Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Thunder In John's Writings As An Indicator Of Authorship

Mark 3:17 tells us that Jesus referred to the sons of Zebedee as Sons of Thunder. To my knowledge, thunder is referred to several times in the New Testament, and the only references outside Mark 3:17 are found in the writings attributed to John the son of Zebedee (John 12:29, Revelation 4:5, 6:1, 8:5, 10:3-4, 11:19, 14:2, 16:18, 19:6). And many of those references could easily have been avoided. John is describing multiple details about something, and the thunder aspect could easily have been left out. He's describing what something sounded like, and he could easily have compared it to something other than thunder. Or he could have just not included the passage to begin with. Even where a reference to thunder seems too difficult to avoid once a particular passage is being included, we still have to ask how easily the passage could have not been included. There's the issue, for example, of why God chose to reveal himself in the context of thunder so much in the book of Revelation. That seems more coherent if the recipient of the revelation was the son of Zebedee. For reasons like these, I don't think the prominence of thunder in John's writings can be dismissed merely by an appeal to necessity, as if anybody writing in such a context would have needed to refer to thunder. If these documents were authored by the son of Zebedee rather than some other John or were intended to be perceived as authored by the son of Zebedee without his having written them, then that helps explain the prominence of thunder in the documents. It's a further line of evidence against views like Richard Bauckham's, in which some other John was the author or purported author.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Honoring The Dead

We're often too shallow in our concept of friendship and too forgetful of the dead. Jerome on loving and honoring deceased believers:

"to me, the same religious duty applies to friends who are both present and absent, both men and women, who are now sleeping in Christ, that is, the love of souls, not of bodies." (in Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], p. 820, section 18:1 in the commentary)

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Forgotten In This Life, But Not In The Next

There's a passage in Ecclesiastes about a man who saved a city, but was forgotten:

"Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, 'Wisdom is better than strength.' But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good." (9:13-18)

Augustine made a somewhat similar observation:

"From the blessing of the two sons of Noah, and the cursing of the middle son, down to Abraham, or for more than a thousand years, there is, as I have said, no mention of any righteous persons who worshipped God. I do not therefore conclude that there were none; but it had been tedious to mention every one, and would have displayed historical accuracy rather than prophetic foresight." (The City Of God, 16:2)

A lot of other examples could be cited. Most of what we have in modern Bibles (and other modern editions of ancient documents) is based on manuscripts produced by unknown individuals. Much of the patristic literature comes from unknown sources (The Didache, The Epistle Of Barnabas, The Letter To Diognetus, The Apostolic Constitutions, etc.). And so on.

I think this is part of how we'll see the fulfillment of Jesus' comments on how the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30). The forgotten in this life won't be forgotten in the next life. It's another reason to not have much concern about your social status in this life.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The Structure Of Life

People are born into a family, and they're surrounded by a larger culture (other relatives, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, people on television, people in books, etc.). From their earliest years onward, they're surrounded with those two contexts (the family and the larger culture). They think, talk, make their plans, and so on with those two contexts in mind. Christians should be intervening in people's lives to get them to be more concerned about God, above their concern for family and above their concern for the rest of the culture. God is superior, he deserves to be of more concern to us, and the family and the culture wouldn't exist and wouldn't have hope for the future without him.

Given the nature of life and how so many people err so much in the direction of neglecting God while giving too much attention to the family and the rest of the culture, we should adjust our efforts accordingly. Family issues, career issues, and such should be addressed within the framework of the primacy of God, and the tendency of people to overestimate the former while underestimating the latter needs to constantly be kept in mind.

Often, opposition to a Christian view of the family comes from a minority of the population, even if it's a large minority, an unusually vocal one, or something like that. Even when the opposition represents a majority, that majority often simultaneously overestimates the family in other contexts. I've mentioned before that the Pew Research Center has found that when asked where they find meaning in life, Democrats cite the family more than Republicans do. Just because a group is anti-family in some contexts, that doesn't prove that it isn't overestimating the family in other contexts. And the pro-family response to anti-family movements can go too far in the pro-family direction. There's a reason why Jesus repeatedly addressed the need to love him more than you love your family. There was a lot of fornication, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, polygamy, etc. in Jesus' day. He addressed those issues while simultaneously recognizing the primacy of God, telling people that loving God is the foremost commandment, and recognizing that the same culture that had so many anti-family characteristics also needed to repeatedly be warned about overestimating their family. And much the same can be said about other issues in life (careers, healthcare, etc.).

One of the reasons why I'm bringing these things up is that a lot of Christians (and Jews and others who should know better) don't seem to be giving these subjects enough thought. I frequently hear people who should know better commenting on how nothing in life is more important than the family (or your health or whatever), how the biggest issue of our day is the family or some kind of anti-family movement in our culture, people saying a lot about their family while saying far less about God than they ought to, etc. A lot of this seems to involve peer pressure, since people know that it's so popular to give a lot of attention to something like your family, your career, or health issues, whereas it's unpopular to say much about God. But we should be going against the peer pressure rather than going along with it. And the peer pressure wouldn't exist if there weren't so many people holding these false ideas and pressuring others to go along with them.

"The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity." (Luke 8:14)

Sunday, April 07, 2024

The Christopoulos/Dillahunty Debate On Jesus' Resurrection

Than Christopoulos and Matt Dillahunty recently debated the resurrection. Than made a lot of significant points in his opening remarks, which Matt didn't interact with much. As you listen to Matt, keep in mind that objecting that there isn't more evidence doesn't explain the evidence you have. And keep in mind that offering equal or better alternative explanations of the evidence Than appealed to would be an effective way of demonstrating that Than's case is as bad as Matt suggests it is, yet Matt didn't do that. The more often you ignore the evidence cited and appeal to agnosticism, the less of a position you're in to use the sort of language Matt used to describe the evidence for the resurrection: "pretty weak", "bottom of the barrel", "the weakest evidence", "the worst possible evidence", etc.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

My carriage is broken!

"Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead. 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22)….Picture this life as a journey on your way to receive a spectacular inheritance. It will protect you from idolatry and make all your burdens lighter, and quiet all your murmurings. Here's the way the old John Newton put it: 'Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, 'My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!'" (John Piper)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Why were the early sources so confident about gospel authorship attribution?

A neglected aspect of the evidence for the authorship of the gospels is how much more prominent the authorship of the gospels was than the authorship of other documents. And that greater prominence suggests that the early sources' gospel authorship attributions have greater significance.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The King Is Here, Dispensing Favors

"And after rebuking the other [thief on a cross], he [the repentant thief] says, 'Lord, remember me; for with Thee is my account. Heed not this man, for the eyes of his understanding are blinded; but remember me. I say not, remember my works, for of these I am afraid.'...Therefore also he justly heard the words, 'Be of good cheer'; not that thy deeds are worthy of good cheer; but that the King is here, dispensing favours. The request reached unto a distant time; but the grace was very speedy. 'Verily I say unto thee, This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise; because today thou hast heard My voice, and hast not hardened thine heart. Very speedily I passed sentence upon Adam, very speedily I pardon thee. To him it was said, 'In the day wherein ye eat, ye shall surely die'; but thou today hast obeyed the faith, today is thy salvation. Adam by the Tree fell away; thou by the Tree art brought into Paradise.'...O mighty and ineffable grace! The faithful Abraham had not yet entered, but the robber enters! Moses and the Prophets had not yet entered, and the robber enters though a breaker of the law. Paul also wondered at this before thee, saying, 'Where sin abounded, there grace did much more abound'. They who had borne the heat of the day had not yet entered; and he of the eleventh hour entered. Let none murmur against the goodman of the house, for he says, 'Friend, I do thee no wrong; is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? The robber has a will to work righteousness, but death prevents him; I wait not exclusively for the work, but faith also I accept. I am come who feed My sheep among the lilies, I am come to feed them in the gardens. I have found a sheep that was lost, but I lay it on My shoulders; for he believes, since he himself has said, 'I have gone astray like a lost sheep'; 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.''" (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13:30-31)

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Everlasting Giver

"Jesus asked at the Last Supper, 'Who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves' (Luke 22:27). And so it will be to all eternity. Why? Because the giver gets the glory. Christ will never surrender the glory of his sovereign grace. 'Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything' (Acts 17:25). He created in order to have beneficiaries who magnify his bounty. And he will bring history to an end as the everlasting Giver. From beginning to end his aim is the same: 'the praise of his glorious grace' (Ephesians 1:6)." (John Piper, Seeing And Savoring Jesus Christ [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004], 115)

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

More Miracles On Video

I wrote a post on the topic a few years ago. As the Ted Serios case discussed there illustrates, we've had video footage of miracles for a long time. I occasionally come across more examples.

Elsewhere, I've discussed the UFO videos released to the public in recent years. Stephen Braude recently did another interview with Jeffrey Mishlove, which addresses some of the paranormal cases Braude has investigated. In the interview, he discusses some recent table levitations captured on video. Go here to watch an earlier interview with Mishlove that showed some photographs and video of table levitations. The segment here about Ariel Farias includes some video footage. Jimmy Akin recently discussed the evidence for animal telepathy, including some video of the phenomena. See here and here for a couple of relevant sections of his program. These are just some examples. I'm not trying to be exhaustive.

We need to keep in mind that the skeptical claim that we don't have good evidence for any miracles, sometimes even taking the form of claiming that miracles are never caught on video, was a weak objection from the start. And it's been getting weaker with the passing of time.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Paul's Familiarity With The Other Resurrection Witnesses

Last year, I wrote about the significance of the details mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6 regarding the appearance to more than five hundred. Something else worth noting is that Paul's comments elsewhere corroborate the idea that he was closely following the lives of the other resurrection witnesses. Think of his comments in Galatians 1-2 about visiting other apostles, spending a lot of time with them, and coordinating his efforts with theirs. Or his discussion of the sufferings of the apostles in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13. Or his discussion of the practices of the apostles when traveling in 1 Corinthians 9:5. Or his reference to how they were all proclaiming the same message, a comment he makes shortly after 1 Corinthians 15:6, in verse 11.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Why don't the gospels have Jesus anticipating Paul?

It's often suggested that later Christians attributed words and actions to Jesus that advanced their later theology, preferences, and so on. The Jesus of the gospels is at least largely a fabrication of later Christianity.

There are a lot of ways to respond to that sort of claim. What I want to focus on here is a counterexample that doesn't get as much attention as it should. The Jesus of the gospels doesn't anticipate Paul. He doesn't address the controversies surrounding his apostleship, his not having been with Jesus "from the beginning" (John 15:27; see, also, Acts 1:21-22), etc. We don't just see controversies surrounding Paul in his letters, but also in other sources (2 Peter 3:15-16, first- and second-century heresies that opposed Paul).

Think of Luke especially. He thought highly of Paul and says a lot about him in Acts. But Jesus doesn't anticipate Paul in Luke's gospel. To the contrary, he highlights the significance of having twelve apostles (Luke 22:28-30), and the opening of Acts even has a set of requirements for apostleship that would exclude Paul (1:21-22).

This sort of refraining from reading Paul back into the gospels (and the earliest portions of Acts) is even more significant when interacting with critics who allege that Paul created Christianity, radically redefined it, or something else along those lines. If later Christianity was shaping the gospels and the earlier portions of Acts as much as critics often suggest, you wouldn't know it from looking at the relationship between those documents and Paul.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

What communities did the early Christian documents come from?

1 Corinthians 15 often comes up in the context of Easter. A lot of attention is given to the state of the Corinthian church at the time, what circumstances Paul was addressing there, and so on. But we should keep in mind that a document sent out involves at least two communities. In addition to the community in the location the document is sent to, like Corinth, we should also think about the community in the location the document came from.

1 Corinthians seems to have been written by Paul while he was in Ephesus. So, in addition to his expectation that the Corinthians would be familiar with the resurrection appearances he mentions in 1 Corinthians 15, there's also a likelihood that the Ephesians would have heard about those appearances in the context of Paul's composition of 1 Corinthians. To the extent that they'd heard about the appearances before then, the circumstances surrounding Paul's letter to the Corinthians would have reinforced what the Ephesians had heard previously. And they would have had opportunity to get further information from Paul about the appearances and related matters.

Look at 1 Corinthians 16, all of the individuals and multiple churches mentioned there ("the churches of Asia" in verse 19, etc.). Or look at the similar comments in other New Testament (and extrabiblical) letters.

We should think of at least two communities when considering a document like 1 Corinthians. That's true not just with regard to the contents of the document, but also other issues involved, like authorship and genre. That means a larger number of people, accordingly, would have been well informed about such issues from the start. It's not as though a matter like who wrote 1 Corinthians, the gospel of Matthew, or 1 Peter, for example, would have been well known only to the author and the original recipients of the document. There likely would have been at least two communities who were well informed from the beginning. These documents were a means of informing multiple groups, typically groups that were some significant distance apart geographically. So, there was some diversity built into the circumstances at the outset. For more about topics like these, see here.