Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Problems With Transubstantiation In The Last Supper's Context

Mike Winger just posted a good video on the subject. And here's a post in which I discuss some other problems with transubstantiation in the earliest Christian contexts. On later sources, see here.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Modern Scholars Who Accept The Traditional Gospel Authorship Attributions

Here are some recent comments by Mike Licona on Markan authorship. On Luke's authorship of Acts (and its implications for the authorship of the third gospel), see Craig Keener's comments here. Even though modern scholarship is so overly skeptical of Christianity, there's still such widespread acceptance of some of the gospels' authorship attributions. We should be more concerned about the evidence than we are about the views of modern scholars, and the evidence supports the traditional attributions of all four gospels. It's noteworthy, though, that skeptics often overestimate how much the traditional views are rejected by modern scholarship.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Supposed Lateness Of The New Testament Documents

Mike Licona recently posted a video relevant to the subject, in which he makes some good points that should be brought up more often. The amount of time between the events referred to in the New Testament and the time of the writing of the documents isn't as problematic as critics often make it out to be. We frequently see examples of that in our everyday lives. An especially significant way of illustrating that fact is to cite examples of the critics themselves relying on their memories and others' memories involving comparable amounts of time. Keep in mind, too, that many of the significant events in the New Testament occurred later than the timeframe covered by the gospels. A Pauline document referring to the miracles performed by Paul is referring to events more recent than those of the gospels. The latest events in Acts, including miracles (and ones the author refers to as having occurred when he was nearby), took place about three decades after Jesus' death.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Republic Of Heaven

"Let them read our commandments in the Prophets, Gospels, Acts of the Apostles or Epistles; let them peruse the large number of precepts against avarice and luxury which are everywhere read to the congregations that meet for this purpose, and which strike the ear, not with the uncertain sound of a philosophical discussion, but with the thunder of God's own oracle pealing from the clouds….If the kings of the earth and all their subjects, if all princes and judges of the earth, if young men and maidens, old and young, every age, and both sexes; if they whom the Baptist addressed, the publicans and the soldiers, were all together to hearken to and observe the precepts of the Christian religion regarding a just and virtuous life, then should the republic adorn the whole earth with its own felicity, and attain in life everlasting to the pinnacle of kingly glory. But because this man listens and that man scoffs, and most are enamored of the blandishments of vice rather than the wholesome severity of virtue, the people of Christ, whatever be their condition—whether they be kings, princes, judges, soldiers, or provincials, rich or poor, bond or free, male or female—are enjoined to endure this earthly republic, wicked and dissolute as it is, that so they may by this endurance win for themselves an eminent place in that most holy and august assembly of angels and republic of heaven, in which the will of God is the law." (Augustine, The City Of God, 2:19)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Apologetics Illustrated During Church Services

Church services provide some good opportunities for pastors, Sunday school teachers, parents, and others involved to teach and reinforce apologetic concepts. Since services often involve various types of repetition (e.g., regularly celebrating communion), there's more opportunity for reinforcement accordingly. For example:

- In the process of turning to a passage in the Bible, we distinguish one book from another. We distinguish among the gospels by the names of their authors. That's relevant to the popular modern claim that the gospels initially circulated anonymously. We have a lot of evidence that the gospels were distinguished from each other 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. The need we have today to distinguish among the gospels in order to turn to a passage in one of them existed in the first century as well, and that provides evidence against the claim that the gospels circulated anonymously at the time.

- Baptism offers evidence for early interest in Jesus' burial and the empty tomb. We see that in Romans 6:4, for example. That's relevant to claims about the alleged lack of interest in and lack of references to the empty tomb among the earliest Christians. For further discussion, see here.

- Some portion of 1 Corinthians 11 will often be read or referred to during the celebration of communion. Verses 23-26 are valuable in some apologetic contexts. They illustrate Paul's knowledge of various details in Jesus' life, in agreement with the gospels. And these verses provide an example of Paul distinguishing between his own words and those of Jesus (verse 26 and beyond) rather than putting whatever he wanted to convey into Jesus' mouth.

These are just a few examples. Others could be added. I'd recommend mentioning concepts like these more than once. But even mentioning them only once could be enough to create an association in somebody's mind between an apologetic concept and a particular aspect of a church service. The association can then be reinforced many times over the years as that aspect of the church's services is repeated.

Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

Gavin Ortlund recently posted a good video about a principle in Romans 12:15 and some comments made by Richard Wurmbrand on the subject. What he discusses in the video shouldn't be our only or primary source of joy or something we're thinking about all of the time, but it is one good approach to take among others.

Thou wouldst rejoice to leave
This hated land behind,
Wert thou not chained to me
With friendship's flowery chains.

Burst them, I'll not repine.
No noble friend
Would stay his fellow-captive,
If means of flight appear.

The remembrance
Of his dear friend's freedom
Gives him freedom
In his dungeon.
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, cited in H. Clay Trumbull, Friendship: The Master Passion [Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005], 374)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Discussion Of The Eye Of The Beholder

Lydia McGrew will be on Cameron Bertuzzi's YouTube channel at 1 P.M. this afternoon to discuss her book, The Eye Of The Beholder (Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021). It argues for the historicity of the fourth gospel. It's a great book, and you can order it here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

There's Always Another Election Just Around The Corner

One of the reasons for the problem I referred to in my post yesterday is that the media, talk radio, and other sources keep treating political issues (and some cultural ones) with such disproportionate urgency. Last year, I wrote some posts about how people don't have enough urgency in religious contexts (here and here). But there's so much more urgency in other contexts, like politics. And the nature of life and our political system is such that there's always going to be another election, another legislative controversy, another court decision just around the corner. We should have urgency about those matters up to a point. But that urgency needs to be less than the urgency we have for religious issues.

One of the questions Evangelicals (and everybody) should ask themselves is how much the work they're concerned about is already being done. How we ought to proportion our work to the work of others is one of the factors we should take into account, yet it's often neglected. People keep giving disproportionately more attention to political and cultural issues that are already getting far more attention than religious issues that are more important. They'd rather be the fifty-millionth person to comment on an issue in presidential politics than be the fifty-thousandth person to comment on a religious issue that's more in need of attention. They'd rather be the thirty-eight-millionth person to comment on the latest racial controversy the media (including the conservative media) are telling them to be so concerned about than be the thirty-eight-thousandth person to comment on a religious issue that's been far more neglected.

It makes sense to discuss more popular and less neglected issues to some extent. Sometimes we can't avoid it even if we wanted to, for example. But we need to be careful about it. Part of being careful about it is to take these proportioning issues into account. And we should recognize how misleading the culture's urgency about politics and other matters can be and often is.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Religion Is Upstream Of Culture

It's true that culture is upstream of politics. But that fact should be supplemented by the more important fact that religion is upstream of culture (e.g., religion is more important; religion has more potential to be influential; religion has been more influential in some significant contexts). Yet, on television, Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, people give far more attention to political issues and non-religious cultural issues than they do to religious ones. That includes the large majority of Evangelicals.

Friday, June 04, 2021

This Is The Time For Contest And For Fighting

"Let us not then seek relaxation: for Christ promised tribulation to His disciples and Paul says, 'All who will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.' [2 Timothy 3:12] No noble-spirited wrestler, when in the lists, seeks for baths, and a table full of food and wine. This is not for a wrestler, but for a sluggard. For the wrestler contendeth with dust, with oil, with the heat of the sun's ray, with much sweat, with pressure and constraint. This is the time for contest and for fighting, therefore also for being wounded, and for being bloody and in pain. Hear what the blessed Paul says, 'So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.' [1 Corinthians 9:26] Let us consider that our whole life is in combats, and then we shall never seek rest, we shall never feel it strange when we are afflicted: no more than a boxer feels it strange, when he combats. There is another season for repose. By tribulation we must be made perfect." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Hebrews, 5:7)

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Don't Forget About Josephus

There are some contexts in which Christians should be giving Josephus more attention than they typically do. Because Josephus was a non-Christian, he had no dog in some of the fights among the Christians of his day or later generations. And since he was writing so early (the late first century), his comments are more valuable accordingly.

As Steve Mason (a non-Christian scholar who specializes in the study of Josephus) noted, "He [Josephus] also confirms, in case there was any doubt, that James was distinguished by being Jesus' actual brother - a significant point in view of later Christian thinking about Mary's status as 'perpetual virgin' and speculation as to whether Jesus' 'brothers and sisters' were really only spiritual relatives or more distant physical relations." (Josephus And The New Testament [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005], 248) For more about how Josephus supports Mary's giving birth to other children after Jesus, and does so in multiple ways, see Eric Svendsen's Who Is My Mother? (Amityville, New York: Calvary Press, 2001).

On page 214 of his book cited above, Mason quotes Josephus' comments on how the baptism of John the Baptist was non-justificatory and non-regenerative: "They must not employ it [baptism] to gain pardon for whatever sins they had committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already cleansed by right behaviour." (Antiquities Of The Jews, 18:5:2) Given the close relationship between John and Jesus and John's baptism and Christian baptism (as illustrated by John 3:26-30 and Peter's comments in 1 Peter 3:21 that are similar to those of Josephus, for example), it makes more sense to think that there would be more rather than less continuity between the two baptisms. The New Testament evidence suggests that John's baptism was non-justificatory and non-regenerative, and Josephus gives us further reason to reach that conclusion.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

How much did Irenaeus influence our view of the gospels?

Critics often suggest that Irenaeus had an inordinately large influence on what gospels were considered canonical, what authors those gospels were attributed to, and other gospel issues. However:

"Irenaeus hardly adopted precisely these four Gospels randomly, especially given his emphasis on church tradition; and is it an accident that he chose the four Gospels more reflective of first-century Judean traditions than our other extant gospels (the 'apocryphal' gospels and gnostic sayings treatises)?" (Craig Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, Volume I [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2012], 399)

Martin Hengel mentioned a line of evidence that's rarely discussed:

"Claus Thornton has shown that this [a passage in Irenaeus about gospel authorship] is an earlier tradition, which must be taken seriously; as the geographical references and references to persons show, it is written throughout from a Roman perspective....As Thornton has demonstrated, it corresponds to the short notes about authors in the catalogues of ancient libraries, of the kind that we know, say, from the Museion in Alexandria. Presumably this information comes from the Roman church archive." (The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], 35-36)

Here's the passage in question:

"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." (Against Heresies, 3:1:1)

Notice how unnecessary the reference to Peter and Paul's work in Rome is. I don't recall anybody else describing the timing of the composition of the gospel of Matthew that way. Similarly, connecting the origins of Mark's gospel to the apostles' work in Rome ("After their departure") is unnecessary. Just before what I've quoted above, Irenaeus refers to how the apostles had spread the gospel "to the ends of the earth", so the shift to such a focus on Rome is somewhat contrary to the context. Irenaeus probably was citing a Roman source along the lines of what Hengel refers to above. So, Irenaeus is citing an earlier source that presumably made its claims independently of Irenaeus, a source that was well positioned to have significantly reliable information (the Roman church).

For more about how Irenaeus' influence is often overestimated in these contexts, see here, here, and here.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Justification Apart From Baptism After The Time Of The Apostles

Gavin Ortlund recently posted a YouTube video about the common assertion that baptismal regeneration was universally accepted by the early church. Ortlund is a credobaptist, as I am. He discusses some of the relevant Biblical passages, whether infants should be baptized, and other issues, but not much is said about early views of the relation between baptism and justification. Some commenters beneath the video mentioned that they hadn't come across many discussions of such topics, presumably meaning that credobaptists rarely address the relevant patristic issues.

We've been discussing the issues here for many years, and I want to link some of those threads for anybody who's interested. See here for an overview of the history of belief in justification through faith alone between the time of the apostles and the Reformation. Read the comments section of the thread as well, since other relevant information is discussed there. Regarding how passages like John 3:5 supposedly were universally interpreted early on, see here. Timothy Kauffman has argued that the church fathers have often been misinterpreted on baptismal issues like these. I disagree with many of his conclusions, but you can go here for links to his material and my brief response to it. Ortlund often referred to 1 Peter 3:21 in his video. I don't think the salvation mentioned by Peter is justification, so the reference to salvation isn't even relevant, but what the passage goes on to say probably contradicts the concept of justification through baptism. See here for a discussion of that passage and other Biblical material. You can find many other posts about the relevant Biblical passages elsewhere in our archives. See here on Galatians 3:27, here on the idea that baptism isn't a work and the notion that it should be assumed to be present in passages that don't mention it, and so on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Significance Of Galatians 2:9

I've often discussed how unlikely it is that Galatians 2:9 would have been written if the earliest Christians had believed in a papacy. Not only is Galatians a good place to go when addressing the doctrine of justification, but it's also a good place to go when the papacy is being discussed. But notice that Galatians 2:9 is also significant in the context of the historicity of the gospels and Acts. Those documents portray Peter, James, and John as the most prominent members of the Twelve (for non-papal reasons), frequently putting Peter and John together, and Galatians 2:9 has Peter and John together as reputed pillars of the church (James the son of Zebedee being dead by then). And the prominence of James the brother of Jesus in Galatians 2:9 is what we'd expect from Acts. So is the placing of Paul and Barnabas together. There's other relevant material in Galatians as well, but 2:9 is a good passage to remember as one that concisely illustrates so much.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Overcoming The Temptation To Take Revenge

"Awe your heart, then, with the authority of God in the Scriptures; and when carnal reason says, 'My enemy deserves to be hated,' let conscience reply, 'But doth God deserve to be disobeyed?' 'Thus and thus hath he done, and so hath he wronged me'; 'But what hath God done that I should wrong him? If my enemy dares boldly to break the peace, shall I be so wicked as to break the precept? If he fears not to wrong me, shall not I fear to wrong God?' Thus let the fear of God restrain and calm your feelings….Set before your eyes the most eminent patterns of meekness and forgiveness, that you may feel the force of their example….Remember that by revenge you can only gratify a sinful passion, which by forgiveness you might conquer. Suppose that by revenge you might destroy one enemy; yet, by exercising the Christian's temper you might conquer three - your own lust, Satan's temptation, and your enemy's heart." (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 82, 84)