Updated Post: Ancient and Modern Historiography: So What Are The Gospels?

Introduction

I had previously written on this topic. But I wanted to add some new tidbits. Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). There is still an overall skepticism towards them that permeates the culture and college campuses. I have found that many skeptics have never stopped and asked the question, “What Are The Gospels?”

What Are The Gospels?

When we discuss the Gospels with others I don’t think we can ignore the advice of New Testament scholar Ben Witherington who says, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (1)

For starters, one view of this topic was Dennis R. MacDonald’s Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. But there was several problems with this approach. To see some of the issues with this approach, see here: Or, to see whether the Gospels are some sort of historical fiction and the problems with this approach, see Glen Miller’s Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

Therefore, in asking whether the available sources for the life of Jesus are legendary, we should carefully evaluate the genre of the Gospels. In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written.” Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it.” (2)

Burridge placed special attention on the prologue, verb subjects, allocation of space, mode of representation, length, structure, scale, literary units, use of sources, style, social setting, quality of characterization, atmosphere as well authorial intention and purpose. Because of the gospel’s similarities to these ancient biographies, Burridge concluded that the genre of the gospels is what is called an ancient bioi which bear some similarities to Suetonius’s Twelve Ceasars or Plutarch’s Paraell Lives. But just because it can be concluded that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies, does that mean they are historical in nature? We probably should take the advice of David Aune when he says, “Greco Roman biography was “intrinsically concerned with history.” (3)

Some of the other aspects of an Ancient Bioi:

Ancient Bioi centered on a particular person and sought to present adequate characterization of that person. The biography would include information about other persons and groups of people, but the major focus of the work would be on central character. The goal of the ancient biographer was often hortatory or exhortational. Burridge says, “Ancient Bioi was a flexible genre having strong relationships with history, encomium and rhetoric, moral philosophy and the concern for character.” (4)

Other issues of Ancient Bioi:

1.The modern desire for precision must not be imposed on ancient authors because they wrote in general fashion. Ancient authors were content to use adverbs and other terms for time in a metaphorical or less that precise way. Example- Luke says “Jesus was about 30”

2. The ancient author utilized historical data about the central figure but did so with different purposes.

3. The goal of ancient bioi was to create a lasting impression on the reader.

4. Objection: “Why do the gospels not include more about Jesus’ childhood and early adult years? Because another aspect of an Ancient Bioi placed little focus on childhood development of the person in question since it was believed that character was basically static and did not develop over time, but rather, was merely revealed.

5. The author’s goal was not to recount all the historic events of the person’s life. The goal was to reveal who the person was through a portrait of words and deeds. If the person’s death took place in a glorious fashion, an ample amount of space had to be devoted to the biography to explain significance of event. The reason for this is the following: in antiquity that how one died revealed one’s true character. Since Jesus was crucified and no one in antiquity saw this as a noble way to die, this explains why the gospels include so much information about this event.

6. The tendency to apply modern historiographical expectations to the gospels makes it difficult to recognize ancient conventions and genre traits that are used in the Gospels such as:

1. Exhaustive or compressive accounts 2. Value-free commentary 3. Ascribing all events to natural causes –ancient authors did not hesitate to mention supernatural events in their narratives of historical events. 4.The avoidance of rhetorical devices and effects (5)

Charles Talbert, who had written the groundbreaking What Is a Gospel? says the following about the Burridge book, “This volume ought to end any legitimate details pf the canonical Gospel’s biographical character” (see his review in Journal of Biblical Literature, 112 (1993).

The Jewish Background of the Gospels

Michael Bird has recently noted the following about the genre of the Gospels:

“The Gospels are rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. They explicitly function as the continuation and fulfillment of the story of Israel. That is why they are replete with citations, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament. The religious content and theological texture of the Gospels is heavily indebted to the worldview, socio-political landscape, and sacred texts of Judaism. Roman biography and Greek legends could refer to various religious literary works such as Delphic oracles or Homer’s Iliad. But for the Gospels, the story and worldview of Israel’s Scriptures are very much what the Gospels are about, namely, the God of Israel inaugurating his kingdom through Jesus the Messiah. It should not raise anyone’s eyebrows to say that the Gospels comprise a form of post-biblical Jewish literature with messianic faith in Jesus as its primary content. The main point of contact with the Gospels is that Jewish biographical literature contains a theography, a story about Israel’s God, working through an agent of deliverance, such as a prophet, king, or teacher. The protagonist leads the Jewish people at a time of national crisis or performs some miraculous deed at an important moment in Israel’s history. The Gospels possess a theological worldview, a geopolitical setting, didactic content, and a deliberate replication of Old Testament literary types that make some kind of connection with Jewish sacred literature irrefutable.”—-Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 229). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Bird also says:

The Gospels are the textual imprint of the oral phenomena of Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus. Viewed this way, they are Christian documents related to the needs of Christians in corporate reading, worship, apologetics, and proclamation. So in that sense they are a unique genre with no precise literary counterparts. However, their uniqueness is in many ways inconsequential because they remain largely analogous to Greco-Roman biography, and the biographical genre was typified by innovation and adaptation. The content of the Gospels is singularly determined by Jewish Christian content, while the literary form of the Gospels is a clear subtype of Greco-Roman biography.- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 270), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Gospel Genre and Historical Intention

In the latest book by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy called The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (pgs 334-335) they note Willem van Unick’s study of how ancient historians understood their work based on Lucian’s How To Write History and Dionysis of Halicarnassus’s Letter to Pompei. From these two works van Unick formulates “ten rules” of ancient historiography. Ancient historians were expected to:

1. Choose a noble subject 2. Choose a subject that would be useful to the intended audience 3. Be impartial and independent in researching and composing their history 4. Construct a good narrative with an especially good beginning and ending 5. Engage in adequate preparatory research 6. Use good judgment in the selection of material, exemplifying appropriate variety 7. Accurately and appropriately order one’s material 8. Make the narrative lively and interesting 9. Exercise moderation in topographal details 10. Compose speeches appropriate to the orator and rhetorical situation

Daniel Marguerat has analyzed Luke’s history writing in the light of Unnick’s ten rules and has arrived at the following conclusion:

“Comparisons of Luke-Acts with the list of historiographal norms confirms that the Lucan writings corresponds to standard Graeco-Roman historiogrpahy. We…find that Luke follows eight of ten rules: his transgression of the other two (the first and the third) points us toward the specificity of Luke’s project. The instructions observed by Luke are also followed by the majority of historians of Hellenistic Judaism, especially Flavius Josephus.”

Boyd and Eddy note that Luke’s apparent violation of rule number one is instructive. Rather than a culturally appropriate noble subject, Luke and his fellow Gospel writers chose as their central focus the life of a Galilean carpenter who was eventually crucified as a false messiah and blasphemer—hardly a “noble subject. “ –pgs 334-335

Modern Biographies?

It is true that the Gospels are not modern biographies. While modern biographers may write to the entire public and no one or group in particular, the Gospels were written to specific Christian audiences for “in house” use.

What needs to be remembered is that just because the Gospels are not biographies in the modern sense, this doesn’t mean they are unreliable. It is important to avoid the fallacy of chronological snobbery which rejects something just because of the date of it is extremely old or what people label as “primitive” or “prescientific.” For those that reject the Gospels because they assume the natural world is all there is, that is a philosophical issue that is for another time.

We should appreciate the fact that we have access to four biographies from a figure in antiquity such as Jesus.

Furthermore, we can note that William Placher calls the Gospels “history like-witnesses, to truths both historical and transcendental.” Having said this, there are plenty of historical points that are made in the Gospels that don’t have to be attributed to the miraculous. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island. Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (6) He also gives us 84 events, customs, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology in the book of Acts–see The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History by classics scholar Colin Hemer. To see the list of these items, click here:

In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6). 2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8) 3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9). 4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1). 5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7) 6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus. 7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51). 8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37.

To see the full list, see here:

The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

One book that has recently handled the issue of eyewitness testimony issue within the New Testament is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham. In this book, Bauckham offers a new paridigm called “The Jesus of Testimony.”

New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. How do we know something? The role of testimony is one of the primary ways humans can know anything about historical events. Bauckham does a superb job in evaluating how testimony can be treated as historical knowledge.

Bauckham also notes the following:

“The Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events.

Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. Above all, these historians valued  reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).”

Conclusion:

It is my hope that more people will take the time to look at the genre of the books of the Bible and actually attempt to know what it is they are trying to interpret. While this may be a challenge for some people, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Sources:

1. Ben Witherington III, New Testament History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001), 14-28.

2. Richard Burridge And Graham Gould, Jesus: Then And Now (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004), 2.

3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 2007), 411.

4. See Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco Roman Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Second Edition, 2004).

5. These six points can be found in Witherington’s New Testament History.

6. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books. 1999), 431.

The Role of Emotions in the Life of the Christian

I found this to be an excellent article. It is called Stop Worshipping Emotions.

In it, the author says the following:

Use your emotions as your major decision making tool and you are sunk.

Now, do you want to know why?

Let me set the scene. As we grow we experience bodily and mental ‘feelings’ as we experience current or think about past events. We win a race, everyone cheers, we see our parents smile, we get feelings we come to label as ‘good’ or ‘positive’. We also get feelings that are not so pleasant which we often label as ‘bad’ or ‘negative’.

These are mental classifications, ways we categorise our experience, and we then respond to those as if they were real when in fact they exist only in our body and mind.

Emotions are created in the psychological-physiological space between the way we think about the world and our actual experience of it. When we get what we expect we tend to feel the nicer emotions. When we get less than we expect or something different and unwanted we experience the ‘negative’ emotions.

Emotions, as a general rule, only tell us about OURSELVES and what already think. They are a feedback mechanism giving us the ‘temperate’ of our current thinking, so to speak.

To make this clearer I will quote Albert Ellis, author of the wonderful How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable about Anything Ever Again (Yes, ever).

We feel our thoughts.”

There – that’s it in a nutshell.

We feel OUR thoughts. But we are not always AWARE of those thoughts – sometimes we have the feeling that “it just feels right.”

The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe. Now, whilst I think part of that is due to the general decline of sensible moral boundaries (and yes, I do love my country!) the other reason is probably that “it felt right at the time”. Try telling that to the aborted babies, the children born outside a stable relationship. To be clear I am not down on single parents per se – I was raised by one.

But those children could have been born into better circumstances if the people involved were not thinking with their groins or with the awareness elevating participation of alchohol.

If we elevate good or bad feelings to the role of the deciding factor in our decisions we are setting ourselves up for trouble. Emotions, essentially exist as echoes of our thoughts manifested in the body (we are not just a body carrying a brain, our brain expresses its responses IN our body – what is called somatism) and they reflect our current thinking.

How can a feeling (however strong and labelled as ‘right’) evaluate the quality of a decision? How can it compare options, decide the worth of criteria?  How can it reason, eliminate, take different perspectives etc.

Its not designed to do that. It’s a symptom of a cause – the Energy in Motion (E-motion!) in your body proceeding from the thoughts you ALREADY have. Primarily using your emotions as your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ indicators cannot give you the quality of decision that learning to think things through can.

Emotions do work as information but a very poor quality information overall.  The quality of the feeling from ‘wonderful’ to ‘awful’ can only tell us about how we feel about a circumstance.

Now having read this (and the entire article) perhaps we can ask how a Christian can use their emotions to glorify God.

The way I see it is the following:

1. You can’t place your emotions over the Bible. The Bible is the sole authority of faith and practice. So if you ‘feel’ this may or not be the right course of action and it violates the text, you need to place your emotions under the authority of the Bible. By the way, when you wake up tomorrow and don’t ‘feel’ like a child of God or ‘feel’ that God has left you, the first thing to do is to feed your mind on the Word of God. Stick with what the Bible says about you and what it says about how God views you. Otherwise, you will be a very instable Christian.

2. Also, when a person from another faith tells you they ‘feel’ so strongly that their religion is the correct path, please ask them for evidence for their beliefs.

3. Realize what Jesus said about loving God with all our being. I  have written more on that here. Remember, we are becoming a more emotionally driven culture every day. Technology is not helping! Remember that God gets no glory by his children when they don’t use their minds! See our article called “Why Christians Don’t Think!”

Responding to “Do You Believe in Evolution?”

In this article called  The Meanings of Evolution. authors Stephen C. Meyer and Michael Newton Keas list the Principal Meanings of Evolution in Biology Textbooks

1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.

2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.

3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.

5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.

6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

The authors go onto critique each of these six points. I can’t say it more strongly in that Christians need to brush up on these definitions so that the next time someone asks “Do you believe in evolution?” please respond with “What do you mean by evolution?” From my own experience, it does pay great dividends.

The Rise of the Nones and the Collapse of the Middle

Here is a very informative article written by my friend Tom Gilson at Breakpoint.

By Tom Gilson

The Pew Research Center has reported recently on the continuing increase of the “nones”–the religiously unaffiliated. Over the past five years, says Pew, “the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).”

On first glance it might appear that Christianity is in decline. The truth is rather more complex–in some ways encouraging and in other ways ominous, for what the numbers signify is a widening polarization of American society due to the collapse of the middle

To read on, click here:

A Closer Look at Messianic Prophecy: The Son of Man Saying of Jesus

The Son of Man/Elect One

The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37). Second, the expression  was used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Thirdly, the Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).  Jesus spoke of this function in the following texts:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations , and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father , inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25: 31-36).

You, who have persevered with me in my tribulations, when the Son of Man  sits upon his glorious throne will also sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 28-30).

One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows (Mark 14: 60-65).

By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God. It is for this reason that we don’t want to minimize why Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy here. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal or capital offense. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Jesus affirmed the chief priest’s question that He was not only the Messiah but also the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world and would sit at the right hand of God. This was considered a claim to deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Hence, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.  We shouldn’t overlook the emphasis on how the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of God.  Both Peter and  Paul recognize this important characteristic of Jesus after he is resurrected:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,” ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool (Acts 2: 32-36).

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:17-22).

Daniel 7:13-14 and the Son of Man

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven  there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion,  which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one  that shall not be destroyed. -Daniel 7:13-14

When it comes to this text, the debate is over the referent.  The figure in the text is given a rule over God’s kingdom. All people groups are seen as seen as serving and worshiping this figure. The ESV translates it as “a son of man” while the JPS translates it as “a human being” which is a paraphrase.[1] Some Jewish interpretations have interpreted the text to be about a human collectively (i.e., the people of God who are “personalized as the Messiah”).  The evidence for the collective interpretation is seen in the following texts:

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”- Daniel 7:18

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.- Daniel 7:28 [2]

A quick glance here would seem to indicate that the collective interpretation has some merit. However, a closer reading reveals some challenges with interpreting the Dan 7:13-14 text as referring to a collective group.  First, this text reveals God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.[3]  If anything, the people on earth are supposed to find a tremendous future for themselves in this royal figure. Secondly, as already mentioned, all peoples, nations, and languages will serve the figure in Dan. 7:13-14. When “serve” is used here and in other parts of the book of Daniel it means to “pay reverence to” as seen in Dan.3:12, 14, 17, 18, 28; 6:1617; 20; 21; 7:14, 27. So now the question becomes how anyone can pay reverence to anyone other than God? 

This would make sense given the context shows this type of vision would be one of hope for the generation of people that would read this text.  Another challenge to the collective interpretation is that the figure in Dan 7:13-14 is coming with the clouds of heaven.  Daniel Boyarin says the following:

From the earliest layers of interpretation and right up to the modern times, some interpreters have deemed the “one like a son of man” as symbol of a collective, namely, the faithful Israelites at the time of the Maccabean revolt, when the book of Daniel was probably written. Other interpreters have insisted that “[one like a] son of man” is a second divine figure alongside the Ancient of Days and not an allegorical symbol of the People of Israel. We find in Aphrahat, the fourth century Iranian Father of the Church, the following attack on the interpretation (presumably by Jews) that makes the “one like a son of man” out to be the People of Israel: “Have the children of Israel received the kingdom of the Most High? God forbid! Or has that people come on the cloud of heaven?”…Aphrahat’s argument is exegetical and very much to the point. Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (Greek for “God appearances”) by scholars. J.A. Emerton has made the point decisively: “The act of coming in the clouds suggests a theophany of [YHVH] himself. If Dan vii.13 does not refer to a divine being, then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the Old Testament.[4]

Thirdly, the collective interpretation of Dan 7:13-14 faces some stern opposition in the Pseudepigrapha which commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD.

As Randall Price notes:

The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch  known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. It should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision. [5]

Even though the writings in Enoch  are not part of the Protestant Canon they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Thus, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. The following examples are adapted from The Messiah Texts by Raphel Patai. [6]

And there I saw him who is the Head of Days, and His head was white like wool, and with him was another one whose countenance had the appearance of a man And his face was full of graciousness, like one of holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things about the Son of Man: Who is he and whence is he and why did he go with the Head of Days? And he answered and said to me: This is the Son of Man who has righteousness, With whom dwells righteousness, And who reveals all the treasures of the crowns, For the Lord of Spirits chose him. (1 Enoch 46:1-3)

He shall be a staff for the righteous. Whereon to lean, to stand and not to fall,And he shall be a light to the nations, And hope for the troubled of heart. And all the earth dwellers before him shall fall down, And worship and praise and bless and sing to the Lord of Spirits. It is for this that he has been chosen and hidden before Him, even before The creation of the world and evermore.(1 Enoch 48: 4-6)

1 Enoch 51.3: The Elect One will sit on [God’s] throne.

1 Enoch 62.5: …and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory.

1 Enoch 62.7: For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones.

1 Enoch 62.14:  The Lord of the Spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever…

1 Enoch 69.29:  Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.[7]

It can also be noted that Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).

[1] C.W Morgan and R.A. Peterson, Theology in Community: The Deity of Christ (Wheaten: Crossway, 2011), 53-55.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] D. Boyrian, The Jewish Gospels (New York: The New Press, 2012), 39.

[5] Randall Price, The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;

[6] See R. Patai The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), 1989.

Physicist Gerald Schroeder on Scientific Evidence for God’s Existence

Here is a clip from Gerald Schroeder who holds a doctorate in physics from MIT and has been on staff at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Volcani Research Institute, the Hebrew University. In this video he gives an incredible explanation on the existence of G-d based on the laws of physics and nature. It all makes sense. You just need to follow his train of thought (not so simple!).

Note that Schroeder says even if we did have evidence God created the universe, we would then need to discuss God’s involvement in the creation. And even though he doesn’t mention it, that’s where we enter into the domain of historical apologetics. See our resources here.

Once we show nature is not all there is, we can show miracles are actual and possible. Note: See John Earman. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracles 

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

The structure of the argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection .

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

Tha Nature of Historical Testimony and the 8 E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

In a older article called The Gospels as Historical Testimony, author Paul Merkley says the following:

The question is this: on what basis do we generally believe what a historical testimony tells us? The answer is: we believe when and insofar as we have confidence in the author of the testimony. The issue of the reliability of an historical witness is absolutely unrelated to whether or not the witness can explain what he has witnessed. The witness may or may not have an explanation for the event. We may have to supply our own explanation. Frequently we do find ourselves supplying better explanation, after the fact. But for the actual occurrence of the event we depend absolutely on testimony of people who were there―and who may be lying to us. The ‘facticity’ of the event owes nothing to the plausibility (to us) of any explanation that the alleged witness may offer. His credentials as a witness come down to these two: (a). was he there? and (b). would he lie to us (or could he have been deceived?)

Epistemology: Knowledge By Testimony

We all know that many events that we study in history are things in the past. Since historians can’t verify the events directly (they weren’t there to participate in the events), they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. As a Christian, I share the faith of the early witnesses to the life of Jesus. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. We as humans come to know things by a variety of ways such as reason and logic, intuition, by making inferences, personal and religious experience, the scientific method, listening to authorities on a subject matter, and trusting the testimony of others. There is some overlap with this post and another post I did about the inability to trust eyewitness testimony here:

Epistemologically speaking, one of the tools that plays an important element in discovering the past is the testimony of witnesses. New Testament faith is portrayed as knowledge based upon testimony.

Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. (1)

As Paul Barnett notes,

“Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (2)

To see more on oral tradition, see here:

Let’s Look at The Eight E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

1. Early Testimony

We don’t want to forget the advice of historian David Hacket Fisher who says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (3) So keeping that in mind, when I am asked as to why Christians don’t put as much weight into extracanonical Gospels, here is something to think about. The Gospel of Mary has been dated at 160 A.D, the Gospel of Peter at 170 A.D. etc. One of the earliest records for the death and resurrection of Jesus is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 contains a creed that can be traced back possibly as early as three to ten years after Jesus was crucified!. So keeping in mind the comment by Fisher, what source is more reliable? To read more about this click on our post called The Earliest Record of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus-1 Corinthians 15:3-7 here.

2. Ethical Testimony

There is no reason to distrust the character of those that wrote about the life of Jesus. Given they were predominately Jewish, they were familiar with the principles of the Torah. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

3. Eyewitness Testimony

One book that has recently handled the issue of the Synoptic Tradition is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.

As Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period.

These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4). As Bauckham says, “This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

4. Embarrassing Testimony

Another issue that speaks to the character and trustworthiness of those that wrote about Jesus is what is called The Principle of Embarrassment- a test that was put forth by John P. Meier in his A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1. This criteria seeks out material in the Gospels that would have been would create awkwardness or difficulty for the early church. This type of material would most likely have not been created by the early church because it would have been provided material useful for the early church’s opponents.

Let me go ahead and give an example: All four Gospels attest to Jesus’ baptism by John at the very beginning of his ministry. Would the Gospel authors make up such a tradition? In the Jewish culture, it was understood that the one who was being baptized was spiritually inferior to the baptizer himself. A careful reading throughout the Gospels demonstrate embarrassing issues such as where the disciples portray themselves as dim-witted, uncaring, uneducated, cowardly doubters who are rebuked by Jesus.

Furthermore, it can be observed that the disciples did not believe in Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection (Mark 8:31–33; 9:31–32; 14:27–31). Given that the disciples had spent time with Jesus and had personally witnessed His messianic sayings and actions, what benefit would it be for Mark to leave such an incident in His Gospel? Furthermore, after the resurrection, Mary does not recognize Jesus (John 20: 11-15) and Thomas is seen as disbelieving it (John 20:24-25). It seems that if John wanted to convince his audience of the truthfulness of the event, he would portray Jesus’ followers in a more positive light. The fact that John decided to leave these details in the story only lends credibility to the authenticity of the event.

But the one embarrassing detail that stands out in the Gospels is the proclamation of a crucified Messiah. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal.

The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”- the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. A crucified Messiah would be a tough sell to a Jewish audience that was still waiting to return to the glory days of the Davidic Dynasty (2 Sam. 7:5-16; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37).

5. Excruciating Testimony

If you read through the book of Acts, it is obvious that the early Messianic community was willing to die whether than recant their faith in the risen Lord. It is true that martyrdom doesn’t make a belief true. People die for things that they think are true all the time. But many of the disciples/apostles were given the opportunity to live, if they would only say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. A witness who is willing to die rather than change his story is a very strong witness.

Chuck Colson, one of the well known participants in the Watergate scandal who is now a Christian says the following:

“Critics of Christianity often try to explain the empty tomb by saying the disciples lied–that they stole Jesus’ body themselves and conspired together to pretend He had risen. The apostles then managed to recruit more than 500 other people to lie for them as well, to say they saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. But just how plausible is this theory? To support it, you’d have to be ready to believe that for the next fifty years those people were willing to be ostracized, beaten, persecuted, and (all but one of them) suffer a martyr’s death–without ever renouncing their conviction that they had seen Jesus bodily resurrected.

Does anyone really think the disciples could have maintained a lie all that time? No, someone would have cracked, just as we did so easily in Watergate. Someone would have acted as John Dean did and turned state’s evidence. There would have been some kind of smoking gun evidence, or a deathbed confession. Why didn’t they? Because they had come face to face with the living God. They could not deny what they had seen. The fact is that people will give their lives for what they believe is true, but they will never give their lives for what they know is a lie. The Watergate cover-up proves that 12 powerful men in modern America couldn’t keep a lie–and that 12 powerless men 2000 years ago couldn’t have been telling anything but the truth.”(4)

6. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Jesus of Nazareth is mentioned by ten non-Christian sources, including Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, and the Jewish Talmud! For example, Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3.

Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar (not some hyper-evangelical group) says the following:

“Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (5)

7. Enemy Testimony

Historian Paul Maier notes that “positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence.” There are several places where we can see a hostile source testifies to the events in the New Testament. Enemy attestation can be recognized in the fact that the Jewish leadership did acknowledge that Jesus’ tomb was empty (Matt. 28:11–15) as well as the confirmation about the resurrection from the conversion of many of the Jewish priests (Acts 6:7).

8. External Testimony

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence. In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37. To read all 59 points, see here:

The Book of Acts

One book in the New Testament that plays as indispensible role in evaluating the resurrection is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian.There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. To see the list made be Hemer, see here:

Conclusion
What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are. I hope the 8 E’s help in your study of the New Testament.

Sources:

Note: The 6 E’s (early, excruciating, extra-biblical, eyewitness, expected embarrassing, were created by my friend Frank Turek. He actually appeals to 6 E’s. But I have expanded on them a bit (I added enemy and ethical testimony) and left out the part about expected testimony. But to see more on this, see his book which he co-authored with Norman Geisler called I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.

1. Reid, D. G., The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004, 460
2. Barnett, P., Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, 138.
3. Fisher, D.H., Historian’s Fallacies:Toward a Logic of Historical Thought: New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.
4.Colson, C. The Impossible Cover Up. Available at http://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/2094-the-impossible-cover-up
5. Crossan, J.D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994, 145.

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