Thursday, November 30, 2023

Early Christian Orations On Christmas

I don't remember how I came across it, but here's a link to a doctoral dissertation featuring new English translations of a few ancient orations on Christmas (Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Amphilochius of Iconium).

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bart Ehrman's Upcoming Webinar Against The Virgin Birth

It's going to air on December 10. I plan to watch it, and I'll probably post about it again after doing so, but I want to make some preliminary comments.

I doubt he'll go much beyond the book Andrew Lincoln published on the topic a decade ago. Go here to read my review of Lincoln's work. Everything I've read about Ehrman's webinar to this point suggests that it's going to largely, if not entirely, be a reformulation of Lincoln's approach.

Since I was going to post an article about how to argue for the virgin birth this Christmas season, I'll go ahead and include that material here. After I address that subject, I'll add some further comments about interacting with Ehrman in particular.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Ephesian Sources On Jesus' Childhood

We're often told that the early Christians don't show much interest in Jesus' childhood outside the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. Actually, there's more material on the subject elsewhere than is typically suggested. Some of those other sources are affiliated with Ephesus in one way or another, so we can summarize much of that evidence by referring to Ephesian sources. There's reason to think the Ephesian church was well informed about Jesus' childhood and was expected by other Christians to be well informed about the subject. What the sources writing to and from Ephesus tell us suggests that there was some interest in Jesus' childhood in Ephesus, and what's said about the subject corroborates and supplements what Matthew and Luke reported.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Christmas Resources 2023

For suggestions about how to begin the process of arguing for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood, see the collection of approaches that can be taken here.

One of the most important issues to inform yourself about is how much Matthew and Luke agree concerning Jesus' childhood. They agree much more than people typically suggest. See here for a discussion of forty examples of the agreements between Matthew and Luke. For a collection of posts on agreement about Jesus' childhood among other early sources, see here.

Isaiah 9:1-7 is important not only in the context of prophecy fulfillment, but also for other reasons, such as understanding Jesus' self-perception, demonstrating continuity between the accounts of his childhood and the accounts of his adulthood, and understanding why he carried out his public ministry as he did. Here's a collection of posts addressing the passage and its significance across many contexts.

And we've addressed a lot of other Christmas issues over the years. Here are some examples:

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Thank God For Scripture

Last Thursday I gave a lecture on William Tyndale to a group in Washington, D. C. Tyndale translated the New Testament for the first time from the original languages into English in 1526. He paid for this with his life. He was strangled and then burned at the stake at age forty-two. There was one point where I did not expect to be moved as deeply as I was. I was listing passages in the English Standard Version that we use here at Bethlehem which trace their origin back through the Revised Standard Version to the American Revised Version to the King James Version to the Geneva Bible to the Coverdale Bible to William Tyndale.

And when I got to the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, I realized that I use these words almost every weekend to close our services. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” And it hit me, I am using the very words that William Tyndale chose five hundred years ago to translate these verses (with two tiny changes, thee to you, and merciful to gracious), and he paid for this translation with his life. He died to put these words in English….

So I will say to you what I said to those folks: Let’s not play with these precious words. These are the words of God. Christ died to confirm them and make it possible for sinners to understand them and embrace them. And thousands have died to preserve them for us to this day. Thank God this Thanksgiving for the inspired Bible.

(John Piper)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

How The Afterlife Completes And Makes More Sense Of This Life

"Many murderers have died in their beds unpunished; where then is the righteousness of God? Yea, ofttimes a murderer guilty of fifty murders is beheaded once; where then shall he suffer punishment for the forty and nine? Unless there is a judgment and a retribution after this world, thou chargest God with unrighteousness. Marvel not, however, because of the delay of the judgment; no combatant is crowned or disgraced, till the contest is over; and no president of the games ever crowns men while yet striving, but he waits till all the combatants are finished, that then deciding between them he may dispense the prizes and the chaplets. Even thus God also, so long as the strife in this world lasts, succours the just but partially, but afterwards He renders to them their rewards fully." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 18:4)

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Why trust the early Christians' memories?

Skeptics (of Christianity and skeptics in other contexts) often try to cast doubt on the reliability of human memory. Michael Jones (InspiringPhilosophy) has posted a couple of videos that make some good points about the reliability of the earliest Christians' memories of Jesus and their memories more broadly (here and here). Other points could be made as well. For example, I've written about the many documents relevant to Jesus' life that predated the gospels, meaning that there was more than memories and oral tradition to go by at the time when the gospels were composed. See here regarding early documents related to Jesus' childhood and here on early documents related to his resurrection, for instance. And see here regarding the evidence that the earliest Christians thought the apostles were given the ability to produce scripture, meaning that more than ordinary memory was involved (e.g., John 14:26).

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Sola Scriptura And The Departure Passages

We've written a lot about sola scriptura over the years. See the relevant posts linked here, for example. I've argued that sola scriptura can be justified by a process of elimination, much as we eventually become dependent on written sources in other contexts with the passing of time (e.g., we don't depend on ongoing oral traditions about what individuals like Josephus and Irenaeus taught). But I've cited another line of evidence that I want to highlight here. I've usually brought it up in the context of discussing the papacy, but it's relevant to sola scriptura as well. I'll quote what I wrote about it in a post last year, then expand on what I said there:

But the departure passages I've referred to elsewhere have some relevance here. When Paul and Peter are anticipating their death in 2 Timothy and 2 Peter, for example, they presumably don't know whether every other apostle will also be dead soon. So, how Paul and Peter prepare their audiences for their (Paul and Peter's) death isn't equivalent to preparing them for the post-apostolic age. But it does have some relevance. For one thing, Peter was a Pope under a Roman Catholic scenario, so any apostle who was still alive after Peter's death would have a lesser authority than Peter and his successors. And even though Paul and Peter knew that one or more of the other apostles could outlive them, their own deaths would have underscored the potential for the other apostles to die and the need for preparing for that scenario. Yet, they show no awareness of anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium. The pattern in these passages of referring to sources like past apostolic teaching and scripture without referring to anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium makes more sense under a Protestant paradigm. See my article linked earlier in this paragraph for more details. In addition to the three portions of the New Testament I discuss there (Acts 20, 2 Timothy, 2 Peter), think of the writings of John. He probably wrote in his elderly years, and, like Paul and Peter, he keeps calling on his audience to remember things like apostolic teaching and scripture, but shows no awareness of anything like a papacy or infallible magisterium.

The fact that a few different apostles are addressing these issues in so many contexts is significant. There's a cumulative effect.

It's probably not just a coincidence that so much emphasis on scripture, including the material most cited by Protestants, is found in the documents I'm focused on here (John 14:26, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 3:1-2, 3:15-16, Revelation 22:18-19, etc.).

And keep in mind that critics of sola scriptura, like Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, have taken so much initiative to tell us how important it allegedly is to have guidance from an infallible church or Pope, to have a higher form of ecclesiology like what they offer to produce a certain type of unity they claim we should have, etc. They can't tell us how important such things supposedly are, then turn around and say that it isn't problematic for their position when the earliest sources keep bringing up other sources of authority, but don't even mention the Roman bishopric, let alone refer to a papal office, say nothing of looking to an infallible church after the apostles have departed, etc. You could still argue that other factors outweigh this consideration I'm mentioning, but the point I'm making is that it is a consideration that weighs against systems like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to some extent.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Your Silence About Christ Is Dogma

He's addressing parenting, but there's also a wider application:

It is impossible not to teach children about God, because not to teach them is to teach them plenty. It teaches them that Jesus does not matter much, that Mom and Dad don't consider him nearly as important or exciting as new furniture, or weekends at the lake, or Dad's job, or all the other things that fill their conversation. Silence about Christ is dogma….

It is not true that teaching children about God has to make them close-minded and irrationally prejudiced. It might if the parents are insecure and have their own faith built on sand. But if parents see compelling reasons for being a Christian, they will impart these to their children as well. Nobody accuses a parent of prejudicing a child's cosmology because he tells the child the world is round, and the little stars at night are bigger than the earth, and the sun really stands still while the earth turns. Why? Because we know these things are so and can give evidence to a child eventually that will support this truth. And so it is with those who are persuaded for good reasons that the Christian faith is true.

And, fourth, it is simply unloving and cruel not to give a child what he needs most. Since we believe that only by following Christ in the obedience of faith can a child be saved for eternity, escape the torments of hell, and enjoy the delights of heaven, it is unloving and cruel not to teach him the way….

A second objection some parents may raise is: I don't know enough about the Bible and about doctrine to teach my children and to answer their hard questions. There are two reasons why this should not stop you. First, it is never too late to begin to study and grow in your grasp of Bible truth. You may be a better teacher than a veteran because you are learning it fresh yourself….

The second reason your sense of inadequacy should not stop you is that some tremendously valuable things can be taught when you don't know the answer to a child's hard question. I can think of two. You can teach your child humility. If you are secure enough in God to show your ignorance rather than bluff and be a hypocrite, your child learns the beauty of humility. Second, you can teach your child to take some initiative of his own in solving problems.

(John Piper)

Thursday, November 09, 2023

How good is the argument from prophecy?

Gavin Ortlund just posted a video on prophecy fulfillment as evidence for Christianity. And here's a post I added to the comments section. The large majority of Christians need to address issues like these far more than they do. If you want the world to change for the better, you need to make an effort to persuade people. Few Christians are involved much in apologetics, and those few usually don't handle prophecy issues nearly as well as they should.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Leave The Bulbs Alone, And The New Flowers Will Come Up

To demand the continual experience of the pleasure is to cut ourselves off from the subsequent pleasure that God intended. This principle - that memory is the capstone of pleasure - is for [C.S.] Lewis one instance of Christ's teaching that a thing will not really live unless it dies, and it has many applications. "On every level of our life - in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience - we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions by comparison." Many Christians look back with longing on the bright days after their conversion or after some great spiritual moment. They lament that those fervent desires have in some measure died away. No doubt sometimes the death of those initial pantings is due to sin. But not always. Lewis suggests that God intends those intense passions to pass away. They were the explosion that started the engine of the Christian life. But man does not live on explosions alone….

In addition, God has built us so that we can't keep these explosions going. Our bodies will not suffer the intensity of thrills for long. Lewis calls this the law of undulation (a fancy word for a wave-like rhythm)….Undulation is the natural, bodily way that God regulates our desires. Self-denial is the supernatural way that we join God in ordering our loves. As fallen humans, we're sorely tempted to ignore undulation and seek to get maximum and repeated joy out of the same pleasures. Self-denial is our resistance to this temptation, not because we wish to hinder our joy, but because we believe that God wishes to give us additional joys.

[quoting Lewis] "It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go - let it die away - go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow - and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life."

Instead of being tormented by the lost golden moments of our past, Lewis encourages us to accept them as memories. When we do, we find that they are entirely wholesome, nourishing, and enchanting. "Properly bedded down in a past which we do not miserably try to conjure back, they will send up exquisite growths. Leave the bulbs alone, and the new flowers will come up. Grub them up and hope, by fondling and sniffing, to get last year's blooms, and you will get nothing." The past joy is to die if it is to live.

(Joe Rigney, Lewis On The Christian Life [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2018], 159-60)

Sunday, November 05, 2023

The Popularity Of Premillennialism In Jerome's Day

In earlier posts, such as here, I've discussed the popularity of premillennialism during the earliest centuries of church history. The degree to which it was popular is often underestimated. Jerome referred to "a very large multitude" of orthodox Christians who were premillennialists in his day (in Thomas Scheck, trans., St. Jerome: Commentary On Isaiah [Mahwah, New Jersey: The Newman Press, 2015], pp. 820-21, section 18:1 in the commentary).

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Everything Good But Yourself

"It grieves them more to own a bad house than a bad life, as if it were man's greatest good to have everything good but himself." (Augustine, The City Of God, 3:1)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Reformation Day

"'Go, inquire of the Lord for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.'…'But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord thus shall you say to him, 'Thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,' declares the Lord.'" (2 Kings 22:13, 22:18-19)