Michael Bird on Jesus as the Davidic King in Romans 1: 3-4

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,  who was declared the Son of God with power  by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,  among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;  to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as [f]saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”-Romans 1: 1-7

Michael Bird has an excellent summation of Paul’s passage here in Romans. He says:

“Romans 1:3-4 has political teeth as long as the Messiah is envisioned as the ruler of the world. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by weaving together a standard epistolary greeting with some traditional material about the “gospel of God” and “Messiah Jesus.” The gospel of God is the good news from God and also about God. The background of this “gospel” (euangelion) lies on the one hand in the Jewish world with the promise of the coming reign of Yahweh to bring an “The title Christos (Messiah) in Paul has routinely been de-Judaized and depoliticized in Pauline scholarship by those who want to show that Paul did not have a messianic faith.[30] Yet the evidence overwhelmingly points in the other direction with messianism forming the hub of Paul’s Christology (see Rom 9:5; 1 Cor 10:4; 15:22; 2 Cor 5:10; 11:2-3; Eph 1:10, 12, 20; 5:14; Phil 1:15, 17; 3:7). Importantly, “Messiah” implies kingship in Jewish tradition (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:2, 7; 89:19-21, 26-27; Psalms of Solomon 17.32). Paul explicates this gospel “regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). Importantly, lineage meant legitimation.  Jesus is linked to the house of David, from whose house Israel’s rightful king would come to fulfill the prophetic promises.  Yet Jesus is also the “Son of God,” which is both a messianic title and expresses Jesus’ unique filial relationship with Israel’s God. Contra much scholarship, what we have in Romans 1:1-4 is not some primitive adoptionist Christology that still lurks beneath Paul’s high Christology.

These terse remarks are not about adoption but accession to the throne beside Yahweh. Behind all of this stands a contrast between two kinds of sonship and two types of kingdoms.  The designation of Jesus as the “Son of God” does not follow on from the deification of his adopted father, nor is the title earned by any military battle. Jesus was rather designated the “Son of God” by resurrection from the dead. All the more significant because Roman religion did not believe in a resurrection. Consider also that resurrection was politically threatening as it constituted the vindication and victory of those killed for opposing imperial rule as it is in Daniel 12, 2 Maccabees 7 and Revelation 20. Resurrection implies a reordering of power, an apocalyptic upheaval of the world, an inversion of the pyramid of privilege, so that those ruled over in fear are raised to reign in divine glory. The resurrection of Jesus to kingship means the supplanting of all kingdoms that compete with it. Paul celebrates that a person put to death by Roman authorities as a royal pretender had been brought back to life by Israel’s God and is now installed as Lord of God’s coming kingdom.”-Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, Scot McKnight, Joseph B. Modica, and Andy Crouch



Book Review: The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology)

The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology) by [Adams, Samuel V.]

The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology) by Samuel V. Adams, IVP Academic. 297 pp.  978-0830849147

Samuel V. Adams (PhD, University of St Andrews) is director of graduate studies and assistant professor of theology and social justice at Kilns College in Bend, Oregon.  In his book, “The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology,” Adams provide an overview of N.T. Wright’s work on the relationship between theology and history and whether Wright’s method can solve the theology/history divide.  As Adams says:

“Wright has done a significant amount of work, making strong historical arguments that make sense of the emergence of Christianity as it is inseparably linked to the messianic event that took place around the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth. The first three volumes in his Christian Origins and the Question of God series develop a significant and coherent account of the historical forces that led a first-century Jew to be crucified and for his followers to come to the conclusion that he was indeed who he claimed to be. To the second concern Wright also directs his attention, raising the overall question in his series as the very question that, according to Lessing, cannot be asked; that is, he raises the question of God. How can he, and for that matter, anybody, move from the historical questions to the theological question? How does Wright move from historical arguments to theological ones? Are his moves valid? Do they overcome the broad, ugly ditch?”

The ugly ditch is the “faith vs history” divide. Or, sometimes this is called “The Jesus of faith vs The Jesus of history.” Supposedly, there is a huge gap between theology and history.  Can Christians know their faith is grounded in concrete events in history? Do the events in the New Testament  correspond to the truth of our Christian claims?  As Adams says:

“For Wright it is the case that “the rootedness of Christianity in history is nonnegotiable.” The temptation for orthodox Christians can be simply to avoid the Enlightenment critique of the historical events that gave rise to the Christian faith. In the case of Jesus, this often involves a prior commitment to the divinity of Jesus, ahead of historical investigation, and then whatever historical work follows must reflect this commitment. The result is a portrait of Jesus that is iconic, “useful for devotion, but probably unlike the original subject.” If, however, we commit ourselves to rigorous historical investigation, leaving the question of divinity aside, there is the fear (for some) that “we will thereby ‘disprove,’ or at least seriously undermine, orthodox theology.”- pg. 31.

In his book, The New Testament And The People of God, Wright identified three movements within the history of Western culture that transformed the way the New Testament is read. These three historical movements are the following: (1) pre-Enlightenment: precritical reading; (2) Enlightenment/modernity: historical and theological reading; and (3) postmodernity: postmodern reading- pgs. 21-22.

In the pre-Enlightenment: precritical reading, there was a union between theology and history.   In the Enlightenment/modernity period, historical and theological reading, we see the split between idealism and realism. The Enlightenment elevated reason over traditional sources of authority such as the church or scripture. Initially this meant “objective scientific investigation” or “materialistic empiricism”—the rational examination of the physical world to see how it worked and what could be done with it. Kant, however, drew attention to the problem of the knowing subject. As Adams explains later, “Kant was trying to make sense of the way we experience the world, not by looking at the nature of the world, but first by looking at the nature of the subject and what the subject brought to the world” – pg. 71.

In Adams’ account of Wright’s analysis—the two paths are subdivided further. Historical positivism sought  the desire for historical knowledge to be absolutely certain whereas phenomenalism constitutes a pessimistic epistemology—the failure of the knowing subject to know anything but itself. The phenomenalist rejects the notion that one can have certainty of objective truth.  Where positivism cannot utter its shrill certainties, all that is left is subjectivity or relativity. Thus, for the phenomenalist, one must know his perspective of what the truth is. For example, if we were to read a New Testament text,  we have no certainty what that text means, only what we perceives it to mean.


As Adams says:

The choice of these terms is not meant to refer to their technical philosophical use, although the terms can include them, but rather to indicate the twin poles. The epistemological tension between the knowing subject for whom the world is subjectively and rationally determined (idealism), and the reality of the external world that presents itself, as it is, to the subject (realism).  Realism can be associated with the intellectual trajectory from the Enlightenment that pushed against the traditional historical content of Christian teaching with a confidence in the ability of a modern historical method to know the truth, with varying degrees of objectivity, about the past. That is the historical context of realism in Wright’s narrative. Philosophically understood, realism names a confidence in the independent existence of objects apart from observers.”-pg. 35

Wright’s Critical Realism

Wright has  proposed not just a naive realism, but rather, what is called “Critical Realism” which is an alternative to the problems and limits presented by positivist empiricism, hermeneutical interpretivism, strong social constructionism, and postmodernist deconstruction. A Critical Realist approach seeks to overcome the false choice between pure objectivity and pure subjectivity, between enlightenment epistemology and the post-modern response. In Wright’s method, “worldviews provide the frameworks within which knowledge can occur. There is no knowledge apart from worldviews, and it is in the interaction between worldviews, through the processes of hypothesis and verification uniquely enabled by worldviews (just as a theory or hypothesis enables data based on observation to gain meaning in a scientific research program), that knowledge can take place. In this way, knowledge is never abstracted from stories, and it is in the context of stories that contact with external reality takes place.” -pg. 45

To summarize Wright’s critical realism: It is a “ way of describing the process of “knowing” that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence “realism”), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiraling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence “critical”) -pg. 42.

So now that we have discussed Wright’s historical proposal with his critical realism, what’s the point of Adam’s approach?

As Adam’s says:

“ A theology of history is history subject to the criterion of theological knowledge. That is, in order for anything to be a “theology of,” it must be determined by the unique object of theological knowledge—namely, God. Only then can the object of the preposition, in this case history, be understood to be properly qualified theologically. Because this is so, history must remain a general conceptuality that is only given definitive content in light of the priority of the proper object of theology.”- pg. 173.

Adams contends that access to God requires a method other than Wright’s critical realism that is discussed in Christian Origins and the Question of God multi-volume series.  Adams proposes that perhaps instead of arguing for the correct historical method which will help us to arrive at historical knowledge for God, instead we should start with the reality of God.  Adams advocates an apocalyptic theology that can be traced back to the Reformation, that involve both Kierkegaard and Barth, Thomas Torrance and Martyn. He says:

“The historical nature of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ is inextricably bound up with the doctrine of reconciliation. Apocalyptic, as I am arguing, helpfully names the New Testament understanding of the actuality of the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, an actuality that is present in and for history. By actuality I mean to point both to the external reality of the event of Jesus Christ, its unique objectivity, and to the nature of that event as revelatory in itself. – pg. 126.

He also says:

“The actuality of apocalyptic is a historical event, bringing together the historical and the theological, conscientiously holding these together in such a way that the nature of the particular apocalyptic event—the apocalypse of Jesus Christ—determines both. The relationship between the unique, singular history of Jesus and the way in which God’s action is described are inextricably linked. If God has acted in a unique and decisive way in Jesus of Nazareth, then that event contains within it the revelation of God himself in his act. What is revealed in this act is not just an object for historical knowledge, but also an active Subject, one who cannot be objectified. ” pg. 127.

It seems that the crux of this book is the following:

Can God be known through the methods employed by the historian? Adams would say Wright basically says yes, God can be known though the correct historical method. But Adams would say theology is the study of God and obviously  asks questions about knowing God as well. But which comes first? History or theology?  In the end, it seems Adams is accusing Wright of not doing theology. Adams says:

“History and theology are thus integrally connected. For Wright to rule out the theological claim until the history has been done is to be disingenuous with respect to this relationship. His attempt to include theology in the conversation as a part of the worldview of both the subject and object of historical investigation—the historian and the historical object—is helpful but neglects the reality of God, the actual personal agency of the one who holds history in his hands. To borrow his analogy of the prodigal son and the older brother, in Wright’s account it is the Father who is left out of the picture. Rather, the historian and the theologian are reconciled, peacefully, in the loving brace of the Father. For the methodological question of the historian, this means that naturalistic accounts will never do. For the theologian, this means that theology is never finished, for theology is always engaged in thoughtful reflection on the continuation of a new history located in the continuing personal existence of Jesus, the risen and ascended Lord.-pgs 272-273.

As you can see, this book is advanced reading. But it would benefit anyone that is interested in the relationship between history and theology. Since I do quite a bit of apologetics on the university campuses, I tend to deal with a lot with historical skepticism. There is still a huge perception that there is a gap between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. When I read this book I guess I found myself wondering how I might use this in the field of historical apologetics. Granted, this book isn’t a book on historical apologetics. But Wright was one of the first people I read that really tried to bridge that gap. And I appreciate his efforts. Though I don’t agree with everything Wright says, for me, his work in this area made a huge difference.

I conclude by saying that I learned a lot from this book. I enjoyed it. I found  both of the chapters in this book called “History According to the Theologians” and “Theology According to the Theologians to be very helpful.

However, I didn’t walk away in full agreement with Adams.  I don’t see how he really provided an integral connection between theology and history. While Adams argues that an apocalyptic understanding may be the answer, I found myself thinking I was kind of hearing remnants of Karl Barth’s views again. On university campuses, I tend to deal with so many other people who are committed to their revelatory and sacred text!  Arguing for the apocalyptic isn’t an answer for me. However, I do think this book leads to a good discussion for people who are already in the faith.


Common Mistakes Critics Make When Approaching the Gospels

The Gospels and Acts: The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible - Edited By: Jeremy Royal Howard By: Michael Wilkins, Craig Evans, Darrell Bock, Andreas Kostenberger

 I have been plowing through Michael Wilkins, Craig A Evans, Darrell and Andreas J Köstenberger’s commentary called The Gospels and Acts The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible,  B&H Publishing Group. In it, they say these are the common mistakes that critics makes when they approach the Gospels:

•They fail properly to account for literary and/ or historical contexts

• miss hermeneutical (interpretational) signals about how the text should be read

• assume that silence in one account equals contradiction to the non-silence in a parallel account

• assume that variation in detail between two or more accounts necessarily entails contradiction

• show unwarranted preference for non-biblical accounts

• show an exaggerated suspicion of the biblical accounts

• assume a Bible book’s borrowing of ideas that pre-dated its composition

• fail to distinguish ipsissima vox from ipsissima verba

• operate as if only ipsissima verba is an appropriate authorial approach for texts inspired by God, trustworthy even when variances are present (and variances are always present)

• fail to allow thematic rather than chronological approaches to ordering historical narratives

• demand a level of precision that was foreign to ancient historiography

• insist that the sitz im leben (“ situation in life”) of the author biases his reporting of past events

• incorrectly expect that the Bible should be literarily distinct from non-biblical writings

• fail to see that variations in parallel accounts actually commend the truthfulness of the accounts, for the variations indicate that the authors did not collude with one another to support a false story

• overlook the fact that Jesus would certainly have duplicated significant teachings and acts in various towns, leading to accounts that are similar but genuinely distinct

These are some good points and I tend to see them come up on a regular basis.


Who Were The First Apologists? A Look At The Apostles




Over the years I have had plenty of people ask me how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. I agree that using a personal testimony can be effective in that it shows the difference that Jesus makes in the reality of life. There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me share some examples of personal conversations I have had with several people. I will go ahead and refer to Barry  as a common person I encounter on a regular basis.

Eric: “Barry, I want to share with you what Jesus has done in my life. He has transformed my life.”

Barry: “Well that is great, I am happy for you. As long as you are happy, that is fine. But that Jesus thing is not for me.”

Eric: ‘But Barry, he can change your life as well!”

Barry: “Like I said, I am happy the way I am. Furthermore, I don’t see what difference belief in Jesus will really make in my life.”

In a post-modern culture, responses like we see from Barry are becoming more common. But what is interesting is that the  transformed life approach is not the primary way the early apostles reached their audience for the Gospel.

First, we should note that the apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia”which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15); “dialegomai” which means “to reason, speak boldly” (Acts 17:2; 17; 18:4; 19:8), “peíthō” which means to persuade, argue persuasively” (Acts 18:4; 19:8), and “bebaioō ” which means “to confirm, establish,” (Phil 1:7; Heb. 2:3). [1]

According to the late F.F. Bruce, the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles [2] (see more below).

Apologetics in the New Testament

I would like to go ahead and expand on some of the apologetics in the New Testament. Let’s start with the Book of Acts. By the way, to see the post called 84 places, events, people confirmed in The Book of Acts, click here:  Anyway, let’s move forward:

Peter said, Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your holy one to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: the Lord said to my Lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore let all the houses of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah-this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.-Acts 2: 22-36

We see in this text that the primary apologetic methodology that Peter utilizes is the following: Peter appeals to miracles which have a distinctive purpose: they are used for three reasons:

1. To glorify the nature of God
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God
3. To provide evidence for belief in God  [3]

Peter also appeals to:

1. The crucifixion of Jesus

2.Fulfilled prophecy (Jesus had been raised from the dead according to  Ps. 16: 8-11 and ascended to heaven in the fulfillment of Ps.110:1).

Let’s look at Acts 3: 11-26:

“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s.  And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

We see here that again Peter appeals to:

1.The death and resurrection of Jesus

2.Fulfilled prophecy (in this case, the messianic prophecy of Deut.18: 15-18).

3. Eyewitness Testimony

Acts 4: 8-12

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved.”

Peter appeals to:

  1. The death and resurrection of Jesus
  2. Fulfilled prophecy (Ps. 118:22)

Acts 7-Stephen’s Speech

Stephen appeals to fulfilled prophecy when he says.

“Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”-Acts 7:52

Acts 8

When Phillip is witnessing to the Ethiopian Eunuch, he appeals to fulfilled prophecy. In this case he cites Isa. 53 (see Acts 8:26-40).

Acts 13

In his sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13: 16-41), Paul says Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.

Paul also says Jesus is the fulfillment of Ps. 2:7 and 16:10 (see Acts 13:33-37).

Let me mention some other Pauline passages:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

We see here:

1.The Messiah died according to the Jewish Scriptures (most likely Isa. 53:1-2; Ps. 22).

2.He was raised according to the Scriptures (Isa. 53; Ps.16:8-11).

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-7:

 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We see that:

1  Paul says that the information about the coming Messiah was written about beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures.

2. Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

3. Remember, the New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

Acts 17:1-4:

“Paul went into the synagogue reasoning and giving evidence that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”

In this passage, Paul appeals to fulfilled prophecy which is probably a reference to Isa. 53:1-12; Ps. 22:1-16;16.

If we go on to read about how Paul dealt with his audience at Mars Hill we see the following. As he is speaking to his audience towards the end of the chapter he says the following:

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

What stands out here:
(1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance
(2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah
(3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9)
(4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed
(5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! [4]

Finally, let me finish with 1 Peter 1:10-12

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,  inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

We see here that  the prophets were aware of five facts:

1. The Messiah would come

2. The Messiah would need to suffer

3. The Messiah would be glorified

4. This message had been revealed to the prophets not only for their own day, but also for a future generation such as  the community of Peter’s audience.

5. Although they knew they wrote about the Messiah, they  wish they had knowledge of the time of these things.

In conclusion, E.H. Dewart summarized the apostles’ use of Messianic prophecy :

“In all this there was an appeal…to the things that had been foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by the events of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. It is evident that Peter and Paul had strong confidence in the evidential value of fulfilled prediction.”[5]

So to summarize  “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

As Bruce says again:

The apostolic preaching was obliged to include an apologetic element if the stumbling-block of the cross was   to be overcome; the kerygma . . . must in some degree be apologia [cf. 1 Cor. 1:17-25; 2:1-5].  And the apologia  was not the invention of the apostles; they had “received” it–received it from the Lord [Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:8].  To begin with, the cross had been a stumbling-block to themselves, until He appeared to them in resurrection and   asked the question: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?”  (Luke 24:26). Necessary indeed, because thus it was written; and so, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,  He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).  And Paul, who had “received” this account of the death of Christ among the things “of first importance” [1 Cor. 15:1-11], was able ac cordingly in later days to tell a Jewish king that in his apostolic ministry he said “nothing but what the prophets  and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead,  He would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23). (6)

I will admit that anyone who tries to understand how the apostles used messianic prophecy will also need to understand the hermeneutical methods of that period. I have not gone over that in great detail in this post. One helpful resource on this topic is Michael Rydelnick’s The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?

However, my hope and prayer is that that Christians will  see that one of the main apologetic approaches the Holy Spirit used  to grow and expand the early Church was an evidential method.  And remember the role of prayer in The Book of Acts.

Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” [7]

[1] Garrett J. Deweese, Doing Philosophy as a Christian (Downers Grove, ILL: IVP Publishers, 2012), 78-79.

[2] F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.

[3] Norman Geisler,  Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics ( Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 45

[4] I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980),  288-290.

[5] E.H. Dewart, Jesus the Messiah in Prophecy and Fulfillment: A Review and Refutation of the Negative Theory of Messianic Prophecy (Cincinnati” Cranston and Stowe; New York: Hunt and Eaton, 1891), 217-218;cited in Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, To The Jew First: The Case For Jewish Evangelism In Scripture And History (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 2008), 269.

[6] Bruce. 18-19.

 [7] J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30


What is Faith? A Look at 1 Corinthians 15

Is it any wonder why our culture does not have a clear understanding about the nature of biblical faith? One of the most common assertions about biblical faith is that it is nothing more than a “leap of faith.” A good place to start looking at biblical faith is in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-17:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[ that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

Some observations can be made from this passage:

1. First of all, biblical faith has an object.

2. Secondly, the object of biblical faith must be true. As D.A. Carson says,

“Paul is communicating to the Corinthians’ that their faith is “futile”( vs. 17). In other words, the Corinthians faith is valid only if its object is true. Faith is never validated in the New Testament when its object is not true. Indeed, New Testament faith is strengthened when its object is validated supported by witness, shown to be revealed by God, impregnably real, true. Such an understanding of “faith” is utterly at odds with the use of faith in the Western culture.” (1)

In relation to truth, both the Old and New Testament terms for truth are emet and alethia. In relation to truth, these words are associated with fidelity, moral rectitude, being real, being genuine, faithfulness, having veracity, being complete. (2) According to a Biblical conception of truth, a proposition is true only if it accords with factual reality. There are numerous passages that explicitly contrast true propositions with falsehoods. The Old Testament warns against false prophets whose words do not correspond to reality. For example Deuteronomy 18:22: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”, and the ninth commandment warns against bearing false testimony. (3)

Given that Paul was Jewish and he was raised in the Jewish Scriptures, he must have known that the seriousness of the Sinai Covenant. Within the covenant, bearing false witness was considered to be a major crime (Exod 20:16). Hence, he must have had a commitment to presenting the resurrection story in an accurate manner.

Thirdly, biblical faith is rooted in historical reality: There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the verification of the Christian faith as true or false. There is no doubt that Christianity is a historical faith. Biblical faith entails an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus’ resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). Objectively speaking, no matter how much faith a Christian has, it can’t change whether Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, believing Jesus rose from the dead won’t make it true. The event of the resurrection is in the past. Either Jesus rose from the dead or He did not rise form the dead. Perhaps we can learn something about their own faith by reading this comment by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (4)

Finally, there is a relationship between faith and knowledge: Does biblical faith assert that we can’t believe in things we cannot know? According to Paul, unless his audience accepts the “fact” that Jesus rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history, they are still dead in their sins. They are to be pitied. In the words of Greg Koukl, “The opposite of faith is not fact, but unbelief. The opposite of knowledge is ignorance. Neither is a virtue in Christianity.” (5)

1. Carson, Donald A. Becoming Conversant With The Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2005, 216.
2. Moreland, J.P. and W.L. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 131-132.
3. Ibid.
4. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.
5. Koukl, G. Tactics: A Game Plan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 2009, 153.


Book Review: Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology) by Kevin Diller

Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology) by Kevin Diller, 2014, IVP Academic. 352 pp. 978-0830839063

In Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology), author Kevin Diller tackles a topic that has always been intriguing to anyone that thinks deeply about their theological beliefs. Let’s define three terms that are critical to understand this book.

Epistemology:  Is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.

 Justification: a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring and maintaining a belief. A belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation.

Warrant:  another word for justification. Basically, if you have warrant, you’re not being dishonest by claiming that things you believe are true.

 Knowledge: Knowledge is a belief that is true and warranted or properly accounted for.

What is the dilemma? Diller sates that  “the epistemic problem we are seeking to identify is not the challenge to develop an independent, non circular, rational argument against radical skepticism. The epistemic problem is not that knowledge might not be possible. The epistemic problem that plagues theology has to do with criteria, conditions, content, and nature of something that is a real possibility” (pg, 31-32).

Anyone that has ever had any discussions about their Christian beliefs with others generally hear common objections or questions such as:

“How do you know there is a God?”
“How do you know the Bible is one true revelation from God?”
“How do you know Jesus is really God’s Son?”

Notice the issue of knowledge is at the forefront of these discussion. Obviously, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know there are a slew of philosophical, scientific and historical challenges that make the epistemic problem a pressing issue. Do Christians have justification or warrant for what they believe? What kind of verification test is there to know they even have any justification for what they believe?

Diller analyzes two of the most prominent Christian thinkers over the last century, Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga. Do either one of these influential thinkers provide any good reasons for Christians to say they are justified in what they believe?

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was one of the most influential theologians  of the twentieth century. It is important to note that Barth was not an apologist. In fact, his critique of nineteenth-century apologetics has had a  lasting impact. For Barth, the God of the Bible is “wholly other” and, therefore, cannot be approached using human arguments. Hence, if humans are to come to knowledge of God, it must be on God’s initiative in Jesus Christ, the self-revelation of God. Therefore, for Barth, the best and only apologetic is to present God’s revelation as the witness of faith against unbelief. Obviously, Barth was not a fan of evidentialist apologetics.

Let’s go ahead and define some other terms that are relevant to this topic. Natural theology is the practice of philosophically revealing on the existence and nature of God independent of revealed theology (Scripture). Thus, revealed theology/history is based on authoritarianism. Thus, God has revealed himself in history through a written text.

Barth wasn’t a fan of  natural theology. He was concerned that if humans attempt to drawn inferences about God from nature, they may end up making a god in our own image. For Barth, any rational thought is a benefit for those who already believed in God, and such belief could only come about by God’s revelation of himself. Unfortunately, Barth didn’t place as much emphasis on the fact that God has revealed himself in two books, Scripture and Nature. He only emphasized the one book approach which was Scripture.

In the end,  while I obviously believe in the role of divine revelation, I don’t think Barth provided any solutions to the epistemological dilemma. I have talked to plenty of people from other religions (Mormons, Muslims, etc.) who think their text is the true revelation. They want me to read it and I will just “know” it is true. So authoritarianism rules the day. Almost every Muslim tells me “We are taught to believe this…”“We are told this or that…”. But they offer no justification for their beliefs. So the bottom line is that if religious people start with their sacred text  (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question that there is a God who is able to give a revelation. Also, how do they know that it is their god and not another god that has given the correct revelation?

In the end, while some disagree, I find Barth to be closer to fideism than anything else. Fideism asserts that faith and religious belief are not supported by reason. One must simply believe. Faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6). Many skeptics can speak from experience that Christians and other people from religious backgrounds don’t feel compelled to offer rational justification for belief.

So now we move on to Plantinga. I have a lot of respect for Plantinga and his contributions to Christian philosophy. Plantinga takes issue with what is called classical foundationalism, which requires that a belief be either basic, in which case it is either self-evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses; or nonbasic, in which case it is ultimately connected to basic beliefs by deduction, induction or abduction. Plantinga is correct that classical foundationalism rules out many propositions that we take as basic, such as that a person had lunch today, which is something we know from memory, not from other propositions. Plantinga doesn’t abandon foundationalism altogether, but asks the question, “Why can’t belief in God be properly basic?”

Thus, if people believe without evidence in other minds, or that the past goes back more than five minutes and that we had lunch, then why can’t Christians believe in God on the same basis? Plantinga relies heavily on Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, that awareness which all humans have of God through interaction with nature and their conscience. Thus, humans  are born with a capacity that can trigger an awareness of God. However, what makes this awareness evident to people may vary from one person to another. For Plantinga, people’s encounter with the world can provide an immediate awareness of God. For example, if two people are hiking on a mountain encountering the world of nature, they may simply know God exists. So this is more of an intuition, not an inference, nor a reasoning process by which we draw a conclusion. Rather, this awareness of God is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and the way we are made. Because this awareness of God is an intuition rather than an inference is what allows him to say that it is basic. But this basic belief is not a conclusion  from other beliefs.

I commend Plantinga for his efforts here. I completely agree that very few people could and would have to master every argument for God’s existence before becoming a Christian. However, when I reflect on how both Barth and Plantinga’s methods play out when attempting to outreach and apologetics on a major college campus, there are some real challenges.  In this case, I don’t think either one provides a solution to the epistemological dilemma.  Then again, is it possible to arrive to a full blown solution to theology’s epistemological dilemma?

Upon reflection, after doing campus apologetics several years on a major university,  I am more favorable towards the classical apologetic method or the historical apologetic method. In the classical method, natural theology is utilized. Classical apologetics has been practiced by Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists also include Winfried Corduan, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and R. C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and William Lane Craig. We start with first principles and what we can know about reality. We then move into history and then discuss the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, in my discussion with people, I am more interested in establishing plausibility conditions. I think one first establish it is plausible there is a God who wants to communicate with humans in the context of human history. But how do we know there is a God who wants to do that? And which God is it? Allah? The God of the Bible, or another God?

This is where I would utilize a book like Edward Feser’s Five Proof’s For the Existence of God. Then once the person agrees God does exist, I would then utilize historical apologetics and discuss the resurrection of Jesus. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Jesus is the supreme apologetic. If someone doesn’t care about natural theology arguments and is open to discuss history, I am all for going straight to the discussing who Jesus is. In discussing God’s existence and who Jesus is with people from other religious backgrounds, it is nearly impossible to bypass historical apologetics.

In the end, we need to utilize the two books approach, that being Scripture and Nature; in what he has said and in what he has done. In conclusion,  I commend Diller for wanting to write a book on such a relevant topic. But I don’t think Barth nor Plantinga solve theology’s epistemological dilemma.


From Jesus to Us: A Look at P.O.W.E.R.

The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). Anyone who reads through the Gospels will see that Jesus made some very challenging statements that force us as humans to face our own autonomy before our Creator. Sometimes we may to be aware of the details behind the sources of what we can know about Jesus. We have to acknowledge that  Jesus said and did things that are part of his messianic ministry.

These things are found in an acronym called P.O.W.E.R.

P: Paul’s Letters

The New Testament includes Paul’s Letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus.  Remember, written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary.  A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness.  A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells.  A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. Since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

You may ask, “Why does matter?” In response, it matters because we actually have people who think since Paul never knew the historical Jesus  that this means we can’t trust his letters. So simply pointing out the role of primary and secondary sources can answer this objection. Not to mention, I always respond by asking if we should just throw away all the books on our shelves that are written by people who never officially met the person they are writing about. So this objection is just plain silly!

What else can we know about Paul?

Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called House of Hillel. The House of Hillel  was  a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in first century  Jerusalem. Hillel was  known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder. We also know Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3). Paul also employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters.  Since  Jesus was crucified about 33 A.D., Paul became a follower of Jesus around 35 A.D. Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60. Hence, these are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus.  For example, 1 Cor 15: 3-8 is one of the earliest records of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, to jump to the Gospels as the earliest records for the life of Jesus is a tactical mistake. To see more on Paul’s childhood and education, see here:

But since we know Paul’s Letters were written to instruct local congregations, do they really reveal any significant information about the life of Jesus? The answer is yes. For example, we see Paul talks about:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16) 2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3) 3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4) 4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4) 5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5) 6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7) 7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7) 8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5) 9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16) 10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9) 11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7) 12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) 13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3) 14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11) 15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14) 16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7) 17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9) 18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14) 19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9) 20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15) 21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25) 22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21) 23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3) 24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20) 25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15) 26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4) 27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4) 28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8) 29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and 30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)

For more reading on Paul, see:

Paul and the Historical Jesus

Evidence We Want and Evidence We Should Expect: A Look at Paul’s Letters

What Can Paul Tell Us About Jesus?

Was the New Testament Forged – Dr. Bart Ehrman vs. Dr. Darrell Bock

Darrell Bock responds to Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged

How Did Paul Receive the Gospel? Clearing Up A Supposed Contradiction Between Galatians 1:11-12, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

A Look at James Tabor on Christianity Before Paul

Why the Resurrection of Jesus is the Best Explanation For What Happened To Paul

The Earliest Record for The Death and Resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7

A Look at Richard Carrier’s Critique of Bart Ehrman: Part Three

Did Paul Invent Christianity?

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Is the Founder of the Christian Religion Paul of Tarsus or Jesus of Nazareth?

Ben Witherington’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Forged

Mike Licona’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”

O: Oral Tradition/Oral History:

We need to remember what we call “oral tradition.” In other words, there was an oral history before a written tradition. It  has been argued that some of the followers of Jesus probably took notes.

Remember, home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers.  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.  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) (see Paul Barnett, Jesus and The Logic of History, pg, 138).

Therefore, it appears that the Gospel was first spread in the form of  short, memorizable oral creeds and hymns ( Luke 24:34; Acts 2:22-24, 30-32; 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:37-39; Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 10:9; 1 Cor. 11:23ff.;15:3-8; Phil. 26-11; 1 Tim.2:6; 3:16; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:8;1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:2). Also, there was a means of controlling the tradition because the early community had a center which was located in Jerusalem where it consisted of leaders ( the apostles).  We see that the first church council was held at Jerusalem (Act 15:23-29).

To see more on this, see:

Jesus, the Gospels, and the Telephone Game Objection

Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus by Craig Evans

With no scripture in place, what controlled doctrine in the 1st century? By Darrell Bock

The Issue of Oral Tradition: Dr. Darrell Bock

How Reliable were the Oral traditions about Jesus? – Dr. Craig Keener

Mark Roberts on Oral Tradition/Telephone Game Objections

A Look at Oral Tradition/The Orality Phase of the Jesus Story

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

W: Written Sources other than Paul’s Letters:

These other written sources include the Four Gospels, Acts, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 , 2,3  John, Philemon,  Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, etc. To read more about these sources, see here:

External Evidences for the Truth of the Gospels by Dr. Timothy McGrew

Common Mistakes Critics Make When Approaching the Gospels

An Evangelical and Critical Approach to the Gospels: Michael Bird

Craig Keener on the historical reliability of the Book of Acts

Was Jesus Born In Bethlehem? Dr. Tim McGrew

Who Decided Which Books Belong In My Bible?

F. David Farnell, “The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: A Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10.1 (Spring 1999)

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels: Gary Habermas

Dr. Tim McGrew Lectures on Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels of Luke & John

Who wrote the Gospels? Dr. Timothy McGrew

Did Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually author the gospel accounts? Darrell Bock

Peter Williams Lecturing on The Reliability of the Gospels

3 Things The Gospel Authors Would Have Never Invented About Jesus

Archeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Peter S. Williams

Anthony R. Cross, “Historical Methodology and New Testament Study,” Themelios 22:3 (April 1997): 28-51.

James M. Arlandson: Historical Reliability of the Gospels

Click on the link above and here are all the articles by Arlandson

Note: James M. Arlandson teaches World Religions, Humanities, Introduction to Philosophy, and Introduction to Ethics at various colleges. He has written many articles and one book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997). His Ph.D. is in Comparative Literature (ancient Greek literature, religious studies, and critical theory). In the above link, he covers the following:
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
Archaeology and the Synoptic Gospels: Which way do the rocks roll?
Archaeology and John’s Gospel: Is skepticism chic passé?
Did Jesus Even Exist?
Authoritative Testimony in Matthew’s Gospel
Reliable Gospel Transmissions
What is the Q ‘Gospel’? The Gospel According to ‘St Q’?
Did Some Disciples Take Notes During Jesus’ Ministry?
Authoritative Testimony in Matthew’s Gospel
Eyewitness Testimony in Mark’s Gospel
Eyewitness Testimony in John’s Gospel
Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?
Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Summary and Conclusion

Why the Lost Gospels Did Not Make the Canonical Cut by Michael Bird

Craig Blomberg: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him And Why It Matters

New Testament Canon: Craig Blomberg

84 Confirmed Facts in the Last 16 Chapters of the Book of Acts

59 Confirmed or Historically Probable Facts in the Gospel of John

The Historical Reliability of John by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg

The Historical Reliability of Acts: Support from Extra-Biblical Primary Sources

Sources Outside the New Testament: “There are no contemporaries who wrote about Jesus”: The Abuse of Arguments from Silence (thanks to Cadre for some of these)

Did Josephus Refer to Jesus, A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum (Highly Recommended) CADRE member Christopher Price demonstrates the partial-authenticity of Josephus’ first reference to Jesus and discusses what we can know about the historical Jesus from Josephus. A revised and extended version of this article is avaible in the book, Shattering the Christ Myth, discussed below.

When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless by Craig Blomberg

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible

Testimonium Flavianum: Josephus’ Reference to Jesus: Early Christian Writings

Josephus’ Writing and Their Relation to the New Testament Dr. Greg Herrick reviews the value of Josephus’ writings for the study of Jesus and the New Testament.

Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ The New Advent Encyclopedia chronicles the early references to the historical Jesus, including Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources.

Extrabiblical References to Jesus before 200 a.d. The Chrisitan Thinktank’s Glen Miller discusses the second-century pagan historian Thallus’ reference to an eclipse that contemporary Christian writer Africanus believed was a reference to the darkness that descended during Jesus’ crucifixion.

Josephus and Jesus: By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

E: Early Preservation of Manuscripts:

In this case, we are discussing the fact that people made copies of the completed Gospels and distributed them throughout the world. The greater the quantity of copies of an ancient manuscript we possess, the greater the potential database of our textual comparisons and reconstructions.  E.J.Epp has noted that the “riches in NT manuscripts, however are not only in their quantity but also their quality-that is, the abundance of relativity early texts. Of the more than eighty New Testament papyri, over twenty containing portions of one of more of the Gospels can be dated to the third and fourth centuries. By contrast, the earliest copy of the Homer’s Iliad we possess dates approximately nine hundred years after or more after the original. (see Boyd/Eddy, The Jesus Legend, pgs 382-384). Also, Bruce Metzger, the foremost biblical critic in history  concluded in his overview of modern biblical criticism that of the 22,000 lines in the New Testament only 40 are contested (about 400 words), the rest just given (over 99.5% transmission accuracy) and none affect any significant doctrine. (1)

Of course, it must be noted that we are not arguing that just because we have an abundance of manuscripts that this means they have recorded an accurate event.  For example, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823).  Therefore, if we have 50,000 early manuscripts  recording this event, this by no means makes Mormonism true. This is why other tests for historicity must be taken into account to establish the authenticity of the event.

To see more on this topic:

Norman Geisler: A Note on the Percent of the Accuracy of the New Testament Text

Inerrancy and the Text of the New Testament: Assessing the Logic of the Agnostic View by Daniel Wallace

Dr. Daniel Wallace: Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered

Can We Construct The Entire New Testament From the Writings of the Church Fathers?

An Interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the New Testament Manuscripts

A Response to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: Dr. Thomas Howe

Wallace, Daniel B: The Gospel According to Bart: A Review of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

R: Reception

We read about what Jesus said and did in our English Bibles. In this case, an objector might say “But the Bible was not originally written in English.” This is true. So my advice is that if you don’t think we can trust those that do textual criticism and translate the languages for us, go and  learn Hebrew and Greek so you can translate yourself!

Note: The P.O.W. part was adapted from Mike Licona and Gary Habermas’ The Case For The Resurrection of Jesus. I went ahead and expanded on it and added the rest of the acronym.

1. Geisler, Norman L., Nix, William E., A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 388.


Why Apologists Can’t Afford to Ignore the Work of The Holy Spirit


When Jesus brought his Church into existence, he gave all his people certain gifts so they can be a blessing to others. As Rick Schenker, former President of Ratio Christi (a nationwide apologetics ministry) once said, “the apologist is truly fulfilling the Ephesians 4:11,12 model of an evangelist by equipping others to “do the work of the ministry”– namely winning their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to Christ. Apologists are doing the exact thing that Paul told his protégé Timothy to do, “The things which you have heard from me…, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Timothy 2:2).” See the entire article here:

All of us who have been in the apologetic endeavor know it can be hard to get our fellow Christians to get motivated about the apologetic task before us. I think one of the first things that needs to be dealt with is getting Christians motivated about engaging the culture. For the record, even though I lead an apologetic ministry on a college campus and having done lots of outreach, I am just as susceptible to weaknesses such as apathy, complacency, and self-centeredness. One thing that helps me when I began to fall into these areas of struggle is to remember the following:

The Holy Spirit is the Agent of Evangelism and Apologetics

In my opinion, one of the most important statements made by Jesus are seen in John 14: 15-21:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Who is the Holy Spirit and What is His Role?

The Holy Spirit is one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.  Many scholars say the Holy Spirit is “another Jesus.” He is the one who is called to one’s side; He takes the place of Jesus. His primary role is to exalt Jesus and is He is with Believers forever (John 14:6). I can say for certain that any time I have ever grown complacent or apathetic, the Holy Spirit is always at work trying to stir my heart towards a lost and needy world. Now don’t get me wrong; the only way we can really experience His stirring is if we maintain a close relationship with God. Regular prayer, Bible study and devotion, as well as deep covenantal relationships with our fellow Christians play a large role in sensing His presence and promptings in our lives. Hence, spiritual disciplines play major factor in whether we will be truly yielded to God.

When Jesus said to his disciples “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5), we need to remember every child of god is indwelt by the same Spirit that Jesus promised to his original disciples. We also need to come to the place where we ask God in prayer to give us a heart for the world around us. While we may have read the commands about evangelism, we still can’t get over the hump. He may need to do a supernatural work in us so we can eventually take up a cross and follow the Lord on daily basis (Luke 9:23). Once again, this work is something that can only be done by our cooperation with the Spirit in us. We can ask God to change our hearts. And we need to remember because of the reality of life itself, many of us may be at the place where we have grown hardened or calloused towards others. We may need to ask God to  do some major surgery on us.

Are Apologists Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

I can’t speak for everyone here. But I have been exposed to plenty of apologists. I have met and interacted with them in joint efforts, evangelism, prayer, and writing. I am all for logic, critical thinking, and rational argumentation. Apologetics integrates a broad variety of disciplines such as history, science, ethics, theology, philosophy, etc. Hence, it can end up becoming quite exhausting.

Another passage to remember:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-4).

I think many of us as apologists need to have a deeper spirituality. I am not advocating weirdness or fanaticism. But when we become overly fixated on evidence and epistemological certainty, it can almost become an idol at times. It consumes us. We all know that in many cases it is evidence and epistemological certainty that atheists/skeptics say they are after. For Christians, unless we spend time in community and are committed to spiritual disciplines, we may run the risk of drying up and eventually leaving the faith.

In my opinion, J.P. Moreland is one of the most brilliant Christian philosophers to date. He is also one that teaches and speaks on how to integrate the mind into our faith. He knows we have to see it as a holistic process. Check out his website here.

So we may want to ask some important questions?

1 How deep are your roots? (Hint, study John 15)
2. Are you drawing from Him on a daily basis?
3. Are you finding satisfaction in Him?
4. Do you long to know Him better?
5. Where are you in your spiritual disciplines?


Why Christian faith simply can’t be about a relationship with Jesus!

Over the years, I have attempted to educate youth, college students, and adults about the need to move from a privatized faith to a public faith. In other words, when we present the Gospel, almost all of us talk about how people can have a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus the Messiah. While our faith is certainly about our relationship with Jesus, unfortunately, many Christians stop there. Thus, they don’t see their faith as a worldview. Therefore, they aren’t taught that their faith should be able to answer the big questions of reality. C.S. Lewis once said ” I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The term worldview was used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world? (3)

How does one decide on a worldview? Here are some guidelines:

First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them. David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as the creation of the universe) and natural causes or indirect actions (preservation). In other words, theism does allow for natural causes but also is open to a non-natural cause as well. After all, natural laws do nothing and set nothing into motion. A “law of nature” is a description of what happens when no agent (whether it be divine, human, etc) is interfering or intervening into the casual order. Their effects are produced by natural forces whose processes are an observable part of the ongoing operation of the physical universe.

In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo). One of the classical or traditional arguments for God’s existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the same argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable:
 After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have adequate explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8) A good worldview will be able to explain a wide variety of things that we observe in the world.

Epistemology and Ontology: Fifth, a good worldview will allow for a wide range of methods in the knowing process. To reduce reality to one area of knowledge (such as the scientific method) is a fatal mistake. Furthermore, it also commits the reductive fallacy. A worldview should recognize that humans come to know and experience reality in a wide variety of ways by not only the scientific/empirical method, but also by memory, the testimony of others, intuition, religious experience, logical reasoning, listening to the authorities of others, etc. A good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective.

As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says:

“Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith. In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. (9)

As E. P Schumacher explains: “The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.” (10)

So you might ask where to I begin to work on my worldview?  I will recommend four resources here:

A World of Difference (Reasons to Believe): Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test by [Samples, Kenneth Richard]

So the question is do you have a private faith, or a public faith? Can your faith answer the big questions of our day?


1.Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
3.Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
4.Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
5.Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
6.Ibid, 40-63.
7.Ibid, 110-124.
8.Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
9.Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
10.Naugle, 266-274.


An Easy Way to Explain the Role of Apologetics in a Christian’s Life

For most of us in the apologetics endeavor, on many occasions I have found myself having to explain what apologetics is to my Christian friends. I have also noted elsewhere that I have had to give an apologetic for why we should see the need for apologetics. After the last election (in 2016), I  have found a very simple way to explain the role of apologetics. Given there were so many debates and so many Christians had to give reasons or justification for why they picked a specific candidate, I have used this as a springboard to explain the need for  apologetics.

I generally ask my fellow Christians if they had to give reasons for why they picked a specific candidate. They always say “yes.” Then I ask them if they have to had to ever give good reasons for why they chose a specific vocation or a specific major to study. Again, they agree they have had to do that as well. What about giving good reasons for why they picked a specific church? Or what about giving reasons for why they picked a specific spouse? Or what about giving good reasons for picking a specific place to live? Or what about giving reasons for why they follow a specific sports team? The list goes on. The point is we have had to give reasons for almost every position we have taken or choice we’ve made. In the book Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking, the authors note the following definitions: 

  1. Argument: the process of giving a systematic account of reasons in support of a claim or belief.
  2. We use effective argumentation to defend our position as a reasonable option among various choices.
  3.  Claims and beliefs go hand in hand. For anything you believe, you can state that belief in the form of a claim

So as we’ve just noted, almost all Christians have to give reasons to support their positions/claims or choices they’ve made. Therefore, why wouldn’t a Christian see the need to give good reasons for why they think there is a God and Jesus is His Son? It seems like this issue impacts one’s view of reality. So this is a huge issue. Once I explain it this way, most Christians see the need to learn apologetics. Give it a try!