Thursday, September 21, 2023

What should we say about Irenaeus' influence on gospel authorship attribution?

I discussed the evidence for the traditional gospel authorship attributions in a post last week. One of the most significant sources who's brought up in discussions of the topic is Irenaeus. It's often suggested that he originated the traditional authorship attributions, that he was the primary source who popularized those attributions, or something else along those lines. What I want to do here is recommend a concise way of addressing that sort of claim.

I've written a lot in the past about Irenaeus' trustworthiness: his character, the general accuracy of his claims, where he lived, his relationships with individuals like Polycarp, etc. For example, see here, here, and here. Those issues are relevant to his credibility on the authorship of the gospels, but I want to focus on one thing that can concisely and easily make the point. Irenaeus himself refers to earlier sources who corroborated his authorship attributions. See his citation of Ptolemy in section 1:8:5 of Against Heresies and his citation of a Roman source in section 3:1:1. (For the evidence that he's citing a Roman source, see here.) Notice, too, that the sources are so diverse. Ptolemy was a heretic, and though Irenaeus spent some time in Rome, he primarily lived elsewhere. So, we already see such a variety of sources (in terms of theology, location, etc.) agreeing on these authorship attributions by the time Irenaeus wrote. We have evidence to that effect outside of Irenaeus as well, but it's evident even within this one document from Irenaeus himself, before we even get to those other sources.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Recent Claims About Evidence For Mary's Assumption

In an earlier post, I mentioned a debate on her assumption that TurretinFan and Dan Chapa participated in. They've been producing a lot of videos since then addressing the debate and some claims that have been circulating about alleged evidence for an assumption of Mary (what Jacob of Serug wrote on the subject, what modern scholars who specialize in the Assumption have said about the history of belief in Mary's assumption, etc.). There's a lot of valuable material in the videos. You can watch them here.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

What should we make of the evidence for reincarnation?

Jimmy Akin recently produced a couple of videos on the subject, here and here, primarily about modern research into reincarnation cases that suggest something paranormal is going on. He discusses the evidence for the cases and addresses the explanatory options. His own explanation seems to have a lot of merit.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

First-Century Identifications Of The Gospel Authors

Michael Jones (InspiringPhilosophy) recently posted a video that makes a lot of good points against the popular claim that the gospels originally circulated anonymously. He's covering a lot of ground in a short video, though, so he doesn't bring up everything that could be mentioned. The video can be supplemented with the information here, which includes some sources not addressed in the video. For example, I've discussed some evidence that Papias not only attributed the fourth gospel to John, but also specified the son of Zebedee rather than some other John or just leaving the issue ambiguous. There are many other relevant posts in our archives. See this one on the significance of the location of some early gospel attributions, like the Roman location of sources commenting on the third gospel, and see here on the evidence for Matthew's authorship of the gospel attributed to him, for example. Michael's video mentions Richard Bauckham, who's done a lot of good work on gospel issues, including the authorship of the documents. However, there are some problems with his views on some of the gospels, and I've addressed those here (on Matthew) and here (on John). A commentary on Matthew's gospel that recently came out argued that the gospel titles were added at the time when all four gospels were gathered in a collection. Here's my explanation of why that's unlikely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Conversations That Are So Light And Unprofitable

"Why is their discourse so light and unprofitable when they meet, but because their hearts are earthly and vain? But now, if Christians would study their hearts more and keep them better, the beauty and glory of communion would be restored." (John Flavel, Keeping The Heart [Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2019], 115-16)

Sunday, September 10, 2023

We Must Give Pain To Our Hearers

"I know that a chill comes over you on hearing these things; but what am I to do? For this is God's own command, continually to sound these things in your ears, where He says, 'Charge this people;' and ordained as we have been unto the ministry of the word, we must give pain to our hearers, not willingly but on compulsion. Nay rather, if you will, we shall avoid giving you pain. For saith He, 'if thou do that which is good, fear not:' [Romans 13:3] so that it is possible for you to hear me not only without ill-will, but even with pleasure….The argument is irksome and pains the hearer: were it only by my own feelings, I know this. For indeed my heart is troubled and throbs; and the more I see the account of hell confirmed, the more do I tremble and shrink through fear. But it is necessary to say these things lest we fall into hell." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On First Corinthians, 9:1-2)

He refers to church leaders and hell, but his comments also have a broader application. There are a lot of subjects that get discussed much less than they should. People are overly interested in short-term comforts and conveniences and being liked and respected and having a higher rather than lower social status, especially among their relatives. If you love people, you'll bring some pain into their lives in these contexts.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Price Paid For What We Enjoy

"Therefore, every good gift in this world and the next (including innumerable wonders to enjoy in nature) was purchased by Christ for us at the cost of his life. Therefore, every sight, every sound, every fragrance, every texture, every taste in this world that is not sin is meant to intensify our admiration and love for Jesus (as creator, sustainer, upholder, and redeemer) and move us to 'boast…in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Gal. 6:14). The theater of wonders that we call the natural world is through Christ and for Christ." (John Piper, Providence [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020], approximate Kindle location 3561)

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

There Were Many Views Of Baptism Before The Reformation

I've been seeing a lot of comments lately to the effect that every Christian believed in baptismal regeneration before the Reformation, that the church fathers all held a particular view of baptism that contradicts what most Evangelicals believe, etc. Typically, almost always, issues like these are approached as if there was one view of baptism that was held universally or almost universally prior to the Reformation.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Does baptism save?

Obviously (1 Peter 3:21). It's remarkable that so many Evangelicals deny it or try to avoid saying it. What they ought to do, instead, especially when it's so evident what the people asking them the question are up to, is say something like, "Yes, baptism saves, but in the sense of sanctification, not justification." That's the context in which Peter was writing. The surrounding context is primarily about sanctification, such as "good behavior in Christ" (3:16) and "suffering in the flesh" as Christ did (4:1). There's a reference to a good conscience in 3:16, which is about sanctification, and verse 21 refers to a good conscience, which makes more sense if both passages are addressing sanctification. The context discusses how believers should approach opposition from non-Christians. Baptism involves a public commitment to God that sets the Christian apart in front of the surrounding culture, including those in the culture who are hostile to Christianity. Peter occasionally mentions justification in his letter, much as he occasionally mentions other topics, but he's primarily addressing post-conversion issues. That context favors a non-justificatory interpretation of "saves" (as in Matthew 8:25, 1 Timothy 4:16, Hebrews 5:7, 9:28, 1 Peter 3:20, etc.). Noah was already saved in the sense of justification when the flood occurred. His salvation in the flood context was of a different nature, as Peter's readers were saved through baptism in a non-justificatory manner. The parallel with Noah and the flood is vague under either reading, but makes somewhat more sense if Peter's focus is on sanctification rather than justification.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Mary's Sinfulness In Pre-Reformation Sources

Gavin Ortlund recently produced a video about the sinlessness of Mary. I've written a few posts over the years (here, here, and here) providing some of the many examples of references to her sinfulness among pre-Reformation sources. I've come across more over the years, but I haven't been posting all of them.

For example, earlier this year, I was looking something up in Michael O'Carroll's Theotokos (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988), and I came across a few more relevant sources unexpectedly. As I recall, I was looking up one of the entries in the "H" section. While I was there, I decided to read a few of the nearby entries. Over and over, there are references to how various pre-Reformation sources denied Mary's sinlessness in one way or another. Helinand of Froidmont, who died in the thirteenth century, is referred to as thinking that Mary "was sanctified in the womb", meaning that she wasn't immaculately conceived (169). Henry of Ghent, in the thirteenth century, held that "Mary's soul in the very moment in which it was united to the body was both contaminated by sin and sanctified" (169). Hesychius, who died in the fifth century, interprets the sword of Luke 2:35 as a reference to doubt on Mary's part, commenting that "though Mary was a virgin, she was a woman, though she was the Mother of God, she was of our stuff" (170). Those are just a few examples among so many others like that in O'Carroll's work alone. And he leaves out a lot that could have been included.

I want to make another point relevant to Luke 2:35. During the patristic era, the verse was commonly viewed as a reference to sin on Mary's part, which is likely a correct interpretation. Basil of Caesarea, one of the sources who saw a reference to sin on Mary's part in Luke 2:35, goes as far as to say that there's "no obscurity or variety of interpretation" (Letter 260:6). That's not accurate, but it does illustrate how widespread belief in Mary's sinfulness was, that Basil would go so far in describing how popular his view was at the time. And it illustrates how we need to take into account not only what sources like Basil tell us about their own views, but also what information we can gather from them about other sources.

The sinlessness of Mary isn't just denied by a few sources in the earliest centuries, but instead is widely contradicted for hundreds of years, from the first century onward, including by apostles, prominent church fathers, and Roman bishops. Rejection of her sinlessness is still found in some sources well into the medieval era, even into the second millennium.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

David's Greater Son

Here's a collection of links to some of our posts about prophecies Jesus has fulfilled. The list is in canonical order. It's not meant to be exhaustive. We've written many posts on Jesus' Davidic ancestry and his influence on the Gentile world, for example, and I can't link all of them here. Steve Hays alone probably wrote at least a triple-digit number of posts on prophecy issues, and I haven't included every one of his relevant posts here. If you want something not included in the list below, search our archives for it. The fact that it's not included below doesn't prove that it isn't in our archives. I could easily have overlooked something or have not included it for some other reason.

I expect to supplement the list when warranted. You may want to periodically check for updates.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

More Patristic Opposition To The Assumption Of Mary

TurretinFan and Dan Chapa recently debated William Albrecht and Sam Shamoun on Mary's assumption. During the debate, TurretinFan brought up some examples of patristic passages that imply that Mary wasn't assumed and patristic discussions of subjects related to an assumption of Mary in which other relevant figures are mentioned (Enoch, Elijah, etc.), but Mary isn't. He included some examples I haven't brought up before. See here for the text of a passage in Ambrose that refers to how Jesus is the only person who's been permanently resurrected. And see here for the text of a passage in which Caesarius of Arles comments that none of Jesus' followers will ascend to the clouds until the time of Jesus' second coming. For some other examples of individuals before the Reformation who denied Mary's assumption, see here.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Why Some Bad Arguments Are Hard To Refute

"It may be easier to obviate an objection which has some force in it than to overthrow another which has positively no force at all; in fact, the most difficult arguments to answer are [those] which are insane at the core, for you must be insane yourself before you can quite catch the thought which insanity has uttered, and as you do not wish to qualify for controversy with fools, by becoming a fool yourself, you may not be able to reply to your antagonist." (Charles Spurgeon)

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Why Matthew Would Use Mark's Gospel

I've written a lot about the evidence for the apostle Matthew's authorship of the gospel attributed to him. See here for a collection of some relevant posts. One of the most prominent objections to his authorship of the document is the notion that Matthew wouldn't have used the gospel of Mark as much as critics think the author of the gospel attributed to Matthew did. Somebody like Matthew shouldn't have been so dependent on Mark. I've addressed that objection before. I think the most likely scenario is that Matthew oversaw the production of his gospel, but delegated most of the work to one or more other individuals who composed the document under his supervision. But Lydia McGrew provides a good overview of another possible scenario, in which Matthew produced the gospel directly himself. This is from her recent book Testimonies To The Truth (Tampa, Florida: DeWard, 2023):

"Suppose that Mark wrote before Matthew, but that Matthew doesn't want to reinvent the wheel. There are no concerns about plagiarism in that time. It's perfectly fine for him to borrow some of Mark's wording. Mark has, let's suppose, already written a Gospel in Greek based on the memories of Peter, and Matthew decides to use it. It can help with parts of Jesus' ministry before he was personally called as a disciple. It can prompt his memory, and it can give him convenient wording to use, though of course he reserves the right to use his own words as well. So, he starts. But he finds in various places that he remembers or knows something that varies from the story as it is told in Mark. In these places he feels entirely free to supplement Mark from his own memories or from the memories of other people whom he spoke to about the events." (56-57)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Better Than To Reign Over All The Ends Of The Earth

"Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ. All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth." (Ignatius, Letter To The Romans, 5-6)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Trent Horn's Recent Video On Mary's Assumption

You can watch the video here. I replied to a previous video he produced on the topic last year, and some of what could be said in response to his recent video was said in last year's context. You can go here for my response to that previous video. I want to reiterate or expand upon several points:

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Argument From Prophecy Works Against Extreme Skepticism

On his podcast last Friday, Greg Koukl spoke to a man who was interacting with somebody with one of the more extreme skeptical views of early Christianity (skeptical of Jesus' existence, skeptical of the existence of the apostles, etc.). The caller wanted to know how to make an appeal to prophecy fulfillment when interacting with that sort of skepticism. The answer depends on certain factors involved, like some of the details of the skepticism in question and which prophecies are in mind. But I want to address some of the general principles involved. Adjustments would have to be made to those principles depending on the details of a particular situation.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Stop Giving So Much Deference To Where People Are

It's often suggested that we shouldn't expect much more from people than what they're already doing. Don't expect people to think in much depth about certain issues, don't expect them to read much, don't expect them to improve their moral standards much, etc. I do a lot of work in apologetics. We're often told that we shouldn't expect much from the average person or the average Christian in that context. Supposedly, if people aren't doing more, then that proves that they can't do more, that it would be too difficult to get them to do more, or some such thing.

Where would the world be today if that kind of mindset had been adopted by the people who changed the world for the better in previous generations? Why did Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount? His standards were too high. He shouldn't have expected so much from people. "I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them", said Trypho, but that didn't keep Jesus and the early Christians from putting forward those precepts and transforming the world by them (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho, 10). What about the major improvement in literacy that we've seen over the centuries? Too unrealistic. Nobody should have ever tried to accomplish it. We should have just been satisfied with lower literacy rates. After all, most people aren't cut out, wired, gifted, or whatever other language you want to use to handle something like literacy. So, we shouldn't even try. Or how about the recent major decline in poverty across the world? Don't even attempt it. It obviously won't ever happen. Don't even try. And while you're being so apathetic and lazy, add things like the advances we've seen in political freedom, technology, and medicine to the list. Those things won't ever happen either. Don't even attempt it.

Really, though, people are often capable of not just more than they're currently doing, but even much more. That's true in apologetics and in a lot of other contexts in life. There are many contexts in which we don't need to keep the bar where it is or lower it. We need to raise it, and we need to raise it a lot. The fact that people initially resist that raising of the bar doesn't prove that they're incapable of meeting the higher standard. Often, what it proves is that they're sinful and that we need to be vigilant and diligent in keeping the standard high.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

At Ease In Zion

"I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing." (2 Samuel 24:24)

At ease in Zion! Where is then the cross,
The Master's cross, all pain and shame defying?
Where is the true disciple's cross and cup,
The daily conflict and the daily dying,
The fearless front of faith, the noble self-denying?

At ease in Zion! Shall no sense of shame
Arouse us from our self-indulgent dreaming?
No pity for the world? No love to Him
Who braved life's sorrow and man's disesteeming,
Us to God's light and joy by His dark death redeeming?
(Horatius Bonar, "At Ease In Zion", Hymns Of The Nativity [London, England: James Nisbet & Co., 1879], 35-36)

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

The Credibility Of Jesus' Relatives As Witnesses

Their testimony is significant in a lot of contexts, such as the events surrounding Christmas and Easter. Here's a summary of the factors involved, taken from a post I wrote last year:

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Thousands Of Pigs

People often make much of the large number of witnesses to an event, such as the hundreds of resurrection witnesses mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 or the thousands Jesus fed in the feedings of the four thousand and the five thousand. That's appropriate. The large numbers involved give us some useful information about the plausibility of explaining the reports by appealing to hallucinations, dishonesty, and so forth.

But there are other numbers involved that often don't get as much attention as they should. Referring to an empty tomb belonging to a named member of the Jewish Sanhedrin in a known location doesn't involve a claim that a large number of people verified the emptiness of the tomb. But the nature of the circumstances is such that the empty tomb would have been verifiable by a large number of people and probably would have been verified by some.

The main example I want to focus on here, though, is one that I don't think has gotten much attention. The episode with the possessed man in Mark 5:1-20 didn't involve hundreds or thousands of people, as far as we can tell, but it did involve thousands of pigs (verse 13). That should have been memorable, if it happened. And expensive for the owners of the pigs. And would have stood out in other ways. When Jesus tells the man who was exorcized to tell others what happened, he does so (verses 19-20).

Critics sometimes make an issue of the private nature of Biblical miracle accounts (e.g., Gabriel's annunciation to Mary, the Mount of Transfiguration). But much of what the gospels (and other Biblical sources) report is of a highly public nature. The account in Mark 5 is strikingly public, publicized, and verifiable and falsifiable to a first-century audience.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Christians In The United States Government Trying To Stop UFO Research

Lue Elizondo, a former high-ranking official in the United States government's efforts to research UFOs, has said that he encountered significant opposition within the Department of Defense and Pentagon from Christians who said that the research should stop. According to them, we already know that UFOs are demons, and we shouldn't research them any further. Here's Ron James, of the UFO organization MUFON, discussing the topic. And here's Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire expressing agreement with Elizondo's Christian critics. Knowles' video includes a clip of Elizondo talking about the subject. James refers to other Christians who hold other views. And Elizondo may be oversimplifying the situation in some relevant way. But many Christians are like the critics Elizondo referred to, with Knowles being an example.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Would you have expected UFOs and aliens to be like this?

I want to make a point about UFOs that I've made in the past about near-death experiences (NDEs). Let's say it's the 1920s. Somebody tells you that over the next century, there's going to be a lot of work done in a couple of areas, NDEs and UFOs. They tell you about all of the research, documentation, and such that will occur. What would you expect to be discovered?

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Matthew 5 And Miracles Among Non-Christians

A common objection to Christianity is that miracles are reported among non-Christians, not just among Christians, or that miracles are reported to a particular degree or in a particular way among non-Christians. I've interacted with that argument many times, like here. A passage in the Bible that I don't recall having seen cited in this context before is Matthew 5:44-45. The call to pray for our enemies seems to imply that miracles can happen among non-Christians. It's doubtful that such an unqualified call to pray for our enemies would be intended to be limited to activities like praying for their salvation or would be so limited in practice. It's to be expected that such an unqualified principle would sometimes involve prayers for healing and other relevant types of supernatural activity. The examples of God's kindness to unbelievers mentioned in verse 45 are broad, which seems to underscore how broadly we can pray for them. The similar sentiment found in Acts 14:17 is likewise broad. So, the Matthew 5 passage can be added to others (like the ones discussed in my post linked above) showing that the occurrence of miracles among non-Christians is not only consistent with Christianity, but even affirmed by it and in its most foundational sources.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

What should we make of UFOs?

The subject has been in the news lately. It deserves far more attention than it gets, in the news and elsewhere. That's partly the media's fault. It's more the fault of the average person, though, who's much less interested in such subjects than he should be. In a post shortly before his death, Steve Hays outlined some explanatory options for UFOs from a Christian perspective. I'll briefly summarize the view I currently hold, though UFOs aren't one of my main areas of study. Since the view I hold is unpopular and doesn't get much attention, I think it's worth bringing up and expanding upon as one of the explanatory options that should be considered. Steve mentions it in his post, but doesn't say much about it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Price You Pay To Start Baptismal Regeneration At The Great Commission

Advocates of baptismal regeneration sometimes claim that it didn't go into effect until the time of the Great Commission, thereby avoiding arguments against the doctrine from the thief on the cross and other earlier individuals justified apart from baptism. There are some problems with that position, however:

Sunday, July 23, 2023

More Early Contexts In Which An Assumption Of Mary Isn't Mentioned

During the earliest centuries of church history, many subjects that are relevant to an assumption of Mary are discussed without any mention of her being assumed. There are discussions about people who were resurrected and people who were bodily taken up to heaven, for example. Enoch, Elijah, Jesus, Paul, and other figures are mentioned when the relevant topics come up, and there are even occasional references to lesser figures we don't normally think about in these contexts, like Habakkuk and the two witnesses in Revelation 11. See here, here, here, and here, among other posts in our archives, for more about the background to this post.

Here are a few other relevant sources, which I don't think I've posted here before:

Cyprian (Treatises, 7, On The Mortality, 23), citing Enoch and the righteous in Wisdom 4:11

Didymus the Blind (in Robert Hill, trans., Commentary On Genesis [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2016], 5, pp. 138-40), citing Enoch and Elijah

Ambrose (On The Death Of Satyrus, 2:94), citing Enoch and Elijah

John Chrysostom (Commentary On The Acts Of The Apostles, 2), citing Elijah and Jesus

The Gospel Of Nicodemus, 2:9, citing Enoch and Elijah as the two witnesses of Revelation 11

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Against The Invocation Of Saints

That's the title of a book I hadn't heard about before I listened to The Other Paul's video with the author, Seth Kasten, earlier today. You can order the book here. I ordered it earlier today and expect to read it soon. It looks like there's some overlap between Seth's material on the topic and mine, but also some material we each cover that the other one didn't. It's a neglected subject and one that heavily favors Protestantism over Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The video linked above is worth watching, since the topic is so important, so neglected, and seldom addressed in that much depth.

What Needs To Be Addressed In Gospel Authorship Disputes

Discussions will often focus inordinately on one Christian, like Papias or Irenaeus, or a small group of Christian sources. Some of the evidence that most needs to be addressed won't even come up. For example, what about the practical issue of how the gospels and similar documents were distinguished from one another in contexts like their use in church services, their being stored in libraries, and in the process of looking up information in them? In modern contexts, we use means such as titles on the covers of books and titles on book spines to distinguish one book from another. How were distinctions made during the earliest years when the gospels circulated (not just the second century and later)? We know that distinguishing among the relevant documents by means of author names was widely practiced from the second century onward, and continuity makes more sense than discontinuity. Since those who think the documents were distinguished differently in the first century or who want us to be agnostic on the subject bear the burden of proof (given the discontinuity they're giving credence to), what proof do they have to offer? Another significant issue that often gets neglected is what non-Christians (heretics, Jews, and pagans) said about authorship issues, not just Christian sources. People often suggest that somebody like Papias or Irenaeus had a Christian bias that makes him unreliable. How, then, do they explain the gospel authorship attributions of non-Christians? There's also the fact that people so often underestimate the Christian sources, such as their earliness, number, variety, and credibility. Both Christian and non-Christian sources frequently questioned traditional authorship attributions (e.g., Christian doubts about Revelation, non-Christian doubts about Daniel) and left documents anonymous or attributed to a group rather than an individual (e.g., The Martyrdom Of Polycarp). They were capable of doing the same for the gospels if the evidence warranted it. For a collection of resources on issues like these, see here. And here's one about Matthew in particular.

Since Papias comes up so often in these discussions (but see the posts just linked for examples of sources other than Papias before the time of Irenaeus), do a Ctrl F search for "Papias" here for responses to common objections related to him. I wrote a review at Amazon of a book about Papias, a review you can read here, and it addresses some relevant issues as well. Keep in mind that even if Papias' comments that are typically cited about the writings of Mark and Matthew are about documents other than our canonical gospels (an unlikely scenario), his comments would still provide evidence for the traditional gospel authorship attributions. It would be a lesser and more indirect form of evidence, but, on balance, it would still be evidence for the traditional attributions. His comments would still provide evidence that Mark and Matthew were literate, that they had interest in writing about gospel-related issues in particular, etc. If Papias was referring to something Matthew wrote that was roughly analogous to the hypothetical Q document, for example, instead of our canonical Matthew, that would still increase the plausibility of Matthew's having written the canonical gospel attributed to him. It's not as though ancient authors were only capable of writing one document. Since so many of Eusebius' citations of Papias are about lesser-known traditions he commented on (about Judas' death, about premillennialism, etc.), it would be plausible that Eusebius also cited some of Papias' comments of that nature related to Mark and Matthew. Or the Mark comments are about our canonical Mark, whereas the Matthew comments are about a previous writing of Matthew that Papias discussed in the process of addressing the canonical gospel attributed to him. Whatever the scenario, none of the typical skeptical objections to Papias' comments amount to much with regard to Papias, and they're even less significant with regard to the evidence for the gospels' authorship more broadly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Athenagoras' Belief In Praying Only To God

It seems that Athenagoras, a second-century Christian, held a view of the creator/creation distinction that involved praying only to God. When addressing the gods of paganism in his A Plea For The Christians, he sometimes brings up the creator/creation distinction, such as when he refers to "distinguishing and separating the uncreated and the created" at the beginning of section 15. That distinction comes up in section 13 as well, where he responds to the objection that Christians don't offer sacrifices to the gods. He explains that instead of offering sacrifices to the gods of paganism, Christians offer other types of sacrifices to the one true God. Prayer is one of those sacrifices:

When, holding God to be this Framer of all things, who preserves them in being and superintends them all by knowledge and administrative skill, we "lift up holy hands" to Him, what need has He further of a hecatomb [sacrifice]?

"For they, when mortals have transgress’d or fail’d
To do aright, by sacrifice and pray’r,
Libations and burnt-offerings, may be soothed."

Notice that he's approaching the discussion under the theme of God's being "Framer of all things", the creator/creation distinction I referred to earlier. So, he seems to be discussing what should be offered to God alone, not any created being. His reference to "lifting up holy hands" is about prayer, as 1 Timothy 2:8 illustrates. (Athenagoras also draws material from 1 Timothy 2 elsewhere, in the closing section of the document, which increases the likelihood that he's drawing from it here.) And the quote of the Iliad that follows also combines the themes of sacrifice and prayer, adding further evidence that Athenagoras had prayer in mind. Prayer is compared to offering a sacrifice that should be given to God alone. Though he's responding to paganism, the reasoning implies that we also shouldn't pray to angels or saints. The creator/creation distinction he keeps making can't be limited to pagan gods. And, like other early Christian sources, Athenagoras refers to praying to God without ever advocating praying to saints or angels. He keeps criticizing the practice of praying to pagan gods (e.g., "as to a god who can hear" in section 26), but only offers prayer to God as an alternative. Even when he writes about how the pagans pursue gods who used to be ordinary humans who lived on earth, he never offers praying to saints, who were better humans who lived on earth, as an alternative. He never makes a distinction between some higher form of prayer that can only be offered to God and a lower type that can be given to other beings. Reading that kind of distinction into the text is a less likely interpretation and places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the person advocating that view, a burden he won't be able to carry. An unqualified reference to prayer is most naturally taken as a reference to prayer in general, not just some subcategory of prayer. The best explanation of the evidence as a whole is that Athenagoras believed that we should pray only to God.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Correcting Wikipedia's Article On The Enfield Poltergeist

I recently ran a Google search for "Enfield Poltergeist", and the Wikipedia article on the case came up as the first result. It's gotten millions of views. Wikipedia is popular in a lot of contexts, and that's often a bad thing. On paranormal topics, Wikipedia is inordinately influenced by skeptics. The Enfield article has changed over time as it's been edited, and it will change in the future, but I want to respond to it as I saw it when I recently came across it again. As far as I recall, it was pretty bad on the occasions when I saw it in previous years as well. The skeptics who have been editing the article have had almost two decades to work on it. Let's take a look at the quality of their efforts.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Why should we believe the Bible?

1. A very nice 2-part series on why we should believe the Bible from Shane Rosenthal. It's especially nice to see underutilized arguments featured front and center in Rosenthal's series (e.g. argument from prophecy). Glad to see Rosenthal still doing good work for the kingdom post-White Horse Inn.

2. Similarly see Rosenthal's excellent post "Can We Trust Luke's History of the Early Jesus Movement?". (Someday I'd like to pick up Colin Hemer's The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, but as far as I'm aware it's only available used or secondhand and all the copies I've seen are quite expensive.)

3. Speaking of Rosenthal, I appreciate Rosenthal's interviews with Lydia McGrew about her own fine works in this area over on The Humble Skeptic podcast. Lydia's most recent book Testimonies to the Truth: Why You Can Trust the Gospels looks like it'd be quite stimulating as well as edifying to read. It seems aimed at being a port of entry for the reliability of the Gospels (and afterwards, I assume, one can embark on her other three longer works for further voyages). I wonder how it will compare to a standard bearer on the reliability of the Gospels like Craig Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (3rd edition). I'm sure it'd be ideal to read and study both.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Jesus' Happiness

"Jesus himself — and all that God is for us in him — is our great reward, nothing less. 'I am the bread of life....If anyone thirsts, let him come to me' (John 6:35; 7:37). Salvation is not mainly the forgiveness of sins, but mainly the fellowship of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9). Forgiveness gets everything out of the way so this can happen. If this fellowship is not all-satisfying, there is no great salvation. If Christ is gloomy, or even calmly stoical, eternity will be a long, long sigh. But the glory and grace of Jesus is that he is, and always will be, indestructibly happy. I say it is his glory, because gloom is not glorious. And I say it is his grace, because the best thing he has to give us is his joy. 'These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full' (John 15:11; see also 17:13)….In Hebrews 1:8-9 God speaks to the Son, not to the angels, with these astonishing words: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. . . .You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.' Jesus Christ is the happiest being in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven. He mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father." (John Piper, Seeing And Savoring Jesus Christ [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2004], 35-36)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Did Irenaeus condemn prayer to angels?

Yes, though advocates of the practice sometimes suggest otherwise by adding qualifiers Irenaeus didn't include. Let's look at a couple of relevant passages.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

If somebody prays for you, does it follow that you can pray to him?

Obviously not. Yet, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox often act as if passages in the church fathers about how the saints pray for us are evidence that those fathers believed in praying to the saints. Or let's say that somebody lives a thousand miles from you, but is part of the same denomination you belong to. And that denomination has set aside a particular day to pray about something. Let's say it's praying for missionaries. So, that person is praying with you for missionaries, in the sense that you're both praying for them on that day. Does the fact that he's praying with you prove that you can pray to him? Would you go into your bedroom, say a prayer to this man who lives a thousand miles away, and expect him to hear the prayer? No, you wouldn't. If you prayed for him, would it make sense for somebody to conclude that you must have no objection to praying to him as well? No. In that sort of everyday experience, we make the relevant distinction between praying for an individual and praying to him, praying with somebody and praying to somebody, being prayed for by somebody and praying to that person. And Protestants aren't the only ones who make those distinctions. Catholics and Orthodox do as well. They have to. They couldn't function in everyday life without doing so. But when they get into discussions about praying to the saints (and angels), they often act as though all of these distinctions can be disregarded. Supposedly, citing a church father's reference to how the saints pray for us or with us or how we pray for them is sufficient to prove that the father believed in praying to the saints.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

The Flattery Machine

We're in another presidential election season. That means we'll be getting a lot of flattery from a lot of politicians trying to get our vote. We'll hear about how we're such hard workers who deserve better leaders, how the nation's problems are so much the fault of some small minority of people rather than the average person, etc. Businesses and advertisers flatter us in an attempt to get our money, and politicians flatter us in an attempt to get our vote. And all of that is accompanied by a lot of talk about self-esteem, not letting anybody judge you, not letting anybody put you down, following your heart, etc. The fact that people are aware that they live in that sort of atmosphere of flattery and realize how misleading it is doesn't mean that it doesn't adversely affect them. You don't have to buy all of it in order to buy some of it. "Flattery is like perfume. Sniff it. Don't swallow it." A few facts to keep in mind as you take in all of the flattery of the presidential election season:

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Christ Leaving For Other Lands

An early view of America:

"I am credibly informed, that multitudes of England, and especially worthy preachers, and silenced preachers of London, are gone to New England; and I know one learned holy preacher, who hath written against the Arminians, who is gone thither. Our Blessed Lord Jesus, who cannot get leave to sleep with His spouse in this land, is going to seek an inn where He will be better entertained….Christ is putting on His clothes, and making Him, like an ill-handled stranger, to go to other lands….There is a cloud gathering and a storm coming. This land shall be turned upside down; and if ever the Lord spake to me (think on it), Christ's bride will be glad of a hole to hide her head in, and the dragon may so prevail as to chase the woman and her man-child over sea." (Samuel Rutherford, Letters Of Samuel Rutherford [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012], 56, 121-22)

Sunday, July 02, 2023

What We Should Make Of Passages Like Luke 4:16-30

Lydia McGrew recently posted a good video about an unjustified bias against "the possibility that events have happened on multiple occasions that are broadly similar to each other" (e.g., Jesus' cleansing the temple twice). Two later videos, here and here, discuss the example of Luke 4:16-30 and how it relates to some similar material in Matthew and Mark. People often overestimate such similarities and underestimate other factors involved.

Here's a post I wrote last year that provides some extrabiblical examples. And a post I wrote about Jesus' relatives discusses the plausibility of Luke's use of James the brother of Jesus as a source for the Luke 4 passage.

Jimmy Akin's Paranormal Material

Cameron Bertuzzi recently had a discussion with Jimmy Akin about some paranormal issues. They address some of the problems with being too quick to appeal to the demonic hypothesis to explain something that's thought to be paranormal, how well human paranormal capacities fit within a Christian worldview, and some other issues that tend to be neglected in Christian discussions. Jimmy has a YouTube channel that addresses paranormal issues, and there's a lot of good material there.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

If These Things Fail To Move Us

"God's endless mercy and the kindness shown to us in his Son are daily confirmed to us in the gospel. They should be the flame which kindles our love for God. The pity is that much of this passes us by. There are so few people who appreciate what we owe to Christ's blood and to the eternal salvation he has obtained for us….What change is visible in the lives we lead? The truth is that we plod along, as the saying goes, like Brown's cows, having little relish for what we are taught. Yet the very stones would break in two to hear the message of God's mercy that we hear, a message which lays open God's very heart! If these things fail to move us, is it not because Satan has bewitched us? And because we are so hardened that there is more feeling in blocks of wood or in stones than in us?" (John Calvin, in Robert White, trans., Songs Of The Nativity [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2008], 105-6)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Do passages like Hebrews 11:1 support a view of faith that has little or no concern for evidence?

Stephen Woodford, who operates the Rationality Rules YouTube channel, recently posted a video about the alleged irrationality of theism. It's been getting a lot of attention, including some responses from Christians. I'm not going to interact with all of it. What I want to focus on is a segment about faith, which promotes a popular misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:1. That verse is often cited to support the idea that Christian faith has little or no concern for evidence, that it involves a blind leap in the dark, and so on. A couple of other passages, John 20:29 and 2 Corinthians 5:7, sometimes get interpreted in a similar manner.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Grapes Of Sodom You've Been Eating

"Believer! there was a delightful promise which you had yesterday; and this morning when you turned to the Bible the promise was not sweet. Do you know why? Do you think the promise had changed? Ah, no! You changed; that is where the matter lies. You had been eating some of the grapes of Sodom, and your mouth was thereby put out of taste, and you could not detect the sweetness. But there was the same honey there, depend upon it, the same preciousness." (Charles Spurgeon)

Thursday, June 22, 2023


"For if when beloved by powerful men we are formidable to all, much more when [beloved] by God." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On Second Corinthians, 30:4)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Steve Hays ebooks 4

Led by the Shepherd strikes again! The man is a machine - a super A. I. machine! Below is his latest amazing work on behalf of Steve. (For the previous installment, please see here: "Steve Hays ebooks 3".)

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The New Eve, A Sinner

It was common in the ancient world for Christians to refer to Mary as a New Eve or Second Eve, similar to how Paul refers to Jesus as the Second Adam ("last Adam" in 1 Corinthians 15:45). As I've discussed before, the ancient Christians often referred to women other than Mary as a New Eve and such as well. For obvious reasons, Catholics and others who are advocating an overly high view of Mary often cite the references to Mary as a New Eve without saying anything about the similar comments that were made about other women in the ancient sources. Three of the early sources most commonly cited are Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Yet, all three of those men either directly or indirectly referred to Mary as a sinner, even in the same document in which they refer to her as a New Eve. Justin Martyr refers to Jesus as the only sinless person, and he denies that a Jewish opponent he was debating, Trypho, could cite a single other person who obeyed all of God's commandments (Dialogue With Trypho, 17, 88, 95). Irenaeus asks, "And who else is perfectly righteous, but the Son of God, who makes righteous and perfects them that believe on Him, who like unto Him are persecuted and put to death?" (Demonstration Of The Apostolic Preaching, 72) He interprets John 2:4 as a rebuke of Mary for her "untimely haste" (Against Heresies, 3:16:7). Tertullian refers to Mary's unbelief and other sins (On The Flesh Of Christ, 7). They also disagreed with other aspects of Catholic Mariology. See the examples discussed here in Irenaeus, for example. You can believe that Mary obeyed God in a significant context and contrast that with Eve's disobedience, and apply a term like New Eve to Mary because of that, without thinking that Mary was sinless throughout her life, that she was a perpetual virgin, that we can pray to her, that she was bodily assumed to heaven, etc.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Friendship Across Time

I've sometimes cited H. Clay Trumbull's Friendship: The Master-Passion (Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005) and Carolinne White's Christian Friendship In The Fourth Century (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002) as resources on friendship and how Christianity shaped people's views on the subject. See here for a post I wrote 16 years ago that quotes some portions of White's book.

I want to expand here on what both books suggest about how Christians (and others) of past centuries viewed friendship differently than it's often portrayed today. Contrary to what you often hear about friendship in certain circles in the modern world, including among Evangelicals, both books mentioned above provide examples of friendships maintained for many years between men and women who weren't romantically involved with each other, friendships maintained largely or entirely without the two individuals interacting face-to-face, a living Christian considering a deceased Christian he never met a friend, etc. Keep in mind that much of what you hear about friendship in modern contexts is shaped by the personal circumstances and preferences of the people discussing the subject, the nature of the culture in which they live, and other factors that can and sometimes do distort their judgment. It's helpful to get a broader view of friendship by reading about how it's been viewed by other cultures and across a larger span of time.

Just as we shouldn't start with an assumption that modern views are correct, we also shouldn't start with an assumption that earlier views are correct. But we should give those earlier views more consideration than people typically do.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Consciousness Of God Is The Starting Point

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Consciousness of God is the starting point, the system-aligning principle, the architectonic prerequisite for making good sense of life. When friends, family, coworkers, the mass media, self-help books, or psychotherapeutic professionals ignore reality [by neglecting God], they inevitably miscounsel. In Jeremiah's metaphor, they heal wounds lightly, 'saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace' (Jer. 8:11)." (David Powlison, in Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, edd., For The Fame Of God's Name [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010], 432)

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Greatness Of The Reward In Heaven

Now, back to the greatness of our reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12). What is it? Staying here in the context of the Beatitudes, we see a sixfold answer. The future blessedness of the disciples of Jesus is described in six ways that are sandwiched between the summary blessing of verse 3 — “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” — and the summary blessing of verse 10 — “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”…

What does it mean to live forever under the heavenly rule of God? Six immeasurable, glorious aspects of our great reward:

1. We will see God. Verse 8: “They shall see God.”
2. We will be shown mercy. Verse 7: “They shall receive mercy.”
3. We will be part of God’s family. Verse 9: “They shall be called sons of God.”
4. We will experience God’s comfort. Verse 4: “They shall be comforted.”
5. We will be co-owners of the whole world. Verse 5: “They shall inherit the earth.”
6. We will be satisfied with personal and universal righteousness. Verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

The presence of God, seen and enjoyed forever in the face of Christ, covering us with mercy because of all our sins, calling us his children, comforting us for all pain and loss in this world, bequeathing to us the universe for a familiar homeland, with everything set right in our souls, and in nature, and in the social order of the new world: this is our great reward.

(John Piper)

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Widespread Disagreement About The Afterlife Before The Reformation

In a recent post, I cited a book on the cult of the saints by Matthew Dal Santo. Something that often comes up in the book is the wide variety of views of the afterlife held by late patristic and medieval sources. For example:

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Opposition To Prayer To The Saints Among The Pre-Reformation Hussites

The pre-Reformation Hussites differed with each other in some of their beliefs, but we find a rejection of prayer to saints among some of them. For example, the historian Nick Needham wrote concerning the Taborites:

"They were much more radical in their rejection of Catholic doctrines and practices than the Utraquists were (e.g. Taborites denied transubstantiation, the invocation of saints, and prayers for the dead), and wanted to break away entirely from the Catholic Church." (2000 Years Of Christ's Power, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages [United Kingdom: Christian Focus, 2016], approximate Kindle location 6711)

See here for a collection of other examples of pre-Reformation opposition to praying to saints and angels and responses to arguments for the practice.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Doubts About Prayer To The Saints In The Late Patristic And Early Medieval Eras

A little over a decade ago, Matthew Dal Santo published a book about skepticism of the cult of the saints in the late patristic and early medieval eras (Debating The Saints' Cult In The Age Of Gregory The Great [United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2012]). Here's an abstract of the book:

Friday, June 02, 2023

Steve Hays ebooks 3

Once again, many thanks to Led by the Shepherd for his fine work in getting out a new set of Steve's ebooks! The previous collection is here: "Steve Hays ebooks 2".

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Apologetics And Psalm 102:18

I've occasionally written about Biblical passages that are relevant to apologetics, but are often neglected in that context. Another one to consider is Psalm 102:18: "This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord." The focus on God is good, it reflects the value of writing (which has become more important as a result of factors like the rise in literacy in the modern world and modern technology), and it reflects the value of benefiting people we aren't interacting with face to face ("a people yet to be created") in relationship with a God we don't see face to face. The passage is valuable in our cultural context, given the derogatory, dismissive comments so many people make about writing, especially writing on the internet, and any interaction with other people that isn't face to face.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Try To Persuade

In a tribute to Tim Keller after his death, Michael Kruger mentioned an article he'd written about how persuasion is a missing element in modern sermons. It's also missing in a lot of other contexts. There's a major problem with Christians in general, not just pastors, not trying to persuade people as much as they should. Most people don't get involved much in discussions about religious issues (or ethics, politics, etc.). Among those who do get involved, they often state their position without offering much or any support for it. The people who are making a significant effort to not only discuss religion, but also do it persuasively are a small percentage of the population. That needs to change.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Quadratus As A Supplement To Papias

Papias is one of the early church figures often made out to have been more influential than he actually was, often blamed for originating or popularizing ideas that are opposed by the people doing the blaming. Others will blame Paul, Irenaeus, Eusebius, or whoever else. But Papias is one of the individuals most often brought up. Supposedly, he originated the traditional gospel authorship attributions or is said to have had a major role in popularizing the attributions or the gospels themselves, for example. In addition to being blamed for allegedly originating or popularizing supposedly bad things, he's often dismissed as too unintelligent to be reliable, too discredited by false claims that he made, and so on.

I've written a lot in response to such criticisms of Papias: whether he was a disciple of John the son of Zebedee, whether he had that relationship with some other John instead, Papias' influence on gospel authorship attributions, his alleged gullibility, his material on Judas' death, etc. There are many other posts in our archives on such issues, such as the ones included here, in my collection of links addressing skeptical myths about the church fathers. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is discuss another line of evidence that can be cited against objections like the ones mentioned above.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

I Cannot Die

"That kind of rock-solid confidence in the face of death has emboldened missionaries for two thousand years. The truth of God's providence has been the stabilizing power for thousands of Christ's emissaries. Believing that God holds life and death and always works mercy for his children has freed them to embrace the dangers of the mission and has sustained them when death came. Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia, who died when he was thirty-one (on October 16, 1812), wrote in his journal in January 1812: 'To all appearance, the present year will be more perilous than any I have seen; but if I live to complete the Persian New Testament, my life after that will be of less importance. But whether life or death be mine, may Christ be magnified in me! If he has work for me to do, I cannot die.' This has often been paraphrased as 'I am immortal till Christ's work for me to do is done.'" (John Piper, Providence [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020], approximate Kindle location 5904)

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Tim Keller's Death

Here's a discussion Gavin Ortlund had with Collin Hansen a few months ago concerning a book Collin wrote about Keller. I've had a quote from Keller's book on prayer that I hadn't gotten around to posting yet, so this is an appropriate time to post it. I'll include another good passage that I've quoted before from the same book.

"Consider the petition 'O Lord - give me a job so I won't be poor.' That is an appropriate thing to ask God for. Indeed, it is essentially the same thing as to pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' Yet the Proverbs [30:7-9] prayer reveals the only proper motivation beneath the request. If you just jump into prayer without recognizing the disordered nature of the heart's loves, your prayer's intention will be, 'Make me as wealthy as possible.' The Proverbs 30 prayer is different. It is to ask, 'Lord, meet my material needs, and give me wealth, yes, but only as much as I can handle without it harming my ability to put you first in life. Because ultimately I don't need status and comfort - I need you as my Lord.'" (Prayer [New York, New York: Dutton, 2014], 86)

"If you forget the costliness of sin, your prayers of confession and repentance will be shallow and trivial. They will neither honor God nor change your life….Stott argued that confessing our sins implies the forsaking of our sins. Confessing and forsaking must not be decoupled, yet most people confess - admit that what they did was wrong - without at the same time disowning the sin and turning their hearts against it in such a way that would weaken their ability to do it again. We must be inwardly grieved and appalled enough by sin - even as we frame the whole process with the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ - that it loses its hold over us." (212)

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Unravelling The Universe

Ben Sinclair's Unravelling The Universe is a good YouTube channel to follow on paranormal issues. He's done interviews with some of the biggest names in the field: Bruce Greyson, Stanley Krippner, Gregory Shushan, etc. There's a lot of valuable material on a lot of subjects.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

You should be a teacher by now, but are you?

Hebrews 5:12 tells Christians who were much more disadvantaged in life than we are in a lot of ways, "by this time you ought to be teachers". That's even more applicable to immature Christians in our day. People should be expected to grow as Christians and become increasingly self-reliant and increasingly productive. That includes intellectual contexts (1 Corinthians 14:20). What do you have to show for the opportunities you've had?

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Were Christians united about a physical presence in the eucharist before the Reformation?

It's often claimed that every Christian, almost every Christian, or some other widespread consensus believed in a physical presence in the eucharist prior to the Reformation. Sometimes it's even suggested that a physical presence is the simple, literal reading of scripture that the universal church held to before Protestantism came along. I want to discuss some evidence to the contrary.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Defrauding God Of His Honor

"It follows that we gain nothing if all we do is satisfy our fellowmen. Sometimes, of course, we see signs of honourable behvaiour among many unbelievers. The vital element, however, is missing. They do not make God their aim; they do not honour him or understand what he requires by way of holiness. We should be careful never to take from men what is theirs. By the same token we must give to God what is his, and the things he reserves to himself. If we would not think of robbing our neighbour, it would be sacrilege to want to defraud God of his honour." (John Calvin, in Robert White, trans., Songs Of The Nativity [Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2008], 103-4)

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

The Release Date And Other Information On Gary Habermas' Multi-Volume Series On Jesus' Resurrection

Sean McDowell interviewed Gary Habermas a few days ago, and his upcoming multi-volume magnum opus on Jesus' resurrection was discussed. Here's one of the relevant segments. The first volume is due out next January, and the subsequent volumes should come out at eight-month intervals. He also described some of the contents of the first two volumes and other details.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Early Belief In Inerrancy And Harmonization

The earliest Christians held a high view of the historicity of scripture and considered scripture inerrant. I've occasionally discussed these issues in the past and have provided documentation, such as here. I want to quote some relevant comments from Dionysius of Alexandria, since he's so often neglected in discussions of patristic issues:

"But by what you have written to me, you have quite soundly and with a good insight into the Divine Gospels established the fact that nothing definite appears in them about the hour at which He rose. For the Evangelists described those that came to the tomb diversely—that is, at different times…And we must not imagine that the evangelists are at variance and contradict one another: but even if there seem to be some small dispute upon the matter of your inquiry—that is, if though all agree that the Light of the world our Lord arose on that night, they differ about the hour, yet let us be anxious fairly and faithfully to harmonize what is said." (p. 77 here)

Thursday, May 04, 2023

The Advantages Of A Low Social Status

"I have a Bible that my parents gave me when I was 15. I look at it and how it’s marked up in red. I have memories of lying in my single bed with the trolley cars on the wallpaper on the wall above me, reading my Bible late at night, desperate because I couldn’t speak [well]. That was a great gift to me by the way, that God shut me down socially and cut me off from all fast tracks, all party tracks, and all cool-guy tracks. I was just shut down into my little world of going hard after God when I was 15. So I’ve been reading my Bible every day since I was 15, and it has been my life." (John Piper)

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Early Christian Conversions Independent Of Baptism

I want to discuss a neglected line of evidence against baptismal regeneration and baptismal justification. There's a widespread pattern of early Christian conversion accounts that involve significant changes in the individual's life prior to his baptism. Those changes range across a spectrum. Often, it can be shown to be probable that regeneration or justification occurred before baptism (e.g., through a reference to forgiveness of sins, through a reference to the reception of the Holy Spirit). But even if prebaptismal regeneration or justification is only possible rather than probable when a conversion account is considered in isolation, that account can have more evidential significance than is typically suggested, such as when it's considered in a larger context, like one of the ones I'll be discussing below.

More Discussion Of The Problems With The Eliakim Argument For The Papacy

John Cranman and Jeremy Kidd recently produced a video that makes a lot of good points about the argument for a papacy based on Eliakim in Isaiah 22. (I came across the video by means of a link from The Other Paul on Twitter.)

Sunday, April 30, 2023

How Baptismal Justification Conflicts With The Nearness Of Redemption

The concept that salvation is at hand, often expressed by the phrase "Today is the day of salvation", is common in scripture (2 Corinthians 6:2, Hebrews 4:7) and Evangelicalism. In the first of the two passages just cited, we see not just the term "today", but even "now". In Romans 10:8, Paul writes of the nearness of redemption in a context in which faith is mentioned as the means of justification without any reference to baptism or people sent to baptize (whereas people sent to proclaim the gospel message are mentioned). Tertullian advocated justification through baptism, but conceded that "in days gone by, there was salvation by means of bare faith, before the passion and resurrection of the Lord" (On Baptism, 13). Cyril of Jerusalem, one of the church fathers who used highly efficacious language both when discussing faith prior to baptism and when discussing baptism, commented, "Die to thy sins, and live to righteousness, live from this very day….Say not, How are my sins blotted out? I tell thee, By willing, by believing. What can be shorter than this?" (Catechetical Lectures, Prologue, 5, 8) A line of a popular hymn tells us, "The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives" (Fanny Crosby, "To God Be The Glory"). That theme doesn't go well with the concept of justification through baptism, however. Under baptismal justification, not only are we not justified the moment we believe, but we often have to wait until a baptism days, weeks, or months later.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

How The Next Life Should Motivate This One

One of my posts earlier this month addressed the theme of how the afterlife, including our resurrection, should influence how we live this life. I've discussed some examples in other posts. I've written a lot about the primacy of God and how we should be anticipating a life in which "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9), in contrast to the secular, trivial nature of this culture. I've recommended Jonathan Edwards' work on heaven as a world of love. Given that we'll have a transformed body after the resurrection, that transformation raises issues of how a different body will interact differently with our souls. I've discussed a lot of relevant paranormal issues over the years, including many contexts in which we have evidence for certain capacities of our souls that are concealed or restrained, for example, by our bodies. When we have transformed bodies in the future, the nature of the relationship between the body and the soul will likely be substantially different, including in the abilities we'll have as a result of that changed relationship. I've also written about the resurrection of animals. The gospels alone provide a lot of examples of the sort of motivations from the afterlife I'm addressing here, like Jesus' comments about building up treasure in heaven.

What I want to focus on in this post, though, is something that's especially relevant to those who are involved in doing unpopular work. Because of the nature of the world and cultures like modern America, some of the most important work in life meets with a lot of apathy and contempt (missions, evangelism, apologetics, etc.). And the unpopularity of that work exists alongside the far greater popularity of work that's less important, trivial, or even sinful. But which work will hold up better over the long run? The long run includes the afterlife. Maybe something you've done that was underestimated or misjudged in some other way in this life will receive God's approval and be more widely disseminated and become more influential on the day of judgment or in some other afterlife context (e.g., your legacy on earth after you die). God could choose to use some work you've done in a theological or apologetic context, for example, as a means by which he'll influence other people. And the people who are influenced by your work could be many billions, far more than the view count of any popular YouTube video or the sales number of any popular book. Popularity in the next life is more important than popularity in this life. I've been referring to popularity to summarize the situation, but there's a lot more involved: the priority of God's approval over the approval of others, the fact that we'll continue to influence people in the afterlife, the potential for our productivity to increase in the future, etc. A common theme in scripture, such as in Jesus' comments in the gospels, is that the afterlife will involve changes so significant that the first will be last and the last will be first. The final evaluation of our work hasn't occurred yet, and it won't occur in this life. And the potential for the reception of our work and other circumstances to be much better in the next life is large. There's a lot of potential in the abstract for improvement in the afterlife, and Jesus and other Biblical figures tell us that there will be some major changes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Justification Apart From Baptism Among Pre-Reformation Waldensians

In an article published in 1900, Henry Vedder quoted what some Roman Catholic sources reported about the beliefs of the earliest Waldensians ("Origin And Early Teachings Of The Waldenses, According To Roman Catholic Writers Of The Thirteenth Century", The American Journal Of Theology, Vol. IV, no. 3, July 1900, pp. 465-89). You can read the article on the page just linked. I want to quote some portions of what a few of those Catholic sources said about how the Waldensians viewed salvation and baptism. As with other issues, there is no one view that every Waldensian held. And it could be that one or more of these Waldensians was misunderstood, that somebody who wasn't a Waldensian was mistaken for one, and so on. But since I'm citing a few different Catholic sources (whose reliability is discussed in the article linked above), and those sources sometimes use the plural to describe the Waldensians they're discussing, for example, it seems highly unlikely that no Waldensians actually held the views in question.

My understanding is that the large majority of pre-Reformation Waldensians believed in justification through works of one variety or another, including justification through baptism. But it seems that a small minority of them rejected baptismal justification. Here are some of the relevant comments from the Catholic sources as Vedder quotes them:

Sunday, April 23, 2023

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

I won't address all of them here, but I want to provide some examples. I discussed their opposition to praying to saints and angels and their opposition to some related Roman Catholic beliefs and practices in a post last week. Gabriel Audisio covers some other disagreements as well in his book I cited in that post.

D.A. Carson On Colin Hemer

I recently came across D.A. Carson's eulogy of Colin Hemer after seeing it linked by Lydia McGrew.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Pre-Reformation Opposition To Praying To Saints And Angels

I want to provide a list of some of the relevant pre-Reformation sources. I'll list them in alphabetical order, and I'll provide a link to one post on each source. Some of these sources are discussed in more than one post. Hippolytus often comes up in discussions of how the early Christians viewed prayer, for example, and I've written multiple posts about Hippolytus' views, but I'll only be linking to one of those posts here. If you want more information on any of these sources, you can search our archives for other relevant material. I expect to be updating this post, including the list below, periodically.

Before I provide the list, I want to address some background issues. I'm not trying to be exhaustive here, but I want to make some preliminary comments that should help in the process of sorting through the evidence.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Claudius Of Turin's Opposition To Prayer To The Saints In The Ninth Century

The historian Philip Schaff wrote the following about the views of Claudius, a bishop of Turin in the ninth century:

"The departed saints themselves do not wish to be worshipped by us, and cannot help us. While we live, we may aid each other by prayers, but not after death." (section 105 here)

The historian Nick Needham wrote:

"Scholars once thought Agobard was the author of Concerning Images, an attack on image-worship which anticipated many of the concerns of the Protestant Reformation, rejecting the practice of invoking the saints, and exalting Christ as the only Mediator between God and humankind, the sole object of religious trust. However, modern scholars now doubt whether Agobard wrote this - the real author was probably bishop Claudius of Turin (died 827), another distinguished Carolingian scholar." (2000 Years Of Christ's Power, Vol. 2: The Middle Ages [United Kingdom: Christian Focus, 2016], approximate Kindle location 1136)

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Opposition To Praying To Saints And Angels Among The Pre-Reformation Waldensians

They weren't consistent in all of their beliefs, and different Waldensians have held different views of prayer, but many of them opposed praying to saints and angels to one degree or another. That includes opposition to those practices during the Waldensian movement's pre-Reformation years. In a book on the Waldensians, the historian Gabriel Audisio writes:

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Why prefer Jesus to gods, emperors, and other ancient figures associated with miracles?

Critics often draw comparisons between Jesus and other ancient figures who had miracles attributed to them. It's often suggested that there's no or insufficient reason to favor Jesus over those other figures. A few points, among many others that could be made:

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Early Roman Opposition To Praying To The Dead And Angels

One of the most neglected issues in debates between Protestants and Roman Catholics (and Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) is who we should pray to. Prayer is a major aspect of life, and there's strong Biblical and extrabiblical evidence for the Protestant view that we should pray only to God, but the issue is seldom brought up in discussions between Protestants and Catholics. And when it is brought up, the evidence for the Protestant view is typically highly underestimated (including by the Protestant side). For a collection of links to some of our posts on the subject, see here.

What I want to focus on in this post, however, is the evidence we have for early opposition to praying to the deceased and angels in the city of Rome. That has a lot of significance in the context of evaluating Roman Catholicism. Regarding some evidence from Hermas, an early Roman Christian, see here and here. On Justin Martyr, who spent some time in Rome, see here. Irenaeus also spent some time in Rome. The post here discusses his view of prayer, among other issues. And see here on Hippolytus. Since Hippolytus is sometimes misrepresented as having supported prayers to the dead in his commentary on the book of Daniel, I want to note that we have some posts in our archives refuting that misrepresentation, such as here.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Life After Our Resurrection

We should think far more than we do about what life will be like after our resurrection and how we're preparing for it:

"The importance of clarity about what lies at the end of the Christian pilgrimage seemed to [Richard] Baxter incalculable….The more strongly one desires an end, the more carefully and diligently one will use the means to it. [Baxter:] 'The Love of the end is the poise and spring, which setteth every Wheel a going.' But an unknown end will not be loved. 'It is a known, and not merely an unknown God and happiness, that the soul doth joyfully desire.' Such desire will then give wings to the soul. 'It is the heavenly Christian that is the lively Christian. It is strangeness to heaven that makes us so dull. It is the end that quickens to all the means; and the more frequently and clearly this end is beheld, the more vigorous will all our motion be….We run so slowly, and strive so lazily, because we so little mind the prize.'" (J.I. Packer, cited here)

Thursday, April 06, 2023

The Audience Of Heaven

"when thou hearest these things, and seest thy Lord bound and led about, deem present things to be nought. For how can it be otherwise than strange, if Christ bore such things for thy sake, and thou often canst not endure even words? He is spit upon, and dost thou deck thyself with garments and rings, and, if thou gain not good report from all, think life unbearable? He is insulted, beareth mockings, and scornful blows upon the cheek; and dost thou wish everywhere to be honored, and bearest thou not the reproaching of Christ? Hearest thou not Paul saying, 'Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ'? [1 Corinthians 11:1]...delight thyself in the audience of heaven. For there all will praise and applaud and welcome thee." (John Chrysostom, Homilies On John, 83:5)

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Categories Of Prophecy To Cite As Evidence For Christianity

You can find a collection of links to many of our articles on prophecy issues here. But I want to provide a few examples of categories of prophecy that are good to cite as starting points for making an argument from prophecy fulfillment.

In a post late last year, I discussed some examples of prophecies fulfilled by the Roman empire.

Another post addressed prophecy fulfillments accomplished or corroborated by non-Christian sources more broadly.

That post includes prophecies fulfilled in the modern world, which is another category that would be a good starting point.

Here's something I wrote about a geographical argument for prophecy fulfillment.

And here's something Steve Hays wrote about the fulfillment of non-Messianic prophecies.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

The Gospels And Acts' Polymodal Resurrection Accounts Corroborated In The New Testament Letters

The comments about hearing, seeing, and touching in 1 John 1:1 aren't limited to resurrection appearances, but surely included them and included them prominently. The passage is about the Word of Life, a context in which including resurrection from the dead makes more sense than not including it. The author is writing as one among the "we" of apostolic eyewitnesses, in contrast to the "you" of his audience. The apostolic experience wasn't limited to witnessing the resurrected Christ, but did include witnessing him in that context (Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:1). It could be argued that the resurrection experiences only included the seeing mentioned in 1 John 1:1, not the hearing and touching, but that's a less likely interpretation for multiple reasons. It's more complicated, and it involves an unlikely scenario in which a witness like the letter's author would be so interested in hearing and touching for the large majority of Jesus' life, but not so interested or unable to obtain hearing and touching in the resurrection portion of Jesus' life. The simplest and best understanding of 1 John 1:1 is that the author is appealing to the apostolic polymodal interaction with Jesus throughout his life, including his resurrection appearances. Given the emphasis placed on witnessing Jesus' resurrection in particular in order to qualify as an apostle (Acts 10:40-41, 22:14-15, 1 Corinthians 9:1), it would go against the context of apostolicity to make the apostolic experience in 1 John 1:1 so much more limited in the resurrection context than in the pre-resurrection context. Notice, also, that even in a scenario in which the author happened to never get an opportunity to hear or touch Jesus in the resurrection context, the passage would still be another example of the witnesses' interest in such interactions with Jesus. Given the large number of resurrection appearances that were reported and how many people were involved (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:5-8), it's highly unlikely that few or none of the hundreds of people involved attempted to interact with Jesus in the way described in 1 John 1:1 or that they kept trying and failing to do so without realizing they were hallucinating, imagining things, or whatever. And 1 John 1:1 is a "we" passage. So, the critic who wants to appeal to the possibility that the author himself happened to only think he saw the risen Jesus, without thinking he heard or touched him, still has to address the other resurrection witnesses included in the "we".

1 Timothy 5:18 is also relevant. For more about the likely reference to Luke's gospel as scripture in that passage, see here.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Credibility Of John's Gospel As A Resurrection Witness

It's common today to assign little credibility to the gospel of John on resurrection issues (and other subjects). That's a mistake, as we've argued in many posts. Or read Lydia McGrew's The Eye Of The Beholder (Tampa, Florida: DeWard Publishing, 2021), for example.

Shortly after Easter last year, I posted an article about how problematic the early Ephesian church is for Christianity's critics. You can read the article to get all of the details, but it's largely about the evidence for John's relationship with Ephesus. That adds a lot of credibility to the widespread early attributions of the fourth gospel to John, including in Ephesus and among people influenced by Ephesus. And, as my article just linked discusses, the early Ephesian church was highly influenced not only by John, but also by Paul. That underscores how problematic it is to do things like setting Pauline Christianity against Johannine Christianity, as modern critics often do.

Keep in mind, also, that it's not enough for critics to propose other interpretations of John 19:35 and 21:24 when trying to avoid the conclusion that the author of the fourth gospel claimed to be an eyewitness of the resurrection. 1 John has language and themes that are highly similar to those in the fourth gospel, and there's widespread agreement among the early external sources that 1 John was written by the same person who wrote the fourth gospel. 1 John 1:1-3 identifies the author as an eyewitness of Jesus.

See here for a discussion of the best and earliest evidence for the authorship of the gospels. And the post here addresses how John aligns better with the Synoptics than modern critics typically suggest.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Sunday, March 26, 2023

James' Influence On Luke's Resurrection Material

Last Christmas season, I posted an article about how Jesus' relatives influenced our view of his childhood. In that article, I provided several lines of evidence that Luke consulted Jesus' brother James as a source. Part of that article discussed a potential reason why Luke didn't narrate Jesus' resurrection appearance to James. You can read the article, or the relevant portion of it, if you're interested in that issue. But a larger point should be made as well. Luke's use of James as a source means that he was in contact with a pre-Pauline resurrection witness, even with one who had grown up with Jesus and lived with him for a long time. Though Luke was influenced by Paul, we should keep in mind that Paul wasn't the only influence in Luke's life. The influence of figures like James gives us more reason to think Luke's highly physical, highly evidential view of the resurrection and the resurrection appearances is pre-Pauline and historical.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Is Jesus' resurrection appearance being doubted in Matthew 28:17?

Matthew doesn't explicitly tell us what was being doubted. But we get an indication of the most likely answer by reading what follows. Jesus' comments in verses 18-20 don't make sense as an attempt to persuade the people who are present that he had risen from the dead or that they were seeing the risen Jesus. Those subjects don't come up. But his comments do make sense as an encouragement to people who were doubting in the sense of lacking the confidence in him that they needed to proceed as they had to in that context. He reassures them about his authority and that he'll be with them. In other words, the doubt is about the implications of the resurrection, not the resurrection itself or this particular resurrection appearance. Jesus had just been put to death by his enemies, by means of a crucifixion arranged by the Jewish authorities and the Roman empire. He had risen from the dead, but a death, and a horrible one, was part of the process, along with a lot of other suffering. The people Jesus was addressing knew they were going out into a hostile world. In fact, the disciples' abandoning of Jesus in the face of such persecution at the time of Gethsemane is connected to this resurrection appearance in 26:31-32. It would make sense, then, for Jesus to address that sort of doubt in the context of the resurrection appearance anticipated in chapter 26. The worship mentioned in 28:17 and the activities of the Great Commission mentioned in the verses that follow were some of the appropriate ways to proceed, and they should have proceeded with confidence, "but some doubted". The doubt isn't about whether Jesus rose from the dead or whether he was appearing before them on this occasion, but, instead, was about how to proceed. He was removing their doubts and building up their confidence in verses 18-20. Those closing verses make less sense if the doubt in question was about whether Jesus rose from the dead or whether he was appearing to them.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

You Can Emphasize The Resurrection Without Isolating It

Follow Peter's example in Acts 2, where he highlights Jesus' resurrection while also addressing prophecy fulfillment, Jesus' miracles other than his resurrection, and the miracles of the apostles. And Jesus, the prophets, and others did the same before Peter. Make much of Jesus' resurrection, but bring up other lines of evidence for Christianity as well.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Level Of Detail In 1 Corinthians 15:6

Jesus' resurrection appearance to more than 500, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:6, tends to get underestimated in our day. But there's a lot to commend it and warrant assigning the passage more significance than people often do.

One of the reasons why the passage should be held in higher regard is the level of detail it includes about significant issues. Paul is briefly summarizing several of Jesus' resurrection appearances, yet a series of important details about the appearance under consideration are included even in that brief summarizing context. Paul refers to the relative chronology of the appearance ("After that"), the number of people involved, saying "more than" instead of just leaving it at a rough estimate of 500, specifies their gender ("brethren"), recognizes the significance of their having seen Jesus "at one time" and the importance of mentioning that detail, and followed their lives since the time of the appearance enough to know that "most" are still alive and the value of their still being alive. (See here regarding the likelihood that some non-Christians were present during the appearance.) Paul not only experienced a resurrection appearance himself, but also had a lot of interest in and knowledge about the appearances to others. And the details he shows interest in in 1 Corinthians 15:6 reflect well on him, since they're such significant ones.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Difficulty Of Fulfilling The Predictions Relevant To Jesus' Death

I've written posts over the years about some of the problems with claiming that Jesus' life lined up with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy by normal means, without anything supernatural involved. For example, the passage involves the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which was done by the Romans, not by Jesus and the early Christians. You can read my previous posts for more about such issues, like here. What I want to focus on in this post is expanding on a point that I think I've only addressed more briefly in the past.

Notice that if Jesus was merely human and wanted to get himself crucified by the Romans to fulfill both Daniel 9:26 and Psalm 22, for example, he would only have partial control of the situation. You can provoke people to kill you by natural means. There wouldn't have to be anything supernatural involved. But you wouldn't have control over how other people would respond to the provocation, and there would be multiple contexts simultaneously in which you'd lack relevant control. You might get a response of mockery or pity, for example, rather than the relevant type of anger. You might get anger, but not enough of it to lead to your execution. Or you might get killed the wrong way. Too soon. Too late. In too humiliating a manner. The gospels illustrate that point. They refer to multiple occasions in which people attempted to do something like throw Jesus over a cliff or stone him. You don't even have to go to a Christian source, like the gospels. Look at what Josephus tells us about how one of Jesus' own siblings was put to death. Jesus could have met the same kind of death as his brother, James, and at the wrong time.

Jesus' fulfilling Psalm 22, Isaiah 50, and Daniel 9, for example, required the Romans, not fellow Christians, to do a series of things the right way. We need to keep in mind that this isn't just a matter of whether Jesus could by natural means try to get people to kill him. The situation is much more complicated than that. If he was merely human, he only had partial control over his fulfillment of the relevant prophecies. The degree to which the fulfillment depended on non-Christian sources was large and evidentially highly significant.