Saturday, September 12, 2009

Jesus: First for the Jew, then for the Gentile

Many Muslims misrepresent the Bible. I am sure they do not do this as an act of dishonesty, but it is that the Qur’an forces them to engage in such dishonest behaviour.

But let us see what Jesus and the Bible actually teach. Firstly, we shall turn to Romans 1:16 – I believe this to be a succinct summary of Jesus’ earthly mission:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16 (NET)

It is true. Jesus was first for the lost sheep of Israel, and then to the Gentiles. This was clearly demonstrated within his public ministry. Early on we are told:

"Jesus sent out these twelve, instructing them as follows: “Do not go to Gentile regions and do not enter any Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Matthew 10:5-6 (NET)

But this is not where Jesus stopped. Just as the scriptures predicted, Jesus’ ministry was not to be forever limited to the Jews. In Luke, alluding to prophesy in Isaiah, we see Jesus’ full mission:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)

He was to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32a) and a “a light for the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Jesus was conscious of this and made it clear:

Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

The light of the world? Hmm

At the end of the Jesus’ ministry he brought this in action. He commissioned his disciples to spread the gospel to all the nations of the world.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Matthew 28:19

and [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem
Luke 24:46-47 (ESV)

[Jesus said to them]… But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1:8 (ESV)

As is evident, Jesus fulfilled what said about him and he said of his self. He instructed his disciples to spread the message to all nations and this is what they did. Taking the message of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reviewing the Jesus Puzzle: The Conspiracy of a Conspiracy of Silence

Following is a short examination of the first piece of the puzzle presented in Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle: Pieces in a Puzzle of Christian Origins. Within the article, Doherty breaks down the evidence for Jesus into 10 pieces in an attempt to demonstrate a mythical origin of Christianity.

The first piece of the puzzle is the Conspiracy of Silence. The argument behind this piece simply put is that the early Christian writings do not contain the Gospel narrative. The absence of narrative includes the following:
  1. No reference to Jesus' life and ministry.
  2. No mention of miracles performed by Jesus
  3. No mention of physical teaching of Jesus
Furthermore, he attempts to diffuse the historical references in the epistles. For example, he alleges that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is a later interpolation. Metzger's A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament makes no mention of a viable interpolation here on textual grounds. Paul's mention of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23 is simply written off as "a mythical scene Paul has himself developed" without justification. Evidently, the many exceptions to his rule are conveniently interpolations or myth.

When we get to the non-Christian sources, Josephus' mention in Antiquities of the Jews 18 is a "Christian interpolation" as is the mention of "James the brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ" in Antiquities 20.


Regarding the mentions in the epistles, we have seen that they are simply written off as (1) later interpolations and (2) mythical inventions of the author. This process does not seem to be a function of historical investigation but simply modifying the evidence and parameters to fit the pre-conceived conclusion. This same sort of evidence tampering continues with the mentions in the non-Christian sources. Josephus' clear and acknowledged mentions are placed into the realm of later Christian interpolations and tampering. In this way his thesis can once again be qualified.

It seems that the conspiracy of silence is one created by Doherty himself. With regard to the later pagan sources, they are beyond this investigation simply as they are a fallacious standard. Where historians mention Jesus, they are interpolations - when other historians who one would not expect to record the ministry of a Jew of Nazareth do not mention Jesus, this is evidence for his conclusions. At best, he is circular.

Now, regarding the claims of Josephus, Doherty is clearly against the consensus of scholars. The second mention of Jesus in the words of Professor Edwin Yamauchi, "Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage." Any survey on the historical evidence for Jesus from both liberal and conservative commentators will make this fact known. With regard to the longer reference to Jesus there is evidence of Christian embelishments. However, once again, the consensus is that there was a clear mention of Jesus as a physical person placed in history here. Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans and Jacob Neusner in The Missing Jesus state:

"In the part of this embellished text that virtually all regard as authentic Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor." (p.21)
From what scholars see as the authentic text of Josephus we can learn 10 facts about Jesus:

(1) Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct. (2) He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles. (3) Pilate condemned him to die, (4) with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode. (5) The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and (6) that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion. (7) Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings. (8) Perhaps Jesus was the Messiah concerning whom the Old Testament prophets spoke and predicted wonders. We would add here two facts from Josephus’ earlier quotation as well. (9) Jesus was the brother of James and (10) was called the messiah by some. (Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ)
The scholarly understanding of Josephus' mentions of Jesus are very different to that entertained by Doherty.

Now, with regard to Doherty's points on the silence of the various epistles. As was demonstrated above, those that conflict with his overall thesis are designated as either myth or interpolations. However, there are many more points that Doherty seems ignorant of. Regarding placing Jesus in history, from the Pauline epistles alone we can learn enough to blast Doherty's marginal thesis. These historical points are collated by prominent New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce in his book 'Paul and Jesus':
"Paul is out earliest literary authority for the historical Jesus. True, he does not tell us much about the historical Jesus, in comparison with what we can learn from the Evangelists, but he does tell us a little more than that Jesus was born and died. Jesus was an Israelite, he says, descended from Abraham (Gal 3:16) and David (Rom. 1:3); who lived under the Jewish law (Gal. 4:4); who was betrayed, and on the night of his betrayal instituted a memorial meal of bread and wine (I Cor. 11:23ff); who endured the Roman penalty of crucifixion (I Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:1, 13, 6:14, etc.), although Jewish authorities were somehow involved His death (I Thess. 2:15); who was buried, rose the third day and was thereafter seen alive by many eyewitnesses on various occasions, including one occasion on which He was so seen by over five hundred at once, of whom the majority were alive twenty-five years later (I Cor. 15:4ff). In this summary of the evidence for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, Paul shows a sound instinct for the necessity of marshalling personal testimony in support of what might well appear an incredible assertion..

Paul knows of the Lord’s apostles, of whom Peter and John are mentioned by name as “pillars” of the Jerusalem community (Gal. 2:9), and of His brothers, of whom James is similarly mentioned (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). He knows that the Lord’s brothers and apostles, including Peter, were married (I Cor. 9:5), and incidental agreement with the Gospel story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30). He quotes sayings of Jesus on occasion, e.g., His teaching on marriage and divorce (I Cor. 7:10f) and on the right of gospel preachers to have their material needs supplied (I Cor. 9:14); and the words He used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:24ff).

Even when he does not quote the actual sayings of Jesus, he shows throughout his works how well acquainted he was with them. In particular, we ought to compare the ethical section of the Epistle to the Romans (12:1-15:7), where Paul summarizes the practical implications of the gospel for the lives of believers, with the Sermon on the Mount, to see how thoroughly imbued the apostle was with the teaching of his Master. Besides, there and elsewhere Paul’s chief argument in his ethical instruction is t example of Christ Himself. And the character of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels. When Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1), we remember our Lord’s own words, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). The self-denying Christ of the Gospels is the one of whom Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3); and just as the Christ of the Gospels called on His followers to deny themselves (Mark 8:34), so the apostle insists that, after the example ofo Christ, it is our Christian duty “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1)….” (pp. 19-20)
Evidently, this is much more information than a conspiracy of silence. Similarly, Paul makes it clear that he is familiar with the teachings of Jesus such as on the issues of divorce.

However, the death blow to the epistle conspiracy occurs when one considers the circumstances of the epistles. These circumstances are two-fold:
  1. The epistles were written to communities that probably already knew gospel narrative. It would not be necessary to recount a biography of Jesus in every letter composed to another community acquainted with the narrative. Take for example, epistles from the Johannine community. They make few references to a historical Jesus yet they produced the Gospel of John which claimed to be based on the eyewitness testimony of the beloved disciple. Evidently, this community which was thoroughly acquainted with the gospel narratives made few references in the epistles. The logic behind such expectations is emphasised when we consider the genre of the epistles.
  2. The genre of the epistles were letters. Letters were not biographical narratives.
As prominent liberal New Testament scholar Marcus Borg states:
"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32)
As has been clearly demonstrated, the grounding for Doherty's thesis is questionable at best.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Codex Sinaiticus and the Media - Dan Wallace

Dan Wallace blogged about some of the errors in the hyped up media on Codex Sinaiticus. The full article can be found here.

  • “The world’s oldest Bible”—a headline in countless newspaper articles. It is the world’s oldest complete New Testament, but Codex Vaticanus is probably older than Sinaiticus. Both are incomplete in the Old Testament, and Vaticanus is also incomplete in the New Testament. Thus, if an incomplete manuscript can be considered as the oldest Bible, Vaticanus would be the one.

  • “The earliest surviving copy of the Gospels”—numerous sources, including New York Daily News and Welt (7-6-09). No, there are several manuscripts, especially papyrus fragments, that are older: P52 (c. 100-150 CE, thus a good 200 years older than Sinaiticus) contains five verses from John’s Gospel; P66 (c. 175 CE) contains most of John; P75 (early third century) contains most of John and Luke; P45 (third century) contains large portions of all four Gospels, etc. There are well over twenty papyri that are both older than Sinaiticus and have portions of at least one of the Gospels. In addition, Codex B has the complete Gospels and is probably older than Sinaiticus.

  • “In earlier centuries there were all manner of documents in scroll form of gospels, epistles and other Christian writings. As time went by, some were judged to be authoritative and included in the canon; others were deemed to be apocryphal or errant” (The Independent, 7-7-09). This is not exactly true. There are only three or four early Greek New Testament manuscripts on scrolls, and each of them is on the back side (or verso) or some other manuscript. From all the evidence available, Christians used the codex as the book-form of choice rather than the scroll. To be sure, some apocryphal books are on scrolls, but no early Greek New Testament books are. If the form of the book is any indication, this may suggest that very early on Christians recognized certain books as intrinsically of more worth than others. At the same time, some apocryphal books are also in codices. Nevertheless, the consistency of having the NT books in codex form while non-NT Christian and subchristian books were often on scrolls may suggest a trend that mirrors how the early church viewed the New Testament books.

  • “It includes two works which have since been dropped from both Catholic and Protestant Bibles”—the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas (The Independent, 7-7-09). This presupposes that these books were considered canonical in the fourth century. But that is doubtful in the extreme. It is, in fact, doubtful whether such books would have been considered scripture at any time by a majority of Christian churches. That they are under the same cover as the OT and NT does not necessarily indicate that they were regarded as scripture, especially since we have no corroborating evidence to suggest this. In the least, the reason why Barnabas and Hermas are within Sinaiticus’s covers is open to more than one interpretation.

  • The same article says that Sinaiticus says that Jesus was angry, rather than compassionate, when he healed a leper (Mark 1.41), but this is not the case. Codex Bezae says this, but not Sinaiticus. The article also says that Sinaiticus omits “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever” from the Lord’s Prayer, even though these are “words which Protestants add to the end of the Lord’s Prayer.” In this instance, the author is right about Sinaiticus, but what his basis is for saying that Protestants add these words is not given. It certainly is not based on modern Bibles that Protestants use: neither the ASV, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NIV, TNIV, TEV, NEB, REB, or NET have this sentence, yet these translations account for the great majority of modern English Bibles in use today.

  • “You might suppose it [the virtual reunification of Sinaticus] would upset those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God, since the Codex shows there have over the centuries been thousands of alterations to today’s Bible. But they can counter that there are earlier, individual manuscripts of almost all the books in the Bible; the Codex just pulls them together into a single volume. In any case, fundamentalists have long been adept at ignoring the evidence of historical biblical scholarship” (ibid.). A whole host of faulty assumptions occur in this paragraph, such as that inerrantists and fundamentalists are synonymous, that the changes made to the codex in later centuries can have any impact on one’s belief in the inerrancy of the autographs, that the whole issue of canonicity is in some way altered by this codex, or even that knowledge of this manuscript is only now coming to light. All this really shows is that the author is ignorant of both inerrantists and Sinaiticus.

  • “The first part of what is now considered the Bible — from Genesis to 1 Chronicles — is missing” (CBC News [Canada], 7-6-09). Not completely true. Portions of the early books of the Old Testament were discovered in 1975 at St. Catherine’s Monastery and are now on-line. As far as the extant Sinaiticus, this statement was true prior to 1975, but the article is a bit behind the times.

  • “The Codex is not a work of perfection but a work in progress, bearing the material traces of emendation and construction. You can see how the Christian narrative was constructed and revised” (The Guardian, 7-8-09). This is not exactly false, but it is misleading. It sounds as if the author is saying that the Christian faith was materially affected by the ‘corrections’ in this manuscript. But textual critics know that later corrections to a manuscript are generally done by a different standard and do nothing to help us determine the wording of the original text of said manuscript. In this case, as Klaus Wachtel of Muenster demonstrated at the Sinaiticus Conference in London this last week, the later correctors (after the manuscript left the scriptorium) were conforming the text of Sinaiticus to the medieval Byzantine standard text, not to the text(s) from which it was copied.

  • “And some familiar—very important—passages are missing, including verses dealing with the resurrection of Jesus” (CNN, 7-6-09). Another rather misleading statement. The one text that refers to the resurrection that CNN has in mind is Mark 16.9–20, a passage that biblical scholars for the past 125 have increasingly come to view as inauthentic. Yet, what is lacking in Sinaiticus has been known for centuries, since the same passage is not found in Codex Vaticanus, a manuscript known since 1475. Further, it’s not the resurrection, but resurrection appearances to the disciples that is missing from Sinaiticus’s ending of Mark. However, three times in Mark (in Sinaiticus) Jesus predicts his own resurrection, and the abrupt end of the Gospel at 16.8 thus seems to function as an open-ended invitation to those who would follow Christ. (See my chapter, ““Mark 16:8 as the Conclusion to the Second Gospel,” in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views, ed. D. A. Black [Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008]).

  • “Juan Garces, the British Library project curator, said it should be no surprise that the ancient text is not quite the same as the modern one, since the Bible has developed and changed over the years” (ibid.). I can only assume that CNN garbled what Garces actually said. As this statement scans now, it seems that Garces is saying that modern Bibles are based on the latest copies of manuscripts, rather than the earliest ones. Of course that’s not true, nor would Garces have suggested that it is. In the past 125+ years, scholars are getting closer and closer to the wording of the autographic text of the New Testament because of improved methods of investigation, better historical reconstructions, new discoveries, and clearer photographs of these manuscripts.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Introducing Sheik Hilali

I believe this video makes an excellent introduction of Sheik Hilali, former Grand Mufti of Australia. His track record is disgusting and I believe Bolt makes a good point - if he isn't meant to represent the psyche of Australian Muslims, why is he still in?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Examining Ehteshaam Gulam's Deceptive Use of Josephus

Here Gulam attempts to use Jesus' non-existence arguments against the historicity of the crucifixion. By dismissing the non-Christian evidence as such (in line with the extremely unsound hypothesis of G.A. Wells he cites in Who Was Jesus?) he is dehistoricizing Jesus. This approach is rather unsound.

The manner by which he approaches this is a clear demonstration of his inadequacy in historical investigation and complete ignorance of historical scholarship. For Josephus' accounts he states:

Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, lived as the earliest non-Christian who mentions a Jesus. Although many scholars think that Josephus' short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from interpolations perpetrated by a later Church father (most likely, Eusebius), Josephus' birth in 37 C.E., well after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, puts him out of range of an eyewitness account. Moreover, he wrote Antiquities in 93 C.E., after the first gospels got written! Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from his hand, his information could only serve as hearsay.

As is evident in his first sentence he is tainted greatly by the fringe Christ Myth theorists. He states Flavius was the earliest non-Christian to mention "a Jesus". Josephus mentions other Jesus' who we know are not the historical Jesus we have in mind. For example, there is Jesus the son of Sapphias (Wars 20.4.566) and Jesus the brother of John (Antiquities 7.1.298). Any reading of the primary source material (Josephus' various texts) or secondary text will make this fact abundantly clear.

The second point made is that, "many scholars" believe that Josephus' mentions of Jesus of Nazareth came from later interpolations. This is simply incorrect. Most scholars do not think this.

The shorter mention of Jesus:

... so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others,[1]

In line with the New Testament accounts we have James the brother of Jesus. This mention is not doubted by any major scholar as anything other than authentic. Also to note, this text is recounting a history that we do not find in the New Testament. Therefore, we have reliable extra-biblical witness to the events of Jesus and his early ministry.

This text in light of Gulam's snide 'a Jesus' remark makes it clear that this Jesus (of others mentioned in Josephus) is the Jesus we are after. The brother of James and the one who was called the Messiah (Christ).

Regarding the authenticity:

"Josephus (Ant. 20.200) describes how the high priest Ananus took advantage of the death of the Roman governor Festus in A.D. 62 to organize a mob to stone James, whom he identifies as "the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ." Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage."
Professor Edwin M. Yamauchi

The next mention of Jesus is where we have some problems. This is a longer text that shows some Christian embelishment. However, the fact that Josephus mentioned Jesus here is not a question of doubt.

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek [meaning “Gentile,” that is, non-Jewish] origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day, the tribe of Chris tians (named after him) has not died out.

What do scholars have to say on the authenticity?

"In the part of this embellished text that VIRTUALLY ALL REGARD AS AUTHENTIC Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor."
Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans, Jacob Neusner, 'The Missing Jesus' p.21

So, from Josephus we can take away 10 facts that most scholars agree upon:
(1) Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct. (2) He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles. (3) Pilate condemned him to die, (4) with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode. (5) The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and (6) that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion. (7) Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings. (8) Perhaps Jesus was the Messiah concerning whom the Old Testament prophets spoke and predicted wonders. We would add here two facts from Josephus’ earlier quotation as well. (9) Jesus was the brother of James and (10) was called the messiah by some.[2]

Gulam goes on to say that the source was probably Chrisitans anyway - however, this need not be so. A probable scenario as suggested by Marcus Borg is that "he learned about Jesus from non-Christian Jews, probably before moving to Rome in the 60s. Perhaps this is how non-Christian Jews commonly spoke about Jesus." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.31)

As is evident, the scholars present a very different picture to that Gulam would insist everyone think

1. Josephus, Flavius ; Whiston, William: The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1987, S. Ant 20.200
2. Habermas, Gary R. ; Habermas, Gary R.: The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, Mo. : College Press Pub. Co., 1996, S. 195