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

Genesis 1.2 The Fall of Evil Angels

In the beginning God Created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was topsy turvy. Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day”, and the darkness he called ” night.” And there as evening, and there was morning – the first day. (Gen. 1.1-5 NIV)

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. (1Th. 5.5)

Gerald Bray, in his massive book “God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology” sees the angelic fall sometime after the creation of matter in Gen. 1.1. Bray remarks that since God is revealed as perfect and orderly the resultant state of creation in Gen. 1.2 speaks of chaos. The Hebrew tohu wa-bohu has no meaning in itself and the ancient Hebrew sages regarded it as a rhyming meaning like the English: topsy turvy. This concept aligns well with the idea of a recreation culminating in Adam who was created as a type and who would need redemption. Paul tells us that Adam was created as a tupos. Here are several English translations of Rom. 5.14: Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. (NET) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him that was to come. (ASV) Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. (NIV) Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. (NRSV)Heb. 4.4 indicates that God’s works were finished on the seventh day of this recreation. Christ’s sacrifice was determined before the foundation of the world as were the redemption of those in Adam chosen by Christ as scripture clearly reveals.God chooses Abraham through whose seed (Christ) would provide redemption.Part of Abraham’s inheritance was the land which promised eventual eternal life in the new heavens and earth. The nation of Israel comprised both those who knew the Lord and those who did not so it could never have been perfect. The land with its miraculous provisions of sustenance foreshadowed the coming new Eden. The Kingdom Age after Christ’s return will show even greater blessings than the previous time of the Davidic Kingdom but seems still to foreshadow the eventual new earth.All of these recreations and interventions where God chooses new servants and teaches them His ways seems for the purpose of filling positions forfeited by the fallen angels of Gen. 1.2. They caused a chaos and creation is still in a topsy turvy condition until God eventually brings many into glory. Three gospels records the incident where Jesus describes the state of the resurrected: Mt. 22.30, Mk. 12.25, and the fullest account in Luke 20.35-36: But those who are considered worthy in taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry or be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. (NIV)While readers of scripture do not have all the answers to life’s mysteries this schema based on revealed truth may indicate the big picture of God’s purposes. It also reveals the depth of God’s love in Christ along with His infinite patience to those whom He has chosen.

A Trinitarian Basis for Reforming Our Approach to Meaning in Greek Exegesis —

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 —

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:

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:
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.

The Virtue of Intolerance

by Jim West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Hurtado Reviews “Mary Magdalene:” The Film

March 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(picture credit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Weighing the Identity Options of “The Isaiah Inscription”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pushback against Source Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

Archer says,

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

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

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

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

But let’s clear the air for a moment.

Scriptural Source Criticism:
Explicit Sources

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

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

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

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

Implied Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mosaic Authorship: Traditional View

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

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

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

Presentation of Moses in the Torah

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

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

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

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

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

Moreover, the book of Numbers writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Torah Actually Describes
Moses Writing Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dating the Torah: Long after Moses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial Comments about
Post Wilderness Period Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluating Authorship
without Special-Pleading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Reflection:
Liberal and Conservative

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

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

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

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

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

The Pentateuch With and Without
Source Criticism

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shema: Dt. 6.4-5

The Shema (Hear!)

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

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

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

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

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

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

Scholasticism and the Gospel – John Frame

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


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

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

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

Metaphysical salvation is impersonal; ethical salvation is utterly personal.

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Wallace Corrects Pope Francis

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


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

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

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Matthew 6 in Codex Sinaiticus

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

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

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

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

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

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


(2)       What is the nature of translation?

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

Brief history of English translations

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

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

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

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

All translation is interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord’s Prayer and translation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

John Frame on Philosophy and Theology

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



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

via Biblical Personalism: Further Thoughts on Scholasticism and Scripture —

Illumination of Scripture

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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