Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Quest Over

"A Christian is a person who, by the sovereign grace of God, has found this treasure hidden in the field, and with life-controlling joy has sold everything he has to buy that field (Matthew 13:44). Meaning, 'Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple' (Luke 14:33). 'Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me' (Matthew 10:37). Jesus has become the supreme treasure of our life. Our quest for the greatest and the longest satisfaction of our souls is over. And this affects everything we do. It humbles us, breaks us, satisfies us, frees us, overflows from us." (John Piper)

Monday, December 26, 2022

Howard Hughes' Interview With Paul Burcombe About Enfield

Howard Hughes of The Unexplained podcast recently did an interview with a significant witness in the Enfield case, Paul Burcombe. Paul is the son of John Burcombe, and he was often at the Hodgsons' house with his father and in other contexts. I wrote a tribute to his father a couple of years ago, which you can read here. Paul hasn't spoken publicly about the case much, and his comments during the interview suggest that there hasn't been a lot of effort made to talk to him about the case since it was at its height in the late 1970s. He says near the end of the interview that he'd be willing to discuss the case more. I hope that will happen.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Why is the birth of this man having this kind of effect on the world?

"Sometimes the most important things in the world pass before our eyes, and we don't see them. And so they don't have the impact on our thought and our emotions the way they could if we just stopped and pondered for a moment. This is especially true of the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ. There are undisputed historical effects of the birth of Jesus Christ that are so huge and so important that we miss them—like we miss the sky or the air or the ground under our feet. We never give them a thought. But when you think about them, they're staggering….the impact of Jesus Christ on this world has been so immense that even before we turn to the Bible, we are confronted with a staggering choice this morning in relation to the man Jesus Christ….First, because Jesus Christ was born, one third of the world's population today calls itself Christian….Not only that, Christianity is the most extensive and universal religion in history. There are Christians and Christian churches in every inhabited country in the world. And in two-thirds of the world's 223 countries the population is over 50% Christian. So the first indisputable significance of the birth of Jesus Christ is that the life of this man has influenced more people over the course of human history than any other single man. Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or even Moses do not compare in the extent of their influence on history and the world….Second, virtually every person in the modern western, and most of the non-western, world calls this year 1987. But the reason bankers and butchers, and car dealers and doctors, and teachers and attorneys, and computer programmers and presidents date their checks '1987' is because Jesus Christ was born 1,987 years ago. No other man in history has been accorded the almost universal honor of dividing history in half—and with such definitive influence that millions who do not call him Lord are forced to bear witness daily to his tremendous, on-going importance in the world by using the date 1987….In other words the religious, historical, and cultural significance of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—is so huge that no one can begin to give it an adequate description. Now that fact, in and of itself, before we even turn to the Bible, confronts you and me with a profound choice: will we ignore this man and take him lightly in spite of his being the most influential man who ever lived, or will we inquire earnestly into who this man was and why he has changed the world so deeply? Why is the birth of this man having this kind of effect on the world?" (John Piper)

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Peter Williams Responding To Tom Holland On Some Christmas Issues

Peter Williams recently appeared on Glen Scrivener's podcast to respond to another podcast on which Tom Holland discussed Jesus' childhood. I added some comments of my own on the page for Glen's podcast. But YouTube often doesn't put up posts that you submit or will put a post up, then remove it. Here's something I posted that went up initially, but seems to have disappeared since then:

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Mary's Pregnancy Showing In Luke 1:56

Several years ago, I wrote about how well the annunciation accounts in Matthew 1 and Luke 1 align with each other, contrary to the false claims of many modern critics. I want to supplement that post with another point that I don't recall having made before.

The pregnancy of a woman typically begins showing around three to four months in. And Luke 1:56 has Mary leaving Elizabeth to return to Nazareth around that time in the pregnancy of Mary. That's historically credible and fits well with Matthew's material. If Mary's pregnancy had begun showing shortly before the time of Luke 1:56, and that showing resulted in Joseph finding out that Mary was pregnant, then it would make sense for Joseph to have received his annunciation at that point. Once he sent word to Mary that he knew what was going on and intended to go forward with the marriage, Mary would have considered it safe to return to Nazareth. Matthew's account assumes that Mary didn't say anything to Joseph about the situation, so that he discovered the pregnancy in a roundabout manner. Luke's account of Mary heading to Elizabeth's house after Gabriel's annunciation and not returning to Nazareth until around the time when her pregnancy would start to show aligns well with Matthew. Both gospels suggest Mary didn't make the pregnancy known to the general public or Joseph in particular. Luke implies that something happened to make Mary think it was safe to return to Nazareth, but doesn't tell us what it was, while Matthew provides the explanation (the revelation received by Joseph). It makes a lot of sense for these events to have occurred at the time Luke 1:56 specifies.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

How much does Mark's gospel suggest that Jesus' relatives were unbelievers?

Critics often cite the gospel of Mark against a traditional Christian view of the childhood of Jesus. Supposedly, all of the living members of Jesus' immediate family, including his mother, are portrayed as unbelievers in Mark. That's supposed to contradict what we see in the other gospels, and the unbelief of Jesus' family is considered evidence against what Matthew and Luke say about miracles surrounding Jesus' childhood. Why would Jesus' family not believe in him if those miracles had occurred?

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Written Sources Behind The Opening Of Luke's Gospel

Two of the biggest misconceptions people have about Christmas issues are that there wasn't much interest in Jesus' childhood in the earliest decades of church history and that whatever information circulated on the subject prior to the gospels of Matthew and Luke was only disseminated orally. An effective way of addressing both of those misconceptions simultaneously is to focus on the sources Luke cites in the first few verses of his gospel.

Christmas And Paganism

Michael Jones (InspiringPhilosophy) has been doing some good work on the subject and has recently put out more videos about it. Here's a shorter one. Here's one that's longer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

John The Baptist's Knowledge Of Jesus' Childhood

Luke 1 is corroborated by other sources in a lot of ways, such as the ones discussed here. But what I want to focus on in this post is how the other gospels seem to support what Luke says about John the Baptist's knowledge of Jesus' childhood.

For one thing, John's popularity in his public ministry as an adult makes more sense if the events of Luke 1 really happened. John wasn't performing miracles as an adult, as far as we can tell, and there's no other competing hypothesis that makes comparable or better sense than the historicity of Luke 1 does as an explanation of John's early popularity in his adult ministry. What all four gospels and other sources say about John's adulthood becomes more coherent in the context of Luke 1.

Matthew 3:14 suggests that John the Baptist was already familiar with Jesus in some manner. While we can think of multiple ways in which such a familiarity could have arisen (e.g., Divine revelation to John around the time when the Matthew 3 passage occurred), the most natural explanation in Matthew's context is what happened in chapters 1-2. John not only was expecting the Messiah before Jesus' public ministry began, but also already held a high view of Jesus in particular.

Similarly, John 1:15 implies that John knew that he was born before Jesus, as Lydia McGrew explains here. That's a significant piece of information to have about Jesus, especially if John and Jesus were closer rather than further apart in age, since that greater closeness in age would make discerning who was older more difficult.

So, though neither Matthew nor John discusses how closely related John and Jesus were in their youth, they both suggest that John had substantial knowledge about Jesus' childhood, which offers some corroboration of Luke 1. And aside from the details found in the opening of Luke's gospel, it's significant that John seems to have so much knowledge of Jesus' childhood and already holds such a high view of Jesus at the start of his public ministry. That goes against the wedge Raymond Brown and others have tried to drive between the infancy narratives and the accounts of Jesus' adulthood, as I've discussed elsewhere.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

How To Argue For A Traditional Christian View Of Jesus' Childhood

A few years ago, I wrote a post outlining how to concisely argue for a traditional view of the childhood of Jesus as a whole. Since then, I've written other posts outlining various ways to begin arguing for subcategories within that larger context. I want to provide a collection of links to those posts here. I intend to update this post with more links in the future if there's more material to add. You may want to check back periodically for updates.

A Geographical Argument For Christmas
Even Without The Miracles, Jesus' Childhood Was Unusually Memorable
A Premarital Pregnancy In Nazareth
Start With Nazareth Rather Than Bethlehem
Magi Who Arrived Late
The Credibility Of Jesus' Relatives As Witnesses

Magi Who Arrived Late

My last few posts have been addressing various approaches Christians can take to begin making an argument for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. In this post, I want to focus on the issues surrounding the star of Bethlehem, a subject that gets a lot of media attention every year and a lot of attention in other contexts. I wouldn't recommend starting with the argument I'm going to outline below if you're having a discussion about Christmas issues in general. But if the discussion is about the star and matters that are closely related, then the argument I'm about to summarize would be a good one to begin with.

It's useful to focus on the two issues highlighted in the title of this post. Why does Matthew mention magi rather than some other individual or group? And why do they arrive late (Matthew 2:16)? For a further discussion of those two issues and more evidence for the star material in Matthew's gospel, see here. Combining the two issues I'm focused on, such as I've done in the title of this post, is a good, concise way of articulating some of the reasons we have for believing Matthew's material on the star and related issues. You can expand on the two issues I've brought up here, such as by adding the other ones discussed in my post linked above, but it's often helpful to begin with a smaller number of issues.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Start With Nazareth Rather Than Bethlehem

Critics of a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood often acknowledge Jesus' presence in Nazareth at an early age and even bring it up on their own initiative and use it as an argument against the Bethlehem birthplace. So, a good way of beginning a case for a traditional view of the childhood of Jesus is to start where the critic wants you to start, with Nazareth.

There are many posts in our archives about the significance of Jesus' background there. Go here, here, here, and here for a few that will outline the importance of Jesus' childhood in that city and the evidence for his residence there. You can search the archives for other relevant posts if you want. And go here for an example of my taking this sort of approach with a critic who brought up Jesus' residence in Nazareth. (If that link doesn't take you to the relevant portion of the comments section of the thread, look for a post at 9:55 P.M. on 12/17/20 from sp1ke0kill3r, which is followed by my response to him.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

A Premarital Pregnancy In Nazareth

In a post last year, I referred to how even people who have been highly critical of Christianity, like Christopher Hitchens and Bart Ehrman, have taken Jesus' background in Nazareth seriously. Ehrman even refers to Jesus' being raised in Nazareth as "certain" (The New Testament [New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012], 269). A good way to start a case for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood is to combine a couple of aspects of that view that even critics have acknowledged to be unlikely to have been fabricated: Mary's residence in Nazareth and the premarital timing of the pregnancy. The best way to have aligned Christianity with traditional Jewish expectations and to have avoided potential problems with departing from those expectations would have been to put forward a marital pregnancy in Bethlehem. The fact that the traditional Christian view of Jesus has his life beginning with a premarital pregnancy in Nazareth suggests that the traditional view is rooted in history as far back as the time of Jesus' conception.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Even Without The Miracles, Jesus' Childhood Was Unusually Memorable

Over my next few posts, I want to discuss some good ways for Christians to begin making an argument for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood. After that series of posts is completed, I'll link those posts and some other relevant ones in one place, and I'll supplement that collection with anything else I want to add in the future.

Some critics of a traditional view of Jesus' childhood will go as far as to suggest that we should be highly skeptical of even the more ordinary claims about Jesus' youth. For example, Annette Merz wrote, "no one among his family or fellow villagers expected anything special from him, and thus nobody paid any special attention to him. No historically reliable traditions of Jesus' childhood have survived, nor would one expect that an ordinary craftsman's family in a collectivist society (even if it claimed Davidic provenance, which is doubtful) would engage in collecting memories of a family member's individual development….We must not confuse the world of high-ranking persons who documented their important lives with the world of nobodies from which Jesus originated. Of course, things changed when Jesus' career as a prophet of the kingdom of God and a successful healer unfolded." (in Peter Barthel and George van Kooten, edd., The Star Of Bethlehem And The Magi [Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015], 491) You can read my review of Merz's chapter in the book just cited for a fuller response to her. What I want to do here is provide a few examples of how memorable Jesus' childhood would have been even by the standards of the large majority of Christianity's modern critics. I'm not suggesting that every detail of his childhood would have been remembered, of course. But the evidence suggests that much more would have been remembered than Merz claims.

Jesus was a firstborn child. Firstborns tend to be remembered more in accordance with their uniqueness (the first birth in a family, the process of learning how to do things for the first time in the context of raising that child, etc.).

The pregnancy was premarital. The scandalous nature of the timing of the pregnancy would have made it and some surrounding events more memorable accordingly, as we see reflected in the controversies involving that timing of the pregnancy over the last two millennia.

Jesus probably had an unusual personality. That's typically the case with people who become such prominent public figures and have such an influence on history. It's unlikely that all of his unusualness didn't develop until adulthood. Most likely, some unusual traits were evident in his childhood, and those would have made his childhood more memorable.

Even ordinary men are occasionally involved in unusual events in their youth. Relatives, neighbors, and others involved will remember something unusual a child said, an unusually dangerous situation he was in, a type of clothing he often wore, or whatever else. It would be surprising if nothing of the sort was remembered about Jesus' childhood.

These are just a few examples. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't go beyond these kinds of aspects of Jesus' youth that would be commonly accepted even by modern critics of Christianity. But starting with examples like these is a good way of illustrating the unreasonableness of sentiments like Merz's. It's also a good way of making more reasonable critics aware, or reminding them, of how much warrant we have to think that reliable information was preserved about Jesus' childhood by the critics' own standards. Even when people aren't as skeptical as somebody like Merz or a Jesus mythicist, they often don't think through some of the pro-Christian implications of what they believe.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Evidence For The December 15, 1977 Enfield Levitations

There's widespread agreement that the events of December 15, 1977 are among the most significant ones in the Enfield case. I've discussed much of the evidence for those events in previous posts, like this one that provides an overview of the day as a whole and this one focusing on an interview with one of the witnesses, John Rainbow. See here for a discussion I had with David Robertson in 2018 that was partly about the background to the events of that day. He explains what he was trying to accomplish and the reasoning behind it. Contrary to what people often suggest, there were more than two people outside the house who saw Janet Hodgson levitating that day. There were at least four who saw the levitation, and David told me, as quoted in the post linked above, that he suspects there were more than four. Keep in mind that the Hodgsons' house was directly across from a school, that the children were being let out of the school around the time of at least one of the levitations, and that the street the house is on is a very busy one. Anybody who's interested can read the posts linked above and other relevant ones in our archives for more about these issues. I don't want to reinvent the wheel here. What I want to do in this post is add some further lines of evidence for these December 15 events, including some that I don't recall having seen discussed before.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Slaughter Of The Innocents And The Weakness Of Many Appeals To Silence

"Examples abound of cases where we would think a certain writer would surely have reported a certain event or fact, yet he does not do so. Ulysses S. Grant in his memoirs never mentions the Emancipation Proclamation. Should this cause us to doubt other sources that tell us that Lincoln issued it? Obviously not. Two contemporary Romans who describe the eruption of Vesuvius fail to mention the destruction of Pompeii. The church historian Eusebius apparently deliberately suppressed the Emperor Constantine's brutal killing of his wife Fausta and his son Crispus. No doubt Eusebius had his political reasons for doing so, not wholly laudable, but the point is that his mere silence in no way means that Constantine did not carry out the killings. Grafton's highly regarded English Chronicles discuss the reign of King John but never mention Magna Carta. Marco Polo never mentions the Great Wall of China." (Lydia McGrew, The Eye Of The Beholder [Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021], 274-75)

I've sometimes cited Josephus' silence about the Slaughter of the Innocents as an example. Other non-Christian sources provide partial corroboration of Matthew's account of the Slaughter, and Josephus' silence makes sense under a scenario in which the Slaughter did occur. Josephus tells us that he's being selective in which misdeeds of Herod he reports, and the Slaughter has multiple implications supportive of Christianity that neither Josephus nor his Roman audience would want to acknowledge or promote. Why mention an event so supportive of Christianity when mentioning the event can so easily be avoided? See my article on the Slaughter here for further details. Josephus' silence weighs much less than the testimony of Matthew, including the internal evidence for Matthew's account, and the partial corroboration offered by some non-Christian sources other than Josephus. Again, see my first post linked above for more about those non-Christian sources.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

How Jesus' Relatives Shaped Our View Of His Childhood

Early beliefs about Jesus' childhood developed in a context in which relatives of Jesus, including some who lived with him for a long time and interacted with him in other contexts, were highly accessible and often involved in the life of the church. When I mention the earliest beliefs about his childhood, I'm not just referring to Christian beliefs. I'm also referring to the views of non-Christians. They, too, had access to Jesus' relatives (e.g., Mark 3:21-35, 6:1-6; Josephus, Antiquities Of The Jews, 20:9:1). Non-Christians didn't just have access to relatives of Jesus who were believers, but also had access to relatives who were unbelievers. Part of what we need to take into account when evaluating any view of Jesus' childhood is how well it addresses the influence of his relatives.

I want to recommend some resources on those relatives and make some points that are relevant to Christmas issues. Jesus' family is prominent in some modern Christmas contexts, such as theology and music. But there's been a lot of neglect of the role of his relatives in the context of the historical evidence pertaining to his childhood.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Christmas Resources 2022

I've written an article about how to concisely argue for a traditional Christian view of the childhood of Jesus. That's a good starting point for studying issues related to Christmas. After familiarizing yourself with the general principles discussed there, it would be useful to read an article I wrote about how Jesus viewed himself as the king of Isaiah 9:1-7 and framed his public ministry around that identity.

We've addressed many other Christmas issues over the years, and here are some examples:

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Pulling Your Prayer Requests Up The Hill With Thanksgiving

"'One thing at a time' is said to be a wise proverb, but for once I must venture to contradict it, and say two things at a time are better, when the two are prayer and thanksgiving. These two holy streams flow from one common source, the Spirit of life which dwells within us; and they are utterances of the same holy fellowship with God; and therefore it is right that they should mingle as they flow, and find expression in the same holy exercise. Supplication and thanksgiving so naturally run into each other that it would be difficult to keep them separate: like kindred colours, they shade off into each other….It is worthy of thanksgiving that God should have commanded prayer and encouraged us to draw near unto him; and that moreover he should have supplied all things necessary to the sacred exercise. He has set up a mercy seat, blood besprinkled; and he has prepared a High Priest, ever living to make intercession; and to these he has added the Holy Ghost to help our infirmities and to teach us what we should pray for as we ought….If you had an empty wagon to raise to the mouth of a coal-pit, it might be a very difficult task for you; but the work is managed easily by the common-sense of the miners. They make the full wagons, as they run down, pull the empty wagons up the incline. Now, when your heart is loaded with praise for mercy received, let it run down the incline, and draw up the empty wagon of your desires, and you will thus find it easy to pray. Cold and chill prayers are always to be deplored, and if by so simple a method as entreating the Lord to accept our thanksgiving our hearts can be warmed and renewed, let us by all means take care to use it." (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Your Present Advisers

"we ought to serve not the time, but the Lord…Do you not burn, as with a fire in your conscience? Are you not in fear of the day of judgment, in which none of your present advisers will be there to aid you?" (Athanasius, Letter 49:3, 49:6)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Witnesses In Every Generation

People often underestimate how much Christians of earlier generations were concerned about having evidence for Christianity and how much evidence they had access to. For example:

"if they [non-Christian Jews] had only been in their own land with that testimony of the Scriptures, and not every where, certainly the Church which is everywhere could not have had them as witnesses among all nations to the prophecies which were sent before concerning Christ." (Augustine, The City Of God, 18:46)

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Why is there such a hurry?

Near the end of my last post, I briefly discussed our culture's recent pattern of rapid changes on a series of moral issues. As the sexual revolution and other cultural developments have unfolded, we've seen major changes on moral issues (and other significant issues) happening with a lot of speed. In other contexts in life, that sort of pattern, or even one event without a pattern, would make us suspicious. Why does this man who wants you to sign some paperwork about a financial transaction keep pressuring you to do it sooner rather than later, insisting that you don't need more time to look into the details? Why is the used car salesman trying so hard to get you to buy the car so soon, and why is he so evasive in response to your questions? We consider it shameful to be misled by efforts to get us to make an overly quick decision in contexts like those. But an overly quick decision is even worse in the sort of moral context I referred to above. Yet, few people in our culture seem to have much of a sense of shame over how rapidly they've changed their positions on so many moral issues (and other significant issues) with so little justification.

It's predictable that the pattern will continue. Polyamory, incest, pedophilia, and other issues will become more prominent, and there will be an ongoing process of trying to get people to rapidly change their views without thinking much about it or doing much research. In the future, we ought to point out to people that they generally consider it shameful to behave that way in other contexts in life and that they ought to be more consistent by applying that sort of reasoning to these moral contexts as well.

For example, let's say somebody is undecided about something like abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, or polyamory. He should take more time to research it rather than giving in to the pressure to change his mind too quickly. Getting people to take more time to think through these issues is good and will have a lot of positive short-term and long-term results. If we want somebody to not support a particular candidate or referendum or piece of legislation, for example, convincing him of our position isn't the only way to accomplish that objective. We can also accomplish it by persuading him to withhold his support until he's looked into the issue more.

I suspect one of the mistakes Republicans and others have made when issues like abortion and same-sex marriage are being evaluated by voters (and in non-voting contexts) is to neglect some of the options on the table. People ought to be pro-life on abortion, for example, but you don't have to convince somebody of a pro-life position in order to convince him to refrain from supporting a pro-choice referendum, piece of legislation, or whatever. Just convince him to withhold his support for either position (pro-life or pro-choice) until he's done more research. Sometimes it's appropriate to pressure people into making a binary choice. But we need to also be open to the possibility of trying to persuade people to refrain from supporting either side until they know more about the issue. To convince people to not support a pro-choice referendum, all you need to do is persuade them to hold off on adopting a pro-choice position. The large majority of people don't know much about subjects like the moral issues I've mentioned in this post. We should take advantage of that ignorance by reminding them of how hesitant they are when they're ignorant about something in other areas of life. And we should point out how the speed with which proponents of these new moral positions are trying to get people to make changes is suspicious, just as we're suspicious when people act that way in other contexts.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Joe Rogan's Discussion With Matt Walsh About Same-Sex Marriage

I'm going by the video here. I know the discussion was lengthier than what's in the video just linked, but I've only seen some brief clips of the remainder of the discussion. I want to respond to the portion of the exchange in the video I linked, which has already gotten more than two million views. It's the portion of the discussion Rogan's YouTube channel chose to highlight. Walsh made a lot of good points, but I want to reinforce some of those and make some points of my own.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Recent Exchange Between Mike Licona And Dale Allison On Jesus' Resurrection

They appeared on Sean McDowell's YouTube channel in a video released today. Both make a lot of good points, and there's some significance in what they agree about, but far more can and should be said about other relevant issues. And they both substantially underestimate the evidence for Christianity beyond Jesus' resurrection.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

To Endear Jesus To People's Hearts

"It has been the distinctive aim, and the sincere desire, though the feeble and defective endeavour, of my ministry amongst you, to make known and to endear the Saviour to your hearts." (Octavius Winslow, A Pastoral Letter [London, England: Houlston and Stoneman, 1852], 6)

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Work For The Bread That Doesn't Perish

John 6 is often brought up in contexts like soteriology, the eucharist, and the historicity of John's gospel and miracles. That's appropriate, and it should keep happening, but the passage is also relevant in another context that should get more attention than it does.

In verses 26-27, Jesus rebukes the crowd for being overly focused on physical food and not focused enough on spiritual food. And he said that in a context in which problems like lack of food and poverty were much bigger than they are today, especially in a place like modern America. It's a documented fact that there's been a major decrease in poverty worldwide over the last several decades. It's also a fact that the modern world has far more technology, medicine, comforts and conveniences, literacy, and other advantages than people had in Biblical times. Yet, people, including Christians, frequently don't make the relevant distinctions between the Biblical context and ours. As if the tens of trillions of dollars we spend on government programs to help people in physical contexts, military assistance in such contexts, private charities, etc. don't make us significantly different than ancient Egypt, ancient Israel, or the Roman empire or only make us a little different. But even in a setting in which people were much worse off in these contexts than they are today, Jesus often made comments like the ones in John 6:26-27. How much more should we be doing it today?

The culture often suggests that the primary or only context in which Christians are doing good is when they benefit people physically in the short term (giving food to people, giving them clothing, giving them medicine, providing shelter, etc.). And Christians frequently accommodate that mindset by giving an inordinately large amount of attention to that sort of work. (And the fact that liberal professing Christians do that more than conservatives doesn't prove that conservatives aren't doing it. You can do something to a lesser extent, yet be guilty of doing it to some degree.) If people still haven't noticed the explicitly Christian names of the hospitals they go to, the widespread presence of explicitly Christian charities in so many contexts, etc., then they're culpably negligent. We can point these things out to them from time to time, but we need to keep the priorities Jesus set out in this passage in John 6 (and in many other places). There's some value in explaining to people what charity work and other such things Christians have done over the centuries, but we need to avoid taking that too far. You can be overly focused on it and leave people with false impressions. Mind precedes matter, and there are higher priorities than benefitting people physically in the short term.

I've occasionally heard John Piper make a good point in this context. One of the reasons why Christians should be so focused on work like evangelism and missions is to benefit people physically over the long term. The afterlife will have a physical dimension after the resurrection. The spiritual has priority over the physical, but as far as the physical is concerned, the long term has priority over the short term.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Eternal Life To Take In Immeasurable Riches

"Every day for all eternity - without pause or end - the riches of the glory of God's grace in Christ will become increasingly great and beautiful in our perception of them. We are finite. They are 'immeasurable' - infinite [Ephesians 2:7]. Therefore, we cannot ever take them in fully. Let that sink in. There will always be more. Gloriously more. Forever. Only an infinite being can fully take in infinite riches. But we can, and we will, spend eternity taking in more and more of these riches. There is a necessary correlation between eternal existence and infinite blessing. It takes the one to experience the other. Eternal life is essential for the enjoyment of immeasurable riches of grace." (John Piper, Providence [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020], approximate Kindle location 3130)

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Enfield Miscellany (Part 10)

(See part 1 here for an explanation of what this series is about. The other parts in the series can be accessed through the following links: two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. I'll cite Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's tapes below. Tapes from Grosse's collection will be referred to with "MG" [e.g., MG7B is Grosse's tape 7B], and Playfair's tapes will be designated by "GP" [e.g., GP42B is Playfair's tape 42B].)

Events Involving Water

Some of the earliest apparently paranormal events we know of in the Enfield case involved water. They occurred before the Hodgsons knew that something paranormal was occurring in their house. Peggy initially thought the puddles of water she found around the house had a normal cause, though it seems likely in retrospect that they were paranormal. The family figured out that something paranormal was going on during the night of August 31, 1977. But earlier that month, she was finding puddles of water in places where you wouldn't expect to find them, like underneath one of the beds (MG65B, 0:53). There would be many other such incidents as the case went on. On tape GP5A, you hear Playfair and the family discussing a "funny" shape some water they found on the floor had (9:33). Playfair checked the slope of the floor and tried to duplicate the water pattern by normal means, but wasn't able to. John Burcombe heard a shuffling noise (a noise the poltergeist seems to have often produced) coming from the area of the Hodgsons' bathroom and found the floor flooded with water (MG6B, 14:17). Janet was the closest person at the time, but she was standing at the stove and stirring some soup she was heating up. Burcombe was convinced that she couldn't have faked the incident, because of the timing involved and the lack of any watery footprints. He mentions that anybody who produced that much water by normal means would have to get their shoes wet in the process. He also says the water was in the process of coming out from underneath the closed bathroom door when he got there, which provides further evidence that the water had just started to appear, with nobody near enough to explain the water's appearance by normal means. The toilet lid was down, and the toilet brush was lying diagonally across the top of the lid. Peggy Nottingham had seen the poltergeist do something similar on another occasion, as she explains in the video here. Notice that before she refers to the bathroom events, she refers to how a puddle of water appeared in the kitchen "from nowhere". There were at least a few episodes in which the poltergeist left the toilet brush lying diagonally across the toilet seat, as shown in the reenactment in the video linked above, so it was a pattern in the poltergeist's behavior. On another occasion, Margaret saw water falling out of the air, with no apparent source, as if coming from an invisible faucet (MG33A, 0:16). As late as August of 1979, about two years after the earliest water incidents reported, there was still some activity involving water (MG95B, 11:52). Peggy Hodgson even reported water coming through the bedroom ceiling (12:37). There were many events involving water. These are just some examples among a lot more that could be cited. Burcombe repeatedly checked the house for leaking pipes and other such problems and couldn't find any normal explanation for these incidents. Vic Nottingham often helped the family and was a professional builder, so he could easily have noticed any plumbing or other relevant problems if there were any. Besides, the water often appeared in places that would be irrelevant to something like a plumbing issue, and other aspects of these incidents make a normal explanation unlikely. On July 10, 1978, the bathroom was inspected for water leaks by some workmen with the local council, and no leaks were found (MG91B, 15:30).

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Authority Debate Between Jimmy Akin And The Other Paul

You can watch it here. Paul made some good points, but I want to add some points of my own, in response to Jimmy and in response to what came up in the question and answer segment.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Access To Jesus' Census Record

There's a chapter on the census of Luke 2 in a book published a few years ago by Sabine Huebner, a historian at the University of Basel in Switzerland (Papyri And The Social World Of The New Testament [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019]). She makes some points others have made about the plausibility of Luke's account (that the author of the gospel would have had a lot of knowledge of Roman censuses, including from firsthand experience; that there's precedent for a Roman census occurring in a client kingdom; etc.). She concludes:

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Justification Apart From Baptism In Ignatius

He never advocates justification through baptism in his letters, but he often refers to faith as a means of justification without mentioning baptism. For example:

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Were Ephesus and Constantinople prominent because of a perpetual office instituted by Jesus or the apostles?

Because none of the earliest Christian sources refer to a papacy, Catholics often resort to suggesting that any sort of reference to a prominence or primacy of the Roman church is adequate evidence for the office. But when sources like Paul, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, and Tertullian commend the Roman church for non-papal reasons, it doesn't make sense to equate that with affirming that the Roman bishop has papal authority. It's sometimes suggested that critics of Catholicism are asking for too much when they make that sort of distinction. But it does make sense to distinguish between two concepts that aren't the same, and we do that with other early churches and early bishops. Think of how prominent churches other than Rome were in early church history (Jerusalem in the book of Acts, Ignatius' comments about the significance of the church of Ephesus, what Irenaeus said about the importance of the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna, the prominence of Constantinople in later centuries, etc.). All that Protestants and other critics of Roman Catholicism are doing is applying the same reasoning to Rome that we and Roman Catholics apply to other churches.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Petrine Primacy Isn't A Papacy

A good passage of scripture to bring up in discussions of the papacy is Matthew 11:11. We're told that nobody born of women is greater than John the Baptist. We don't conclude that he therefore was a Pope or that nobody, including Peter, could have had any authority over John. He could be unsurpassed in one sense without being unsurpassed in another sense. Similarly, when Jesus goes on in the same verse to say that he who is the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, it doesn't follow that some sort of jurisdictional primacy is in view. Matthew 11:11 illustrates the fact that there are multiple ways in which somebody can be considered to have a primacy. Somebody like John can simultaneously be unsurpassed in one context without being unsurpassed in another. And the placement of the passage in Matthew 11 is significant, since Peter's primacy in 10:2 is often cited as evidence that he was a Pope, as are the comments about him in chapter 16. As I told a Catholic I had a discussion with earlier this year, do a search on terms like "greatest" and "first" in Matthew's gospel and see what conclusions you end up with if you interpret all of those passages as referring to papal authority. We use categories and language of primacy often in our everyday lives without thinking of a papacy or something equivalent to it. One person will be a leader among a group of friends (making certain decisions for the group, taking the initiative more often than anybody else, etc.) without having any equivalent of papal authority. We speak of who the greatest military leader was, the greatest American president, or whatever without having any equivalent of a Pope in mind.

You can believe in a Petrine primacy, as I and many other non-Catholics do, without believing in a papacy. I also believe in a primacy of John the Baptist, a Pauline primacy, and primacies of other Biblical figures. Peter is the greatest among the Twelve in some ways, and my sense is that he's probably the greatest among the Twelve overall. (You could argue that John the son of Zebedee is the greatest, because of his influence on later history through his gospel and because of other factors, but my sense is that Peter is the more significant of the two overall.) However, I'd place Paul ahead of Peter if you go beyond the Twelve. That Pauline primacy doesn't involve a papacy, just as Peter's primacy doesn't.

If a papacy had existed in early Christianity, we probably wouldn't have to go to passages like Matthew 10:2 and 16:18-19 to find unverifiable, possible allusions to it. Go here for a discussion of how the papacy is absent across many contexts where we'd expect to see it mentioned if the office existed early on. And go here for a collection of resources on the papacy more broadly.

We can think of a series of steps involved in sorting through these issues. For example, if a passage like Matthew 10:2 or John 21:15-17 is cited in support of a papacy, is a papacy implied by the text in question? None of the passages cited by Catholics (in scripture or in the earliest sources outside of scripture) logically lead to a papacy. We can go on to ask whether we'd expect a papacy to be mentioned in certain places if the office existed at the time (e.g., the many New Testament passages on church government issues, the early patristic comments on why the Roman church is significant). We can also ask if any of the relevant sources seem to deny the concept of the papacy. You can read my material linked above for examples of all three of these questions being addressed. But we don't need to go through all of these steps to be justified in not believing in a papacy. The insufficiency of the arguments for a papacy are enough to justify not accepting the concept, even if we thought that no early source contradicts the concept or have never even considered whether any early source does so. We take the same approach with any other matter involving some type of primacy (Matthew 11:11, the unique name given to James and John in Mark 3:17, the unique language applied to Paul in the context of Acts 9, the focus on Paul in Acts, Paul's having written more books of scripture than any other apostle, John's being referred to as "the elder", etc.).

"At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister....For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives presides and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome" (First Vatican Council, session 4, chapters 1-2)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

I love The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. I think they should be far better known than they are. In fact, I'd say The Letters of Samuel Rutherford should be considered a Christian literary classic. Just like (say) The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo, Proslogion by Anselm of Canterbury, The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, Communion with God by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, etc.

For one thing, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford offer a historical window into the 1600s. The age of the Puritans. Rutherford lived from 1600-1661. A time of tremendous political and religious upheaval in the British isles and continental Europe. A time when there was both philosophical theorizing over the proper relationship between church vs. state (e.g. Thomas Hobbes wrote his Leviathan during this period; Rutheford also penned Lex, Rex) as well as literal persecutions and wars with the state and its arm of the established church (episcopacy) attempting to subjugate genuin Christians. The English Civil War, Crown vs. Parliament, the beheading of Charles I which was shocking at the time since monarchs had virtually never been executed by their people, Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, and so on. Yet it was likewise a time of tremendous reformation and revival for Protestant Christians. The Westminster Assembly was convened in this period by Parliament to reform the church, and Rutherford played a role in it. And consider that Rutherford lived contemporaneously with fellow Christians like John Owen (1616-1683), John Bunyan (1628-1688), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662); political leaders like Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), William Bradford who governed Plymouth Colony (1590-1657), King James of the KJV (1566-1625); artists like Rembrandt (1606-1669), Shakespeare (1564-1616), John Milton (1608-1674); and scientists like Galileo (1565-1642), Kepler (1571-1630), even Isaac Newton as a young man (1643-1727). I think there are some significant parallels from this period with us today.

More importantly, I think, The Letters display Rutherford as a devoted pastor who dearly loved his flock. Ironically, the bulk of The Letters (approximately 220 out of 365 letters) were written while Rutherford was in exile away from his flock. His flock lived in and around the little town of Anwoth in southwest Scotland near the English border. However, Rutherford was forced to move away from Anwoth by the ecclesiastical powers-that-be of the day. They forced Rutherford to live far north in Aberdeen where the ecclesiastical powers-that-be thought he'd be silenced. Yet thanks to God's providence, thanks to God who can bring good out of evil, Rutherford's exile did the opposite of silencing him inasmuch as his exile served as a major inspiration behind The Letters. Even today we can say of The Letters of Samuel Rutherford: "though he died, he still speaks" (Heb 11:4).

Finally, in terms of practical theology, The Letters illustrate Rutherford's deep care in guiding his flock, most of whom were average laypeople, from highborn to lowborn, how to walk with the Lord in tremendous suffering. Suffering that most of us today wouldn't have to face. Suffering that most of us today hear but faint echoes of when we hear of tragedies in developing nations or persecutions in nations like China or the Muslim world. From losing one's spouse and/or children to dealing with debilitating diseases to enemies of the faith seeking to literally kill them. Rutherford himself lost a wife at a young age (~30) as well as experienced the deaths of all but one of his half a dozen children. All the while Rutherford holds forth to his flock (and to us) "the loveliness of Christ".

To my knowledge, Banner of Truth publishes two versions of The Letters. A Puritan Paperbacks edition that contains a selection of Rutherford's letters and a full version that contains all 365 of Rutherford's letters along with other material (e.g. a biographical sketch of Rutherford's life). Personally I'd recommend the full version (ISBN-10 0851513883 | ISBN-13 978-0851513881). The full version is also available to download and read for free via Project Gutenberg which in turn is made possible thanks entirely to Andrew Bonar's work (see here). In fact, the Banner of Truth's full version is a facsimile edition of Andrew Bonar's work back in the 1800s so you'd get the same edition via Project Gutenberg as Banner of Truth publishes. (Banner of Truth has likewise published The Loveliness of Christ which is a very short book that takes a handful of quotations or excerpts from The Letters. It's much briefer than even the Puritan Paperbacks edition of The Letters. It's a good book to whet one's appetite for the full work.)

Portage Publications has a nice pdf version of The Letters. And our friends at Monergism have done various versions of The Letters as well.

Some others who have commended The Letters:

  • Charles Spurgeon: "When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford's Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men."
  • Richard Baxter (who was no friend to Presbyterians including Rutherford): "Hold off the Bible, such a book as Mr. Rutherford's Letters the world never saw the like."
  • A contemporary of Robert Murray M'Cheyne's said that "The Letters of Samuel Rutherford were often in his hand".
  • Handley Moule: "[The Letters are] a small casket stored with many jewels".

One last thing. I've long loved the poem and hymn "The Sands of Time Are Sinking", written by Anne R. Cousin, based on The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. The full edition of The Letters has a section that tells us which letters lie behind the poem. And I enjoy this version of the hymn:

Other Anti-Roman-Catholic Views Of The Pre-Reformation Lollards

My last post discussed their views on the relationship between baptism and justification. There are many other topics on which they disagreed with Roman Catholicism.

The Oxford Dictionary Of The Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) goes as far as to say that, for the Lollards, "The Scriptures were the sole authority in religion and every man had the right to read and interpret them for himself." (994) J. Patrick Hornbeck's book cited in my last post refers to affirmations of sola scriptura or something similar by Lollards (A Companion To Lollardy [Boston, Massachusetts: Brill, 2016], 74, 141, 149, 170). He provides many examples of Lollard rejection of the papacy and other Roman Catholic authorities.

There was Lollard support for the concept of an invisible church, consisting only of believers (113, 116, 170).

In my last post, I quoted Susan Royal commenting, "Every one of the seven traditional sacraments of the medieval church was called into question or even rejected wholesale by some lollards." (Lollards In The English Reformation [Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2020], approximate Kindle location 3678). See chapter 4 in her book for a discussion of many examples. I've already cited some of her comments on Lollard views of baptism and justification, in my last post. She also gives examples of rejection of infant baptism and belief in the salvation of unbaptized infants (3879). Some Lollards denied that there's a physical presence of Christ in the eucharist (3773). Royal refers to how some Lollard views "inclined closely to Zwingli's later view of the Lord's Supper" (3800). Hornbeck's book mentioned above gives some examples as well. He rightly notes that there was a diversity of views of the eucharist and a lot of controversies surrounding eucharistic issues in the centuries leading up to John Wycliffe's time and the Lollard movement that followed (29). Hornbeck writes, "Yet to the extent that it is possible to glimpse lollards' views on the eucharist, it may be a valid assessment that most lollards tended to take one of two positions on the sacrament: either they argued that while Christ is spiritually present in the eucharist, so also are the material substances of bread and wine; or else they described the sacrament in figurative terms, stating that it merely commemorates the Last Supper." (121) He refers elsewhere to Lollard views that "the eucharist is Christ's body in only a figurative sense" (123), "merely a memorial" (183). And "It would be tedious to recount in detail every case in which a defendant confessed to believing that the substances of bread and wine remain in the consecrated elements." (124) Much more could be cited. Royal's book also addresses the other sacraments and how Lollards viewed them.

Hornbeck refers to how some Lollards held a view of predestination similar to John Calvin's (112). Hornbeck describes a "scholarly commonplace" of viewing the Lollards as holding a view of predestination that anticipates Calvin's, though Hornbeck challenges that scholarly conclusion. He thinks some Lollards held a view like Calvin's, but that many didn't.

I'm just giving some representative examples among many more that can be found in sources like the ones I've cited. Elsewhere in Hornbeck's book, there are references to Lollard opposition to prayers to the dead (138) and the veneration of images (139-41), for example.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Justification Apart From Baptism Among Pre-Reformation Lollards

I've written a lot over the years in response to the false claim that nobody believed in justification through faith alone prior to the Reformation or between the time of the apostles and the Reformation. See here, for example. The claim often focuses on the relationship between baptism and justification. We'll be told that all of the church fathers believed in baptismal regeneration or that none of the patristic or medieval sources believed in justification apart from baptism, for example. In recent months, I've written some posts about support for justification through faith alone, including justification apart from baptism in particular, in the first two centuries of church history. See here, here, and here. What I want to do in this post is discuss some examples at the other end of the spectrum, from the closing years of the medieval era.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

More Patristic References To Mary As A Sinner

I've posted collections of examples of scripture and extrabiblical sources prior to the Reformation referring to Mary as a sinner. See here, here, and here. Other examples:

"A woman from the multitude cries out, that blessed was the womb that had borne him, and the breasts which had given him suck. And the Lord answers, 'Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it' [Luke 11:28]: because even before this he had rejected his mother and his brethren, because he prefers those who hear God and obey him. For not even on the present occasion was his mother in attendance on him. It follows that neither on the previous occasion did he deny having been born. So now, when he hears this once more, once more he transfers the blessedness away from his mother's womb and breasts and assigns it to the disciples: he could not have transferred it away from his mother if he had had no mother." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4:27)

"But He on the Cross, committeth His mother to the disciple, teaching us even to our last breath to show every care for our parents. When indeed she unseasonably troubled Him, He said, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' [John 2:4] And, 'Who is My mother?' [Matthew 12:48] But here He showeth much loving affection, and committeth her to the disciple whom He loved." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 85:2, v. 24)

"Having signified how great mischiefs are bred from not believing the resurrection, he takes up the discourse again, and says, 'But now hath Christ been raised from the dead;' [1 Corinthians 15:20] continually adding, 'from the dead,' so as to stop the mouths of the heretics. 'The first-fruits of them that slept.' But if their first-fruits, then themselves also, must needs rise again. Whereas if he were speaking of the resurrection from sins, and none is without sin;—for even Paul saith, 'I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified;'—how shall there be any who rise again, according to you?" (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 39:5)

"So too Christ our Lord Himself teaches us, at one time calling Himself Son of God and at another Son of man: at one time He gives honour to His Mother as to her that gave Him birth; at another He rebukes her as her Lord." (Theodoret, Dialogues, 2)

Sunday, October 09, 2022

We want a king!

We should keep in mind that one of the reasons people can have for being Roman Catholic or finding Catholicism appealing is the sort of interest in a king that the ancient Israelites had, an interest that can be sinful. People can have sinful reasons for desiring some other belief system, including Protestantism, but my focus here is on Catholicism and the connection between the papacy and a monarchy. We should keep in mind that a desire for a monarchical form of church government can be, and I think often is, part of why people are Catholic or are attracted to Catholicism. And the motives for wanting that sort of authority structure don't have to be entirely sinful in order to be partly sinful or to be inadequate to justify accepting the papacy.

"your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:17)

Friday, October 07, 2022

The Largeness, Complexity, And Difficulty Of Extrabiblical Tradition

It's often suggested that sola scriptura is too difficult to live out. How do you know which documents are canonical and which aren't? There are so many disagreements over Biblical interpretation. Many of our questions aren't answered, or aren't answered explicitly, by scripture. A lot of people throughout church history have been illiterate. How are they supposed to follow sola scriptura? And so on.

You can approach issues like those from a lot of angles, and we've responded to such objections many times (e.g., noting that Protestants aren't the only ones who have to make judgments about what's part of their rule of faith and what isn't, that Protestants aren't the only ones who disagree about how to interpret their rule of faith, that non-Protestant rules of faith also contain written sources that illiterate people wouldn't be able to read for themselves, that a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox layman relying on a local priest or bishop to tell him what to believe is relying on a source who's fallible by Catholic and Orthodox standards, that Catholic and Orthodox laymen are depending on translators and other fallible sources in the process of consulting their allegedly infallible authorities, etc.). One of the factors to take into account in these contexts is how large and complicated extrabiblical tradition is and how it's so often failed to bring about the sort of peace, unity, and easiness its advocates often suggest it will bring about. For example:

"The disagreements ran deep, and the disputes were often bitter and sometimes violent. From the beginning of the fourth century to the middle of the sixth century, more than 250 councils dealt with a wide range of topics." (Robert Wilken, The First Thousand Years [New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2012], 90)

And those councils often disagreed with each other.

We've provided many other examples along those lines, like here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

When You're Deep In History And Have Ceased To Be Protestant

Robert Wilken is a historian who converted from Lutheranism to Roman Catholicism decades ago. He's sometimes mentioned in lists of converts to Catholicism. He appeared on Marcus Grodi's television program "The Journey Home" on EWTN. You often find Catholic scholars making comments like these ones from Wilken's book on the first millennium of church history:

"As the controversy over the dating of the Pasch revealed, there was no central authority within Christianity in the second century. The Church was composed of a constellation of local communities spanning the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. They had a strong sense of unity among themselves, but they were only loosely organized." (The First Thousand Years [New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2012], 39)

"In the early Church there was no 'private' confession. According to church law the emperor could not present himself quietly before the bishop, confess his sin, and receive absolution. The penitential discipline of the early Church was unremittingly harsh and carried out in front of the Christian people. The penitents were segregated from the rest of the community, assigned a special section in the church, and forbidden to receive the Eucharist." (135)

"By the middle of the third century the bishop of Rome had begun to acquire an unparalleled authority in the West - in Italy, North Africa, Gaul, and Spain. Not, however, in the East. There the churches looked to the bishops in the major cities, Alexandria in Egypt or Antioch in Syria. This geographical fact, that Rome was the principal city in the West, whereas in the East there were several, would lead to a quite different understanding of how the Church was to be governed at the highest level….It is clear from the minutes of the Council of Chalcedon that the bishops, most of whom were from the East, did not view Rome's authority as Leo [the Roman bishop] did." (165-66, 170)

"Apparently [in The Apostolic Tradition, a document of the third century] infant baptism was permissible - though not conventional - and parents or guardians would speak for the children." (176)

Monday, October 03, 2022

Resources For Reformation Day

Reformation Day will be celebrated in a few weeks. Here's a collection of resources on the historical roots of the Reformation and Evangelicalism. I update that page from time to time, and some changes have been made over the last several months. I've added links to articles about the evidence against a Catholic view of Mary in Luke's writings and whether Jesus taught a physical presence in the eucharist. See here for a recent post on the papacy, specifically how we should expect to see the office referred to in the early sources if such an office existed. And here's one I added on the Assumption of Mary.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

A Reconsideration Of The Enfield Voice

A few years ago, after I'd finished listening to the Enfield tapes, I wrote at length about my view of the voice allegedly produced by the poltergeist. I've listened to the tapes again since then. I want to revisit the issues surrounding the voice, which are large and complicated, to supplement what I said earlier.

My citations of the tapes will use "MG" to designate one from Maurice Grosse's collection and "GP" to refer to one from Guy Playfair's. Thus, MG33B is Grosse's tape 33B, GP90A is Playfair's tape 90A, and so on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Keys In Matthew 18:18

See this Twitter thread from The Other Paul for some good points about Cameron Bertuzzi's recent video on alleged evidence for a papacy in Isaiah 22. We've said a lot about Isaiah 22 and the papacy over the years, and anybody who's interested can search our archives. In the remainder of this post, I want to add some points to the ones made by The Other Paul.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

How different is Jesus in John's gospel?

Here's a playlist of several videos Lydia McGrew has produced on alleged differences between the Synoptics and John. And here's a collection of some of our posts on the unity between John and the Synoptics. The collection has been updated since I originally posted it, and I'll probably update it with more material in the future.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Upcoming Enfield Documentaries

There are two I know of that are on the way, and one of them should be out next month on Paramount Plus. See the section titled "Hauntings" here. The series is about more than the Enfield case, but Enfield is one of the cases they'll be covering. Judging by the photographs on the first page linked above, it looks like Rosalind Morris, Graham Morris, and Richard Grosse (Maurice's son) participated. A producer was in contact with David Robertson as well, but I don't know how much he'll feature in the program.

MetFilm seems to be close to finishing their Enfield documentary. The last I heard, it should be a three-part series. In an interview last month (at 17:06 on the page just linked), Melvyn Willin of the Society for Psychical Research said the documentary should be out within a few months.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What should we make of Jesus' resurrection appearances to biased believers?

About five minutes into one of his recent programs, Greg Koukl responded to the objection that it's suspicious that the risen Jesus only appeared to people who already believed in him. Koukl made a lot of good points in response to the objection, but I want to expand on some of the issues involved.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A Head Of Brass And Hands Of Gold

"If Christ had been some delicate person, if our glorious Head had been reposing upon the soft pillow of ease, then might we, who are the members of his Church, have expected to go through this world with joy and comfort; but if he must be bathed in his own blood, if the thorns must pierce his temples, if his lips must be parched, and if his mouth must be dried up like a furnace, shall we escape suffering and agony? Is Christ to have a head of brass and hands of gold?" (Charles Spurgeon, The C.H. Spurgeon Collection [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 47, p. 114)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Focusing Too Much On The Patristic And Medieval Eras

One of the most popular criticisms of Protestantism, and one that seems to go a long way in convincing people, is the allegation that various Protestant beliefs were absent or not popular enough during the patristic and medieval eras. We're told that justification through baptism was widely accepted during that timeframe, for example, or we're even told that it was universally believed. Or look at how popular it was to pray to the saints and angels. Look at all of the agreement on such issues among the apostolic churches. And so on.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Aimless, Meandering Christian

Because of fallen human nature, the nature of the culture in which we live, and other factors involved, it's important to frequently remind people what work needs done in religious contexts: missions, evangelism, apologetics, theology, philosophy, the sciences, the paranormal, Bible translation, etc. I've often cited the example of patristics. There's a steady stream of patristic documents being published in English for the first time, and many that have already been published for a long time haven't been studied or discussed much. Evangelicals can repeatedly come across patristic issues in various contexts - claims about the canon of scripture, claims about the authorship of the gospels, etc. - yet have little or no concern about researching those subjects or disseminating whatever valuable information they come across. Similarly, I've often discussed the need for Christians to do more work on the paranormal. And many other examples could be cited, some of which I've discussed in the past. What parents, pastors, friends, and other people in positions of influence - all of us - should be doing is reminding people from time to time what work needs done. Mention parts of the world where missionaries need to go, languages into which the Bible still needs to be translated, philosophical issues that need studied further, Biblical passages whose historicity needs studied and discussed further, and so on. And model the sort of work that needs done by doing it yourself and talking to other people about the work you're doing.

I often hear people, including professing Christians, commenting on how "bored" they are or expect to be in retirement, how they "can't find anything to do". They'll even go back to working a job that doesn't have much significance or retire later than usual. And the people who are finding things to do are typically doing things that don't have much value. It's commonplace to hear people talk about how concerned they are about the state of the culture and the world, then, five minutes later, refer to how they're going to spend the rest of the day watching movies, gardening, etc. They rarely or never refer to anything they're doing in contexts like the ones I've referred to in the paragraph above, and what they do refer to doing in such contexts tends to be of a lower rather than higher nature.

You ought to have specific objectives in mind to advance the kingdom of God in substantial ways. Aim for accomplishments "worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) and run hard after them.

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim" (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

"In a corruption of sound doctrine so extreme, in a pollution of the sacraments so nefarious, in a condition of the Church so deplorable, those who maintain that we ought not to have felt so strongly, would have been satisfied with nothing less than a perfidious tolerance, by which we should have betrayed the worship of God, the glory of Christ, the salvation of men, the entire administration of the sacraments, and the government of the Church. There is something specious in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy — that his eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil’s lies — that Christ should be insulted, his holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed." (John Calvin)

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Justification Through Faith Alone In The Second Century

In the excerpt from the Epistle To Diognetus below, notice the reference to "faith, to which alone", followed by the concluding references to "trust" and "faith", with no reference to baptism and other works. The first mention of faith is immediately followed by some comments on the kindness of God and the gracious benefits given to us in his Son, and the section of the document that follows (9) is highly soteriological, all of which indicate that justifying faith is being referred to. The author refers to having faith in God later in the Christian life as well and discusses good works and expects them to follow from faith, but the focus here is on faith, even including the qualifier "alone", and the substitutionary nature of Jesus' work. The reference to faith alone in such a soteriological context makes the most sense as a reference to justifying faith. At the opening of the document, the author refers to how Diognetus wants to know "what God they [Christians] trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world" (1). So, it's evident that faith (trust) is being distinguished from the actions that result from faith, and other terms are being used to refer to works, such as "observe" and "practice". So, we shouldn't think that the references to faith in sections 8-10 of the document are including works within them. Even if we only had the usual meanings of words to go by, it would be unlikely that a reference to faith includes works. It's doubly unlikely when the document in question so clearly distinguishes between faith and works. Section 10 refers to love resulting in our imitation of God's kindness, saying, "if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness". That which is in the heart leads to outward actions. The author seems to have in mind an inner response to God that's distinguished from the outer actions that follow, with the inner faith justifying. As Michael Bird and Kirsten Mackerras write, salvation in the Epistle To Diognetus is "by faith alone (8.6; 9.6; 10.1)" (in Michael Bird and Scott Harrower, edd., The Cambridge Companion To The Apostolic Fathers [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 323). In section 9, we're told that our works are excluded. The substitutionary nature of Christ's work is discussed, even with a reference to the "sweet exchange", the paralleling of Jesus' taking our sin with our taking his righteousness, and a reference to our sins' being covered by Jesus' righteousness, which is reminiscent of the dunghill analogy attributed to Martin Luther:

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The Two-Way Street Of Religious Discussions

"Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian's philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case. Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves....If the Christian must produce proof, so must others." (John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], 273-74)

Tuesday, September 06, 2022

The Miracle Of John The Baptist's Existence

To add to my last post, consider the example of John the Baptist. He apparently didn't perform healings, exorcisms, or other such miracles during his public ministry. But his existence was a miracle. He shouldn't have been conceived. And there were other miracles surrounding his childhood. Since most of what we're told about John's background comes from Luke, see here regarding Luke's general credibility, here regarding an important line of evidence for his material on John the Baptist's childhood in particular, and here and here for examples of other early sources corroborating Luke. John's popularity probably was partly a result of those aspects of his background. Even where healings, fulfilled prophecy, and other forms of evidence aren't closely, directly, or explicitly involved, they're often involved in a more distant, indirect, or implicit way. Much of the apologetic nature of the Bible and the events it records is overlooked or underestimated, because people aren't thinking about the issues enough or aren't being honest about them.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Apologetics In Action

There are many Biblical passages that explicitly refer to the importance of apologetics and closely related concepts. See the examples discussed here. But there's also a lot of implicit reference to the importance of apologetics in scripture. Think of the evidential significance of the miracles performed by the prophets in the Old Testament era, the evidential significance of Jesus' prophecy fulfillments, the apologetic use made of the healings, exorcisms, and other miracles performed by Jesus and the apostles, and so on. As I've mentioned before, the Bible is structured around a framework of apologetics. The early Christians often referred to the two Testaments of scripture as "the prophets and the apostles" (e.g., The Muratorian Canon; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 1:1; cf. 2 Peter 3:2). Josephus and other ancient Jewish sources refer to how the closing of the Old Testament canon was brought about by the cessation of the prophets and prophecy. Evidential concepts like fulfilled prophecy and eyewitness testimony (apostles had to be eyewitnesses of the risen Christ) formed the parameters of scripture.

Because so much of the Biblical support for apologetics is of that less explicit nature, people often underestimate the value of apologetics. It's misleading to measure how much we should be involved in apologetic work on the basis of something like how often we come across explicit references to apologetics in scripture. Jesus and the apostles largely argued by means of healings, fulfilling prophecy in the presence of their audience, and performing other miracles. The less we're involved in such activities, the more we need to make up for that absence by means of argumentation and the citation of evidence. Much of what Jesus, the apostles, and other Biblical figures did in apologetics was of a nonverbal nature, but has to take on a verbal form where that nonverbal one isn't present.

Thursday, September 01, 2022

The Cleverness Of The Enfield Poltergeist

I've often discussed apparent differences between the entity behind the poltergeist and the individuals sometimes alleged to have faked it or produced it through their psychic abilities. See my article on the poltergeist voice, for example, which provides many examples of paranormal knowledge exhibited by the voice, its being ignorant of information the Hodgson children were aware of, etc. One of the categories I referred to there was knowledge the voice had that was above that of the children. I want to expand on what I said there, but with regard to the poltergeist in general rather than only the voice, and I want to focus on a particular form of knowledge it exhibited. It sometimes seemed more clever than you'd expect the Hodgson children to be.

By its nature, that sort of characteristic is going to provide weaker evidence than what we have for the poltergeist's authenticity and identity in other contexts. A child, or an adolescent in particular, could be unusually clever. As I've mentioned before, the magician Milbourne Christopher explained the Enfield case as a hoax perpetrated by the Hodgson girls and referred to Janet as "very, very clever". (The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 9, No. 2, Winter 1984-85, "A Final Interview With Milbourne Christopher", 161) But we don't begin with a default assumption that a person is so unusually clever, we have evidence I've discussed before that Janet and Margaret weren't so clever (e.g., what we know about their academic records, how poorly they faked phenomena on the occasions when they're known to have done so, the lack of such cleverness reflected in their later lives), and cleverness falls well short of explaining everything that needs to be explained. Furthermore, the argument from cleverness doesn't have to give us certainty or even a high degree of probability in order to have some significance. If the cleverness of the entity behind the poltergeist seems better explained by some entity other than the ones alleged to have faked the case or alleged to have produced genuine phenomena through paranormal abilities they had, that better explanation doesn't have to be better by a large margin. It just has to be better. A larger margin would be preferable, but a preference isn't a necessity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The Importance Of Rome's Testimony About Luke's Authorship

My last post mentioned some corroboration of Lukan authorship of the third gospel from sources predating Irenaeus (Marcion and his earliest followers, Justin Martyr, a Roman source Irenaeus cited). People often claim that Irenaeus provides the earliest attribution of the third gospel to Luke, but these sources move the earliest attribution and some partial corroboration of it prior to when Irenaeus wrote.

And notice how all three of these pre-Irenaean sources are connected to Rome. Marcion was in Rome, Justin Martyr spent some time there, and Irenaeus' source seems to be Roman.

Paul traveled to Rome multiple times, spent a long time there, and died in that city. The author of Luke and Acts claimed to be a close companion of Paul and frequently discusses him and refers to traveling with him, including going with Paul to Rome around the time when the third gospel was published (Acts 28:14). Given the nature of the events leading up to and following Acts 28:14 and the recording of a large amount of detail in the author's recounting of the events, there's a good chance that the author used his time in Rome to do a lot of his work composing Acts. That would have provided some opportunities for the author (and Paul and whoever else) to have had discussions with the Roman Christians about the writing of the gospel and its sequel. Even if his work on Luke/Acts while in Rome was of a lesser nature, such as just taking some notes, that sort of situation would also have some significance here. If Colossians and Philemon were written from Rome, Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24 place Luke there, and 2 Timothy 4:11 has Luke in Rome again later on. The references to Mark with Luke in Roman contexts (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24, 2 Timothy 4:11) add to the likelihood that issues involving Luke's gospel would have been discussed.

This puts critics of the traditional gospel authorship attributions in a bad position. How likely is it that there would be so many early literary references to Mark and Luke in Rome (more than what I've cited above), including references to their being in the city for so long and in such significant contexts, if they hadn't been there? And if they were there, how likely are the Roman Christians to have been as ignorant as skeptical hypotheses require them to have been regarding Mark and Luke's relationships with the gospels attributed to them? The Roman church was in a good position to have reliable information on the authorship of the third gospel (and its genre, historicity, etc.). So, not only do we have testimony on the authorship of that gospel predating the testimony of Irenaeus, but we even have it from such significant sources.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Best And Earliest Evidence For Gospel Authorship

I can't be exhaustive here. These are just some examples, and more can be found in our archives. (See my collection of links to posts on Matthew's authorship here, for instance.) But I want to gather a lot of this information into one post that addresses all of the gospels. Some of the posts I'll be linking below discuss multiple topics, so you may have to search for the relevant material within the post that's linked.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Asking To Be Heard By God When You Don't Hear Yourself

"But what carelessness it is, to be distracted and carried away by foolish and profane thoughts when you are praying to the Lord, as if there were anything which you should rather be thinking of than that you are speaking with God! How can you ask to be heard of God, when you yourself do not hear yourself? Do you wish that God should remember you when you ask, if you yourself do not remember yourself? This is absolutely to take no precaution against the enemy; this is, when you pray to God, to offend the majesty of God by the carelessness of your prayer; this is to be watchful with your eyes, and to be asleep with your heart" (Cyprian, Treatise 4, On The Lord's Prayer, 31)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Other Ways To Evaluate The Assumption Of Mary

I've mentioned some of the contexts in which the early Christians could have discussed an assumption of Mary, if they thought she was assumed. See here, for example. Even lesser figures who were assumed to heaven, supernaturally transported from one location to another, or some such thing get mentioned in the early literature, like Habakkuk in Bel And The Dragon and the witnesses in Revelation 11:12. Figures like Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus get mentioned frequently (Luke 24:51; Hebrews 11:5; First Clement 9; Aristides, Apology, 2; etc.). From the second century onward, there are many discussions of Paul's being taken up to heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:30:7, 5:5:1; Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 1:6; etc.). I've come across several discussions of that incident in Paul's life in the writings of Origen alone. Eusebius, in his Church History, sometimes discusses events reminiscent of what's supposed to have happened at the end of Mary's life, such as Quadratus' reference to people who had survived down to his day who had been raised from the dead by Jesus (4:3:2) and a bishop and his wife who went missing and whose bodies were never found (6:42:3).

One of the Biblical passages to keep in mind in these contexts is 1 Corinthians 15:20. The early Christians sometimes discuss how Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection and write about the implications for later resurrections that will occur (e.g., First Clement 24-26). They could have used Mary as an illustration, if they thought she'd already been resurrected in that manner.

Another context to consider is the earliest Christian art. Eventually, there were depictions of Mary being assumed. But I don't know of any examples in the earliest years when Christians were producing artwork that's extant. The early Christian opposition to the use of images in some contexts complicates the situation. (And offers more contradictions of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox claims about church history, apostolic tradition, and so on.) Frederick Norris referred to a couple of depictions of Elijah being assumed in a chariot, one before the time of Constantine and the other in the fourth century (in Everett Ferguson, ed., Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], 368). I know that there are some depictions of Jesus' resurrection and ascension in the early artwork (sometimes indirectly, it seems, such as by showing scenes from Jonah and the whale to represent Jesus' resurrection). There are depictions of the raising of various individuals from the gospels. The raising of Lazarus was a popular subject in early Christian art. I'm not aware of any depiction of a resurrection or assumption of Mary in the earliest centuries. By contrast, Mary does appear in other artistic contexts during that timeframe.

The Other Paul's New Web Site

Paul does a lot of good work on a lot of important issues. He has a new web site.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Patristic And Medieval Beliefs Are More Complicated Than Often Suggested

When discussing the history of beliefs, people often underestimate the diversity of views that have been held. I'm focused on patristic and medieval sources, since those come up so prominently in the sort of discussions I've been having lately about the claims of groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. We shouldn't just count up how many people were for or against a particular view. For example, sometimes a source was agnostic on an issue or held a position on it, but qualified that position with an expression of hesitation about it.

I've been posting a lot about the Assumption of Mary lately, and that's a good example of a belief that's relevant in this context. It's not as though every source was ignorant of the assumption claim, favored it, or opposed it. There are more categories than those three, and we should be taking more of the details involved in each category into account. There were some patristic and medieval sources who were agnostic about whether Mary was assumed or expressed a view, but accompanied that expression with significant qualifiers, such as by commenting on how hesitant they were about their conclusion. That's relevant to the claims Pope Pius XII and other Catholics and non-Catholics have made about an assumption of Mary. If somebody says that he thinks it seems fitting that God would assume Mary to heaven, but that he's hesitant about it, that other Christians are free to not accept her assumption, or something like that, that's significantly different than saying that Mary's assumption is an apostolic tradition always held by the church. It's important to make distinctions like these. And though I've used the Assumption of Mary as an example, we need to take these issues into account across the board, whatever the issue is that's being considered.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Faithful Under Defeat, Waiting For The Reward In The Next Life

"If we derive our motives for Christian labor or stedfastness from the things which we see, our spirit will oscillate from ardor into coldness, it will rise and fall with the circumstances around us. It is comparatively easy for a successful man to go on preaching or otherwise laboring for the Lord, but I admire the perseverance of the man who remains faithful under defeat. To get such a faithfulness we must disentangle ourselves from the idea of being rewarded here; we must be stedfast and unmoveable though nobody praises us, and abound in the work of the Lord though no fruit should come from it, because we have looked beyond this present realm of death, and have gazed into another world where the resurrection shall bring with it our reward." (Charles Spurgeon)

Sunday, August 14, 2022

The Issues Below The Surface

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the programs I watched on television was "The King Is Coming". It was sometimes hosted by Dave Breese. He'd often cite part of a poem, and I don't think I've ever tracked down who it comes from: