Sunday, December 31, 2023

Why forge three pastoral letters rather than one?

Tim Challies recently linked an article that discusses some of the reasons for accepting the Pauline authorship of the pastorals. I want to highlight one of those reasons here, one that I think has been especially neglected.

If the letters were forged by one individual, thus explaining their similarities, why forge three letters instead of one or two? There doesn't seem to be sufficient motive to forge any of them, given their contents and the time when they allegedly were forged, for example. But if somebody wanted to forge such content, why not put it in the form of a smaller number of letters? The more letters you forge, the harder it is to convince people that the letters are genuine despite a lack of the evidence you'd expect to accompany genuineness (the lack of previous discussion of the documents, the lack of the documents' presence in other locations, etc.). Why try to get away with forging so often when you can so easily do it less?

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Significance Of Referring To "The Sea Of Galilee"

Luke refers to "the Lake of Gennesaret", but Matthew, Mark, and John refer to it as "the Sea of Galilee". Luuk van de Weghe offers a potential explanation:

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

An Update To An Argument From The Names In The Gospels And Acts

Luuk van de Weghe is a New Testament scholar who's recently done some work on an argument for the historical reliability of the gospels and Acts based on the names that appear in the documents. I'll quote some of what Richard Bauckham has written about the argument, then quote some more recent comments from van de Weghe, updating Bauckham's material:

"Thus the names of Palestinian Jews in the Gospels and Acts coincide very closely with the names of the general population of Jewish Palestine in this period, but not to the names of Jews in the Diaspora. In this light it becomes very unlikely that the names in the Gospels are late accretions to the traditions. Outside Palestine the appropriate names simply could not have been chosen. Even within Palestine, it would be very surprising if random accretions of names to this or that tradition would fit the actual pattern of names in the general population....Onomastics (the study of names) is a significant resource for assessing the origins of Gospel traditions. The evidence in this chapter shows that the relative frequency of the various personal names in the Gospels corresponds well to the relative frequency in the full database of three thousand individual instances of names in the Palestinian Jewish sources of the period. This correspondence is very unlikely to have resulted from addition of names to the traditions, even within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and could not possibly have resulted from the addition of names to the traditions outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the Diaspora was very different. The usages of the Gospels also correspond closely to the variety of ways in which persons bearing the same very popular names could be distinguished in Palestinian Jewish usage. Again these features of the New Testament data would be difficult to explain as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine. All the evidence indicates the general authenticity of the personal names in the Gospels." (Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], 73-74, 84)

"Simply put, these works [The Infancy Gospel Of Thomas, The Gospel Of Nicodemus, etc.] do not hold up to scrutiny based on naming patterns, and we can see the card player's bluff. From my survey of twenty-three sources in Appendix A, the only extra-biblical works that display onomastic congruence [alignment between a database of ancient name usage and the source it's being compared to] are the works of Plutarch, Suetonius, and Josephus….These authors' works are the very same ones that the biblical scholar Craig Keener suggests mark the height of historical sensitivity for the genre of Greco-Roman biography when expectations of historical reliability were at the highest. Onomastic congruence appears to be a byproduct, however unintentional, of the information-driven nature of these historiographical works.…In my 2022 PhD Dissertation (University of Aberdeen) as well as in my article, 'Name Recall in the Synoptic Gospels,' I discuss the problem that Ilan I [a database of ancient Jewish names gathered by Tal Ilan] does not provide an onomastic snapshot of Jesus' Palestine, since her database covers approximately five hundred years. This seems too broad to determine onomastic patterns. I refine Ilan's database to the years 30 BCE to 90 CE and confirm that onomastic congruence can still be demonstrated. Incidentally, Richard Bauckham is currently working on a new prosopography (50 BCE to 135 CE) with the aim of acquiring greater accuracy, correcting further errors discovered in Ilan I, and supplementing her data with new inscriptions being published by the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae. My thanks to Dr. Bauckham for providing his unpublished material for me to review; it is apparent that the efforts of acquiring more precise data will lead toward the further justification of onomastic congruence in the Gospels and Acts." (The Historical Tell [Tampa, Florida: DeWard, 2023], 35-36, n. 42 on 146)

Monday, December 25, 2023

Jacob's Ladder

"in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go" (Genesis 28:14-15)

"'they shall call His name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'" (Matthew 1:23)

"The promise of an accompanying presence of God that would never fail, first given to Jacob, is now renewed and extended, by implication, to the nations that become Jacob's offspring through faith in the Messiah. This happens through a form of the divine presence that Jacob could never have anticipated: the presence of God in the midst of human life as the human Jesus, Jacob's own descendant, who thus brings blessing to the nations. Jesus himself is God-with-us." (Richard Bauckham, Who Is God? [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2020], 23)

"you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51)

"He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (Genesis 28:12)

Friday, December 22, 2023

A Response To Religion For Breakfast On Jesus' Birthplace

The YouTube channel Religion For Breakfast recently put out a video about the birthplace of Jesus, arguing that he probably wasn't born in Bethlehem. Some of the claims in the video are inaccurate, but the problems with it are largely a matter of omission. There's a lot of relevant evidence that isn't discussed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Connections Between Christmas And Easter

They're connected in a lot of contexts, such as theology, but I want to focus here on what I addressed in my last post, prophecy. It's difficult in some ways to choose what Biblical passages to include in a post on a subject like Christmas prophecy. So much of what's primarily about Easter also has backward implications for Christmas. And Christmas prophecies have implications for Easter.

We can separate the two if we want, for organizational purposes, to be more concise, or for whatever other reason, but we need to be careful to not think of them in too much isolation. Prophecies fulfilled in Jesus' adulthood add credibility to his fulfilling prophecy in his childhood. And the reverse is true, of course. That's also true of other things, not just prophecy. The resurrection of Jesus makes the virgin birth more plausible and so on.

I've been arguing for many years now that the evidence for a traditional Christian view of Jesus' childhood is significantly better than people usually think. But the other evidence for Christianity is good as well, and Christians should guard against thinking of Christmas issues in too much isolation. It can simultaneously be true, and it is simultaneously true, that the direct evidence for a traditional Christian view of the childhood of Jesus is better than people usually think it is and that the evidence for other aspects of Christianity gives us reason to hold a high view of his childhood. People are sometimes quick to change the subject at Christmastime, trying to direct attention away from Jesus' childhood and to his adulthood, especially his resurrection. I don't have a problem with bringing up his adulthood and the resurrection in particular in the context of Christmas. But we should also argue for a high view of his childhood directly, discussing the evidence for the historicity of the infancy narratives and such. We can, and should, do both.

I've commented before about the fact that the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus' birth, Augustus, didn't think much of the Jewish people or their Messianic hopes. Like other politicians, he would sometimes cooperate with the Jewish people or pay homage to the Jewish deity as one god among others, but "he revered the ancient and approved [foreign cults], like the mysteries of Eleusis in Attica, but despised the rest, taking no notice in Egypt of the bull-cult of Apis, and congratulating his grandson for passing by the temple in Jerusalem" (Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Suetonius [London, England: Bristol Classical Press, 2004], 189-90). But Jesus would visit that temple, both as a child (Luke 2:22-38, 2:46-50) and as an adult. The Lord came to his temple (Malachi 3:1), and he established a kingdom that would overcome and far exceed the kingdom of Augustus. And Augustus would unknowingly prepare the way for Jesus' adulthood, including his fulfillment of other prophecies. See my post here for a brief overview of how the Roman empire was involved in the fulfillment of prophecies closely associated with Jesus.

There wouldn't be a death of Jesus in line with Daniel's Seventy Weeks prophecy without a birth at the right time. There wouldn't have been a great light shining in Zebulun and Naphtali if a child hadn't been born in the line of David. The penal practices anticipated in Isaiah 50 and Psalm 22 had to be invented and developed over the course of time leading up to their application to Jesus in his adulthood. "I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations…Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it….The LORD called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me.…It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Isaiah 42:6, 46:11, 49:1, 49:6)

Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Hopes And Fears Of All The Years

I want to have a post that collects some links to our articles on prophecy fulfillment related to Christmas, so that they can be found in one place. I'm not trying to be exhaustive. For example, Steve Hays wrote many posts on prophecy over the years, including prophecies related to Christmas, and I can't link all of them here. Anybody who's interested can search our archives for more material. But some of the relevant posts are linked below. I expect to supplement the list when warranted. You may want to periodically check for updates.

Many of the posts include responses to objections to Jesus' fulfillment of the passages. For other responses to objections, see our collection of posts on prophecy here.

Genesis 49:8-12
Ruth 4
2 Samuel 7:8-16
Psalm 89
Isaiah 7:14, 8:8
Isaiah 9:1-7
Isaiah 42:1-13
Isaiah 49:1-13
Isaiah 50:4-11
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Daniel 9:24-27
Micah 4-5
Malachi 3:1

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Another Reason Why The Nazareth Location Of Jesus' Conception Wouldn't Have Been Fabricated

I've written a lot about the evidence for Jesus' residence in Nazareth, going back to the time of his early childhood, such as here and here. Bart Ehrman has gone as far as to refer to Jesus' upbringing in Nazareth as "certain": "Little can be known about Jesus' early life, but one thing that can be said for certain is that he was raised in Nazareth, the home village of Joseph and Mary." (The New Testament [New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012], 269) What I want to do here is bring up another line of evidence for both the Nazareth residence and its earliness.

I've argued elsewhere that Micah 5:2 likely refers to the figure there as being born in Bethlehem. But somebody could take it to mean that the figure predicted in the passage is supposed to come from Bethlehem in the sense of being conceived there. The placement of Jesus in Nazareth at the time of his conception opens the door to doubting his fulfillment of Micah 5 under that reading of the passage. Even for those who think Micah 5 only requires a birth in Bethlehem or some other association with Bethlehem later in life, not conception there, the ability for others to disagree and raise the objection under consideration is significant. The easiest way for the early Christians to have handled this issue and others, if they weren't constrained much by what actually happened in history, would have been to place both the conception and the birth in Bethlehem. You don't have to get Jesus to Bethlehem if you place him there to begin with.

There are many other reasons for accepting the historicity of Jesus' residence in Nazareth and the timing of the residence early in his life, such as the evidence discussed in my posts linked above. The line of evidence I'm focused on in this post is just one among others. There's a lot of weight to the cumulative effect of all of these considerations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

More Evidence For The Historicity Of Matthew 2:16

I wrote about some evidence for the passage's historicity in a thread several years ago (including in the comments section). In a post last year, I discussed a recent book by Sabine Huebner that addresses some issues related to the infancy narratives, including Matthew 2:16. People in the ancient world had a lot of reasons to discern, remember, and keep records of how long it took to travel from one location to another (e.g., people operating businesses whose success depended on issues of timing). One of the chapters in Huebner's book is about travel in the ancient world. Though she isn't focused on Matthew 2:16, she provides some examples of how issues of how long a journey takes would come up in a variety of contexts, such as letters sent between relatives arranging a meeting with one another (e.g., approximate Kindle locations 2838 and 3163 in Papyri And The Social World Of The New Testament [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019]). Knowledge about how long journeys should take was somewhat common in the ancient world, including among people of lower social status. In fact, Huebner's chapter is focused on the lower classes. So, it seems that the fact that the magi's journey should have taken much less than two years was easily accessible to Matthew and his original audience. For a discussion of the significance of that situation, see the first thread linked above.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

A Response To Bart Ehrman's Webinar Against The Virgin Birth

It aired at 2:00 P.M. Eastern time today. It consisted of three segments, two presentations that were a little over an hour each and one session of questions and answers that lasted a little under an hour. I saw all of it other than about the first seven minutes of the first presentation, which I missed due to technical problems. The video isn't available for replay yet, but should be later this week. I plan to watch those first seven minutes at that point, then post any further comments that are warranted. But given the small amount of time involved and the nature of the webinar as a whole, I doubt that I missed much in those first several minutes.

When I provide documentation of something said during the webinar, I'll refer to the section involved and the approximate minute within that section. I don't have a video to play back at this point to get more precise numbers. So, "(second presentation, 21:00)" refers to something at roughly 21 minutes into the second presentation, "(questions and answers, 3:00)" refers to something about 3 minutes into the segment with questions and answers, etc.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Tovia Singer Is Wrong About The Origins Of Belief In The Virgin Birth

His YouTube channel recently put out a video on the virgin birth. He repeats a lot of claims I've addressed before. See here for resources on how much Matthew and Luke agree concerning Jesus' childhood, what they say about the timing of the family's residence in Bethlehem, etc. There are too many false claims in Singer's video for me to interact with all of them here. He refers, for example, to how "many" Evangelical scholars say that the infancy narratives are "hopelessly unreconcilable". He provides no documentation. I've reconciled the narratives, and so have other people. And I can cite non-Evangelicals acknowledging that the material can be reconciled. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, two very liberal Jesus Seminar scholars, acknowledged, "It is not impossible to harmonize them." (The First Christmas [New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007], 23) But the subject I want to focus on here is what Singer claimed about the origins of the virgin birth belief.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Does Luke 1:34 suggest that Mary took a vow of perpetual virginity?

Roman Catholics and other advocates of Mary's perpetual virginity often claim that Luke 1:34 implies that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity. Why else would she ask Gabriel how she was to conceive? These same Catholics (and others) often cite the second-century apocryphal work The Protevangelium Of James to support their view that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Go here and do a Ctrl F search for "apocryphal document" to read about some of the problems with that sort of appeal to the document. The Protevangelium has Mary needing to be corrected by Gabriel about becoming pregnant the same way other women do (11). It doesn't seem that the author of the Protevangelium interpreted Luke 1:34 the way these modern Catholics interpret the passage. Here are some other observations on Luke 1:34, which I wrote in correspondence with a friend on Facebook last year:

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Early Christian Orations On Christmas

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Bart Ehrman's Upcoming Webinar Against The Virgin Birth

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

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

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

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Ephesian Sources On Jesus' Childhood

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

Friday, November 24, 2023

Christmas Resources 2023

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Thank God For Scripture

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

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

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

(John Piper)

Sunday, November 19, 2023

How The Afterlife Completes And Makes More Sense Of This Life

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

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Why trust the early Christians' memories?

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Sola Scriptura And The Departure Passages

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Your Silence About Christ Is Dogma

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

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

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

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

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

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

(John Piper)

Thursday, November 09, 2023

How good is the argument from prophecy?

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

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 05, 2023

The Popularity Of Premillennialism In Jerome's Day

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

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Everything Good But Yourself

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Reformation Day

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

Sunday, October 29, 2023

A Review Of The New Enfield Documentary

Apple TV+ recently released a new four-part, four-hour documentary on the Enfield Poltergeist. They designed some sets to reconstruct the house where the poltergeist occurred, to recreate the look the house had in the 1970s, selected some of the audio recordings from the case, and had actors lyp-sinc and act out the scenarios as they were recorded. It's a good idea and well executed. So many of the audio, visual, and other components of the documentary are handled well, far too many for me to mention here (using the audio from the September 8, 1977 meeting where Guy Playfair offered to help Maurice Grosse with the Enfield case, going back and forth between Janet Hodgson as a child and Janet as an adult in the closing scene, etc.). Much of the audio included in the documentary is being made available to the general public for the first time. That alone is an important accomplishment. The reenactments are accompanied by a lot of interviews, clips from early media coverage of the case, and other material. They interviewed some people who hadn't participated in any previous Enfield documentaries, as far as I know, such as Paul Burcombe (the son of John Burcombe) and Hugh Pincott. (Go here for a brief video of Paul discussing a levitation of a couch that he witnessed, probably the levitation that occurred on November 10, 1977.) They aired some photographs I'd never seen before, including ones of people I'd never seen any images of previously, such as Tony Hodgson, the ex-husband of Peggy and the father of the Hodgson children, and Dono Gmelig-Meyling, the medium who's thought to have been the most effective at reducing the poltergeist's activities. The director of the documentary, Jerry Rothwell, has done a lot of interviews, which you can find on YouTube and elsewhere. Go here for a post at his web site that explains what he was trying to accomplish. It's the best Enfield documentary produced so far. It's very good. I disagree with some parts of it, some of which I'll discuss below, but I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Not How Good They Were, But The Glory Of Their Savior

"You will never be bold for Jesus if you wait to get good. And the whole thing that drove the early church and made them lion-hearted was not how good they were, but the glory of their Savior, the glory of the righteousness of Jesus." (John Piper, 24:54 in the audio here)

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Following The Media's False Lead

We're getting another round of widespread media coverage of a war, this time in Israel. Like the large amount of coverage of the war in Ukraine. And of other wars over the years. The people watching it are wasting their time for the most part. Sort of like watching hours upon hours of highly repetitive coverage of a hurricane, rioting that's occurring somewhere, etc. People enjoy passively taking in that sort of coverage on television, the internet, radio, or wherever else. They're following the crowd, it moves their emotions, and so on. They can act as though it's virtuous to be concerned about such things and to stay informed about them, even though they aren't accomplishing much, and they're being so negligent about other things in the process.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

The Consistent Gospel Of The Gospels

A couple of years ago, I put together a collection of posts on agreements between the Synoptics and the gospel of John. I've updated it since then. One of the posts there is about the soteriology of the gospels. It's focused on the gospels, but also addresses, to a lesser extent, how consistent the gospels are with the rest of the New Testament.

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:
Was ever grief like mine?
(George Herbert, "The Sacrifice")

"O happy is that man that shutteth his eyes from all other sights, and will neither hear nor see any other thing than Jesus Christ crucified; in whom are laid up and bestowed all the treasures of God's wisdom and divine knowledge!" (The Benefit Of Christ's Death, 93)

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Freed To A Higher Standard

"Christ hath delivered us, he [Paul] says, from the yoke of bondage, He hath left us free to act as we will, not that we may use our liberty for evil, but that we may have ground for receiving a higher reward, advancing to a higher philosophy. Lest any one should suspect, from his calling the Law over and over again a yoke of bondage, and a bringing on of the curse, that his object in enjoining an abandonment of the Law, was that one might live lawlessly, he corrects this notion, and states his object to be, not that our course of life might be lawless, but that our philosophy might surpass the Law. For the bonds of the Law are broken, and I say this not that our standard may be lowered, but that it may be exalted. For both he who commits fornication, and he who leads a virgin life, pass the bounds of the Law, but not in the same direction; the one is led away to the worse, the other is elevated to the better; the one transgresses the Law, the other transcends it. Thus Paul says that Christ hath removed the yoke from you, not that ye may prance and kick, but that though without the yoke ye may proceed at a well-measured pace." (John Chrysostom, Commentary On Galatians, 5, v. 13)

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Is lack of video evidence sufficient reason to dismiss a supernatural claim?

There's been a lot of media coverage of the Enfield Poltergeist lately, since a play about the case recently started, another is on the way, and a documentary series is coming out later this month. The web sites discussing these things often have a comments section, and certain skeptical objections keep getting repeated.

I won't be focusing on all of those objections here. You can go to my Enfield page linked above for a broader response to the claims skeptics have made about the case over the years. For example, we keep getting told, without documentation, that Janet and Margaret Hodgson have admitted that the case was faked. There's been no such admission. And if a web site discussing the case has one of the photos of Janet being thrown by the poltergeist, we get the usual skeptical response saying that she's just jumping off her bed and that, therefore, the whole case must be fraudulent. There's no indication that the skeptic understands the context of the photo, understands the difference between a throwing and a levitation as the skeptic is defining that term, or realizes that even if the incident in question were faked, it would be a non sequitur to conclude that the whole case must be fake. These people don't seem to understand the supplementary nature of photographic evidence or what they should be looking for in these Enfield photos, among other problems with their thinking. For an explanation of the context of these photos and what people should be looking for in them (e.g., the positioning of Janet's feet in some of them), see here and here. If you understand the context of these photos and know what to look for in them, they actually are significant evidence that something paranormal occurred. They're only supplementary evidence. Like other photographs, they aren't sufficient in isolation. They're an important part of a good cumulative case, though. Simplistic and dishonest skeptics might not want to make such distinctions, but that's their problem.

What I want to focus on in this post is the request for video evidence. It's often suggested that supernatural claims made about the Enfield case or in some other context are suspicious if there isn't video of one or more of the supernatural events.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

It Will Be Easy To Condemn People

Suppose the president of the United States invited you and a few of your friends to the White House for a reception. As you enter the cozy green room, the president is sitting by the fireplace and you walk right by him without a glance or a greeting. For the whole evening, you neither look at him nor speak to him nor thank him nor inquire why he called you together. But every time the one reporter asks you if you believe in the existence of the president, you say, “Of course.” You even agree that this is his house and that all this food came from his kitchen. But you pay him no regard. Practically speaking you act as if you do not believe he exists. You ignore him. He has no place in the affections of your heart. His gifts, not himself, are the center of your attention.

The vast majority of people who say they believe in God treat him this way. He is like hydrogen. You learned once in school that it is in the air you breathe, but after that, your belief in it has made no difference in your life. Every time someone takes a poll, you say, “Of course, hydrogen exists.” Then you return to things that matter.

Put yourself forward a few years to the day when every human being will give an account of himself before the living God. God will say to millions of people, “Now it is my understanding that you said often during your life that you believed in me. You affirmed my existence. Is that right?” “Yes.” “And is it not true that in your life the more honor and importance and virtue and power and beauty a person had, the more regard he was paid and the more respect he was shown and the more admiration he received? Is that not the case?” “Yes.” “Then why is it that I had such an insignificant place in your life since you say you believed in me? Why didn’t you feel more admiration for me and seek my wisdom more often and spend time in fellowship with me and strive to know the way I wanted you to make all your everyday decisions? Why did you treat me as though I were like hydrogen?”

What is the world going to answer? What are thousands of so-called Christians going to answer, whose faith in God is virtually the same as their faith in hydrogen?

Oh, how easy it is going to be for God to condemn the world at the judgment! Sometimes in our self-asserting pride, we actually think that God is going to have trouble finding enough evidence to be just in sentencing people to hell. But if you allow yourself to think clearly for a moment about the overwhelming implications of the statement, “God exists,” you will see that it is going to be very easy for the Judge on that day. The defendants will be utterly speechless because of the manifest inconsistency of their lives. The portfolio of the prosecuting attorney will not have to be opened beyond page 1 where it says, “Defendant affirmed that God exists; personal life lived as though God made no difference.”

(John Piper)

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

How much does Acts support the apostles' willingness to suffer for their resurrection testimony?

Lydia McGrew just concluded a good series of videos on the following topic:

This week I'm starting a series about this question: Does Acts support the idea that at least twelve specific, named individuals were willing to risk their lives for the claim that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead?

Some skeptics have claimed that even if we take Acts at face value in its account of the early days of Christianity, it still doesn't support this claim. They may downplay the seriousness of the risk. They may imply that only Peter and John among the original twelve disciples actually stood up and took a risk or that the others stopped taking a risk after the religious leaders first told them to stop preaching.

In the coming weeks I'll be addressing these claims from Acts itself. Here I am setting up the question.

Remember, this is addressing what we can learn from Acts itself if we take the narrative at face value about who was proclaiming the resurrection and what they were risking.

Here are links to each part in the series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Sunday, October 08, 2023

How Corrupt The Roman Catholic Church Is

The Other Paul and James White recently discussed the latest edition of the Jerome Biblical Commentary, an edition with a foreword from Pope Francis. See here for some examples of similar problems with Catholicism in other contexts.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Seeking Beauty

"[Jonathan] Edwards points to the way in which young people in particular are obsessed with outward adornment, 'in making a fine appearance.' But by embracing true religion 'they would have the graces of God's Spirit, the beauty and ornaments of angels, and the lovely image of God.' Don't abandon your desire for beauty, he counsels, but seek the beauty 'that would render [you] far more lovely than the greatest outward beauty possible,' namely, 'that beauty that would render [you] lovely in the eyes of Jesus Christ, and the angels, and all wise men.' What this world offers is 'vile in comparison [with] the beauty of the graces of God's Spirit' (83). True religion will also bring 'the sweetest delights of love and friendship' (83). Loving God 'is an affection that is of a more sublime and excellent nature' than the love of any earthly object. Such love is always mutual, and thus the love one receives from Christ 'vastly exceeds the love of any earthly lover' (84)." (Sam Storms, in Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, edd., For The Fame Of God's Name [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010], 67)

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Sola Scriptura In The Third Century

"If then it was from the apostles, as we said above, that this custom took its beginning, we must adjust ourselves thereto, whatsoever may have been their reasons and the grounds on which they acted; to the end that we too may observe the same in accordance with their practice. For as to things which were written afterwards and which are until now still found, they are ignored by us; and let them be ignored, no matter what they are." (Dionysius of Alexandria, Letters, 1, To Stephen)

Elsewhere, he wrote:

"And we abstained from defending in every manner and contentiously the opinions which we had once held, unless they appeared to be correct. Nor did we evade objections, but we endeavored as far as possible to hold to and confirm the things which lay before us, and if the reason given satisfied us, we were not ashamed to change our opinions and agree with others; but on the contrary, conscientiously and sincerely, and with hearts laid open before God, we accepted whatever was established by the proofs and teachings of the Holy Scriptures." (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 7:24:8)

The best explanation for such sentiments is sola scriptura. We don't assume without evidence that Dionysius also believed in the papacy, an infallible magisterium, infallible ecumenical councils, and such. And we don't add a qualifier to his reference to scripture if the text and context don't imply that qualifier. If he only refers to scripture, the best explanation is that he had only scripture in mind, not that he also was consulting oral tradition, an infallible magisterium, an infallible ecumenical council, or some other such source. The issue here isn't how Dionysius could be interpreted. Rather, the issue is how he should be interpreted, which interpretation makes the most sense.

It could be argued that Dionysius and his fellow Christians limited themselves to scripture in the context mentioned in the second passage above only because the relevant extrabiblical material wasn't available in that particular context. It wouldn't follow that there was no such material in other contexts. That's possible, but, again, makes less sense. Dionysius is addressing eschatological issues, and that's an area in which extrabiblical traditions are reported early on to an unusually large degree (e.g., in Papias, in Irenaeus). Furthermore, eschatology has a lot of connections to other areas of theology, so limiting yourself to scripture wouldn't just involve whether you think there's relevant extrabiblical material in the more obviously eschatological contexts. Eschatological implications are often interwoven with areas of theology not typically classified as eschatology. And it's not as though the groups who reject sola scriptura, like Roman Catholicism, have claimed that all of their eschatological beliefs are found only in scripture. Papal decrees and councils, for example, frequently address eschatological issues in some manner (Jesus' second coming, resurrection, the day of judgment, etc.). Think of the many references to eschatological issues in the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church. Why should we think the views of groups like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are the same as those of Dionysius and his colleagues?

We also have to consider the nature of the world in Dionysius' time and the potential for change later. Notice that he doesn't qualify his comments by allowing for some past infallible papal or conciliar teaching he hadn't learned about yet or some such teaching in the future. He seems unconcerned about that sort of qualification.

In addition to what Dionysius affirms in the passages quoted above, there's the absence of anything like an infallible Pope or infallible magisterium elsewhere in Dionysius' writings. You can read what he wrote here and here.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Reformation Resources

Reformation Day is coming up soon. Several years ago, I put together a collection of posts about the historical roots of Evangelicalism and the Reformation. I periodically update the collection. I've added some posts on opposition to Roman Catholic teaching among the pre-Reformation Waldensians, here, here, and here. On the pre-Reformation Lollards, see here and here. And see the comments section of my collection of links on the papacy for some recent additions to those posts. I've also added entries on baptismal regeneration, the New Testament canon, the afterlife, and the perspicuity of scripture. I added new links to the entries on prayer to saints and angels and the eucharist.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tear Out The Evil By The Root

"But perhaps thou sayest, I am a believer, and lust does not gain the ascendant over me, even if I think upon it frequently. Knowest thou not that a root breaks even a rock by long persistence? Admit not the seed, since it will rend thy faith asunder: tear out the evil by the root before it blossom, lest from being careless at the beginning thou have afterwards to seek for axes and fire. When thine eyes begin to be diseased, get them cured in good time, lest thou become blind, and then have to seek the physician." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 2:3)

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Joe Heschmeyer's Arguments For Praying To Saints And Angels

He's been exchanging videos with Gavin Ortlund on the subject. Joe has commented on some issues beyond what Gavin brought up as well. You can watch Gavin's most recent video here, which makes a lot of good points. You can find Joe's videos here, here, here, and here. I've said a lot about prayer to saints and angels in the past. You can find a collection of many of my posts here, for example. What follows are some of my initial reactions to Joe's videos:

A New Enfield Poltergeist Documentary Next Month

Apparently, it's the one that's been discussed for a few years now. It's set to appear on Apple TV+ in late October. Here's a Reddit thread about it. And a short description here explains, beneath a photograph from the documentary:

"By rebuilding the 1977 Hodgson home and casting actors to synchronize performances with real audio, the series plunges viewers back into this incredible story of two hauntings: the haunting of the youngest Hodgson daughter, Janet, and the haunting of the main paranormal investigator and father figure, Maurice Grosse."

I had a brief email exchange with one of the individuals who was working on the documentary a couple of years ago. And I had a discussion about it with one of the people interviewed for it after the interview. I've also seen some comments Melvyn Willin and Douglas Bence have made about the documentary at different stages in its production. But I don't know a lot about it. I want to watch it, and I'll probably post about it here if it's worth commenting on, which it probably will be.

For those who don't know, I've done a lot of work on the Enfield case and have a large collection of articles on it here. Here's a page with some recommendations about how to begin studying the case.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Steve Hays ebooks 5

Thanks so very much, once again, to Led by the Shepherd for the latest batch of Steve Hays' ebooks! May the Lord richly bless Led by the Shepherd for all his work to bless others with Steve's writings. (Previous batch here.)

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.