Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary — Peter Lorenz’s Blog

Pete Lorenz has written an excepted post of his longer essay, which deals with Luke’s genealogy in the early Uncial Manuscript “D”. Here, he notes the almost universal early acceptance of Mary’s genealogy, in Luke 3. Justin Martyr is the focus in this post. Females in first century Judea, had a genealogy, just like males since Elizabeth was “from the daughters of Aaron,” in Lk. 1.5. Her offspring would, however, follow the husband’s line. Jesus was virgin born; therefore, Luke traces Mary’s line to show fulfillment of 2 Sam. 7.11-17. This was The Davidic Covenant whose ultimate fulfillment referred to the Messiah. I plan to write another post on this topic from a theological point of view. Lorenz does a fine job tracing the history of interpretation of Luke’s genealogy in the early Christian Church:

Writing in the first half of the third century, Julius Africanus is our earliest writer to raise the two genealogies of Jesus as a potential apologetic issue.1 But before Africanus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and apparently even Celsus all refer to the two genealogies, yet mention not a word about any conflict between them. Thus, Origen takes…

via Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary — Peter Lorenz’s Blog


Galatians 4.4: Born Under the Law

Redemption Under the Mosaic Law

Jesus was born under the Law for the purpose of redeeming those under the Law (the Jews), and adopting them as children, since they were in slavery under rules of scripture. One reason that the Mosaic Law was given was so that folks would recognize the sin principle inside them. However, the Mosaic Law provided a remedy for sin, by sacrifice, which foreshadowed Christ’s death on the cross. Sin would be confessed with the hands placed on the head of a suitable living animal. The priest would then offer the victim on the bronze altar at the Israelite Tabernacle/Temple Complex. The worshiper would partake of some of that sacrifice which meant they were now at peace with God by sharing this meal. This is how God established a relationship with people in The Mosaic Law (Ps. 50.5). Of course, God chose and knew every person who truly trusted in Him. He gave saving faith and probably regenerated them by the Spirit (but not in the same sense as today). They may have also understood the significance of the sacrifice in their heart but this point is difficult to establish from today’s perspective.

Fulfilling the Law

The Law is good in that it sets God’s holy standard. But it exposes our need since we fail to live up to it. The scriptural commandments could not save us in themselves but instead were a prison of sorts (see Gal. 3.19,22). However, Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and, through faith in Him, Christians are justified. Gentiles were never under the Mosaic Law (see Rom. 3.19). Instead, Gentiles were enslaved to false gods whose worship entailed a similar bondage of performance (Gal. 4.8-9).

Christians are enabled by the Spirit to fulfill the Law’s requirements: Loving God and our fellow humans. This summary  was already delineated in the Mosaic Law and therefore is not a reductionist idea. A special love is also commanded for those in the New Covenant Community which involves helping poor and suffering Christians to some degree today. Some want to extend this care as God’s service to all the poor in the world since salvation is open to all. Of course, Christians should be kind to everyone but the special love as service is only for the family of faith. This idea corresponds to the principle of care of others in O.T. Israel and Jesus’s day. To some degree, this care showed evidence of regeneration. Jesus’s commandment to Christians is still that they love one another (see 1 John 4.19-5.1).

The Promised Seed

The original promise of this seed, who was to finally crush the serpent’s head, was cryptically given as a parable in the sentence upon the spiritual entity behind the serpent who deceived Eve. Gen. 3.15 tells us that this seed would also have his heel pierced which was a death blow from the viper. Rom. 9.5 gives the general reason why God chose Abraham: the physical conduit to bring the Messiah. Through the Messiah all humanity would be blessed.

Earlier in Galatians (3.15-17) Paul tells us that the Mosaic Law could not add a condition to the promise given to Abraham. It was a fixed blessing to Abraham and his seed (Christ). Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Therefore, those of faith in Christ are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

The First and Second Adam

How this blessing came about is explicitly explained in Galatians along with the backdrop of divine revelation. Adam had failed one command and so plunged humanity into sin and death since death was the stated consequence. There were no recorded transgressions by Adam’s subsequent descendants, in a technical sense, before the Mosaic Law was given, yet, everyone died since they derived from, or were in Adam (see Rom. 5.13-14). This is what some refer to as original sin which is acceptable terminology if understood correctly. Jesus was the second Adam and so needed to prove His fitness in keeping a perfect standard. This was one of the functions of the Mosaic Law and provided a promise of (eternal) life, if kept flawlessly (see Gal. 3.12 and Lev. 18.5). Also, Jesus specifically answers the lawyer’s question of obtaining eternal life in Lk. 10.25 cf. v.28).

The Tree of Life

The presence of the Tree of Life in the Edenic Garden constituted the promise of eternal life for humanity but it was withdrawn after the Fall. Though Adam and Eve were redeemed, their descendants would be born separated from God, and, hence, spiritually dead. Each person needs individual redemption. The removal of the Tree of Life was an act of mercy so not to fix them in eternal conscious separation from God. Adam was created mortal; hence, the Tree of Life was in the garden to, presumably, give him immortality upon passing the obedience test. Now, through Christ, who obeyed Moses’s Law, the curse is lifted, since He became a curse for us (Gal. 3.13) and access granted to this Tree of Life along with removal of the curse (Rev. 22.2-3).

John 4.48: Seeing Signs and Miracles

An official from Capernaum had a son who was near death. He had heard that Jesus had returned to Galilee from Judea since Jesus always attended each of the three annually required feasts of the Jews.

This official traveled 15 miles one-way to Cana from Capernaum since this seemed to be a regular place where Jesus met. Cana was near Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and home of Nathaniel. He also was invited to a wedding feast in this town and performed the notable miracle of turning water to wine. Jesus may have had relatives in Cana since he had four brothers and at least two sisters. It is quite possible the celebration was for one of Jesus’s siblings since His mother directed the servant to ask Jesus about the lack of wine for the occasion.

Now, the official asks Jesus to heal his son, but Jesus addresses the crowd since the referent “you” is plural (twice). Perhaps Jesus wanted to test the sincerity of the request instead of going to heal the son. The official asked again, probably earnestly since he believed Jesus when He told him to return and that his son would recover, and when servants met him, they confirmed the time of healing as being the time of his interview with Jesus.

The general rebuke of “unless you see signs and miracles, you will never believe” characterized many insincere followers since they had seen the signs but had not taken them to heart to recognize the significance (see John 6.26). In fact, Jesus had been performing signs everywhere He went. His initial function was to witness to Jewish society the power of God authenticating both His person and mission. This is why he traveled to different towns so more would see His arrival as the time of God revisiting Israel fulfilling the promises. Even John the Baptist was puzzled by the first phase of Jesus’s ministry since, as part of the family of priests, John recognized the role of the Messiah as being a sin offering (probably also as supplanting the first priesthood with the superior Melchizedekian of Ps. 110). John’s first two descriptions of Jesus was: “the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” (see John 1.29, 36). So, when John the Baptist heard of signs such as Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead in the town of Nain, he sent inquiring whether or not He was the Messiah. Though some have interpreted this incident differently, the evidence points to John’s unfulfilled expectation of Jesus’s self sacrifice. However, The Messiah’s Advent was not uni-dimensional but multifaceted since Jesus had to accomplish many things before returning to His Father.

The Pharisees wanted to test Jesus by have Him perform a sign on demand. This is what Jesus was decrying: a self referential type of proof by their own standards. This is what many atheists today want: a sort of testing by the senses of sight, hearing, or otherwise. This is self-referential, an acting like a god, such as if they cannot register the data by their own standards, they reject the presentation. However, would the Pharisees of Jesus’s day or the atheists today be satisfied by a sign on demand? Of course not! They would want more signs and testing ad infinitum. These individuals will pass away, of course, while Christ rules forever.

Finally, the message of Christ is a stumbling block to Jews in Paul’s day as during the time of Christ only a few years earlier. In 1Cor. 1.22, the unbelieving Jews are still demanding a sign, such as their wishful preconception of a Messiah who will conquer for them. In their minds, it’s all about themselves. However, historically, only a remnant of Jews were saved in each era as the O.T. accounts relate. So also today a remnant exists from the Jewish people, those who regard the so-called weakness of Christ in crucifixion as stronger than human strengths (1Cor. 1.25). The Gentiles too only have a remnant since most of them generally think it absurd for God to self sacrifice Himself for humans (notice how many people seek to do or be something as merit), and so too, only a few of them truly accept Christ.


Job Posting Announcement

Again, Steve Hays does a good job illustrating vicarious atonement. He also relates substitution to the principle of asymmetrical agency:


Romans chapter 5 notes the similarities and contrasts regarding aspects of Headship. “Headship” is the theological concept of how humans are both condemned in Adam and justified in Christ. I once had the whole of Romans 5 memorized but now can only recite the first 8 verses. I am working slowly to regain the whole again or at least through verse 11 since its a good exhortation for daily life.

Romans 5 presents the big picture in Paul’s theological treatise to the Christians at Rome. I’ve written before about the Split Headship view which is self evident by merely reading this chapter. Humans have a natural connection to Adam but are represented by Christ in His substitutionary death for us. I want to touch on a connected topic of Headship found in Romans 5: Adam the “type.”

The second and last Adam (Jesus) is, of course, the antitype or fulfillment of the purpose of human creation. Heb. 2.7 tells us that humans were only temporarily created to be lower than the angels. So, how will humans to achieve this higher status? The answer is eternal union with Christ through redemption. Christ’s death was planned before the foundation of the world at probably the first day when, in a metaphorical sense, light was separated from darkness (but possibly before). It seems because the non-elect angels’ positions were forfeited, Christ is now filling those positions with replacements intimately connected with Him. Therefore, job openings are available, so run the race with endurance to claim the prize.

Meticulous Providence

Steve Hays has written a good defense on absolute predestination. His dialogue partner is Leighton Flowers who is a freewill theist. I think its a good apology for what the bible teaches about the ultimate power and sovereignty of God. God’s greatness no one can fathom the bible tells us. Also, David tells us in the Psalms that all his days were determined before David came to be.


Besides God’s greatness He is also absolutely good to His creatures even those who hate Him by their words and deeds. God still causes the sun to shine on the just and unjust alike and also sending the blessings of rain on both of their crops. God will however punish the unredeemed eternally by wiping them out forever. Eternal punishment does not necessarily mean eternal torment, it could just mean ultimate destruction. Jesus speaks to the conditions of Gehenna when saying: “their worm does not die or the fire quenched.” He doesn’t say that those whose end is punishment never cease to exist. In Josephus’ day most religious Jews believed in eternal torment of the wicked after death, he tells us, but this is hardly any proof for the doctrine since Jesus had to correct the generally erroneous teaching of that day. For Christians immediately after the era of the Apostles, several church fathers seemed to believe in the annihilation of the wicked including Irenaeus and Ignatius. Here is a post in which I deal with the final disposition of the wicked:


The concepts of meticulous providence and annihilation of the wicked align well together since if God is teaching His people and preparing them for glory, then it makes sense, in God’s goodness, to destroy the wicked after they are punished for their evil since their purpose has been fulfilled: What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Rom. 9.22-23)

152. “Either Ecumenical or Proselytizer”? No, There is a Better Option — Vatican Files

August 1st, 2018 Proselytism has become a bad word. Like fundamentalism or exclusivism, in today’s religious language, only the negative overtones of the term are retained and are used to convey a derogatory understanding of its meaning. In its original Greek context, the word simply meant “coming closer” to something. In the New Testament, a…

via 152. “Either Ecumenical or Proselytizer”? No, There is a Better Option — Vatican Files

Eccl. 4.2-3: The Three States of Human Existence

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
In this section of Ecclesiastes is taught both the preexistence of humans and their continued state in the afterlife. When God made Adam he saw all humanity in Adam. This is clear for several reasons:
1. In Gen. 3.15 God said two divisions of humanity will inhabit the world until final disposition: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. God determined to save some who are in Christ who is the seed of the woman (please see Gal. 4.4 where Paul says Christ was born of a woman and not of the union of man and woman. There hardly exists any stock phrase to refer to people as “born of a woman” since all are born that way. I believe Paul is saying something more than Christ having a human nature). Subsequent to the Fall of humanity, all who in faith offer a covenant-making sacrifice to God, picturing the substitutionary death of Christ, are forgiven and demonstrate evidence of the fact.
2. Rom. 5.12-14 says that all sinned in Adam and die as a result even though they have no record of wrong doing since no formal law existed. So humanity was contained in Adam and the descendants procreated died physically since they died in Adam when he disobeyed God by listening to the woman who gave him the forbidden fruit. Again, preexistence is a given. Paul says that Christians were formerly “dead” before they turned to Christ in Eph. 2.1. Therefore, all humanity, whether righteous or wicked, were in existence and died in Adam.
3. Eccl. 4.3 mentions those who have not been born. God already knows those yet to be born who have not seen all the evil that occurs in the world.
Present State
Verse one of Ecclesiastes 4 describes the sorry state of man’s predicament in this life and constitutes the second state of human existence. Verse two also speaks of those “still alive.”
The Dead
Finally, the third state of human existence is referred to here in verse 2 as a more fortunate existence since they are free from earthly maladies. Also, Jesus speaks about those righteous resurrected when He refuted the Sadducees saying that all live before God in Luke 20.38. He points out the direct discourse from God in the burning bush when speaking to Moses in the present tense as being the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob who are now in His presence.

Cessationism Proven

Cessationism in Christian theology is the belief that the sign gifts, such as speaking in tongues, have ceased. I offer two main arguments:

I have spoken in tongues once but it was not the biblical gift described in scripture. I was by myself and in an emotional frenzy as a naive and eager new Christian. This happened over 45 years ago and was influenced by supposedly Christian leaders who taught this doctrine of “tongue speaking.” Therefore, I am not in the dark about the phenomenon. This false event can be produced by any emotionally worked up individual it seems and has been reported among many non-Christians. Therefore, it is hardly the N.T. gift where someone speaks an intelligible language they have never learned.

Secondly, Paul gives the purpose for this specific sign in 1Cor. 14.21-25 (The whole chapter should be read to avoid abuses-it is clear that today’s practitioners do not adhere to Paul’s directions). The specific purpose of tongues (real languages) is for a certain class of unbelievers (Jewish unbelievers). This is clear since Paul quotes a section of the O.T. which is specific to the people of Israel and uses the Hebrew “ammim” which is the designation for them, “the people.” The Jews were the people of God and all others were the Goyim, “the nations.”

Paul quotes Is. 28.11-12 to say that tongues fulfills this prophecy in a general sense. Yes, 3000 were added to the church at Pentecost and for sure many elsewhere. However, the nation as a whole did not accept this miracle of the ability to speak an unlearned language as the sign of God’s working by sending the Paraclete.

Notice also that Paul’s hypothetical of vss. 23-25 would fail his initial argument if taken at face value. The unbelievers responded to prophecy not tongues. Paul here is speaking of Gentile unbelievers observing a Christian gathering. No practicing Jew would ever engage in seeking out what they would regard a Pagan assembly. No, Paul went to the Jewish synagogues first to try to reach them and later established churches of both former Jews and Gentiles. Jews always kept separate as a rule from non-Jewish religion during this time frame after the Babylonian Captivity. It was a pedantic type of observance though without any deep analysis of the truth of the gospel.

Therefore, for these reasons, tongues have ceased since roughly the end of the first century when the greater bulk of The Diaspora would have been told of Christ and known about the new reality of the church which overturned society in a way never experienced: the indwelling of Christ in believers through the Spirit.

As a final sub point, church history is eerily silent for tongues after the Apostles’ passing. Therefore, the modern phenomenon, which was so popular in the recent century, was not the biblical sign spoken of in Acts and 1 Corinthians.


How to Sabotage a Bible Study

It’s been a while since I’ve read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis but the message is clear and needs hearing more today than ever. Whatever one may think of C.S. Lewis, his satire was incisive. This sequel from Desiring God site is timely and gives a glimpse of Lewis’ original genius.


“Unworthy to Untie the Sandal”

IMG_0247 IMG_0223 IMG_0222

In five instances the writers of the New Testament refer to John the Baptist’s statement that he was unfit to loose the sandal from the Messiah’s foot. Matthew’s account uses the term “carry” (3.11) which action logically occurs after untying them for the purpose of storage. The other references are found in Mk. 1.7, Luke 3.16, John 1.27, and Acts 13.25.

While observant Jews in Palestine would not participate in the practices of the Roman forces stationed among them, the current foot technology probably was adopted for practical reasons. No biblical prohibition existed dealing with such a mundane need as good footwear. So it seems natural to expect that Israelites would utilize the same approximate technology. Please notice the bucket of scrolls in the last picture which may have been the typical method of storage for written documents.




1 Pet. 3-4 Elaborate Braiding of Women’s Hair

Most Christian readers of the bible are familiar with the discouragement of excessive hair ornamentation from the Apostle Peter. He wanted women in the Christian community rather to display the inward character of meekness and being quiet in spirit. Generally speaking, godly men and women, are to be meek and quiet (contrary to the brazen woman of Prov. 7.11). Men however are called to action at times and so their behavior will be more overt generally.

I recently saw some ancient Roman figurines in a museum which reminded me of Peter’s admonition. These artifacts from Etruria (modern Tuscany and vicinity) show highly coiffured hair from roughly the same period in the Roman Empire.



The Dead Sea Scroll Discovery 70 Year Anniversary and Reflection

Professor Schiffman comments on the Scrolls tremendous advances in understanding Late Second Temple Judaism along with providing the backdrop for Christianity.

He also identifies the Qumran Community as Sadducees (from Zadok Priesthood) rather than Essene which is convincing given that the priests were the primary scribes of scripture and dissemination of biblical teaching to the people. They protested the Maccabean takeover of the Temple when the Hasmonean dynasty was established in 152 B.C.E.

All these advances were impossible before the Israeli Antiquities Authority reorganization and appointment of Emmanuel Tov leading an international and inter-confessional team to begin publishing the bulk of the discovery.


Cities of the Decapolis — Leon’s Message Board

[Leon notes the “retiring ministry of Jesus” a very good point which helps explain a certain phase of Christ’s overall activity]


I’m currently presenting a visualized survey of the Bible, with tonight’s lesson dealing with the Life of Christ. Following Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, He pursued a plan to invest more time alone with the Apostles, preparing them for the great work they were to do. This period is known as the Retirement Ministry, “retiring” from the […]

via Cities of the Decapolis — Leon’s Message Board

University Trip: Sites in the Lower Galilee — Israel’s Good Name

This is a good post by Shem Tov Sasson.

A week after the two-day trip to the Carmel region, I went on yet another field trip offered by my department at Bar Ilan University. Led by Dr Shawn Zelig-Aster, a Biblical scholar, we were taken to a series of historical and archaeological sites around the Lower Galilee, all having a shared theme: the campaign […]

via University Trip: Sites in the Lower Galilee — Israel’s Good Name

A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis — Frame-Poythress.org

Vern Poythress is a math whiz. He received his PhD in math from Harvard. Later, he also earned another doctorate in theology from a university in South Africa. Thankfully, he does not use “clean and scientific” methods to interpret the bible and points to limitations of the empirical approach. The Age of Enlightenment (so-called) features empiricism as its sole governing compass. It is the measure of man. It involves only what a person’s senses register. However, God ordained the laws of the universe as they are. Yes, these laws are stable, at least to the end of the age. God promises it. Therefore, scientific knowledge and the laws of nature do not change (for now). If man believes only what registers in his senses (or other sensors remotely situated), then man is the measure of himself. He is his own god. He is acting autonomously as a god. However, man did not create himself nor does man sustain the created world. This is my Father’s world.

Exegesis is nothing more than bringing out the meaning from a host text to the target language. In the PDF below, Vern Poythress discusses linguistic features which are easy to understand. He illustrates the work of Kenneth Pike and his use of structures which govern linguistics. Pike taught bible translators at Wycliffe. The ultimate meaning of God’s word is not found through mysticism but is anchored in the words written as illumined by the Spirit. This does not involve private interpretations since there is one Spirit given to all believers. There is only one truth. This does not mean unanimity of understanding on all the fine points of the faith. It does mean agreement on the foundational matters. Neither does it imply that all bible mysteries will become transparent to the student. Some end-times mysteries, I believe, will only be known by the generation affected by those events.

This is an easy to grasp essay for an informed layperson. The issues are plain and Poythress writes very clearly.


Vern S. Poythress, “A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis, Illustrated by John 17:3” (PDF), Originally published in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 18 (2016–2017) 142–59. Used with permission. The article is also available at the MJTM site.

via A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis — Frame-Poythress.org

Truth vs. Pagan Revival

Ps. 104.32: [He] who looks on the earth and it trembles,

who touches the mountains and they smoke. (see also Ps. 144.5) 

God, who wrote the bible and set the earth and heavens in order, is the one who (ultimately) causes Kilauea’s eruption. I live on Oahu and love this chain of islands (despite the high cost of living here). About 20 years ago a fellow carpenter tried to get me to buy a lot in the same area that the current eruption is happening. I declined for a number of reasons, one being the current Kilauea eruption that has been taking place constantly since I moved here over 30 years ago (this world has risks wherever one lives).

This latest phase is certainly a destructive one in terms of human property damage. For most of the last 30 years Kilauea has not been so destructive even though the typical daily output of lava was something like three quarter million cubic yards. It was mostly depositing lava upon lava building a mountain of it. Here is a perspective from a pastor in the area (note-Mahalo=thanks):

What Kīlauea Cannot Take

How to Pray for Churches in Hawaii

Article by

Pastor, Pahoa, Hawaii

It is heartbreaking to see the daily destruction happening here in Hawaii. As I write this, three families in my congregation have homes in Kapoho, where the lava is flowing today. They stand to lose six properties total — godly, generous, and sacrificial saints.

Two of my employees at the bakery have been held up at gunpoint. Another man (and customer of mine) hanged himself at the evacuee shelter a few days ago. Just before writing this article, I had to rush outside to break up a fight at my bakery, where our church also meets for worship. One man was holding a chair over his head to smash another man on the ground, a demon-oppressed man I have known for a while. He has strange writing on his face, and is known for starting fights.

While fear, crime, and loss spread, we also have seen much potential for spiritual revival. The churches here have a remarkable spirit of unity, generosity, and partnership. Our political leaders also are eager to work with churches, even allowing prayer tents and more at the county shelters. There has been an uncovering of longtime sins and abuses in the hyper-sexual and drug-infused communities this year, even prior to this event. Our area has a number of hedonistic retreats and “spiritual” centers, along with cults with sordid histories of abuse, which have been decimated by the lava flow. As we hope for the recovery and renewal of all that has been lost, may the Lord grant that the hidden strongholds of abuse do not return again, but are replaced with centers of worship.

Our Promise for the Crisis

We planted Grassroots Church in 2006. Since then, we have faced open demonic activity, as well as the more “normal” spiritual warfare (under the surface of what we can see). We just lost our place of worship to fire in 2017. The spiritual atmosphere here is filled with paganism and new-age spirituality.

The word of God has prepared us for this kind of disaster. The faith of our members is not faltering as the lava spreads — thank God! We are preaching through the Gospel of John and clinging together to the promise Jesus makes to those who abide in him: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

We now have major opportunities to serve in the area of housing and job creation, and that leads to how you can pray for us here on the slopes of Kīlauea.

1. Pray for boldness to witness to the hurting.

We have been given many new opportunities to serve in different roles (government, business, and ministry). Pray for us that we put our greatest commission first. Pray that we love one another well through the crisis, and that we are faithful witnesses by the Holy Spirit to others around us. We are having a number of significant conversations about Jesus because of the devastation here. We are receiving this opportunity as God’s will and praying that we will be ready to share boldly and joyfully about the hope that is in us (John 15:26–27).

2. Pray for strength to persevere in ministry.

This is a time for prayerful and painstaking perseverance. The enemy would love to destroy the church by siege and attrition. We are losing members and losing employees (from my bakery), and so I and others are carrying greater responsibility, through greater adversity. We have reached out for help to “hold up our hands” during this time. Please pray for perseverance and rest through all of this, especially for local church and ministry leaders.

3. Pray for provision and wisdom to move forward.

An amazing amount of people are willing to donate to this emergency, or even to come and help. My hopes are to be of service in the housing and job-creation part of this recovery, which will be an immediate and long-term project. We praise God for his provision so far, and need wisdom to direct funds and labor into the most spiritually fruitful areas and to delegate work well. When the news cameras are gone and the politicians are back in their offices, may God’s people still be serving and speaking of their Savior.

Mahalo for Your Prayers

Our district of Puna is the site of an incredible nineteenth-century revival, as told by congregationalist missionary Titus Coan and others. He also was a witness to volcanic eruptions on our eastern rift, like the one we are experiencing. In Coan’s day, the Hawaiian people eagerly set aside their lesser “gods” at the preaching of the gospel of grace and the effective call of his Spirit. The power of Pele, the volcano goddess, was nothing to Chiefess Kapi‘olani, a Christian convert from the Hawaiian nobility who publicly defied the goddess in the boiling caldera. “Pele is naught,” she said in 1825, as she ascended the crater.

May God again be pleased to sweep this island with gospel awakening, calling his own out of the world to true joy through Christ. May he unite his church in proclaiming the gospel of grace, rescuing many from the lie that we must provide sacrifices for a hungry goddess, to the good news that he has provided the one and final sacrifice for mankind in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Titus Coan said in 1837, “Only let us preach the gospel in living faith, and under the awful pressure of the world to come, and I defy this people . . . to sleep. Why they might as well sleep under a cataract of fire.” We share his burden for the lost people in Hawaii today.

Mahalo — thank you — for your prayers for God’s church and his purposes here.

Delineating the Extent of the Canon (Michael Kruger)


A number of years ago, Albert Sundberg wrote a well-known article arguing that the early church fathers did not see inspiration as something that was uniquely true of canonical books.[1]  Why?  Because, according to Sundberg, the early Church Fathers saw their ownwritings as inspired.   Ever since Sundberg, a number of scholars have repeated this claim, insisting that the early fathers saw nothing distinctive about the NT writings as compared to writings being produced in their own time period.

Just recently, Lee McDonald has repeated this claim numerous times in his latest volume, The Formation of the Biblical Canon, vol. 2 (T&T Clark, 2017), particularly as he responds to my own work.  To be sure, McDonald has done some great work on canon, and I appreciate much in this new volume.  But, I have to disagree with him on this point.

Of course, now is not the time for a full-scale response. But we can (briefly) observe several factors that speak against this idea that the church fathers so their own writings as on par with the apostles.

First, the early church fathers repeatedly express that the apostles had a distinctive authority that was higher and separate from their own.  So, regardless of whether they viewed themselves as “inspired” in some sense, we have to acknowledge that they still viewed the inspiration/authority of the apostles as somehow different.

A few examples should help.  The book of 1 Clement not only encourages its readers to “Take up the epistle of that blessed apostle, Paul,”[2] but also offers a clear reason why: “The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ.”[3]  In addition the letter refers to the apostles as “the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church.”[4]

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, also recognizes the unique role of the apostles as the mouthpiece of Christ, “The Lord did nothing apart from the Father…neither on his own nor through the apostles.”[5]  Here Ignatius indicates that the apostles were a distinct historical group and the agents through which Christ worked.  Thus, Ignatius goes out of his way to distinguish own authority as a bishop from the authority of the apostles, “I am not enjoining [commanding] you as Peter and Paul did.  They were apostles, I am condemned.”[6]

Justin Martyr displays the same appreciation for the distinct authority of the apostles, “For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number…by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God.”[7] Moreover, he views the gospels as the written embodiment of apostolic tradition, “For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.”[8]

Likewise, Irenaeus views all the New Testament Scriptures as the embodiment of apostolic teaching: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”[9]  Although this is only a sampling of patristic writers (and more could be added), the point is clear.  The authoritative role of the apostles was woven into the fabric of Christianity from its very earliest stages.

Second, there is no indication that the early church fathers, as a whole, believed that writings produced in their own time were of the same authority as the apostolic writings and thus could genuinely be contenders for a spot in the NT canon.  On the contrary, books were regarded as authoritative precisely because they were deemed to have originated fom the apostolic time period.

A couple of examples should help.  The canonical status of the Shepherd of Hermas was rejected by the Muratorian fragment (c.180) on the grounds that was produced “very recently, in our own times.”[10]  This is a clear indication that early Christians did not see recently produced works as viable canonical books.

Dionysius of Corinth (c.170) goes to great lengths to distinguish his own letters from the “Scriptures of the Lord” lest anyone get the impression he is composing new canonical books (Hist. eccl. 4.23.12).  But why would this concern him if Christians in his own day (presumably including himself) were equally inspired as the apostles and could produce new Scriptures?

The anonymous critic of Montanism (c.196), recorded by Eusebius, shares this same sentiment when he expresses his hesitancy to produce new written documents out of fear that “I might seem to some to be adding to the writings or injunctions of the word of the new covenant” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.3).  It is hard to avoid the sense that he thinks newly published books are not equally authoritative as those written by apostles.

Third, and finally, Sundberg does not seem to recognize that inspiration-like language can be used to describe ecclesiastical authority—which is real and should be followed—even though that authority is subordinate to the apostles.  For instance, the writer of 1 Clementrefers to his own letters to the churches as being written “through the Holy Spirit.”[11]  While such language certainly could be referring to inspiration like the apostles, such language could also be referring to ecclesiastical authority which Christians believe is also guided by the Holy Spirit (though in a different manner).

How do we know which is meant by Clement?  When we look to the overall context of his writings (some of which we quoted above), it is unmistakenly clear that he puts the apostles in distinct (and higher) category than his own.  We must use this larger context to interpret his words about his own authority.  Either Clement is contradicting himself, or he sees his own office as somehow distinct from the apostles.

In sum, we have very little patristic evidence that the early church fathers saw their own “inspiration” or authority as on par with that of the apostles.  When they wanted definitive teaching about Jesus their approach was always retrospective—they looked back to that teaching which was delivered by the apostles.

Redaction Theory and Roman Catholicism

Roughly speaking, Redaction Theory of the bible holds that one version was given to an earlier group of listeners and then later in the production sequence of copying or editorializing, this message was changed to speak to the issues of the current generation. This concept is wrong because of the repeated and explicit claim that God is intimately concerned and involved in the lives of His people. God knows what the problem is and, despite human creative sinning, the remedy never changes. Redaction theory, at its heart, negates the omniscience of God. Redaction Theory has God changing His mind or worse, the bible is merely the production of humans.

So, how does that square of Roman Catholicism? Roman Catholics believe in the authority of development. They hold to the idea that, over time, the needs of the church changes, and therefore the principles applied to an early group are inadequate to meet the new needs. Catholics believe in a secret oral tradition among the clergy. They will point to 2 Th. 2.15 as their basis for this idea: Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter. (NET)

Since Paul is writing to church (see 2 Th. 1.1) he is not only speaking to the clergy. What Paul says is not only his letters are authoritative for the Thessalonians. This does not mean there were secret oral traditions floating about that only the clergy knew about and enforced. Paul had ministered among them and said things the whole church knew about but were not committed to writing. This was merely a way for Paul to avoid pedantically to repeat himself in written form and not to say a secret tradition floats about among the clergy. Further, in 2 Th. 3.6, Paul mentions the tradition he left with the believers (not the clergy) and he defines it in 3.7f. So, in reality, there is no secret tradition.

Yes, The Roman Catholic Church will point to Christ building the church on Peter as another justification of clerical hierarchy but the text doesn’t say what they affirm. I have written about that text here: https://beliefspeak2.net/the-rock/

Enough of the Clamoring Point Scoring

Retired Professor Larry Hurtado has called for the end of scholarly debates in the biblical sphere. I wholeheartedly agree with his concerns. Many bloggers tend to fall into this trap. Repeatedly, I notice unhealthy obsession to score debate points on a topic or against a favorite opponent. Yes, a Christian needs to stand for correct principles, doctrines (the faith), and associates (other godly Christians). A Christian needs to also stand against evil entities (see Eph. 6. 10-18) and false teachings and teachers. However, a Christian’s walk should be holistic and not eccentric: 1 Thess. 5.23-24-Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.

Dr. Hurtado observes the all-or-nothing nature of debates fails to reveal nuances of these complex studies. He is is a debater himself but refrains so listeners may evaluate the arguments carefully and by merit. Here is his post:


A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates

June 3, 2018

My posting about the publication of the interestingly early fragment of GMark elicited a number of comments, a few of which caused me to wonder about the persons writing them.  One, for example, citing the erroneous claims of a first-century fragment of GMark made in some public fora over the last couple of years, kept alleging these were lies and the speakers liars.

I won’t publish the comment.  For one thing the language of “lying”, “liars” would, in a good many courts, likely be deemed libel.  And if I published the comment I could be judged complicit in the libel.  But also, how does somebody who simply repeats what they’ve been told become thereby a liar?

This kind of vituperation clearly reflects an aspect of what is now called the “culture wars” afflicting the USA.  People on both sides of what they see as the chasm of differences  give no quarter to the other side.  It’s not quite (yet) as crazy as Northern Ireland during the “troubles” in the 70s-80s, but the analogy does come to mind, as far as mindsets are concerned.  North of the 49th parallel and on this side of the Atlantic, it all seems so bizarre.

Part of the problem, I think, is that many American “Evangelicals” unthinkingly link themselves also to so-called “conservative” political and social stances (when, actually, there is no necessary connection  . . . at all).  So if someone appears to affirm some kind of traditional Christian theology, others (who espouse more “liberal/progressive” stances on the social issues) will quickly label him/her as “the enemy”.  And those espousing a “conservative” stance will likewise demonize those who take a different view.

But back to the fragment of the GMark.  The erroneous claims about the GMark fragment were sometimes made in the context of a public debate, which seems to have become a now-staple feature of what passes for scholarly discussion in some circles.  Now, I was a very successful high-school debater (top level in the National Forensic League), and I know how to debate.  But I don’t do debates on issues that are scholarly in nature.  Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed.  It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters.

Why not, instead, have round-table discussions, in which participants of various points of view could air their position, and engage more in dialogue with those of other views?  A round-table (if properly run) allows people to talk to those of other viewpoints.  There’s no win or lose, just an effort to try to understand one another, and, hopefully, clarify issues.  Participants can remain in disagreement thereafter, but a round-table ought to encourage respect (essential) for others, and careful presentations of viewpoints.

Just a thought.

N. T. Transmission: Writing Materials

The New Covenant as stated in Jeremiah would have all followers personally in touch with God (Jer. 31.33-34). This is accomplished by God’s Spirit who, since Christ’s sacrifice, is poured out on believers. The Spirit works to illumine God’s people of the significance of the words and to recall them. Ultimately, the believers needed no one else as mediators of the message and relationship with the Lord. Hence the neighbors and brothers in Jer. 31.33, who seem to refer to the priests and Levites, were no longer needed under Christ’s Testament. Larry Hurtado characterizes the early church as “bookish” which I see as distinctive compared to Second Temple Judaism. Here is a summary of the writing culture and materials which facilitated the study of the texts of the New Covenant.Alex

[This wall painting, which depicts a kingfisher hunting fish in a grove of papyrus, comes from the palace of Akhenaten at El-Amarna on the Nile and dates to about 1350 BC.]

“For does a crop grow in any field to equal this [papyrus], on which the thoughts of the wise are preserved? For previously, the sayings of the wise and the ideas of our ancestors were in danger. For how could you quickly record words which the resistant hardness of bark made it almost impossible to set down? No wonder that the heat of the mind suffered pointless delays, and genius was forced to cool as its words were retarded. Hence, antiquity gave the name of liber to the books of the ancients; for even today we call the bark of green wood liber. It was, I admit, unfitting to entrust learned discourse to these unsmoothed tablets, and to imprint the achievements of elegant feeling on bits of sluggish wood. When hands were checked, few men were impelled to write; and no one to whom such a page was offered was induced to say much. But this was appropriate to early times, when it was right for a crude beginning to use such a device, to encourage the ingenuity of posterity. The tempting beauty of paper is amply adorned by compositions where there is no fear that the writing material may be withheld. For it opens a field for the elegant with its white surface; its help is always plentiful; and it is so pliant that it can be rolled together, although it is unfolded to a great length. Its joints are seamless, its parts united; it is the snowy pith of a green plant, a writing surface which takes black ink for its ornament; on it, with letters exalted, the flourishing corn-field of words yields the sweetest of harvests to the mind, as often as it meets the reader’s wish. It keeps a faithful witness of human deeds; it speaks of the past, and is the enemy of oblivion. For, even if our memory retains the content, it alters the words; but there discourse is stored in safety, to be heard for ever with consistency.”

Cassiodorus, Variae (XI.383-6)

When, in the first century AD, Pliny wrote about papyrus in his Natural History, it already had been the most common writing material in the ancient world for three millennia (indeed, the word “paper” itself derives from the Latin, papyrus). In Book XIII, he describes how papyrus is made, “since our civilization or at all events our records depend very largely on the employment of paper” and it is the thing upon which “the immortality of human beings depends.” Native to the Delta marshes of Egypt, the tall papyrus reeds were cut and peeled, and the fibrous pith split into thin strips, which were laid on a flat, wet surface, first vertically and then horizontally. Pressed or pounded together, the crushed fiber of the two layers bonded to form a sheet of papyrus, which was dried in the sun and polished smooth with ivory or shell. These sheets then were pasted together along the grain, each one overlapping the one on the right so that the nib of the pen would not catch where they were joined. The result was a long roll or charta, a term that came to signify any form of paper, whether written or unwritten.

The manufactured papyrus roll, relates Pliny, comprised no more than twenty sheets (about fifteen feet). The book roll or volumen (from volvere, to roll), on the other hand, could be as long or short as needed, but tended to average thirty to thirty-five feet (sufficient to contain a single book of Thucydides). The standard way of reading was to unroll (explicare, “to unfold”) the scroll with the right hand, while winding the portion that had been read back up with the left. To give the roll stiffness and to prevent bending, it was wound around a wooden or ivory rod, or around rollers, forming a cylinder that could be handled by the projecting knobs on the ends. Often, too, another sheet of papyrus (protocol) was attached at the front to protect the roll when wound. The outside usually was left blank, although Pliny did bequeath to his nephew, Pliny the Younger, one hundred and sixty rolls on which both sides had been written (opisthograph). Finally, a tag or titulus, written on a separate piece of paper and affixed to the roll, identified its contents.

The best quality papyrus came from the center of the stalk, which Pliny categorized as Regia or Augusta, and increasingly inferior grades from the outer layers. The size of the sheet was determined by the length to which the horizontal strips could be cut and still remain strong. Wide sheets were considered best, a sheet of XIII digiti. As well as width, which in the Roman period normally was four to nine inches, papyrus was esteemed for its fineness, thickness, whiteness, and smoothness. Pliny goes on to say that Claudius had the outer layer made with stronger fiber, keeping the best grade only for the writing surface and, on that account, it had come to be preferred.

The earliest description of the scroll is by Catullus (XXII), who chides another poet for not having used an erased sheet to compose his rustic verse but writing instead on polished carta regia in new book rolls with ivory handles wrapped in red parchment and tied with red thongs. Ovid also describes the roll, lamenting his exile from Rome.

“You shall have no cover dyed with the juice of purple berries—no fit colour is that for mourning; your title shall not be tinged with vermilion nor your paper with cedar oil; and you shall wear no white bosses upon your dark edges. Books of good omen should be decked with such things as these.”

The roll was stored upright in a book-box (capsa), horizontally on a shelf, or in a pigeonhole. If particularly valuable, it could be placed in a chest or wrapped in a protective sleeve of parchment and tied with thongs. An author’s work very often would require several rolls, which would be kept in the same book-box. It was these physical limitations—the length of the papyrus roll and the number of rolls that could be stored together—that tended to define the divisions of literature.

Typically, the papyrus roll allowed for columns (paginae) eight-to-ten inches high, containing between twenty-five and forty-five lines, with margins of about half an inch between them and wider margins at the top and bottom. Column width varied but tended to be narrow (between two and four inches), so that, to be read, no more of the scroll would have to be unrolled than necessary. Words seem to have been separated, usually by points (interpuncts); and some marks of punctuation were used, although they tended to be arbitrary. (In the second century AD, in a revival of archaism and renewed interest in writers of the early Republic, the Romans adopted the Greek model and wrote without word division.) Text was written in capitals (majuscule).

Pen and ink were used: the pen (calamus) made from a trimmed, split reed, or sometimes from a thin sheet of bronze or copper rolled to approximate the same shape; the ink, which was kept in an inkwell (atramentarium), from a mixture of carbon soot, resin, wine dregs, and cuttlefish ink. At the beginning of the second century AD, a brownish ink also was derived from iron and tanning compounds that was more suitable for parchment. It was possible to rub the writing surface at least partially clean and use the sheet again. These palimpsests often are the only form in which some classical works have been preserved, still discernible beneath the later sermons or saints’ lives written over them.

Papyrus was expensive, and for casual correspondence, such as drafts or notes, student lessons, and even legal and official documents, the wooden writing tablet or tabula cevata was used instead. The leaves of the tablet, which were fastened together with a thong or clasp, had a recessed surface filled with colored wax that could be inscribed with a bronze or iron stilus, one end of which was flat so the wax could be smoothed and used again. Tablets with two leaves (diptych) were common, but became impractical if too many were added. A wall painting from Pompeii shows a young woman holding a tablet with four leaves, although no examples have been discovered with more than ten.

Wooden leaf tablets of birch or alder saplings also were used for writing. So thin that they could be stitched together and even folded, a cache of these wooden slips, written with ink, has been found at the Roman outpost of Vindolanda in Britain, near where Hadrian’s Wall later would be built.

Although the papyrus roll continued to be used, it was not ideal. The material, itself, was durable (Pliny marveled at having seen documents written on papyrus two-hundred years earlier) but constantly being unrolled and rolled back up again caused abrasion and, even though writing only on one side of the page reduced the problem of wear, it was inefficient and made the roll that much more cumbersome to store. Author and title were indicated at the end of the text (colophon) and so were less vulnerable to damage when the roll was rewound, but this made it more inconvenient to identify the contents (there was a tendency, too, for the titulus to fall off). Since the individual sheets of the roll were seamlessly joined, lines and columns were not uniform but varied in length and size. Nor were they marked, which made citation difficult and often inaccurate.

Throughout antiquity, vellum, or parchment as it was later known, had been used as an alternative to papyrus (parchment usually refers to the treated skins of cattle, sheep, and goats; and vellum to that of younger animals). The skins were soaked in lime and scraped, stretched and dried, rubbed smooth with pumice, and cut into sheets which then could be sewn together. Although Pliny is mistaken in saying that parchment was invented at Pergamon because of an embargo on the export of papyrus from Alexandria, it is true that a shortage may have forced the library there to convert to the use of parchment, at least temporarily, or to have refined its manufacture.

Eventually, in an important innovation, the Romans substituted parchment for the wooden leaves of the tabula to form the notebook (membranae), which was the prototype of the modern book. Parchment was folded in half to yield a gathering (or quire) of two leaves or four pages, one-half the width of the original (folio). Folding the sheet again gave four leaves or eight pages (quarto); and yet again, eight leaves or sixteen pages (octavo), which was the size of most notebooks. Papyrus also could be used to make books, but the sheets were not large enough to be folded more than once, which meant that a papyrus book had to be formed from a number of single-sheet quires.

Stitched together and protected by a cover, the parchment notebook was used for accounts, notes, drafts, and letters. The earliest evidence for its literary use is the poet Martial, who, writing toward the end of the first century AD, commends the new form to an unaccustomed public: “Assign your book-boxes to the great, this copy of me one hand can grasp” (I.2). Because of its resemblance to a block of wood, the tablet came to be called a codex. There is a similar association in the Latin word for book (liber), which originally meant “bark.” So, too, the Greek name for the papyrus plant, biblos, came to mean the roll made from it, then “book,” and ultimately, the Bible.

And yet, the practical advantages of the codex in terms of size and convenience and the better, more durable protection offered by its covers were not, by themselves, sufficient reasons to replace the papyrus roll. That impetus came from the early Christian church, which adopted the form of the codex to differentiate its writings from the sacred books of Jewish scripture (which could be copied only in the format of the roll) and from pagan literature, which also was equated with the roll. More importantly, the codex permitted longer texts, such as the Gospels, to be contained within a single volume and to be referred to more easily. Although papyrus continued to be used by official scribes and copying houses and for literary production, as was the wooden tablet for more ephemeral material, by the second century AD, a shift from papyrus roll to parchment codex was evident. By the fourth century AD, Christianity had triumphed, and the codex replaced the roll, just as, in time, parchment replaced papyrus.

It was a development in the history of the book as monumental as the invention of printing a thousand years later.

References: “Book Production” by Susan A. Stephens, in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean (1988) edited by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger; The Birth of the Codex (1983) by Colin Roberts and T. C. Skeat; Cambridge History of Classical Literature (1982) edited by E. J. Kenney and W. V. Clausen; Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome (1951) by Frederic G. Kenyon; Ancient Libraries (1940) by James Westfall Thompson; The Oxford Classical Dictionary (1970) edited by N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard; Pliny, Natural History (1960) translated by H. Rackham (Loeb Classical Library); Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (1990) by Bernhard Bischoff; Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature (1991) by L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson; Cassiodorus: Variae (1992) translated by S. J. B. Barnish; “Ancient and Medieval Accounts of the ‘Invention’ of Parchment” (1970) by Richard R. Johnson, California Studies in Classical Antiquity3, 115-122.


Key Concepts from Leviticus in the Book of Hebrews

David Moffit traces correspondence in themes from the *law of the sacrifice* in Mosaic Literature to the New Testament “Hebrews.” Here, in this post, Peter Leithart reviews Moffit’s book. Leithart observes that the typology *of the law of the sacrifice* which has atonement (at Yom Kippur) occurs not at the animal’s death, but when its lifeblood is presented in the most holy place. It is because of the “life” (see Lev. 17.11) symbolically in the animal’s blood that completes the picture. While the animals were types, Jesus, in His resurrected and tangible body, presents the saving blood in heaven, not at the cross. This portrait, which Moffit paints and Leithart observes, is convincing and cuts the ground out from spiritulizers who think Jesus’ resurrection and ascension occurred only in His spirit.

A note about the (my) designation: “law of the sacrifice.” I want to point out to readers, when they think of the Law of Moses, that they picture the remedy as well as the commandments (rules and regulations). The content of the Mosaic Law deals much more with picturing the remedy than setting regulations for the common people (i.e. not the priesthood). The details of the Tabernacle, and later temples, along with the priesthood and various animal sacrifices occupies much more space and attention than the peoples’ obligations of keeping the rules in commandments. This is why Jesus could affirm: “In the [whole] roll of the book is written about me”- please see John 5.39 and Lk. 24. 27,44, also, especially Heb. 10.7-9 where the sacrifices are in view.


The Eternal Generation of The Son – By Lee Irons


The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son has fallen on hard times. The majority report among evangelical and Reformed scholars seems to be that the doctrine is speculative, a vestige of the Hellenistic modes of thought by which the fathers of the Nicene age were unfortunately encumbered. Such famous theologians as Calvin, Warfield, and Van Til all questioned the traditional language of the Nicene creed and attempted to reformulate the doctrine in a way that would avoid any hint of the Son’s being derived from the Father. [1]

The motive behind this reformulation may seem laudable. The doctrine of eternal generation has been called into question in the interests of maintaining the Son’s absolute, ontological equality with the Father. Yet, ironically, it was this same concern that moved the church fathers to stress the doctrine in the first place. Hilary of Poitiers, commenting on the term “consubstantial” (homoousion) in the Nicene creed, writes:

Is not the meaning here of the word homoousion that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be begotten with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source. [2]


What was the exegetical basis of this patristic doctrine that the Son’s nature is derived from the Father? Were the fathers correct in their handling of the biblical data? How should we conceptualize this eternal generation – as a communication of essence, or merely of personal properties? And if this doctrine is Scriptural, how do we harmonize it with Calvin’s concern to uphold the aseity of the Son? These are the questions I wish to examine in this paper.

Traditionally, the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son was supported by an appeal to the five Johannine texts in which Christ is identified as monogenes (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I Jn 4:9). As early as Jerome’s Vulgate, this word was understood in the sense of “only begotten” (unigenitus), and the tradition was continued by the Authorized Version. However, most scholars of this century reject this understanding and believe, instead, that the idea behind the word is more along the lines of “only” (RSV) or “one and only” (NIV) [3]. One of the main arguments is that the –genes suffix is related to the verb ginomai rather than gennao, thus acquiring the meaning “category” or “genus.”

Unfortunately, this argument requires a selective reading of the evidence. It ignores the wealth of lexemes that have the –genes suffix. After searching Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on CD-ROM (a comprehensive collection of all extant Greek literature up to the 6th century AD), my estimate is that there are approximately 120 such words in the Greek vocabulary. Of these, 30% are not listed in Liddell and Scott, but the lexicon’s glosses of 55% contain such words as “born” and “produced.” For example, neogenes is glossed as “newly produced,” and theogenes, “born of God.” A mere 11% involve meanings related to “kind” (e.g., homogenes means “of the same genus”), while the remainder of usages have miscellaneous meanings. The sheer preponderance of the evidence would indicate that monogenes in the Johannine literature could very well mean “only begotten.” At least, it cannot be ruled out on the basis of etymology. [4]

If this meaning is now considered a very live possibility, then an inspection of some of the Johannine texts will render that possibility all the more likely. In the first text monogenes is used as a substantive: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). In the second text, I follow the textual variant found in the Bodmer papyrus, dated c. 200, and other ancient manuscripts: “No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God, who is in the Father’s bosom, has made him known” (v. 18). The NIV completely misses the point (“God the One and Only … has made him known”), for it is not the fact that the Son is the only God (as opposed to another god) but the fact that he is begotten of God (and thus truly God) which enables him to make God known. On balance these passages provide strong support for the interpretation “only begotten.” [5]

Further support may be marshaled from I John 5:18, which, though it does not use the word, shows that John taught that the Son is begotten of God: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who is born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.” It seems reasonable to suppose that “the one who is born of God” is the Son of God. Some follow the textual variant “keeps himself” and see this as referring to the believer. However, this would lead to a redundant statement. It seems likely that John is pointing to the similarity between two sonships – that of the believer and that of Christ. Christ, of course, is the Son by nature, and we are sons by grace. But the point is that the ontological Son of God will protect the adopted sons of God from the evil one. Although it would be dangerous to make too much out of the different tenses (aspects) used, the distinction may be signaled by the fact that the believer is ho gegennemenos of God (perfect), while Christ is ho gennetheis(aorist). Be that as it may, the fact that the verb gennao is used in this context at least suggests the idea of generation. It also adds credibility to the traditional etymology of monogenes (mono + gennao) by providing at least one text where gennao is used in reference to Christ’s sonship.

Some have felt that the New Testament interpretation of Psalm 2:7 (“You are my Son; today I have begotten you” – a traditional proof-text) requires that the begetting of the Son be seen as occurring in time – at his resurrection (cp. Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). However, I would suggest that the historical begetting of the Son (at the resurrection) is organically related to and, in fact, founded upon the eternal begetting. If we take it as a given that the Son was always the Son even before his incarnation, then those passages which speak of the resurrection as the moment when he was “designated (or appointed) the Son of God in power” (Rom. 1:4) cannot be pressed into the service of a conclusion which would contradict the eternality of his sonship. However, neither would it be permissible merely to ignore or suppress them.

What do these passages mean, then? My suggested solution is to take note of the request of Christ to his Father: “And now glorify me, Father, in your presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (Jn 17:5). There is continuity between the primeval, pre-incarnate glory of the Son and his redemptive historical, resurrection glory. The Son was raised from the dead and designated to be the Son of God in power, because he was the eternal Son of God. Thus, only the Son of God could rightfully have been “begotten” on the day of his resurrection, that is, anointed as the Messianic king (II Samuel 7:14 shows that the “begetting” of Psalm 2:7 is not an ontological generation but a functional appointment to kingship). The eternal generation of the Son is ontological, while the historical generation is redemptive historical; but the latter is appropriate only because the former is a reality.

Having thus seen some of the biblical data which compels us to affirm the eternal generation of the Son, let us examine more carefully what we mean by it. First, it should be obvious that we are using an analogy from human experience to describe something about the eternal, immutable God. Clearly, then, the manner in which a human father begets a son differs significantly from the manner in which the Father begets the Son. For one thing, in human begetting, there is a time when the son does not exist; but in the divine original of which the human begetting is but a pale reflection, there never was a time when the Son did not exist (pace Arius). Furthermore, human begetting involves a mother and a father, whereas the Son is begotten of the Father alone. And a human father’s begetting is a free and voluntary act, while the Son’s filiation is an eternal and necessary act. Otherwise, the Son would be a contingent being, but no contingent being is divine. Athanasius wrote:

Nor is the Son’s generation like a man’s from his parent, involving His coming into existence after the Father. Rather He is God’s offspring, and since God is eternal and He belongs to God as Son, He exists from all eternity. It is characteristic of men, because of the imperfections of their nature, to beget in time; but God’s offspring is eternal, His nature being always perfect. [6]


So with all of these vast differences between human and divine begetting, wherein lies the point of analogy? Just as a human father communicates his essence (humanity) to the son, so the Father communicates his essence (deity) to the Son. In the words of Turretin:

As all generation indicates a communication of essence on the part of the begetter to the begotten (by which the begotten becomes like the begetter and partakes of the same nature with him), so this wonderful generation is rightly expressed as a communication of essence from the Father (by which the Son possesses indivisibly the same essence with him and is made perfectly like him). [7]


However, not all Reformed theologians agree on this point. For instance Calvin argued, “Whoever says that the Son has been given his essence from the Father denies that he has being from himself.” [8] Thus, Calvin teaches that the Father is the source of the Son’s person but not of his deity. The Son is autotheos (God-of-himself), that is, the Son’s divine essence is not derived from the Father but from himself. What are some of the arguments for this view? Calvin’s main argument is that Christ, the Son of God, called himself by the name, “I AM.” And since that name implies self-existence, the Son’s deity must be of himself. Hodge thinks “this argument is conclusive.” [9]

But is it really? In John 8 (the locus classicus for Jesus’ claim to that divine name), we read this interesting statement: “So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM. And I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.'” (vv. 28f). If self-existence and filial subordination are incompatible, then why does Jesus seem to expound “I AM” in terms of his being taught of, sent by, and pleasing to his Father? It is clearly his relationship of dependence upon his Father that Christ wishes to highlight.

Hodge adds another argument: derivation of essence is not essential to the concept of sonship. When the Bible declares that the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity is that of a Father and a Son, the point of this analogy is not communication of essence but a peculiar relationship of reciprocal affection. However, it would be more accurate to say that both aspects (communication of essence and relationship of love) seem to be involved. An example of the former can be seen in that well-known passage, John 10, where Jesus makes the astounding claim, “I and my Father are one” (v. 30). Several verses later Jesus restates his initial claim in different words: “I am the Son of God” (v. 36). Thus, the title “Son of God” and the claim “I and my Father are one” seem to mean the same thing. There is an ontological and not a merely social (or relational) element in Christ’s claim to be the Son of God.

Let us return to Calvin’s argument for a moment. Assuming that both are true, how do we harmonize the aseity of the Son with the doctrine of eternal generation? If the Son is eternally generated by the Father, then he is a derivative being, dependent on another for his existence. It would seem inescapable, therefore, that he is no longer a se. How are we going to resolve this dilemma?

Calvin attempted to resolve the problem by claiming – as we have seen – that the eternal generation of the Son only implies a communication of the personal property of Sonship, not a communication of divine essence. If the latter were the case, then, Calvin assumed, the deity of Christ would be a derived deity and hence no true deity at all. By making the Son’s generated-ness a personal rather than an essential property, he thereby sought to eliminate the idea of derived deity. Calvin’s concern to affirm the Son’s autotheotes (his God-of-himself-ness) is thus in the interests of maintaining his full ontological equality with the Father (homoousion).

Turretin agreed with Calvin that the true deity of Christ necessarily dictates that the Son be autotheos. Yet Turretin also taught that the eternal generation of the Son involved a communication of essence. Thus, Calvin’s solution was not open to him. So Turretin resolved the problem by asserting that aseity is properly attributed to the Son’s divine essence not to his person. The Son has the divine essence from itself as God but not from himself as Son. The eternal generation of the Son involves a communication of the divine essence to the Son from the Father, not the generation of a new essence. As a result the Son’s divine essence, which flows from the person of the Father, is not derived from another essence and is therefore a se.

Although the Son is from the Father, nevertheless he may be called God-of-himself (autotheos), not with respect to his person, but essence; not relatively as Son (for thus he is from the Father), but absolutely as God inasmuch as he has the divine essence existing from itself and not divided or produced from another essence (but not as having that essence from himself.) [10]


Turretin goes on to point out that this generation is not to be understood as the divine essence generating another divine essence (for that would involve tritheism), but as the person of the Father generating the person of the Son in a manner that involves the communication of essence.

I want to argue that Turretin’s solution is better than Calvin’s, because it maintains the full deity and autotheotes of the Son without having to give up the key doctrine of eternal generation. For in spite of that doctrine’s susceptibility to being misunderstood (as if it implied that the Son were a lesser “god” than the Father on the chain of being), it actually functions as the linchpin of Trinitarian orthodoxy. The logic at work here is captured in the words of Robert Dabney:

In a word, the generation of the Son, and procession of the Spirit, however mysterious, are unavoidable corollaries from two facts. The essence of the Godhead is one; the persons are three. If these are both true, there must be some way, in which the Godhead multiplies its personal modes of subsistence, without multiplying its substance. [11]


Without the notion of an eternal generation to “multiply” the essence of the Godhead, not substantially but hypostatically only, it is impossible to maintain any differentiation of equally-divine persons within the one, undivided substance of the Godhead. (Admittedly “multiply” is a horrible word-choice, but I cannot think of another more suitable.)

It would appear that Turretin’s view involves something of a paradox: the notion of derived deity. Although this may be perceived as a problem for the view maintained here, several comments can be made to help alleviate the tension. First, let us not forget that this is a paradox embraced within the Nicene Creed itself. The Son’s divine essence is from the Father, as the Nicene Creed says, “God of (ek) God.”

Second, such language is unavoidable in any sound doctrine of the Trinity. For we do not maintain that there are three divine beings, but one God in three persons. Were we to argue that the three persons of the Godhead each had aseity in the sense that each had its own divine essence independently of the other two, would we not be committed to tritheism? If so, then we cannot escape the notion that these three hypostases must be related to one another in a way that involves dependence or derivation. But then derivation is the opposite of aseity. On the one hand, we must affirm that each of the three persons has the same divine essence, or that each of these persons subsists within the unity of the Godhead. And since that divine essence in which all three share must be underived (a se) if it is to be truly divine, we are thereby forced to conclude that all three hypostases share in that quality of aseity. But on the other hand, we must avoid saying that they have that quality of aseity independently of the others. Otherwise we are committed to three, independently a se, divine beings. Thus we say that they share in the quality of aseity, just as they share in the one undivided divine essence.

But the mode of that sharing is eternal generation for the Son and eternal spiration for the Spirit. It would appear to be unavoidable, therefore, to assert the paradoxical notion of a divine person whose derived deity partakes of the quality of being underived! The Son’s divine essence is not from himself, yet that essence is not from another essence but from the Father, such that the Son’s essence is a seand from the Father at the same time. Hence, the Son derives the divine attribute of inderivity (aseity) from the Father! May I remind you that this odd language is strikingly similar to the teaching of Jesus himself, “Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Recall my appeal to John 8:28f against Calvin’s argument. I noted that the claim “I AM” is found in a context that emphasizes the Son’s submission to the Father. Once again, then, we see that there is no ultimate conflict between the two ideas: it is precisely because the Son does and says nothing on his own initiative (i.e., because he is totally dependent on his Father) that he can claim aseity. The Son is God-of-himself because he is the only begotten God.

Note, however, that we do not have a formal contradiction, because derive is being used in two different senses. When we affirm that the Son is derivative, we refer to the communication of divine essence from the Father to the Son in the act of eternal generation. When we deny that the Son is derivative, we are claiming that the divine essence as possessed by the Son is not derivative from any other essence outside itself.

This is Turretin’s solution. Even if a residual feeling of discomfort remains, I can’t see any other way of reconciling the two doctrines of eternal generation and the autotheotes of the Son that remains faithful to the total teaching of Scripture on this subject.

If Calvin’s view that the generation of the Son involved only the communication of personal properties is correct, then it would be fair to ask, “What are those personal properties?” He certainly would not be able to use the language of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity” (WLC # 10). But were Calvin to attempt to find any other language that would distinguish the three persons, he would be going beyond Scripture. Therefore, it is necessary for us to affirm that the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit involve the communication of the divine essence. The mode of communication (generation or procession) is the only characteristic that is proper to each person. As to the difficult question of what constitutes the difference between generation and procession, I would rest content with saying that generation is from the Father, while procession is from the Father and the Son (filioque). To go beyond that is to go beyond Scripture.

Having looked at the exegetical and theological justification of the doctrine of eternal generation, we return to the thought with which we began. Eternal generation, far from detracting from the Son’s ontological equality with the Father, actually provides its most profound logical ground. The original Creed of Nicea (325) appeals to the Johannine monogenes in support of the Son’s consubsantiality with the Father:

And [I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father as only begotten, that is, of the substance (ousia) of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father …


The key sentence here is “begotten of the Father as only begotten.” It is clear that monogenes is a precision further defining gennethenta, which clearly implies that the framers of the creed interpreted the Johannine monogenes in the traditional sense as deriving from gennao. [12] But, what is more, the word order of the Creed of Nicaea (which is not reflected in the revision of 381 at the Council of Constantinople) undeniably indicates that the fathers at Nicaea understood this generation of the Son to involve a communication of the divine essence, for the very next clause reads, “that is, of the ousia of the Father, God of God, etc.” Therefore, the fathers of Nicea seem to have believed that the biblical teaching regarding the generation of the Son (as indicated by the term monogenes) was powerful evidence that he is homoousios with the Father!

John 1:18, which speaks of Christ as “the only begotten God,” strongly supports the Nicene position that the Son’s being begotten of the Father demonstrates his co-equality and consubstantiality with the Father. Note the context: “No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God, who is in the Father’s bosom, has made him known.” How is the incarnate Word able to make the invisible God known? Because he is essentially God (cp. Jn 14:7). John expresses the essential, ontological identity of the Father and the Son by calling the Son “the only begotten God.”

In fact, it may very well be that John’s monogenes theos is the ultimate textual source of the famed homoousion clause. Hilary of Poitiers, though he wrote after the Council, cites John 1:18 in defense of the Nicene terminology:

And so God Only-begotten (monogenes theos), containing in Himself the form and image of the invisible God, in all things which are properties of God the Father is equal to Him by virtue of the fulness of the true Godhead in Himself. [13]


To conclude, the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, understood as involving the communication of the divine essence, is not only the historic position of the church, but it is a biblical doctrine essential to an orthodox formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.


[1] B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Calvin and Augustine, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1956), pp. 189-284. Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, n.d.), p. 101. Van Til depends heavily on Warfield’s interpretation of Calvin. However, it should be noted that Van Til’s position is more radical than Calvin’s.

[2] Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis 84.

[3] Dale Moody defends the RSV’s translation of monogenes in “God’s Only Son: The Translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version,” Journal of Biblical Literature 72 (Dec. 1953) 213-19. Richard N. Longenecker goes to bat for the NIV in “The One and Only Son,” in The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation, ed. K. Barker (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), pp. 119-26.

[4] Those who use etymological considerations to support their revisionist exegesis would do well to remember that arguments from usage are far more relevant than arguments from etymology. James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961). A comprehensive study of the usage of monogenes supports the traditional translation. John V. Dahms, “The Johannine Use of Monogenes Reconsidered,” New Testament Studies 29 (1983) 222-32.

[5] For more on the textual variants in John 1:18, see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), pp. 169-70.

[6] J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Fifth Edition (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978), p. 244.

[7] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. I (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992), pp. 292-93.

[8] Calvin, Institutes I.xiii.23.

[9] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), p. 467.

[10] Turretin, vol. I, p. 291.

[11] Robert Dabney, Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), p. 209.

[12] A precision is a word which further defines and interprets another word to which it is in grammatical apposition. Oskar Skarsaune, “A Neglected Detail in the Creed of Nicaea (325),” Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987) 34-54.

[13] Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate XII.24.

Trinitarian Theology

In his inaugural lecture as professor of systematic theology, Scott R. Swain defends the traditional view of the interrelations of the members of the Divine Trinity over the minority views of Calvin and Warfield. The recent debates about subordination of The Son in blogs and other media generated much more heat than light and as a result obscured the issue for many and left some wondering about the nature of God’s relation with the Son and Spirit. The bible clearly, I believe, affirms The Son’s subordination in the economic and immanent spheres.  Christians say that God is a unity of three persons who share the same essence. This is not three independent gods who are autonomous and operate apart from each other, rather, three persons in concert fulfilling one will. The essence of “freedom” and “independence” within the Godhead would be absurd since the members are inherently united. Of course an element of mystery remains which prevents complete explanation as in other biblical and philosophic questions. However, with Paul, we can affirm: Yet to us one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we (live) for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we (live) through Him. – 1 Cor. 8.6



B. B. Warfield’s 1915 ISBE article on the Trinity presents the Princeton theologian’s mature thinking on the biblical bases and meaning of the doctrine and offers a revisionist interpretation of the personal names of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit.” Instead of interpreting the personal names of the Trinity in terms of relations of origin, Warfield argues that the personal names only signify likeness between the persons. The present article locates Warfield’s revision within its immediate and broader historical contexts, critically engages Warfield’s proposed revision, and discusses the importance of a traditional interpretation of the personal names for Trinitarian theology.


Does God Need Justifying?

Theodicy is an attempt by theologians and philosophers to show God as being good and providential despite the evil and attending suffering that pervades human existence. The bible calls Christians to be ready to “give answer” why they are buoyant with hope to enquirers who ask, but never teaches to try to prove God’s existence. A well known proof text is Rom. 1.19: because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them (NET). Therefore, despite protestations from skeptics, they really know enough about Him already.

It is instructive to note the practice of the Apostolic witnesses since they were foundational (Eph. 2.20). The late Martin Hengel, writing about the prologue in John’s Gospel and the incarnation, notes:

Like the whole apostolic testimony, John knows no theodicy – the incarnation replaces it. God does not need justification; his only justification is that of the sinner because of the vicarious sacrifice of Christ: therefore the Word of God must become man.


Probable First Script of the Bible (Genesis)

The British Museum has an enlightening story about cuneiform tablets. Although the topics are mundane, the article exposes the relative ease of detailed communication 4000 years ago, even from school children to their parents. The Book of Genesis, it is clear, was written originally in cuneiform by the presence of “toledots” (toledoths). Here is an article detailing the connection: http://www.talkgenesis.org/genesis-toledoth-mystery/
The link to the British Museum story appears at the end of this post.
Trade and contraband in ancient Assyria


Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, I have to confess: I read people’s private papers. In my defence, I have to say that any secrecy on these papers was lifted a few thousand years ago. These are not even made of paper but were shaped out of clay 4,000 years ago by travelling merchants along the roads of Mesopotamia and Anatolia.

Around 1900 BC, the kingdom of Kanesh and the city-state of Ashur, in modern-day Turkey and Iraq respectively, enjoyed a deep and special partnership against a backdrop of trade agreements and the circulation of goods and people.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Old Assyrian merchants, as we call them, exported textiles and tin to Anatolia to be exchanged for silver, gold and copper. This was one of the first long-distance trading enterprises. To facilitate this trade, it was common for merchants to move from Ashur to Kanesh. There they settled more or less permanently in the lower town, forming what we could recognise as an expat community.

To sustain their long-distance activities, the merchants needed to communicate. 4,000 years ago, the most efficient and fastest information sharing devices were inscribed tablets. Shaped out of clay by hand, tablets were impressed with a stylus while the clay was still soft. Once dried out, they were wrapped in a sheet of clay bearing the names of the sender and the addressee – in other words, an envelope.

Archaeologists have found 23,000 of these tablets, from a period of about 150 years. The many letters merchants sent and received offer us a glimpse of what life would have been like in those days. Having spent the last year studying these tablets, I have got to read some of their stories and it is always a thrill to sit down in the Museum’s study room and to walk down memory lane, albeit further down than I usually would.

First person accounts

What I love most about Old Assyrian letters is their spontaneity. The introduction formula is kept to a minimum, ‘from so-and-so to so-and-so say this’, then comes the message in the first person. The message typically contains instructions from one merchant to his trading partner about the forthcoming shipment: the types and quantities of goods, their unit price and the applicable exchange rates, practical arrangements for the caravan and its staff in terms of accommodation and subsistence, even including the fodder for the donkeys.

Sometimes, the message has a more peculiar substance. While reading a letter of instructions sent by Buzazu to his trading partners, I discovered that he said:

Let them [the transporters] bring the tin via the narrow track [smuggling route] if it is clear. If not, let them make small packets of my tin and introduce them gradually into Kanesh, concealed in their underwear. 

In this letter Buzazu actually cancels the smuggling operation after the situation had changed and was no longer favourable. Yet we are left wondering about the hows and whys of trade and contraband, not to mention the practicalities of concealing ingots of metal in one’s underwear.

Rule makers and rule breakers

The agreement struck between Kanesh and Ashur regulated the activities of the trade in terms of authorised or prohibited goods as well as in terms of taxes to be applied to transactions. For example, iron – a rare and expensive metal costing up to 7 times the price of gold – and the lapis lazuli extracted from distant Afghanistan were sold under state monopoly.

Mirroring these regulations, a system of contraband was set up, either to avoid paying the relevant taxes or in order to trade restricted products. Thanks to the letters they wrote, we know of some of the taxes Old Assyrian merchants were supposed to pay: transport and import taxes upon arrival in Kanesh, tolls and duties on goods and persons en route and an export tax upon departure from Ashur.

Where there is a will there is a way, and for smugglers this was the ‘narrow track’. Going through the mountainous paths of Anatolia, merchants got around some of the taxes by taking a detour away from authorised routes and checkpoints. Lacking the protection offered on official routes, the journey was more perilous, exposed to wild beasts, highway thieves and a harsh climate.

Smuggling also meant fooling the customs system either by not declaring taxable goods or by making a partial declaration. Along with the underwear trick elaborated by Buzazu, the merchants’ letters describe various ruses, whether that meant paying off the guards or hiring mules among the locals who would have known the place inside out.

As lucrative as it may have been, smuggling was still illegal and convicted smugglers would have faced sanctions ranging from cash penalties to house arrest and jail. We know of the case of the merchant Pushu-ken, whose house was raided and found with smuggled goods, leading to a jail sentence for contraband. Despite the risks, merchants remained keen to smuggle, as we can read in Ishtar-pilah’s plea to Pushu-ken:

You are my colleague! Just as you send an order for your own goods to be smuggled, do also send one for my goods. 

A family affair

Funnily enough, Pushu-ken happens to have been the father of Buzazu. Old Assyrian trade was a family business and we can still read the correspondence between Buzazu and his relatives: his mother Lamassi, his sister Ahaha, his brothers Sueyya, Ikun-pasha and Ashur-muttabbil.

Sueyya, the eldest son, grew up and went to school in Ashur while Pushu-ken had already settled a thousand miles away in Kanesh to oversee the activities of the family firm. One of the most touching letters was written by the young Sueyya to his father, boasting about his learning of cuneiform and demonstrating it with neat and careful writing.

The tablets written by Old Assyrian merchants are their private papers, recounting in the first person what they did, what they wish they had done and what they shall do, in life and business alike. So whenever I am asked what I do for a living, I have to confess: I listen to people’s accounts of their lives in their own words. I read the tablets they wrote 4,000 years ago, fascinated by the stories of the life they lived. And what a life they led!


Find out more in this curator’s corner video:



The Impersonal Deity of Unitarians

by Steve Hays
Have you ever noticed the enormous emphasis on social ethics in Islam and Rabbinical Judaism? Jewish philosophers are generally social commentators and existentialists. They don’t focus on God the way Christian philosophers and theologians do. To the extent that they talk about God, it’s God as the source of morality. Same thing with so much Islamic discourse.
In that regard it’s not coincidental that Islam and Rabbinical Judaism are militantly unitarian. Anti-incarnational.
Because the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is not an essentially interpersonal being, because the idea of a divine Incarnation is inimical to their theology, the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is very abstract. Inscrutable. Ineffable.
The result is to collapse the vertical dimension of religion to the horizontal dimension. We’re reduced to immanence. Human relationships. That’s because a unitarian Deity isn’t very relatable. From above, he creates and sustains a moral and metaphysical framework. And that’s about it. A unitarian Deity isn’t very engaging, approachable, or sociable–unlike an Incarnational, Trinitarian Deity. A religion of rules that never rises above human social dynamics. A unitarian Deity can be a benefactor, but not a friend or father.