew-English version here.

[31] Editor’s note: For the possible referents of Moriah, see TABS Editors, “The Mysterious Land of Moriah,” (2014).

[32] Editor’s note: This too was noted by ibn Ezra. See Bonfils’ discussion here.

[33] Editor’s note: An unknown Jewish (likely Karaite) interpreter called Yitzhaki noted this example in the 11th century. This is the one case in which ibn Ezra disputes the point. Seehere for Bonfils’ explanation why. Nevertheless, Judah the Pious (or his son, Moshe Zaltman, who wrote the commentary) agrees with Yitzhaki here; see his gloss on Deut 2:8.

[34] Editor’s note: Ibn Ezra’s gloss on this passage is where he lays out his “secret of the twelve,” namely, that certain verses, like the last 12 verses of the Torah, were not written by Moses. For his full comment and Bonfils’ long discussion of it, see here.

[35] Editor’s note: This is also one of ibn Ezra’s examples, but as he referenced it in his gloss Deut 1:1-5, and Bonfils’ discusses it at length there (see here), neither brings it up again here.

[36] See, e.g., Rashbam on Gen 36:31.

[37] In scholarship, this is called the Hexateuch, meaning, the Six Scrolls. See discussion in Marc Brettler, “Is the Torah a Pentateuch or a Hexateuch,” (2013).

[38] Jeffrey Tigay’s volume, Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985) is useful in demonstrating that some of these great pieces of ancient Near Eastern literature are composite, that is, not from some single source. Note also the volume edited by Raymond F. Person, Jr. and Robert Rezetko, titled Empirical Models Challenging Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016), a volume that the editors envision as “paying homage to” Tigay’s work, while also critiquing some aspects of current source and redaction criticism.

[39] At one point, Berman states that “the field of biblical studies would benefit if such labels were abolished altogether.”  I concur.  Indeed, I stopped using these terms a few years ago.  After all, labels tend to divide people and they become obstructions to discussion rather than a means of building bridges for dialogue.  Therefore, I think that we should just focus on the data, let the chips fall where they may, and forget about labels. I think that this would be the best way forward.

[40] In terms of my own framework for understanding the composition of the Pentateuch, I have much affinity for the Documentary work of Joel Baden and Jeffery Stackert. Moreover, because the great Raymond Westbrook (now of blessed memory) of Johns Hopkins University was my teacher of Biblical and Cuneiform Law, I have always read with interest various contributions to the field of Pentateuch and ancient Near Eastern law.  And because of my work on ancient inscriptions from the world of the Bible, I have been involved in subjects revolving around scribal education, writing, and literacy in First Temple Israel and Judah.  For this reason, the subject of plausible dates for, and the writing of, the earliest books of the Bible is the very essence of my wheelhouse. See, for example, Christopher Rollston, “Inscriptional Evidence for the Writing of the Earliest Texts of the Bible: Intellectual Infrastructure in Tenth- and Ninth-Century Israel, Judah, and the Southern Levant,” in The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America (eds. Jan C. Gertz, Bernard M. Levinson, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, and Konrad Scmid; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 15-45;  ibid., “Scriptures and Inscriptions: Eighth Century in Israel and Judah in Writing,” in the Oded Borowski Festschrift (forthcoming).

[41] See, for example, the various articles in The Formation of the Pentateuch, 15-45.

[42] From his response to Berman, referenced above.

The Shema: Dt. 6.4-5

The Shema (Hear!)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Dt. 6.4-5 NRSV)

The focus of this post is whether Dt. 6.4 teaches a strict and overt singularity of personality in God. The interpretation of this text, I will argue, is not definitive for a singularity of being in conceiving thoughts about God. The first part of Shema declares that God is one. Perhaps it says that He alone is Israel’s God as above by The NRSV. Another option renders it: “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Many consider the best option: “The Lord is our God, the Lord is unique.” This last rendering has an advantage since Dt 7.9 proposes the same idea: So realize that the Lord your God is the true God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (NET). Also, Dt. 10.17 intimates a uniqueness to other entities while affirming their existence: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe (NET).

Therefore the Shema doesn’t really say “there is only one God.” I mean it does say that in a sense, but that sense needs qualification. If someone were to use Dt. 6.4 to definitively say that God is a lonely singularity, that would be invalid based on what else the bible says about Him. I take Dt. 6.4 as implying a unity. Certainly the gods of Egypt were not qualitatively similar in any sense or were other gods of the countries around Israel. The first two verses of Genesis however imply a Godhead as does many other sections of divine revelation.

Dt. 6.4 probably should be read as “unique” or “alone qualitatively” (as compared to other gods). The aspect of “alone” would not indicate a loneliness however. Loneliness inherently implies need and would not be true to the rest of revealed scripture: nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. (Acts 17.25 NET)

For Christians reading their New Testament a clarity exists with Paul’s insight: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we live through Him.” (1 Cor. 8.6)

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Some Christians maintain that the blasphemy of the Spirit cannot be committed today since Jesus is now resurrected and no one can attribute an “impure spirit” to Him since Mark 3.30 defines precisely what this particular sin means. I will argue that people today as well as people in the Old Testament committed the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

A prooftext for my contention is Acts 7.51: You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, like your ancestors did. (NET) Here Stephen says the actions of the council are on a continuum with the historic failures of some of God’s people. This opposition that would make Stephen the first Christian Martyr is the same opposition Moses faced in the wilderness and is repeated throughout Israel’s history including the ministry of Jesus. The resistance is of a nature that equates it with blasphemy since its crucially decisive. Its a decision that has to be made either in acceptance or rejection. To be confronted by the eternal Spirit of one’s eternal need and to resist, one has to attribute malfeasance to that same Spirit or else they would accept the offer.

Though Jesus was divine, He was also fully human and ministered in the power of the Spirit as the O.T. Prophets, Stephen, and other Christians. The false charge against Jesus was that He had an impure spirit and not against His Person in general. Therefore, it makes no difference that Christ is ascended since The Spirit continues in Christians. So the same sin can still be committed against those Spirit-empowered ministers today as what occurred in Jesus’ time or with the previous prophets.

Jeremiah provides a prior example of Spirit blasphemy just as Stephen provided a post-resurrection instance. Jer. 20.11 provides a stark parallel of opposition just as Jesus and Stephen experienced: But the Lord is with me to help me like an awe-inspiring warrior. Therefore those who persecute me will fail and will not prevail over me. They will be thoroughly disgraced because they did not succeed. Their disgrace will never be forgotten. (NET)

Jeremiah and other prophets of God, described in the bible, were empowered by the Spirit to give God’s message in the face of opposition. Some folks at that time accepted the message such as Ebed Melech (see Jer. 38 and 39.15-18), Zephaniah the priest (see Jer. 29.29). Others opposed Jeremiah and counted him a lunatic which is essentially saying that Jeremiah had an impure spirit. Shemaiah the Nehelamite  rejected the message which God gave Jeremiah for the exiles in Babylon and so suffered divine displeasure on a personal basis with the reply from the Lord that he would miss out on the return from exile and the good things the others enjoyed (Jer. 29.24-32).

Scholasticism and the Gospel – John Frame

Here is the substance of Frame’s post which cuts to the essence of the offered solutions. Click the link for introductory remarks and 2 notes:


All the religions and philosophies of the world agree that something is wrong with us. We are beset by pain and suffering, weakness, poverty, moral weakness, and wickedness. But among those philosophies and religions, there are two opposite diagnoses of our problem, and two different and opposite remedies. As Cornelius Van Til put it, one diagnosis/remedy is metaphysical, the other ethical. Two different Gospels.

The metaphysical diagnosis blames our plight on our metaphysical nature. On this view, the evils of life exist because we are finite. And the only way to escape from the suffering is to gain a new metaphysical status. We must transcend our finitude to become infinite, according to the Gnostics and the Greeks. According to the Buddhists we must escape from being itself and enter Nirvana, which is a form of nonbeing. The Gnostics prescribed various exercises, including knowledge and good works, which eventually would lead us to a union with the ultimate. Various brands of mysticism presented meditation as a cure, a way of transcending this existence and becoming one with the infinite.

The ethical diagnosis is very different. In the ethical understanding, the sufferings of this world have their origin in our personal rebellion. The personal being who made the world and ourselves, commanded us to obey him, and we refused. The sadnesses of this life are in part punishment, in part motivation toward repentance, in part reminders that God rules the world and not ourselves. But that personal God sent his Son as a sacrifice, so that those who trust in him might walk with him in joy through this life, and live with him in a renewed heaven and earth through all eternity. The problem, then, is not finitude, but sin. And the remedy is not for us to climb by our own efforts to a higher metaphysical status. The remedy is for us to be reconciled to God and accept his restructuring of our personal relationship, through the sacrifice of his Son and the resurrected life of his Son dwelling in us by his Spirit.

Metaphysical salvation is impersonal; ethical salvation is utterly personal.

Greek philosophy advocated various forms of metaphysical salvation. Parmenides urged us to rethink everything, so that we could accept the sufferings of this world as illusion. Plato acknowledged that the world of suffering had a kind of shadowy being, but compared to the world of Forms it was unreal, and we need to enter that higher world somehow. Plotinus turned Plato’s dichotomy into a continuum, and he taught that salvation came through mystical union with the One, a being that cannot be described in human language.

The Bible rejects any such scheme. Its message is thoroughly personal: repent from sin and trust in Christ. But some of the early church theologians felt that they needed to combine this Gospel with the metaphysical form of salvation. They were emphatically committed to the personal Gospel of the Bible. But they thought it important to make common cause with the most respected of the ancient thinkers. So Justin Martyr, who loved Jesus to the point of dying for his faith, sometimes spoke of God as “Being,” in impersonal terms. Using a dubious interpretation of Ex. 3:14, many theologians started thinking of God as Aristotle did, as the “pure act of being,” without understanding how much they were conceding to an impersonalist world view. Aquinas worked out a very impressive intellectual system that sought to do justice both to biblical personalism and to Greek impersonalism.

But the Reformers wouldn’t have it. One way of understanding Luther and Calvin is by noticing how personalist their preaching was. There was little if anything in their theology that recalled the scholastic doctrine of God. Rather, they saw God as a personal—tri-personal—ruler of heaven and earth, the sovereign LORD of Scripture. While medieval Catholicism tended to see God’s grace as a kind of substance, dripping from God to the Pope and Bishops, through the sacraments, to the individual believer, the Reformers saw themselves personally standing before God’s throne, in his presence, coram deo. Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, they prayed “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner;” and they were justified, forgiven, and sent into the world to bring others.2

In our current dispute within Evangelicalism over Thomism/scholasticism, this is the issue. Are we saved by transcending our finitude and accepting an existence within the divine essence? Or are we saved by maintaining our individuality and personality and coming before the living personal God begging for his mercy in Christ?

The Bible does teach that God is simple, immutable, eternal, and triune. But it ascribes these qualities to a personal God who interacts with human beings in a history of redemption. This is a metaphysic of what I have called “biblical personalism.” And our salvation comes not through changing our metaphysical status (as if our sin were part of our nature), but by entering a personal covenant with the Lord God in Jesus Christ.

Dan Wallace Corrects Pope Francis

Some reactions are now appearing to the Pope’s suggestion of changing the language of The Lord’s Prayer. The best response I have seen is Dan Wallace’s treatment of the issue. Dr. Wallace helped produce the New English Translation (NET Bible) and explains some challenges which translators face. He surveys some English versions and their philosophy. The analysis and exegesis of the text what Francis failed to do, Dan provides.


Pope Francis recently suggested on Italian television that the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Do not lead us into temptation” (Matt 6.13; Luke 11.4), “is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.” He added, “It is Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.” He argued that the verse should be rendered, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

A myriad of implications arise from the pontiff’s statement. Among them I list just three: (1) Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years, only now to be corrected? (2) What is the nature of translation? (3) Do we have the right to change the wording of the original because it seems to contradict what Scripture says elsewhere?

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 7.29.13 AM

Matthew 6 in Codex Sinaiticus

(1)       Have translations of the Bible gotten this verse wrong for 2000 years?

Jerome’s Vulgate—the version that has been the official Bible of the Catholic Church for centuries—reads here ne inducas nos in temptationem: “Do not lead us into temptation.” Perhaps intentionally, but certainly ironically, the pope said in his interview, “ti induce alla tentazione satana è quello ufficio di satana.” That is, Satan is the one who induces or leads us into temptation, not God. He used the Italian equivalent to Jerome’s Latin (‘inducas’ means ‘lead’ or even ‘induce,’ as the English cognate suggests), but seems to deny what the Vulgate plainly says.

In 1979, the Nova Vulgata became the official Catholic translation (after Vatican II, it follows the Greek and Hebrew more closely), yet it too says ne inducas nos. So, the pontiff is not only going against modern translations but even his own Vulgate.

Other translations also read “do not lead us into temptation” or the like (e.g., “lead us not”): KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, HCSB, NET, WEB, LutherbibelNouvelle Edition de GenèveReina Valera. Others have “do not put us to the test,” “do not bring us into hard testing,” or “do not subject us to the final test” (NJB, TEV, REB, NABR; the NJB and NABR are Catholic translations).

It may be surprising, however, to discover that a few modern translations come close to Pope Francis’s version. The New Living Translation (2nd edition), a Protestant Bible, has “don’t let us yield to temptation.” The Nouvelle Version Segond Révisée, another Protestant translation, has “ne nous laisse pas entrer dans la tentation” (“do not allow us to enter temptation”). The Nuova Riveduta of the Sacra Bibbia, an Italian Protestant work, reads “non ci esporre alla tentazione” (“do not expose us to temptation”). The NLT and SEGR both accent what might be called the passive or permissive will of God (i.e., “don’t let us”) rather than the active (“don’t lead us”); the Nuova Riveduta seems to be halfway between ‘lead’ of the standard translations and ‘let’ of the outliers.

Nevertheless, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that “do not lead us” or the like is how the text should be rendered. (We will examine the Greek shortly.) But the few that have gone against the grain—and have been on the market for many years—have not created nearly the reaction of Pope Francis’s latest provocation. Perhaps this is due both to the fact that the pontiff said this and that it stands in direct contradiction to the Vulgate and other Catholic versions. But this leads us into the question of translation philosophy.


(2)       What is the nature of translation?

There are two broad theories of translation today—formal equivalence and functional equivalence. Formal equivalence means that the translation attempts to retain the wording and syntax of the original language as much as possible. Functional equivalence means that the translation gives a higher priority to the semantics of the original, bringing out the force of original text regardless of how it is worded.

Brief history of English translations

Both of these have pros and cons. On the one hand, it is a myth that a so-called “literal” translation is more accurate. Many believe that the King James Bible is the most literal translation available. But even the original preface of the KJV noted that the translators’ objective was as much literary quality as it was accuracy. The Authorized Version is probably the only literary masterpiece ever produced by a committee—and it’s a translation no less! If it were extremely literal, this accolade would never have been made about the KJV.

In fact, the Revised Version of 1885—the first English translation done by a committee since the KJV (or AV) appeared in 1611—was done by a committee of British and American scholars who wanted to replace the King James with “King Truth.” But the translation was not palatable because it was too stiff, hardly readable, downright ugly. Ironically, the RV was difficult to read not because of archaisms as much as because of slavish literalism. The sales were awful, and the American Standard Version of 1901 was something of a reaction to it by the Americans on the RV committee. This is still wooden English, though an improvement over the RV. (The NASB has followed in the train of the RV and ASV.)

But in 1952, the Revised Standard Version appeared. Its understated elegance and good English made it memorable. It truly was a revision in the line of the King James Bible. The ESV and the NRSV have continued this formal equivalence philosophy with simplicity, understated elegance, memorability, and accuracy. As Bruce Metzger, the chairman of the NRSV translation committee, stated, the objective followed by the NRSV translators was to “be as literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

Other translations have followed a more functional equivalent philosophy. The NIV and New English Bible were the first major English translations in the last three centuries to break completely from the Tyndale-Geneva-King James chain. The New English Bible (now, Revised English Bible [REB]) is much more of a functional equivalent work than the NIV, and it is also much more elegant and memorable than the NIV. But the NIV (and its revision, the NIV 2011) is both very accurate and very readable. It has become the most popular Bible translation in any language in history. And yet, even the NIV reads “do not lead us into temptation” in Matt 6.13.

All translation is interpretation

It is important to recognize, however, that all translation is interpretation. The reason is that the syntax and lexical mapping in one language never match exactly that of another language. The context determines the meaning. A so-called “word-for-word” translation is quite impossible for anything more than a short phrase or sentence. In this passage, for example, the word translated “temptation” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “testing.” Interpretation is required; translators cannot simply leave the word to allow for both meanings since “temptation” has connotations of sin while “testing” does not. However, in this passage there is good reason to see πειρασμός (peirasmos) as bearing the force of temptation, as we will see below. But the point is that an interpretation of the text is already done in even the most formal equivalent translations of this passage. In one sense, the pope’s rendering is an interpretation of an interpretation.

Many on the functional-equivalent side of the translation debate are determined to clear up all ambiguities in the text, to make everything crystal clear. Some of these translators have little training in exegesis. Typically, the less training they have in the original languages and biblical studies, the more they assume that the Bible is perfectly clear everywhere; it just needs to have the proper functional equivalence to bring out its meaning. But this is terribly naïve.

Students in seminary often come into the program thinking that once they get some Greek and Hebrew under their belts the interpretive issues will simply disappear. The reality is that study in the original languages in some places will expand on the interpretive possibilities, in others shrink them. But most importantly, such training will replace a misinformed list of options for one that is better informed and at least has some validity.

Ideally, a translation should give the readers of the Bible in their own language the same interpretive options that a reader of the original will have. And this means that it is important for readers of the Bible to struggle with the same, often intentional, ambiguities found in the original text.

When the NET Bible was in beta-mode, we field-tested it on the Internet. Comments were welcome; hundreds of thousands poured in. Some professional translators committed to functional equivalence argued with our rendering of ἐν Χριστῷ as “in Christ.” They pointed out that this hardly communicated anything in English and that it was difficult to grasp Paul’s meaning of his favorite phrase (he uses it 73 times). They noted correctly that Paul uses ἐν Χριστῷ in a variety of contexts and in a variety of ways. And they wanted us to reflect those nuances in every place. Their view was in line with what Lady Oppenheimer wrote in her book Incarnation and Immanence ([1973], p. 17): “Christians have a great deal to say about the ways in which people can be related to God and to each other, and many of the things they wish to say take for granted the possibility of certain sorts of close relationships which are not on the face of it compatible with common sense.”

We rejected their input on this point and decided to keep the translation “in Christ.” Why? Because we believed that the modern English reader should have the same semantic options as the original reader. Close analogies to this sort of language are not to be found in Greco-Roman literature. This means that Paul’s original readers had to work hard to get at the apostle’s meaning, ultimately coming to see the rich tapestry of “in Christ” as deeper and richer than any functional equivalent could provide. In this instance, we felt that clearing up the ambiguity of the text would rob the modern reader of the joy of discovery and the value of thinking deeply about Scripture.

There are times, however, when retaining the original ambiguity does not help the modern reader. In such cases, interpretation is required of the translator. In Rom 3.22 the NET translators felt that translating διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “by faith of Jesus Christ” was simply too ambiguous. This is exactly what the KJV has here, and it communicates poorly what the meaning of the original is because it does not interpret. Although one or two scholars have suggested that πίστις Χριστοῦ means “faith of Christ”—that is, the faith that Christ himself had—this is not a popular view. The two leading options are either “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ.” How could they be so disparate? The reason is due to one lexical and one grammatical problem. πίστις lexically can mean faith or faithfulness. And the genitive Χριστοῦ can be subjective or objective. If objective, Christ is the object of πίστις (and hence, “faith inChrist”); if subjective, Christ is semantically the subject (“the faithfulness of Christ”—that is, that he is faithful). Leaving the text as “faith of Christ” hardly allows for either of these interpretive translations. The ambiguity in English is not the same as it is in Greek. In this case, a more literal translation ends up being the worst translation. The only real choice here is for translators to commit to one interpretation since leaving it neutral actually gives the wrong impression of the meaning to the English reader.

So then, should translation be formally equivalent for functionally equivalent? Neither one is adequate. Faithful equivalence is really required—faithful to the meaning of the original. If this can be accomplished by following a somewhat formal equivalent (since a completely formal equivalent is quite impossible), fine. But Greek and Hebrew are structured so differently that to force both of them into one kind of translation model is a one-size-fits-all mentality that simply won’t work.

On the one hand, there are hundreds of places when formal equivalence simply doesn’t help the English reader understand the interpretive possibilities of the original text. Yet that is the goal of formal equivalence. As we have said, the reality is that every translation is an interpretation. The question is how much we should try to interpret in any given place.

On the other hand, functional equivalence translations often take liberties with the text by offering a less-likely or even an illegitimate rendering, and they frequently make the text clear for a reader who could, in their own native language, figure out what the author is talking about. Some of the most stunning prose in the Bible is full of figurative language that to reduce it to its referential meaning is to destroy its beauty, thought-provoking nature, connotative force, and lingering memorability.

The Lord’s Prayer and translation

The pope’s rendering certainly is on the functional-equivalent side rather than the formal-equivalent side. But does that make it illegitimate?

In this instance, the bishop of Rome has taken many liberties with the text, both linguistically and contextually, thereby robbing the modern reader of seeing the connections that Matthew himself has laid out.

Not only is the Greek in both Matt 6.13 and Luke 11.4 textually certain (variants for “do not lead us into temptation” are trivial amounting to minor spelling differences), but the syntax is clear. The verb in the petition “lead” is an aorist active subjunctive (εἰσενέγκῃς); with the negative particle, “do not lead” is the idea. The pope wants it to mean “allow” which speaks instead of God not permitting something rather than him actively leading us. And the pontiff seems to have assumed that the Greek “lead into temptation” means “permit to fall into temptation.” Several lexical, syntactical, and interpretive shifts are seen here.

The broader context of Matthew’s Gospel may give us a clue as to why the Lord said, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, we are told that he “was led up into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4.1). The Greek text indicates that the purpose of the Spirit’s leading Jesus into the wilderness was so that he would be tempted by the devil (“to be tempted” [πειρασθῆναι] is an infinitive of purpose, giving the purpose of the Spirit’s leading). Mark words this even more starkly: “Immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness” (Mark 1.13).

Evidently, there is a sense in which Jesus was delivered into the hands of the evil one, by the Holy Spirit himself, to be tempted. But the Greek here makes an interesting point about who is responsible for what. Two passive verbs are used in Matt 4.1— ἀνήχθη (“he was led”) and πειρασθῆναι (“to be tempted”). The agents are listed with identical prepositions: ὑπό. This is the preposition used especially for ultimateagent. It is rare to see ὑπό followed by πνεύματος (“Spirit”) in the NT (only five passages). Doing so here, Matthew shows that the Spirit is not subordinate to the devil but is the agent ultimately responsible for leading Jesus into the wilderness, while the devil is the ultimate agent of the temptation. The Spirit is not responsible for that. The Spirit did not tempt Jesus, but he did lead him to be tempted. The balance is intentional: leading into temptation is not the same as tempting. God the Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation, but he did not tempt him. Wrestling with the implications of this requires more than a little reflection.

Although Satan’s purpose was to destroy Jesus before he ever went to the cross, God’s purpose in using Satan was painted on a broader canvas. God tests; Satan tempts. The Son of God went through similar testing as the children of Israel in the wilderness. They were there for forty years; he was there for forty days. Where they failed he succeeded.

Further, the temptation that the Lord faced was the ultimate temptation—the offer of the entire world on a platter. Jesus can ask the disciples to pray that the Father would not lead them into temptation and that God would deliver them from the evil one precisely because Jesus himself faced the ultimate temptation by the evil one. Whereas the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted, Jesus asks the Father not to lead his disciples into temptation; whereas Jesus was delivered over to Satan for tempting (testing from the Father’s perspective), Jesus prays that his followers will be delivered from the evil one. It is precisely because of Jesus’ substitutionary death and life that this prayer can be recited today by Christians with the full assurance that God will answer us.

Pope Francis’s translation, however, subverts all this: “do not let us fall into temptation.” The original text speaks clearly of God leading, not permitting. To tamper with the wording misses the connection with the Lord’s temptation.


(3)     What does the original text really mean and do we have the right to change it in translation?

 The pope makes a good point that our heavenly Father does not tempt us. And yet, he argues that point from a theological construct derived elsewhere in the Bible (see James 1.13). “Do not lead us into temptation” does not mean that God tempts us; the petition is for God’s protection from the evil one, as the rest of Matt 6.13 says.

 Further, the notion that we can change the wording to fit the meaning that we find somewhere else might actually be doing a disservice to the biblical authors’ intentions. The Bible is full of paradoxes, figurative language, jolting imagery. To simplify and pacify such language cuts off the legs of its literary and even spiritual power.

At bottom, what the pontiff is doing is interpretation—but interpretation that removes the tension and paradox from the text, is not true to the force of the original, and buries the connection to Jesus’ temptation. Better to leave the text alone and allow God’s people to experience the joy of discovery of the meaning of Holy Writ.

Pope Francis, The Lord’s Prayer, and Bible Translation

John Frame on Philosophy and Theology

Here is a concise and clear discussion on matters of philosophy and theology as they relate to the Christian faith. Thomas Aquinas borrowed from Greek philosophy to formulate some of the theology that still plagues Christian thought to this day. Frame references two of his own works but, in this post, distills the philosophical ideas on how they relate to the theological conception of God. I found the post helpful in better understanding the background which affects Thomistic thought.



I am in the midst of some discussions about the role of Scholastic methods in Reformed theology, centered around James Dolezal’s All That Is In God. My first response to Dolezal is available here. I continue to stand by my argument of that article.1 But the ensuing discussion has suggested to me that the discussion…

via Biblical Personalism: Further Thoughts on Scholasticism and Scripture —

Illumination of Scripture

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1.17-19 NIV)


The Spirit of wisdom and revelation references Isaiah 11.1-3 which speaks of the seven-fold Spirit which rested on Jesus during His ministry. Since Pentecost, every Christian possesses the Spirit. Though Paul doesn’t say it explicitly, the implied thought, of how the Spirit communicates ideas is by hearing (in the Ephesian’s case) the scriptures read. The NIV rendering is probably the closest to the intent of what Paul prayed for concerning the Ephesians among whom he previously ministered. To help understand his words the context needs to be recognized by how the early church met and operated.

Paul and Jesus both utilized the synagogue and authenticated its ongoing function. Paul told his protege Timothy to practice the same three functions which characterized the synagogue: give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1Tim. 4.13 NET). We call Christian weekly meetings church gatherings to distinguish them from non-Christian Jewish observances but the ideas  are identical. The main purpose of this weekly meeting was schooling the community of believers. At the beginning of the Jewish nation’s institution, Levites were scattered among the tribes in part for explaining the Law and answering judicial questions (see Dt. 33.9-10, Mal. 2.4-6). The synagogue was not primarily for worship since the Tabernacle observances preserved the redemptive theme. Of course, this is not to say that learning about God and His word is not sanctifying, it is, but in a different and complimentary way. By knowing God better, worship becomes more meaningful. The Christian weekly meeting preserves the redemptive theme by observing the Lord’s Supper. Also, by The New Covenant’s provision of the Spirit, the weekly gathering is the corporate temple (see 1 Cor. 3.17 where Paul uses the plural).

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians specifically asks for three separate items:

1.“Knowing” God more comprehensively. This is never achieved apart from scripture and God’s Spirit. The Spirit was directly instrumental using holy prophets to record His words. These godly men were carried along by the Spirit to produce scripture (see 2Pet. 1.21). Additionally, the eternal Spirit gives continued insight to every subsequent generation about this revealed truth, hence illumination. Paul notes the primacy of God’s word by recounting that the Jewish people had a great heritage in receiving, collating, and preserving scripture: What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Rom. 3.1 NIV)

2. Realizing the “hope” of what Christ has in store for His people both now and the resultant storehouse of eternity: “…the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” Too many Christians believe the lie of scoffers who ridicule the invisible realities. This is a subtle appeal to focus on what can be sensed with human faculties instead of operating by faith. They want us to rely on ourselves to make the world better instead of obeying Christ to transform individuals and therefore society. They want us to focus on the temporal state that is subjected to cosmic evil rulers and to forget the glorious reality of Christ’s Kingdom: Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth. (Ps. 46.10 NIV)

3. God’s “power” for life while in the body. This is specifically temporal in nature since it will be unnecessary for the Spirit to inform us of our supernatural abilities during the eternal state. Jesus tells us the resurrected redeemed will be like angels: But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. (Lk. 20.35-36 NET)


Augustine of Hippo: Understanding the Scriptures (De Doctrina Christiana 2.9)

In all of these [canonical] books, those who fear God and are of a meek and reverent disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I have said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether concerning rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a reader discovers, the more capacious will his understanding become. For among those things that are plainly laid down in Scripture can be found all matters that concern faith and lifestyle, namely, hope and love, of which I have spoken previously. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the more obscure passages, and in doing so we should draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light on the more obscure ones, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts as a great deal; but if the memory should be defective, no rules can supply the deficiency.

John Anthony McGuckin. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years (Kindle Locations 23283-23291). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Basil the Great on Materialistic Atheism (On the Hexameron 1.2)

 Genesis 1.1: In the beginning God created the heavens and earth

I stop here, struck with admiration at this thought. What shall I myself say first about it? Where shall I begin my story? Shall I demonstrate the vacuity of the pagans? Shall I exalt the truth of our faith? The philosophers of Greece have made a great fuss over explaining “nature,” but not one of their systems has remained firm and unassailed, each one being overturned by its successor. It is a waste of time to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of God could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the universe. It was the primary error that involved them in lamentable consequences. Some had recourse to material principles and attributed the origin of the universe to the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms, and indivisible bodies, molecules, and channels, combined in union so as to form the nature of the visible world. Atoms reuniting or separating produced births and deaths, and the most durable bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion. It was a veritable spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth and sea, so weak an origin and so minimal a consistency! And this was all because they did not know how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Led astray by their inherent atheism, it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and instead all was random chance. But, to guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God: “In the beginning God created.” What a glorious order! He first establishes a beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a beginning. Then be adds created to show that which was made was a very a small part of the power of the Creator.

John Anthony McGuckin. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years (Kindle Locations 23236-23249). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Gregory of Nazianzus- First Theological Oration (Oration 27.3)

It is by no means appropriate for every person to discourse about God. Indeed, it is not for everyone. The subject is not as cheap or vulgar as that! What is more, it is not proper to do so before any audience, at any time, or on every point; only on certain occasions, in the presence of select people, and within certain limits. It is not for everyone, because it is lawful only to those who have been duly tested and are past masters in meditation, who have been purified beforehand in both soul and body; or at least are in the process of being purified. It is never safe, we might safely say, for the impure to handle what is pure, no more than it is safe for weak eyes to be fixed on the Sun’s rays. So what is the permissible occasion? It is when we are free from all external defilement or agitation, and when our guiding spirit is not confused with troubling or wandering images, which would be like persons who mix up good writing with bad, or sweetly perfumed ointments with stinking filth. One needs true peace to know God and, when we can find the appropriate time, to discern the high road of the divine matters in hand. So who are the people for whom such things are permissible? They to whom the subject is of real moment, and not those who make it a subject of pleasant domestic chatter, or gossip after the races or the theatre, after concerts, or dinner parties: not to mention still lower employments.

John Anthony McGuckin. The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years (Kindle Locations 23220-23233). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

John Piper is Wrong

The Desiring God website and Piper like to dish it out but take no comments. Obviously, they don’t want their views scrutinized and are not willing to respond and defend their statements. Just another “steam roller preacher.” Here is a current post:

I should note I am affirm completely the ethos and moral stance on a personal level but refrain from pronouncing it as a public statement of policy. Redemption is personal and not national, a crucial distinction. Notice how his analogy is to Jesus and not Paul. Jesus fulfilled all righteousness as a Savior and King. Paul is the “instrument” Jesus personally chose to pattern the Christian life and ministry:  be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (1Cor. 11.1 NET). Notice Paul didn’t say to examine Christ’s relation to Israel or His mode of ministry as something Christians are to emulate. Paul was directed by Christ and the Spirit to write his admonition. Jesus was the King and High Priest and dealt with His people accordingly.

Piper is wrong in his philosophy of ministry in that he thinks that our relation to the world and society is like Jesus’ ministry to the Jewish nation in his day. This is an over broad application of the verse:  By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world (1John 4.17 NET). Piper thinks the way Jesus ministered is our pattern. It is not for the following reasons:

  1. God established Israel in the land and gave them covenantal promises and laws to observe. There was an expected and required behavior of God’s people.
  2. Paul is our pattern of ministry to a pagan world. We have to become all things to all persons. We need to respect our context as inherently foreign to godliness and preach Christ as Deliverer.
  3. Piper attempts to make the world a safe place for Christianity. Ultimately this will not happen until Christ returns. Piper is Christianizing a pagan society when he should be evangelizing it.

In Memory of Biblical Scholar Edward Fudge (1944-2017)

I have been interacting with Dr. Edward Fudge (best known for his views on hell being temporary rather than eternal) through email for a brief interview on his thoughts on hell, and he was kind enough to say “yes” to the interview. I have been waiting for his responses to four questions but was […]

via Goodbye Edward Fudge — Overthinking Christian

John Frame Takes James Dolezal to Task

John Frame is one of my theological heroes. This review is of a book that severely criticizes most current Christian theologians and illustrates why John Frame deserves plaudits for cutting through the book’s arguments. Frame incisively analyzes the issues but in a gracious manner and yet with warning. For those who are theologically minded, this review explores what scripture tells us about God and His relation to creatures in temporal relations.


James Dolezal, All That Is in God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017). Scholasticism names a type of theology that matured in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. In the post-reformation period, both Protestant and Roman Catholic thinkers adopted many of the methods and conclusions of scholasticism, and some of these are even reflected in the…

via Scholasticism for Evangelicals: Thoughts on All That Is In God by James Dolezal —

Ritual Faithfulness in Service

Craig Keener observes the the need of keeping ritual purity in the account of The Lord seeking to kill Moses. God had just commissioned Moses but now threatens to kill him because he had failed to circumcise his son. Ritual purity is vital since it relays information about the status of a follower. It is important to observe the signs God tells us to keep. God told Abraham to observe this sign in Gen. 17.9-14. Everyone who did not keep this sign were “cut off” from God’s covenant. Craig Keener has a typo here in his post by saying that Midian was a child of Moses when in fact it was Abraham’s descendant through Keturah. Evidently the Midianites did not obey the covenant of circumcision which was given to Abraham.

The Israelites in Egypt were all circumcised (Jos. 5.5.) and Moses was supposed to act as their representative to Pharaoh and God’s leader to bring them to the promised land. How could God use Moses when he had not complied with all of God’s required covenantal observances? Later during the night of Passover when all the first born in Egypt were killed, only the circumcised could eat of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12.40-51). Therefore, Moses son would have died during that time. Moses needed confronting for not being faithful in this covenant before starting his commission.

The LXX (Greek translation of O.T.) has Zipporah falling at Moses feet and touching Moses with the bloody foreskin (possibly on Moses genitals) as substitution for him. The Rabbi Umberto Cassuto, a significant Hebrew scholar, saw this as an act of substitution. Cassuto explains the allusion to “bridegroom”: “…she was saying, ‘I have delivered you from death, and your return to life makes you my bridegroom a second time, this time my blood bridegroom, a bridegroom acquired through blood’”


In Exod 4:23, God warns that he will kill Pharaoh’s son because Pharaoh has refused to release God’s son, namely his people (4:22). Why then does the text move directly from this threat to kill Pharaoh’s firstborn (4:23) to the Lord seeking to kill Moses (4:24)? And what does the Lord’s plan to kill Moses have to do with Moses’s own son (4:25)?

Stubborn Moses’s encounter with the Lord here contrasts starkly with the Lord’s benevolent appearance to faithful Abraham in Gen 18. Likewise, Jacob struggled at night with the angel of the Lord and came out with a limp, but he at least persevered until he got a blessing. Moses’s confrontation with God here nearly precipitates his death. This account in Exod 4 is so concise that its meaning seems ambiguous, perhaps clearer to earlier hearers who had heard fuller versions of the story. But the connections between Pharaoh’s son and Moses’s son may suggest a meaning.

Apparently Moses’s offense is not circumcising his firstborn son (4:25); such circumcision would mark Moses’s son as a member of the covenant people that are God’s own son (4:22). God would slay Egypt’s firstborn to redeem God’s own firstborn (4:23), but Moses has not surrendered his own son to God. Moreover, Moses’s resistance is apparently because of his wife’s refusal to allow the circumcision (although she surrenders, she seems quite unhappy about the Lord’s demand in 4:25). (Even in Egypt, Israelites practiced circumcision, as Josh 5:5 testifies; Egyptians also used flint knives when they circumcised, although for them it was not a sign of the covenant. Although Gen 25:2 lists Midian as a child of Moses and Moses presumably circumcised all his children [17:12-13, 26-27], Midianites, or at least Zipporah, did not want to follow the practice.)

If Zipporah has been the one resisting circumcision, why is Moses the one to face punishment? Moses is the Israelite and the one to whom the Lord has spoken, so he is responsible to act on God’s will; the Lord is going to punish him, not his wife, if he refuses to obey. So Zipporah has to sacrifice her son’s foreskin to save Moses’s life. We don’t know the son’s age at this point, but it is not clear that he is merely a baby. He may well have been old enough to voice his own concerns. Of course, even a baby can communicate his displeasure with pain vocally even if he cannot do so verbally.

Zipporah touches the bloody foreskin to Moses’s feet, by this blood from her firstborn apparently atoning for Moses. This act may resemble the way that God later accepted the Passover lamb’s blood in the place of the death of Israel’s firstborn when God struck the firstborn of Egypt. (God later required Israel to redeem every human firstborn with the firstborn of a donkey or a lamb; Exod 13:13; 34:20.) Why she touches Moses’s feet is hard for us to understand at this remove. Perhaps it was because feet were considered one of the dirtier and more disgusting parts of the body; or because they were traveling (though it is not clear that YHWH’s attack on Moses involved this); or as a sign of submission (given the association of the soles of feet with conquest; also cf. 1 Sam 25:41); or an accusation of violence (1 Kgs 2:5); or, perhaps likelier, because of an association with marital duties (cf. Deut 25:9; Ruth 3:4, 7-8) connected with her complaint about him being a “bridegroom involving blood.”

God would defend God’s son by killing Pharaoh’s son. Moses needed to circumcise his own son, identifying fully with God’s covenant, or God could kill him as God could kill Pharaoh’s son. Whatever else this may mean, it offers us a warning. The servant of God with a mission remains responsible to obey God’s covenant at home as well as in public.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy: What Do the NT Books Tell Us About Early Christian Diversity? — Canon Fodder

Here is an important and insightful post from Dr. Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder. A crucial issue for all humans is whom they should believe, or, who or what is ultimately a valid authority, an anchor for the soul. Dr. Kruger believes it is the canonical scriptures which I heartily affirm.

Paul states that the Corinthians can be assured of the truth since Paul is a designated apostle by God as evidenced by God’s manifested works, or signs: I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles (2Cor.12.12 NIV). Even though the history of the church is marked by competing voices, we know definitively what is valid by the issues and resulting answers the apostles dealt with in the first century scriptures.

This gives readers of the scriptures confidence since they have a boundary of authority defined by the canon. Christians do not have to be tossed to and fro by the many winds of doctrine contained in later or extra biblical ideas.



Last week I began a new blog series (see first post here) addressing the theme of unity and diversity in early Christianity, particularly as it pertains to the well-known work of Walter Bauer. Essentially, Bauer argued there was no such thing “heresy” or “orthodoxy” during this time period. These ideas, he argues, are simply artificial…

via The Heresy of Orthodoxy: What Do the NT Books Tell Us About Early Christian Diversity? — Canon Fodder

PhD Not Required

The bible was written for adults to understand sufficiently. The recipients of O.T. Israel were not sophisticated moderns who had access to a wide array of information. The N.T. folks, likewise, in many instances, lacked developed learning. This does not mean that some brilliant folks in those eras did not interact with the bible. Neither am I saying that moderns should stay unlearned. Historical background knowledge and other studies can be readily pursued but one can still be confident of biblical truth without structured learning.

Paul, in a letter to those he formerly ministered to for several years, recites a prayer for them: …the glorious Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you (Eph. 1.17b-18a NIV). He did not tell the Ephesians to study Jewish learning or Greek philosophy to understand the bible reading they heard every week. They needed the illumination of God’s Spirit.

The bible is to be read or heard and meditated upon with a view to understanding and obeying God. I know more of God’s program from reading and thinking upon the English Bible than the 5 years of Greek, 2 years of Hebrew and Aramaic, and loads of theology I studied in Bible College and seminary. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you (1Jn. 2.27a NIV).

I take the incident of Joshua’s long day as apparent daylight. The sun was apparent whether brightly shining or behind clouds during the period of what would normally be the dark of night so that it was two days of light without a night. There is no need to be crassly literal thinking the normal planetary cycle was altered. God could and did, I believe, give apparent sunlight when more time was needed for the battle. Here is an article that exposes the fallacy of always needing empirical evidence to justify belief:


Some of you may have read about an article written by the British physicists Colin J. Humphreys and W. Graeme Waddington and published in the October issue of Astronomy & Geophysics. Titled “Solar Eclipse of 1207 BCE Helps to Date Pharaohs,” it’s an attempt to link the story of the sun’s miraculously standing still in the biblical book of Joshua to an ancient eclipse and to draw historical conclusions from the linkage.

I will get to the substance of Humphreys and Waddington’s thesis, which has received considerable press coverage, in a moment. First, though, I need to point to something that has gone mostly unremarked upon (an exception is a post by Professor James Davila in his blog PaleoJudaica), namely, that these researchers’ argument is practically identical to that of a much longer and more detailed paper published in January of this year, in the Hebrew journal Beyt Mikra, by three Israelis: the physicist Ḥezi Yitzḥak, the Bible scholar Daniel Weinstaub, and the archeologist Uzi Avner. Such coincidences can happen in the world of scholarship and perhaps need not be made too much of, provided that credit goes to where it is due.

In any case, my remarks in this column will refer to both articles as though they were one. The relevant verses in Joshua 10:5-14 are, in the King James Version, as follows:

Therefore the five kings of the Amorites . . . encamped before Gibeon and made war against it. And the men of Gibeon sent unto Joshua to the camp to Gilgal, saying, Slack not thy hand from thy servants; come up to us quickly and save us. . . . And so Joshua ascended from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him. . . . Joshua therefore came unto them suddenly, and went up from Gilgal all night. And the Lord discomfited [the Amorites] before Israel and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon and chased them along the way that goeth up to Beth-Horon, and smote them to Azekah. . . . And it came to pass as they fled before Israel that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died. . . . Then spake Joshua to the Lord . . . and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon. And the sun stood still and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. . . . So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down for about a whole day. And there was no day like that before or after it.

Let us summarize. Joshua comes to the Gibeonites’ rescue because there is a pact between them and the Israelites. Marching at night from Gilgal in the Jordan Valley to Gibeon, the biblical Giv’on, in the hill country north of Jerusalem, he surprises the Amorites at the break of day and drives them westward to Azekah in the Judean lowlands, killing them along the way with the assistance of a violent hailstorm. As the day is not long enough for him to finish them off—ancient armies rarely fought at night—he prays for the sun to stop in its tracks, together with the third-quarter moon that is visible in the western sky when the sun is overhead. (The Valley of Ayalon lies to Gibeon’s west.) This they do, prolonging the daylight until the last of the fleeing enemy is cut down.

Such has been the traditional—and, it must be said, the self-evident—understanding of the story. Now, though, along come two teams of Israeli and British scientists and claim that the story in the book of Joshua has been read wrong: its description, they say, is not of a sun and moon that halted in the heavens but of a solar eclipse. What, apart from the understandable but not logically compelling desire to give the biblical story a natural rather than a supernatural explanation, are their reasons?

Essentially, stripped of supporting considerations, those reasons boil down to a new look at two Hebrew verbs, damam and amad, that occupy the center of the biblical narrative. Damam occurs in it twice, once in its imperative form of dom in the phrase shemesh b’Giv’on dom, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon,” and once in its past-tense form of vayidom in vayidom ha-shemesh, “And the sun stood still.” Amad also occurs twice, the first time in v’yare’aḥ amad, “and the moon stayed,” and the second time in vaya’amod ha-shemesh b’ḥatsi ha-shamayim, “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven.” The King James translation is consistent with the use of these verbs elsewhere in the Bible, in which amad generally means “stand,” with the secondary meanings of “halt” or “cease,” and damam means “fall silent,” though it can also can mean “stay in one place” or “perish.”

And yet, our two articles contend, this is not their meaning in the book of Joshua. Why? Because in the astronomical terminology of Akkadian, the ancient and long extinct Semitic language of Babylonia, da’amu refers to the darkness of an annular eclipse, in which the screened sun is encircled by a narrow ring of light, while emedu signifies the conjunction of two heavenly bodies, as when the path of the moon intersects that of the sun and blocks our vision of it.

Since mathematical calculations show that a rare annular eclipse took place in the skies of central Palestine, where Gibeon and the Ayalon valley are located, on October 30, 1207 BCE, Joshua’s prayer, assuming that da’amu and emedu influenced Hebrew damam and amad, must thus be understood to have been, “Sun, be thou eclipsed upon Gibeon and thou Moon, in the valley of Ayalon”—following which, we are told by the Bible, “the sun was eclipsed and the moon stood in conjunction [with it].” Although this eclipse lasted barely an hour-and-a-half from beginning to end, the Bible tells us that the sun “hasted not to go down for about a whole day”—because, write Humphreys and Waddington, “to the awe-inspired Israelites, the amazing spectacle in the sky would have appeared to be long and drawn out; the reaction to such events tends to be exaggerated, particularly with regard to perceived duration.”

This explanation of the story in Joshua, our scholars argue, has great historical significance. In the first place, by corroborating (while reinterpreting) the Bible’s account, it strengthens the case for the veracity of other biblical stories that are commonly considered legends or myths, including that of the Israelite conquest of Canaan in Joshua’s time. Secondly, it enables us to date when this conquest took place—i.e., toward the end of the 13th century BCE, exactly where biblical chronology places it. And thirdly, it establishes a terminus a quo for the Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription known (after the pharaoh Merneptah) as the Merneptah stele; inasmuch as a people called Israel is mentioned there as being in Canaan in Merneptah’s time, which it could not have been prior to the age of Joshua, the solar eclipse of 1207 contributes to a more precise dating of events in ancient Egypt as well.

I confess to beingskeptical about all this. Not that it is totally implausible. Akkadian, the language of a Middle Eastern colonial power in the biblical period, did influence other Semitic languages, Hebrew among them, and a knowledge of it can sometimes help in understanding biblical words that are unclear.

An example of this is the kikayon plant in the book of Jonah, whose rapid growth, the Bible relates, shaded Jonah from the torrid sun while he waited outside the city of Nineveh to see what would happen to it. Biblical commentators had no idea what plant this was until modern times, when Assyriologists (a term that includes scholars of Akkadian) unearthed cuneiform tablets in which the word kukkanitu, from which kikayon undoubtedly derives, denotes the castor-oil plant. It is thus possible that Babylonian astronomical terms like da’amu and emedu entered biblical Hebrew, too, especially since the Babylonians were acknowledged by their neighbors to be unequalled as astronomers.

But it is one thing to invoke the aid of Akkadian in explaining a biblical word or passage whose meaning we do not know, and quite another to do so with a passage, like the one in Joshua, that is self-explanatory and needs no outside assistance to be understood. The only reason to read an eclipse into it, as I have said, is wanting to make a biblical account scientifically credible; but to believe that something is true because we want it to be true is hardly scientific.

More than that: the Humphrey-Waddington-Yitzḥak-Weintraub-Avner thesis needs to be taken with a tablespoon of salt not only because it isn’t needed to make sense of the biblical account but because it makes nonsense of that account. Although Joshua, let us recall, prays for a miracle that will prolong the hours of light until his forces have completed their mission, a solar eclipse would only have lessened these hours, and at a time of year—the end of October—when the days were already short. Asking God for it would have made Joshua one bumbler of a general.

This is something that our British and Israeli scholars do not appear to have thought of. It’s not enough, in interpreting the Bible, to know Akkadian and astronomy. You also have to know how to read a simple story.

The Lord’s Prayer

So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we ourselves have forgiven our trespassers. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Mt. 6.9-13 literal translation).

Perhaps a quibble about the label “The Lord’s Prayer.” The text doesn’t give this prayer a title or label. Many have noted that, if any prayer were to be labeled “The Lord’s Prayer,” it would be Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, recorded in John 17. Here, in Matthew, it is the prayer the Lord taught the disciples.

Not all Christians take this “Lord’s Prayer” as merely petition. It seems to start out as praise and affirmation: Hallowed be your name is the confident expectation of the time when God will rule on earth as in heaven with His name praised by the redeemed. Though there may be a yearning aspect, and hard distinctions may not be necessary, it is probably best to view this clause as praise instead of a plea. I understand the Greek construction (aorist imperative) to be a confident expectation. My view recognizes that, elsewhere in the bible, God’s Kingdom manifested on earth is a surety. In God’s due time, He will bring about His earthly rule. The prayer starts out in praise, aligning the disciple to God’s program of eventual triumph over iniquity and the reconciling of creation to Himself.

The words and pattern here is nearly identical to the Kaddish (Qaddish), which is a hymn of praise to God that magnifies and sanctifies God’s name in affirmation. Ezek. 38.23 is thought to be the model for the Kaddish: Thus will I magnify Myself, and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the LORD. “Saying Kaddish” in Judaism is in context of mourning at the passing of a loved one. Despite the loss, it is a confident praise of God. The Jewish Virtual Library identifies it as a “sanctification” and therefore “praise”:

The Kaddish is a prayer that praises God and expresses a yearning for the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. The emotional reactions inspired by the Kaddish come from the circumstances in which it is said: it is recited at funerals and by mourners, and sons are required to say Kaddish for eleven months after the death of a parent. The word Kaddish means sanctification, and the prayer is a sanctification of God’s name.

This “disciple’s prayer” also teaches 3 things in the asking part (petition): daily bread as a qualification of sustenance. This encourages a constant dependence, a personal continual learning of how God is able to meet needs. This shows His capacity and greatness in the most minute matters.

Forgive us qualified by the disciple forgiving others as themselves were freely forgiven. Many translations render this as “debts.” This is a very pedantic translation of the Greek term and requires explanation: it is the debt of guilt incurred from failure to perform correctly or failure of wrong action as prescribed previously in the bible. We are able to love others because He first loved us. In verses 14-15 Jesus explains the rationale of forgiving others: For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins. This is not the “eye for an eye” stark justice of the Mosaic Code but reflects the obligation of the gift given in The New Covenant. It is the evidence of the new birth’s transformation. If a person is vindictive and revengeful  it would indicate they were not forgiven.

Lead us during the evil days of this temporal journey. Another related admonition to disciples: Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Eph. 5.15-16 NET). The New Testament reflects the Prophet Amos’ observation and admonition: Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil (5.13 NIV). While Amos seems to emphasize keeping quiet so as not to cast pearls before swine, Ephesians instructs making good use of the opportunity (redeeming the time). This may mean studying to know God and being ready to present the gospel. Later, Paul says part of the Christian armor against evil entities involves fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace  (Eph. 6.15 NET). The wise or redeemed person will be sensitive in how to respond to others. The disciple sometimes will be able to storm Hell’s gates to rescue some from captivity. The final clause then, in the “disciple’s prayer,” seems to teach watchfulness and close fellowship with the Lord. It speaks of a very personal dependence and deliverance.

Upon This Rock I will Build My Church – Matthew 16: 13-19

Various Views of the Rock

Many Christians, since before the time of the Great Church Councils of the 4th Century, have believed that Jesus has built the Church on Peter’s ministry. Some Protestants, Baptists particularly, believe Christ’s Church is built on Peter’s confession. Other Protestants believe “the rock” upon which the Church is built is Jesus since the bible speaks of Christ as the cornerstone of a house (temple) with the foundation as the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2.20). Various scriptures affirm that the Church, both collectively, and each member individually, is certainly a temple for the dwelling of God by the Spirit. However, a distinction needs to be observed when speaking of the Church as a whole constituting a body. There is “one body,” not many bodies (Eph. 4.4). This “body” is the universal church as an entity by itself. There is only one church comprised of all who are Christ’s. It is the one people of God for whom Christ died as reflected in Jn. 11.52: and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered (NET). There is a singular people redeemed by God on the basis of Christ’s death which includes all persons since the time of the first redeemed individuals: Adam and Eve. God covered their nakedness with animal skins which typified atonement. The term “church,” I believe, can refer to all the redeemed from every age.

Peter or Other Apostles are not the Rock

Therefore, if my view is correct, the Church cannot be built on Peter. If we examine the New Testament in its historical account of the Church’s establishment, the majority of its writings, and, its influence and authority, then Peter is not the rock. Without a doubt Peter was tremendously influential in the initial preaching and leadership. It was to Peter that God revealed that Gentiles were cleansed by faith and had equal status with Jews (see Acts 10). Yet, the pastor of the Jerusalem church was James the Just, not Peter. Peter was the apostle to the Jews. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles who dominated the Church’s numbers by the end of the first century. Additionally, Peter needed rebuking for separating himself from Gentile believers in Antioch (see Gal. 2.11-21). Paul was the best candidate of anyone whose ministry built the Church. However, I hope to demonstrate that Christ is building His Church on something much sturdier than fallible humans.

Definitively, the N.T. does not present the concept of Christ building upon any human individual. Of course, Christ appeared to Paul and commissioned him as well as all the apostles. Additionally, the Spirit worked through these persons in mighty ways and many turned to the Lord with churches being established throughout the Roman Empire. In a period of a few hundred years, the whole Greco-Roman world was altered in such a way that most people abandoned their pagan gods, and, at least nominally, became Christians.

The New Covenant Promises a Personal Relationship

If Jesus were building His Church on human individuals, then, conceptually, He would be starting an organization. This is exactly the idea of the Orthodox Church with its apostolic succession and the Roman Catholic Church with its popes. However, the New Testament uses terms such as “body” and “living stones” to describe the Church. Christ is establishing an organism, not primarily an organization. The promise of a New Covenant provided the feature of everyone personally knowing the Lord: And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (Jer. 31.34 ESV). This “knowing” is accomplished by the gift of the Spirit, which is sometimes called an “anointing” which every Christian possesses: Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know (1Jn. 2.20 NET). Further, John tells us that this anointing teaches believers directly as promised in Jeremiah’s prophecy: Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him (1Jn. 2.27 NET).

These “neighbors” and “brothers” of Jer. 31.34 refer to the Tribe of Levi with its Aaronic Priesthood. Aaron’s descendants were the only legitimate priests during the Old Covenant and the Levites functioned as instructors among the people of Israel. The Levites didn’t have any territory in Israel, only cities scattered throughout the other tribes which facilitated their ministry among the people. However, the New Covenant would feature a New High Priesthood where direct access to God was available through Christ: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6.19-20 NIV). The Sons of Aaron under the Old Covenant served in a pattern of the heavenly reality. New Covenant believers access the heavenly temple through Christ. Every Christian is a priest in this New Order.

By examining the context of Mt. 16. 13-19, it becomes apparent to what the antecedent of the rock (petra) refers. Here is the section with the bracketed Greek terms:

When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter [petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” (Mt. 16. 13-19 NET)

Jesus as Builder (Carpenter)

Jesus has just changed Simon’s name to “Peter.” The Greek term is “petros,” meaning a small stone such as could be used to build common dwellings in Israel of that day. Before Jesus embarked on His ministry He was known as a carpenter (Mk.6.3). This trade involved constructing houses by using locally acquired stones. This was Jesus’ most likely profession since the term “carpenter” in the New Testament refers both to woodworkers and stone masons.

No wooden building existed (or extremely few) in first century Israel. The risk of fire and scarcity of wood forced them to use the widely available stones. This material offered good insulation in both summer and winter. However, wooden doors, windows with their casements were generally required in these stone dwellings. Also, wood paneling probably adorned wealthy houses. Of course, wooden items such as furniture and utensils were commonly used in everyday life. Both masons and carpenters use the same techniques such as a plumb line which could be made with ordinary string and a large pebble. A stretched line also determined straightness in construction. Hammers and mallets were used in both trades. It is impossible to know exactly what trade Jesus performed prior to His ministry (probably with Joseph initially – Mt. 13.55). I personally think it was a stone mason constructing buildings of the common people of Galilee, observant Jews. This would be both ironic and a sort of wordplay: “the carpenter” building the Church.

Peter “petros”- a Small Stone

Jesus is using figurative speech both in renaming Simon and using “petra” upon which He builds His Church. I examine the use of “petros” (Peter) first since the second usage “petra” will be more involved. Simon Peter writes his first epistle referencing Christians as spiritual stones, a figurative idea: you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1Pet. 2.5 NET). Although Peter doesn’t use the same Greek term as in Matthew, the concept is the same. After all, he doesn’t want to call them living petros since that would confuse his audience into thinking they belong to him, and not Jesus. Jesus changed Simon’s name to indicate him as an integral individual of the Church which He is building.

The Bedrock “petra” as a Foundation

Continuing with the Greek term “rock” (petra), the second instance of the term in the verse is a feminine form which indicates “bedrock” according to the contextual usage. The Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written needs to be interpreted from its context which is different from English in which the terms by themselves indicate the concept. The second usage cannot naturally refer back to Peter, since, in that case, Jesus would be confusing Simon’s name from an ordinary small stone as opposed to a foundation. These are two different ideas. Someone may argue that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, with which I would agree, since Matthew is witnessed in 2nd Century Christian literature as written, initially, to a Jewish audience in Israel.  It needs to be noted, however, that the bible was preserved and inspired in Koine Greek. The translator clearly used “petra” as the second term denoting the bedrock upon which the Church is built. It makes no sense for Jesus to change Simon’s name twice in the space of two phrases. It is difficult to think how the terms could form a wordplay referring to the same person.

The Father’s Revelation to Peter is the Bedrock Upon Which the Church is Built

Jesus will build His Church upon bedrock (petra). Finding the antecedent to this figurative usage gives theological clarity of this most important statement by Jesus. Examining the earlier context provides the use of the figure of speech as the Father’s revelation to Simon son of Jonah. Jesus indicated that Simon was blessed because of this insight. Therefore, it is not the confession which Jesus builds upon, since many may repeat Peter’s confession but actually are not genuine Christians. Those with merely an empty confession would not belong to Christ. Here, Jesus is speaking about what He is building effectively, which is authentic believers comprising the Church. Jesus is certainly the Cornerstone of God’s temple but the concept in Matthew is the bedrock of revelation by the Father.

The Theological Concept as Developed in John’s Gospel

John’s Gospel contains many discourses which the Synoptic Gospels omit. The disciple John was particularly close to Jesus’ teachings as part of the inner circle along with his older brother and Peter. John was always mentioned in the synoptic listings of disciples after his brother James. Therefore, it is believed that he was younger and that Jesus taught John before he could develop the typically wrong ingrained theological thinking which characterized the older disciples. The others had to relearn popular Messianic concepts to correct their understanding of Jesus’ mission as Redeemer instead of the expectation that was current in 1st Century Israel. All the people, and especially Israel’s religious leaders, were hoping for a warrior messiah to free them from Rome’s oppressive rule. The Law, Writings, and Prophets did promise such a conquering deliverer, but, in other instances, a suffering servant is pictured, one who would vicariously be a substitute for the people. This depiction of substitute in the O.T. was cryptically veiled in order for events to fulfill themselves in mysterious ways. The evil powers worked out their sinister will to show where their affections resided: None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1Cor. 2.8 NET). Yet, it was God’s design and will for Christ to die since humanity’s redemption was accomplished by God’s great love for us: this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles (Acts 2.23 NET).

John, unlike any of the Synoptic Gospels, develops this theme of the Father’s role in redemption as highlighted both in Jesus’ discourses and prayer. Here is a list of seven instances where Jesus explicitly cites the Father’s action in bringing believers to personal knowledge of who Jesus was just like the revelation given to Peter in Mt. 16.17:

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. (Jn. 6.37 NET)

Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. (Jn. 6.39 NET)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. (Jn. 6.44-45 NET)

Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you—just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. (Jn. 17.1-2 NET)

I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. (Jn. 17.6 NET)

I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you. (Jn. 17.9 NET)

Father, the ones you have given me, I want these to be where I am with me, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (Jn. 17.24 literal Greek)

The Keys Given to All the Disciples

However, some may not be convinced with these arguments and point to Mt. 16.19 where Jesus promises the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter in relation to Peter’s status. This is the common misconception of what occurs after a person’s death when they expect to meet Peter standing at heaven’s gate since he supposedly holds keys. These keys, however, speak of binding things on earth so they remain bound in heaven, but they are not for the gate of heaven. Instead, they pertain to deeds of people on earth, which may either be retained or loosed; specifically, sins. Neither does Peter acquire the keys exclusively, but they are given to all disciples of Jesus in this New Covenant of the Spirit operating in believers. Jesus typified benefits of a disciple in promising these keys to Peter. Later, in Matthew 18.15-20, Jesus uses this same language of binding and loosing things on earth with them retaining that same status in heaven. Jesus speaks of two or three of His followers agreeing about a matter and also praying in agreement about issues of discipline for sins. Therefore, Peter cannot be the exclusive recipient of these keys since Jesus is directing all His disciples and mentions several individuals in agreement about an issue.

Further, notice Stephen, the first Deacon, forgiving the mob of their sin of unjust condemnation against him reflecting the same sentiments as Jesus: Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7.60 NET). The exercise of these keys of binding and loosing are to be used in merciful ways so that some individuals would repent as happened with both Jesus and Stephen. At Pentecost, 3,000 were converted just 50 days after Christ’s crucifixion. When Stephen prayed, Saul was there agreeing with Stephen’s death, but, later, God had mercy on Saul, giving the vision on the road to Damascus, in Acts 9, in which he was saved.



Combating Puritanical Narrowness

Yesterday, I posted about narrow theological allegiance. Today, I take issue with overly puritanical narrowness. Merely knowing the bible on a superficial basis along with an anachronistic viewpoint, where interpreting biblical narratives through the lens of our own culture, is distinctly dangerous.

Historically, in Christian America, alcohol use has been greatly proscribed as an evil with most Protestants being teetotalers. Only one time have I witnessed a Protestant observance of The Lord’s Supper with the use of wine as an element which is prescribed by the bible and history. Certainly, I have never witnessed any alcohol served at a church dinner. This is very different from biblical and Jewish culture where peace and freewill offerings included alcoholic wine. The idea was that God shared a meal with the worshiper when they would partake of these same items. Bread and wine were the staple foods of ancient Israel. My understanding of a “drunkard” in the bible was one who didn’t work or provide for his family and only wanted to get drunk. Of course, I am not advocating drunkenness which is sinful. Imbibing alcohol with food in moderation would not result in drunkenness. Our Historical American Culture has had a prohibitionist mindset and some who react against this mindset will often go to the opposite extreme of over indulgence. I believe the ancient biblical culture avoided this pitfall by parental and elder example in everyday contexts. The 3 feasts of O.T. yearly observance was a time of feasting and rejoicing with wine and other strong drinks such as beer. Notice Acts 2.13: But others jeered saying, “They are drunk on wine!” (literal translation). This was the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). Some translations render the term wine as “new wine” or “sweet wine” as if the beverage wasn’t fully fermented. But if the substance wasn’t intoxicating, their mocking would make no sense. Grapes typically take from 5-21 days to fully convert the sugars to alcohol in fermentation. Grapes in Israel mature from August to November. These grapes were picked the preceding autumn, since Pentecost occurs May/June, making this wine “new” as a typical festival beverage from the last grape harvest and fully intoxicating. Generally, the use of the two terms “wine” and “new wine” in the New Testament differentiate between a recent vintage and one that has had time to mature being successively transferred from container to another container leaving the sediments behind.

The open table of Jesus with “tax collectors and sinners” showed ministry in a context of slight inebriation. Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding celebration and His disciples believed in Him. Jesus, the disciples, along with all the guests who imbibed were all under wine’s influence to some degree. Alcohol (wine) feature during the wedding celebration with Abraham and the Patriarchs in the future Reconciliation.

Ironically, I barely use any alcohol myself as old age prevents its efficient digestion. I do use a small amount in cooking. Generally, people change their consciousness every day during sleep. Many folks pray that God would keep them safe during this time. Also, during our normal waking hours Christians will often pray for guidance and help. Perhaps it’s time for Christians to recognize Jesus as King of the altered state and pray that He would give guidance and wisdom for responsible use of their intoxicants.

The Two Sides of Christian Intolerance

The intolerance to which I refer is the perceived Christian intolerance which has been unabated from various quarters from Christianity’s inception. The charge, with its fear, raises its voice from time to time to claim Apostolic Christianity is overly “narrow.” This is an unfounded fear or perhaps one is really outside the bounds. Then the person who is charging intolerance is the one who is intolerant of True belief. We should carefully examine ourselves to see if we are in line with The Faith. This examination should not just occur before taking the Lord’s Supper. In another post I will write about this self-examination issue further and what The Lord’s Supper is speaking about regarding this issue. Stay tuned, most Christian Communities have very fuzzy ideas as  to the purpose and observance of this ordinance. Here is Larry Hurtado’s post which deals with the biblical issues succinctly expositing exactly what John the Apostle says:

In the discussion following the first of his Croall Lectures in New College yesterday, Professor Werner Jeanrond referred to the “Johannine Community” as a group in which he wouldn’t feel comfortable, perceiving it to have been a rather narrow and intolerant group.  It was an off-hand remark during the question period, not at all a focus of his lecture.  And he didn’t expand on it or illustrate what he meant.  But it did set me wondering about the matter.

Now, to be sure, the NT writings typically linked to a “Johannine community” of early Christians (Gospel of John and Epistles of John) certainly reflect an exclusivist stance.  In all of these texts, Jesus is the singular and ultimate expression of God’s purposes, and anyone who denies Jesus’ significance is referred to as benighted.  That is, these writings (along with the other NT writings and a good many more early Christian texts) make allegiance to Jesus requisite for a right relationship with God.  In short, these texts espouse a rather straightforwardly Christian faith-stance in very particularist terms.

But I had the feeling that Jeanrond was asserting some more narrow stance or attitude, perhaps a kind of sectarian intolerance for any Christian diversity.  Whatever he may have meant, I’ll note some texts that suggest to me a somewhat more positive view of those reflected in these writings.

The writing known as “1 John” is probably the clearest evidence of a specific group of early Christians that might comprise “Johannine Christianity.”  1 John reflects some kind of schism in this group, and this seems to have been the occasion for the author to have composed this writing.  It bears noting, however, that this schism was apparently produced by certain members of the group leaving those addressed in this writing.  Those now outside the group weren’t expelled, but abandoned the group:  “They went out from us” (2:19).  So, if there was any narrowness, or sectarian action, it appears more to have characterized these secessionists, not the circle addressed in 1 John.

To be sure, the author characterizes these secessionists in pretty strong terms.  He effectively accuses them of being “antichrists” (2:18), because (as the authors sees the matter) they deny that “Jesus is the Christ” (2:22), and so “deny the Son,” thereby also denying “the Father” (2:22-23).  They appear to advocate some teachings that the author regards as unacceptably revisionist.  They claim special insight for their views, and may have chosen to secede from the “Johannine” circle when their claims and new teachings were not accepted.

The author also characterizes their succession as their abandonment of the necessary love for fellow believers, which seems to be reflected in the repeated emphasis on fraternal love as a requisite expression of authentic faith (e.g., 3:10-18; 4:7-12).  So, these secessionists are portrayed as false prophets (4:1-6), who would “deceive” other believers (their teachings portrayed as some sort of major revisionist view of Jesus in particular that departed from the tradition advocated by the author), and also as failing to exhibit the fraternal love that is to be expected of believers.

These secessionists may have seen themselves as having a superior insight or version of beliefs, and may have found the apparent reluctance of other believers to accede to their claims as a just basis for breaking fellowship with them.  But the observation I reiterate is that they weren’t apparently expelled; they walked away on their own.  They apparently considered the differences with the other believers important enough to separate themselves.  If so, it is they who were acting in a narrow and sectarian manner, not the circle to whom 1 John was addressed.

Granted, the little writing known as 2 John warns recipients (“the elect lady and her children” v. 1) about “deceivers” accused of denying that “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (v. 7), urging that they should not be entertained and given a platform to spread their teaching (vv. 10-11).  Some may see this as narrow-minded, but others may see it simply as a concern to guard the religious integrity of the group from those with seriously dissonant aims.

Obviously, the characterization of  “Johannine Christianity” would require much more than this blog posting.   The “Johannine” writings surely reflect strong efforts at religious-group “boundary maintenance,” and they express affirmations of what is presented as the tradition of the group(s) addressed.  But perhaps, just perhaps, Johannine Christianity wasn’t quite as narrow and uncomfortable as Professor Jeanrond seemed to fear.

From Before the Foundation of the World – Part 2

In the previous post, I noted how Gen. 3.15 spoke of The Redeemer having His heal pierced in death. When God announced the heal piercing, during The Judgment after the Fall, it constituted a promise and therefore a certainty that He would redeem humankind. This piercing of the heal happened already as was mentioned at Calvary. God committed to its fulfillment when He announced it and so the “work” was as good as finished at least from the time it was stated. This is reflected in Heb. 4.3 where our phrase “from before the foundation of the world” is used again: …And yet God’s works were accomplished from the foundation of the world (NET).

Another use of the phrase: “from the foundation of the world” seems to refer to the need for individual sacrifices when the person committed a sin as well as the covenant a person ratifies with God by sacrifice (see Ps. 50.5). Christ did not have to undergo a suffering of death every time a sin occurred by His people but a representation of the act seemed to be required. This was the institution of animal sacrifices which were a shadow of the ultimate act of redemption by Christ. Christ was the second and Last Adam (see Rom. 5) and as such fulfilled the symbol which the animals only suggested. Heb. 9.26 speaks about this idea while using the ‘foundation phrase’: for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice (NET). The phrase also occurs in 1Pet. 1.19-20 reflecting much this same idea of fulfillment of an innocent one instead of the guilty party: but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake (NET).

Not only is Christ known from the foundation of the world, but believers also were in the mind of God which fact should greatly encourage us. This is our “Hope” reserved in heaven. This hope sustains us during our earthly journey since it instills confidence that no suffering on earth can outweigh our comfort and lasting reward for patient endurance. Notice Mt. 25.34: Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (NET). This commonly known as The Sheep and Goat Judgment. God had us in mind as persons and is preparing a dwelling place for us.

Recalling the “parables” cited “before the foundation of the world” in Mt.13.35, again the overt judgment scene after the Fall provides the source of the “parables.” The initial statement of Gen. 3.15 speaks of two groups or division of peoples which agrees well with Mt. 25.34 where Jesus references The Sheep and Goat Judgment: And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. Though Gen. 3.15 gives in a “parable” for the future division of humanity, Jesus uses another parable with a different focus: the division’s end result. The point I am raising is that we all personally were conceived in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. It may be significant to note from Mt. 25 that only the sheep are mentioned having a place prepared. The goats are not personally known and so passed over it seems.

These persons are those given by the Father to Jesus as reflected in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17.24: Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they can see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (literal Greek translation). Here we note Jesus claiming His Father’s love from before this world’s order and the uniting in glory of His chosen people. Finally, along this same thought, is believers’ names written in the Book of Life and belonging to their Redeemer in Rev. 13.8: …been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed (NET).

From Before The Foundation of the World Part 1

The first instance of the use of the phrase “the foundation of the world” occurs in Matthew’s account at 13.34-35: Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable. This fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has been hidden from the foundation of the world” (NET). The “prophet” Matthew is referencing is probably Asaph, whom David appointed as a leader of songs in the Tabernacle. The citation is Ps 78.2: I will sing a song that imparts wisdom; I will make insightful observations about the past (NET). The NET Bible explains the terminology of the Hebrew:

 Heb “I will open with a wise saying my mouth, I will utter insightful sayings from long ago.” Elsewhere the Hebrew word pair חִידָה+מָשָׁל(mashal + khidah) refers to a taunt song [Hab. 2.6], a parable [Ezek. 17.2], proverbial sayings [Pr. 1.6], and an insightful song that reflects on the mortality of humankind and the ultimate inability of riches to prevent death [Ps. 49.4].

Returning to Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry in speaking to the crowds in parables, is it possible to determine when these mysterious and veiled sayings (parables) first occurred to which he and Asaph refer?

Fixing the meaning of the term “world” is the crucial step which allows placement of the idea at a point in time. The lexicon BAGD indicates kosmou (world) as an “adornment.” Or better in this case as the arrangement “of the sum total of everything here and now, the (orderly) universe.” Therefore, it refers to the cosmic ordering of the world system after expulsion from Eden. Some translations render the phrase (here and at other places) as “from before creation.” This rendering is incorrect as shown from the meaning of the term “world.” A further indication that our phrase means after Eden and not the creation of matter, is Jesus’ usage of the phrase in Lk. 11.50-51…for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah… (NET). This shows the “world” is the sphere of influence during this present evil age and not during or before Eden.

With the timing set as the orderly arrangement of the universe, post Eden, what was the “parable” given at the beginning? Gen. 3.15 fits succinctly as it is given in an overt judgment on the serpent by God: He will crush your head, and you will pierce His heal (my translation)This refers to the ‘two hours’ of Christ: the first mentioned is the second hour, crushing of the serpent’s head which is “The Day of The Lord.” The first hour is Christ’s Advent which culminated in the offering of Himself on the cross. Both of these events, or “hours” are judgments since they are given during a scene of judgment after the Fall in Eden. Yes, Christ suffered immensely when His heal was pierced in crucifixion, but it was for us and not because He was guilty. It was the great substitution, His life for ours. Since death could not hold Him, eternal life is given to all who are His.


Difference in Style between 1&2 Peter

Jerome (On Illustrious Men 1) writing about 400 C.E. noted that some Christians of his day rejected the epistle of 2 Peter as canonical due to its difference in style with 1 Peter. This discrepancy of manner may be accounted for if a co-author of 1 Peter is recognized. The Second Epistle of Peter is probably Peter’s native style while his first letter was written with Silvanus (Silas) who was a Prophet but not an Apostle. Peter, no doubt, wanted to certify the letter as authoritative to his readers when saying: “I have written to you briefly, in order to encourage you and testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (1Pet. 5.12b NET). In the first part of verse 12, Peter says: Through Silvanus, whom I know to be a faithful brother. I present arguments below as to why we may view this clause as indicating that Silas helped to produce 1 Peter.

1. Often, it was not necessary to certify the bearer (messenger) of a letter since he could be verified relatively easily in person. The letter spoke for itself and the messenger was in hand to question the source, or veracity, if doubtful. Therefore, by using the clause “through Silas,” Peter is not certifying him as a mere messenger.

2. Peter uses “faithful brother.” So, if the message arrived, there would be no need to indicate the messenger as being “faithful” to the recipients. Forgery or alteration was not really a danger since at that time any alteration of the writing was fairly obvious. They could question the messenger if they suspected forgery but the contents do not suggest it. It was a godly composition after all and no nefarious gain can be imagined. Therefore, the reference to “faithful brother” suggests compositional assistance.

3. That Silas was a chosen delegate of the Apostles and a leader gives him credibility as a sub-author with Peter later when writing his first letter: Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to send men chosen from among them, Judas called Barsabbas and Silas, leaders among the brothers, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 15.22 NET)

4. Silvanus was a Prophet who encouraged Antiochans of Acts 15:  Both Judas and Silas, who were prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with a long speech (vs.32 NET). Since he was influential and knowledgeable, he makes a good candidate for helping to construct letters of encouragement to the recipients of 1 Peter.

5. His suffering in ministry along with Paul in the Philippian jail (see Acts 16) adds further credibility as one to help Peter write his letter. The recipients themselves were facing severe trials and Silas’ experience from his previous suffering of persecution could help them.

6. He proclaimed the gospel along with Paul and Timothy in Corinth and Paul mentions him in his second letter (2 Cor. 1.19). It is obvious that his preaching carried weight in the Corinthians’ minds is why Paul refers to him.

7. It seems that Silas may have helped Paul (along with Timothy) write both 1&2 Thessalonians since these letters list all three individuals as their author. Timothy and Silas were not just helpers assisting Paul but workers in their own right.

8. Silas probably had better phrasing than Peter is why Peter said “through (dia) Silvanus” (1 Pet. 5.12a). Since Silas had the gift of prophecy and is seen in numerous instances as preaching and encouraging, Silas probably phrased the letter with Peter producing the main ideas he intended to convey to the hearers.