Thursday, September 16, 2021

Greater Suffering Producing Greater Zeal

"Let us then, when we desire to effect any thing great and noble, not regard this, the greatness of the labor which it brings, but let us rather look to the gain. Mark, for instance, Paul, not therefore lingering, not therefore shrinking back, because 'there were many adversaries;' but because 'there was a great door,' [1 Corinthians 16:9] pressing on and persevering. Yea, and as I was saying, this was a sign that the devil was being stripped, for it is not, depend on it, by little and mean achievements that men provoke that evil monster to wrath. And so when thou seest a righteous man performing great and excellent deeds, yet suffering innumerable ills, marvel not; on the contrary, one might well marvel, if the devil receiving so many blows were to keep quiet and bear the wounds meekly….So then, though we be in peril, beloved, though we suffer ever so greatly, let us with the greater zeal apply ourselves to our labors for virtue's sake." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 43:6)

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Resources On Prayers To The Dead

We have collections of resources on the topic here and here, including many discussions of the patristic and other extrabiblical evidence. Jordan Cooper has been producing some videos on the subject that make many good points. See here, for example, and you can find more by running a search on YouTube. The Old Testament prohibitions of attempting to contact the dead tend to be neglected in these discussions. The passages either aren't brought up or get dismissed for inadequate reasons. Gary Smith has some helpful comments in the first volume of his Isaiah commentary, in his discussions of Isaiah 8:19 and 19:3 (Isaiah 1-39 [Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2007], 230-31, 357). The passages seem to be condemning all attempts to contact the dead, not merely certain forms of it, like going to a medium.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Timing Of The Conversion Of Jesus' Brothers And Their Witness To The Resurrection

I've discussed the subject before, such as the significance of John 19:26-27, which implies that Jesus' brothers either weren't Christians yet or had only recently become Christians. Another issue that should be raised is what best explains the broader pattern of references to the brothers.

They're referred to in several places in the gospels, Acts, and Paul's letters, and we have two letters attributed to the brothers (James and Jude). They're mentioned in multiple places in the gospels as unbelievers. And there's an implication that they're believers in Acts 1:14. They're mentioned many times after Acts 1 (in the remainder of Acts, in Galatians, etc.). But they aren't mentioned in contexts in which close relatives often would be mentioned leading up to and just after the resurrection (e.g., Jesus' trial, the cross, the burial). Jesus' mother is referred to as present at the cross in John 19, but his brothers aren't mentioned there or in any other relevant context. Because of her gender and older age, we'd expect Mary to be less present in these contexts than Jesus' brothers would be, but she's more present instead. And it's striking how wide a diversity of individuals are mentioned in these contexts: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the women at the tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, all of the Twelve, etc. So, the absence of any reference to the brothers of Jesus, especially in light of their later prominence in church history, is significant.

It's possible to reconcile all of this evidence with an earlier conversion of Jesus' brothers. But the issue isn't what's possible. The issue is which explanation is best. A later conversion of Jesus' brothers, one later than the events immediately following his death, makes better sense of the evidence. But the lateness also has to account for evidence like Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:7. The best explanation seems to be that one or more resurrection appearances, like the one in 1 Corinthians 15:7, brought about their conversion. They might have converted on the basis of what others told them about the resurrection or on some other such basis, but that explanation has less explanatory power than something like 1 Corinthians 15:7.

Given the plural "brothers" in Acts 1:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, the high status of the individuals mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:5, and the inclusion of a letter of Jude in the canon, a resurrection appearance to at least one brother of Jesus other than James, at least Jude, seems likely. Maybe Jesus appeared to more of his brothers than James and Jude, but it seems probable that he at least appeared to those two.

I suspect all of the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. The appearance to James is mentioned fourth among the five chronologically ordered pre-Pauline appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. Furthermore, it would make sense for the gospels to give more attention to the earlier appearances than the later ones, since the earlier ones most closely follow the preceding events and would tend to involve the most intense reactions to the resurrection, since the witnesses' knowledge of the event was so new. The absence of references to the brothers of Jesus in the gospels' resurrection accounts makes more sense if the appearances to Jesus' brothers happened later rather than earlier. I suspect they occurred during the latter half of the forty days referred to in Acts 1:3.