Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Problem Of Ignorance Of The Church Fathers

"Far too many Evangelicals in the modern day know next to nothing about these figures [the church fathers]. I will never forget being asked to give a mini-history conference at a church in southern Ontario. I suggested three talks on three figures from Latin-speaking North Africa: Perpetua, Cyprian, and Augustine. The leadership of the church came back to me seeking a different set of names, since they had never heard of the first two figures, and while they had heard of the third name, the famous bishop of Hippo Regius, they really knew nothing about him. I gave them another list of post-Reformation figures for the mini-conference, but privately thought that not knowing anything about these figures was possibly a very good reason to have a conference on them! I suspect that such ignorance is quite widespread among those who call themselves Evangelicals" (Michael Haykin, Patrick Of Ireland [Scotland: Christian Focus, 2017], 9-10)

That ignorance causes major problems in interactions with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, atheists, Muslims, and other people whose beliefs and practices are highly relevant to the church fathers. The situation isn't as bad everywhere as Haykin's experience in Ontario, but it doesn't have to be so bad in order to be a significant problem.

I wrote an overview of how to study the church fathers several years ago. And I'll have more to say about the earliest fathers later this week.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Marcion's Corroboration Of Lukan Authorship

Given Marcion's high view of Paul and low view of the other apostles, his acceptance of the gospel of Luke while rejecting the other gospels makes the most sense if Marcion thought the third gospel had a close connection to Paul.

Concerning Marcion's corroboration of the authorship attributions of the other gospels, see here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Beloved Disciple's Galilean Interests

I recently finished reading Lydia McGrew's The Eye Of The Beholder (Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021). There are portions of the book in which she interacts with Richard Bauckham's arguments that the author of the fourth gospel was a disciple of Jesus named John, but not the son of Zebedee, one who lived in Jerusalem and didn't travel much with Jesus. You can read Lydia's book for a lot of good responses to Bauckham's case. I want to highlight some points here that I don't recall seeing in Lydia's book. But some of my points are closely related to hers, and I may be forgetting some of what she said.

Monday, April 05, 2021

A Good Discussion Of Many Resurrection Issues

Last week, Jonathan McLatchie did a question and answer session with Tim and Lydia McGrew on Jesus' resurrection. A lot of issues came up during the discussion, and it's worth watching.

You may also want to occasionally check Lydia's YouTube channel for updates, since she keeps adding new videos, like her recent ones on the historicity of the fourth gospel.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Hope Cherished By The Nations

"And it is in Him, too, we already see the concluding expression of the prophecy fulfilled: 'In His name shall the nations hope.' [Isaiah 11:10, Romans 15:12] And by this fulfillment, which no one can deny, men are encouraged to believe in that which is most impudently denied. For who could have hoped for that which even those who do not yet believe in Christ now see fulfilled among us, and which is so undeniable that they can but gnash their teeth and pine away? Who, I say, could have hoped that the nations would hope in the name of Christ, when He was arrested, bound, scourged, mocked, crucified, when even the disciples themselves had lost the hope which they had begun to have in Him? The hope which was then entertained scarcely by the one thief on the cross, is now cherished by nations everywhere on the earth, who are marked with the sign of the cross on which He died that they may not die eternally." (Augustine, The City Of God, 20:30)

Thursday, April 01, 2021

How To Begin Studying The Enfield Poltergeist

Different people have different interests, so I'll recommend a broad range of resources. You can choose which ones are best under your circumstances (e.g., what sort of balance of written, audio, and video resources you want).

It's helpful to have some background information on poltergeists in general, so you could start with a Psi Encyclopedia article that provides an overview of the subject. A good book on the topic is Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists (United States: White Crow Books, 2017).

I wrote an article that outlines some of the evidential issues involved in evaluating the credibility of witnesses. It provides many examples from the Enfield case.

It's good to know the layout of the house where most of the activity occurred. You can find an image of a floor plan online here. Look over it before you start studying the case, and have it on hand to consult when needed. If you want a paper copy, you can print the one just linked or find it in the first edition of Guy Playfair's book mentioned below. The latest edition of the book, which I'll be recommending below, doesn't have the floor plan.

After you've consulted however much of that background material you're interested in, watch this BBC television segment from November of 1977 as an introduction to the case. It's about twelve minutes long.

The best documentary is one that aired on BBC Radio on December 26, 1978. The host, Rosalind Morris, was an eyewitness of some of the events, she interviews a lot of other eyewitnesses, and they're given a lot of time to speak. It's the earliest and most accurate of the documentaries, and it doesn't have the bad reenactments and sensationalism of later ones.

If you want a video documentary, start with Interview With A Poltergeist, which came out in 2007. Another one aired on the Paranormal Channel the following year. It's not as good, but each has some strengths the other one doesn't have.

I've written tributes to four of the most important figures in the case. Those tributes will give you a lot of information about those individuals, their involvement in the case, and their credibility: Peggy Hodgson, Maurice Grosse, Guy Playfair, and John Burcombe. Those posts provide a lot of biographical information and references to other sources you can consult, but the posts aren't biographies. They're tributes that focus on the individuals' involvement in the Enfield case. Though the post on Peggy Hodgson is the longest, it's the one you should read if you only want to read one of them. She's the most important witness in the case, and she's often been underestimated and misrepresented.

The two books to get on Enfield (as opposed to poltergeists in general) are Guy Playfair's This House Is Haunted (United States: White Crow Books, 2011) and Melvyn Willin's The Enfield Poltergeist Tapes (United States: White Crow Books, 2019). Read them in that order.

For an introduction to skepticism about the case, you could start with Anita Gregory's review of Playfair's book mentioned above ("This House Is Haunted, An Investigation Of The Enfield Poltergeist", Journal Of The Society For Psychical Research, vol. 50, 1979-80, pp. 538-41). You can access the article at the Library of Exploratory Science site. Other skeptical overviews have been written by Joe Nickell and Deborah Hyde, among others. You can listen to a 2017 edition of the MonsterTalk podcast to hear from a few skeptics discussing Enfield.

If you want to research the case further, see my series of posts here. That material goes beyond an introductory level (e.g., discussing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's audio tapes recorded during their investigation of the case; addressing Anita Gregory's doctoral thesis, which covers Enfield). I reference a lot of articles, books, videos, and other resources along the way, so you can find many more sources to consult there. The page just linked includes descriptions of some of the contents of each post, so you can use Ctrl F to search for what you're interested in, in addition to using a search engine.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Garden Of Suffering For Our Joy

"Every time we walk in a garden I think we ought to recollect the garden [of Gethsemane] where the Saviour walked, and the sorrows that befell him there. Did he select a garden, I wonder, because we are all so fond of such places, thus linking our seasons of recreation with the most solemn mementoes of himself?" (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Contrasting Ordinariness And Extraordinariness Of The Risen Jesus In Luke

I've often referred to the significance of the ordinariness of Jesus' body in the resurrection accounts in the gospels and Acts (e.g., here). An especially striking example is what we see in Luke's writings. The ordinariness of Jesus' resurrected body comes between the glorious appearance of the angels in Luke 24:4-5 and the gloriousness of Jesus' resurrected body after the ascension in Acts 9:3 (see, also, 26:13-14). Luke recognized the significance of that sort of impressive appearance and wanted to highlight it in passages like the ones I just cited. But he doesn't refer to Jesus as having had such a body prior to the ascension. Instead, he and the other gospel authors describe Jesus' pre-ascension resurrection body in more ordinary terms. That's best explained as a historically accurate memory of what was experienced with Jesus after he rose from the dead, a memory that was contrary to common expectation and reflects significant restraint on the part of the early Christians. We see that in sources other than Luke as well, but what's significant about Luke is how Jesus' ordinariness there contrasts so much with the extraordinariness of the appearance of Jesus and other figures in the nearby context.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Beloved Disciple, A Fisherman

I've addressed this subject in the past, but Lydia McGrew has a fuller and better treatment of it in her new book on the fourth gospel:

Then there is the story of the disciples rowing across the Sea of Galilee…According to John 6.19, it was "about twenty-five or thirty stadia," which is simultaneously more precise than the Synoptics and also not hyper-precise. It is, in fact, just what one would expect from someone who was there, was capable of estimating distance under the unpropitious circumstances of a storm at night, and had a mind that tenaciously retained such details.

The mention of the Sea of Galilee relates to another matter: The Beloved Disciple does not seem to be a landlubber. Not only does he know multiple names for the Sea of Galilee (6.1), he has a good idea of how far the disciples had rowed when they were about halfway across it. Even more striking, when Peter decides in 21.3 to go fishing, the Beloved Disciple is one of six who immediately decide to go with him. While a normally stay-at-home Jerusalem disciple [like the one proposed by Richard Bauckham] probably would have traveled to Galilee to meet Jesus after the resurrection (cf. Matt. 28.10), it does not follow that he would jump at the chance to stay up all night fishing in Peter's boat [John 21:3-4]. Why would he? A "Beloved Disciple" from Jerusalem who was neither the son of Zebedee nor a traveler would presumably not be a fisherman and would have no particular reason to go on such an expedition. The disciples are not planning to see Jesus on this particular occasion nor expecting a miraculous catch of fish. They're just going fishing. It seems a reasonable inference from all of this that the Beloved Disciple was familiar with and comfortable on the Sea of Galilee, and even perhaps that he was familiar with fishing, which again does not fit well with the hypothesis that he was a non-itinerant Jerusalem resident. (The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 146-47)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Where To Begin In Discussions Of Gospel Authorship

I've become increasingly convinced that Luke 1:1-3 is a good place to start in discussions about gospel authorship. Luke refers to his use of prior sources in the opening of his gospel, and the written nature of his own work makes it unlikely that he's referring only to oral sources. (To read more on the subject, go here.) There's widespread agreement that Luke used at least one of the other canonical gospels as one of his sources. And once two or more gospels of such prominence were in use, there would be a need to distinguish among them in libraries, when using them during church services, and so on. We have a lot of evidence that the gospels were distinguished in such contexts by means of authorship attributions from the second century onward. And continuity is more likely than discontinuity. It makes more sense that the gospels were distinguished by means of author names in the first century than that they weren't. That scenario better explains the widespread acceptance of the practice later and the absence of any comparable or better alternative. If somebody is going to argue that the gospels circulated anonymously early on, he should be asked how he thinks the pre-Lukan documents Luke refers to in the opening of his gospel were distinguished from one another (the pre-Lukan context) and how Luke's gospel was distinguished from those other sources (the context from the time of Luke onward).

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Unusual Agreements In Terminology In Easter Passages

Peter Williams has noted that there are some Easter passages in the Synoptics and John that have some unusual language in common. Jesus addresses his disciples as "my brothers" in Matthew 28:10 and John 20:17. The gospel of John doesn't repeat what the Synoptics reported about Jesus' comments on letting the cup pass in the Garden of Gethsemane, but John does have Jesus referring to drinking the cup in 18:11 (Can We Trust The Gospels? [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2018], approximate Kindle location 1782).

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Hearing And Touching The Resurrected Jesus

Discussions of the resurrection appearances tend to focus on seeing Jesus. The tradition of referring to them as appearances is one factor, and there are other reasons for the focus on sight. People tend to value sight above the other senses. Paul focuses on seeing the risen Jesus when addressing his apostleship in 1 Corinthians 9:1, and other resurrection passages similarly emphasize sight (e.g., Mark 16:7, John 20:18). For these and other reasons, discussions of the resurrection appearances are often highly focused on the visual aspect of the encounters, often inordinately so. Critics of Christianity have an interest in simplifying the accounts, as if only a visual experience needs to be explained. And you sometimes come across the claim that only Luke and John refer to people touching the resurrected Jesus, with the suggestion that such details were fabricated in later accounts. The allegedly more developed nature of Luke and John's material is cited as evidence for the evolution of the gospels over time. What I want to do in this post is address some neglected evidence for the involvement of other senses, namely hearing and touch, in the encounters with the risen Jesus.

I'm going to discuss why we should think the resurrection appearances likely involved hearing and touching even if some or all of the resurrection accounts in the gospels and Acts are rejected. Those accounts shouldn't be rejected, and we and others have argued for that conclusion in depth elsewhere. But it's significant that the concept that the resurrection appearances only involved sight doesn't hold up well even under highly skeptical views of the material in the gospels and Acts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Another Reason Why A Resurrection Body With Wounds Wouldn't Be Fabricated

I've written about the significance of how Jesus is portrayed as having retained his crucifixion wounds after his resurrection in the gospels of Luke and John. Here's another reason why the early Christians are unlikely to have made up such a detail:

"They [critics of resurrection] also make eager use of all the deformities and blemishes which either accident or birth has produced, and accordingly, with horror and derision, cite monstrous births, and ask if every deformity will be preserved in the resurrection. For if we say that no such thing shall be reproduced in the body of a man, they suppose that they confute us by citing the marks of the wounds which we assert were found in the risen body of the Lord Christ." (Augustine, The City Of God, 22:12)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Neglected Evidence For The Empty Tomb

Disputes over the historicity of the empty tomb usually focus on the gospel accounts. But there's a lot of evidence outside the gospels that should get more attention.

Notice the number and variety of contexts in which Christians were interested in Jesus' burial long before the gospels were written: prophecy (Isaiah 53:9), creeds (1 Corinthians 15:4), theology (1 Corinthians 15:36), ceremonies (Romans 6:4), tracking the location (the tradition behind the Holy Sepulchre site). And notice that these contexts involve more than the mere fact that Jesus was buried. If the empty tomb tradition that's so widely attested from the time of the gospels onward isn't the same tradition that was of such early and widespread interest to Christians before the writing of the gospels, then where is that earlier tradition? Did it universally disappear and get universally replaced by what we see in the gospels? Continuity is more likely than discontinuity. For more about these pre-gospel sources, see here.

The letters of Peter also contain some material that tends to be neglected in this context. See here regarding those letters.

Justin Martyr provides some evidence that's typically not discussed. He not only refers to Jewish corroboration of the empty tomb, as Matthew's gospel does, but also cites a first-century Jewish source in the process. And he refers to how the empty tomb was corroborated not only by the earliest Jewish opponents of Christianity, but also by pagans. For a discussion of all of this material in Justin, see here.