A Closer Look at the Genre of the Gospels: Ancient and Modern Historiography: 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’sHomeric 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:

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 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?

Brent Pitre,  Author of  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ says the following about the Gospels as ancient biography.

“The four Gospels are not just any kind of ancient biography. They are historical biographies, two of which explicitly claim to tell us what Jesus actually did and said and to be based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:20-24). The reason the historical character of the Gospels is important is that some scholars claim that the authors of the Gospels did not even intend to give us the historical truth about the words and deeds of Jesus. The only way to hold such a view, however, is to ignore the fact that ancient biographers often insist that they are recording the truth about what someone did and said. For example, in his biography of the philosopher Demonax, Lucian makes sure to let the reader know that he was an eyewitness and a disciple of Demonax himself: I speak with reference to the Boeotian Sostratus…and to Demonax, the philosopher. Both these men I saw myself, and saw with wonderment: and under one of them, Demonax, I was long a student. (Lucian, Life of Demonax, 1)24 One reason that Lucian may stress this point is that elsewhere in his writings, he insists on the ancient historian’s obligation to tell the truth: The historian’s task is one: to tell it as it happened…. This is the one peculiar characteristic of history, and to truth alone must sacrifice be made. (Lucian, How to Write History, 39, 40)25 Along similar lines, the first-century Jewish writer Josephus insists on the historical truth of his autobiography:

Having reached this point in my narrative, I propose to address a few words to Justus, who has produced his own account of these affairs, and to others who, while professing to write history, care little for truth, and either from spite or partiality, have no scruples about falsehood. The procedure of such persons resembles indeed the forgers of contracts, but having no corresponding penalty to fear, they can afford to disdain veracity…. [But] veracity is incumbent upon a historian. (Josephus, Life, 336–39) Notice that there is no trace of the idea that accounts in a biography can be true “whether or not they happened.” To the contrary, Josephus insists that the biography he is writing is a subset of “history” (Greek historia). This means that an author ought to tell the “truth” (Greek alētheia) about what happened, rather than “falsehood” (Greek pseudos). Of course, scholars may dispute whether or not Josephus or any other biographer was successful in telling the truth. But they can’t dispute that the genre of his writing is historical biography, and that he is purporting to tell what actually happened. As a result, any scholar who were to compare Josephus’s autobiography to “folklore” or “fairy stories” would be considered ridiculous. Nonetheless, this is exactly how scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann portray the Gospels. If we look at what the four Gospels actually say about what kinds of books they are, we discover that two of them emphasize that they are recording what Jesus actually did and said. They also claim that they are based on eyewitness testimony. In other words, they insist that they are historical biographies.

Consider, once again, the prologue to the Gospel of Luke:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write carefully in order for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the facts concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Luke 1:1-4)

In order to understand the importance of Luke’s prologue for our argument, four points need to be explained.

First, as many scholars point out, Luke’s prologue is strikingly similar to the prologues found in ancient Greco-Roman histories, by authors such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Josephus.27 Like the prologues of other ancient histories, Luke’s prologue is intended to signal to the reader that the Gospel is historical in character. Second, Luke uses the word “narrative” (Greek diēgēsis) to describe his book. As Joseph Fitzmyer has shown, ancient Greco-Roman authors often use this word specifically for “the writing of history” (see Josephus, Life, 336; Lucian, How to Write History, 55).28 Third, Luke insists that his historical narrative is based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses (Greek autoptai) from the beginning” of Jesus’s public ministry. Now, why would Luke emphasize the eyewitness nature of his sources if he were just telling folktales? Clearly, Luke wants his readers to know that what he says about Jesus can be corroborated by those who knew him. Fourth and finally, Luke explicitly states that he is writing so that his audience might know “the facts” (Greek asphaleian). Although some English Bibles translate the Greek word asphalēia as “truth,” elsewhere Luke consistently uses it to refer to secure and verifiable facts (see Acts 21:34; 22:30; 25:26).29 In other words, the Gospel of Luke begins by insisting that it is an accurate, factual account, based directly on eyewitness testimony of what Jesus did and said.” – Brent Pitre,  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, Kindle Locations, 1383- 1427

 

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 demonstrates that, though the Gospels in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they heavily relied on eyewitness testimony, which was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. The Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai) refers to those that would have participated in the events (direct autopsy). If the authors didn’t participate in the events they were writing about, they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy). For example, since it is obvious that Mark relies on Peter as a direct eyewitness, Mark’s Gospel is a form of indirect autopsy.  We see in Luke 1:1-4 that while Luke was not a direct eyewitness of Jesus’s ministry, and the information was given to him by those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,” he also is a form of indirect autopsy. Space prohibits a robust defense of John and Matthew’s Gospels, but since John claims to be a direct eyewitness (John 21:20-24) he is form of direct autopsy. Matthew’s frequent references to money remind us that he had been a tax collector. It is likely that this role is an example of a direct eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus as well.

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.

 

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Interview/Discussion with Dr.Tim Stratton: Apologetics Meeting on Molinism

In our weekly apologetics meeting, here we discuss Molinism which is a system of thought that seeks to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. The heart of Molinism is the principle that God is completely sovereign and man is also free in a libertarian sense. Molinism partly seeks to avoid so-called “theological determinism”: the view that God decrees who will be saved or damned without any meaningful impact of their own free choice. Today’s highest-profile defenders of Molinism are William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga. Our guest is Dr. Tim Stratton who recently finished his dissertation on the topic. Tim has his own ministry called Free Thinking Ministries.

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Book Review: Knowing God the Father Though the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set) by Christopher J. H. Wright,

Knowing God the Father Though the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set), Christopher J. H. Wright, IVP Academic; 1st edition, 2007,234 pp. 

This book is part of the series by Christopher Wright on the God of the Old Testament. I have already read and reviewed Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament and Knowing the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Just as in the other two books in the series, Wright does a fine job of highlighting the covenantal nature of God’s relationship with Israel. He was a Father to Israel and they were His Son (in a corporate sense). Judaism/Messianic Judaism and Christianity are the major world religions that can offer a God who is a Father. Just as an earthly father, God the Father adopts, disciplines, carries and pities his people (pgs. 21-38).

Wright highlight’s how Israel experienced God’s actions, his judgment, his grace, as well his justice, love, and sovereignty. As I was reading this book, it reminded me of when I first read J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. After all, it is hard to follow or be in a relationship with someone you do not know very well. Knowledge of God comes through the natural world, history, and personal experience. Wright does a fine job of not simply highlighting one attribute of God. He gives an overview of the full counsel of God. This is something that is lacking today. Just as the other books in this series, Knowing God the Father Though the Old Testament will help you draw closer to God and not make an unnecessary dichotomy between the God of the Old Testament and New Testament. They are the same God.

 

 

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Using Inference to the Best Explanation: What Caused the Birth of Christology?

If you aren’t familiar with the late  Larry Hurtado’s work,  he discusses six features of the religious devotion of early Christianity that indicate a significant mutation in the Jewish monotheistic tradition: (1) hymnic practices, (2) prayer and related practices, (3) use of the name of Christ, (4) the Lord’s Supper, (5) confession of faith in Jesus, and (6) prophetic pronouncements of the risen Christ.
Derek Leman summarizes Hurtado’s work when he says:  
“What did the early believers do in their descriptions of Yeshua’s exalted status and what did they not do? They did describe him on a level equal with God (“the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”). They corporately and individually showed devotion to him in ways reserved by Jews for God alone (hymns, prayer in his name, prayer to him, calling on him, a ritual meal in his presence, creeds about him, and in some cases prophecies given by him from heaven). They obeyed him, believed they were in him, believed he was present, imitated him, and received mysterious communication from him giving themguidance and peace. They had a simple creed about Yeshua, “Yeshua is Lord,” and said it was only possible to affirm this if one had been empowered by the Holy Spirit. They had a simple Aramaic prayer which they used at their weekly ritual meal, “marana tha [Our Lord, come!],” whereas we have no evidence of Jews invoking angels or other agent figures for God in any comparable manner. They used the Shema and a well-known passage from Isaiah 45 about the uniqueness of God as texts about Yeshua. They made analogies and used careful circumlocutions to describe the mysterious relationship between Messiah and God without getting overly specific (“image of the invisible God,” “the radiance of the glory of God”). They made use of the linguistic differentiation between Lord and God as a way of describing Messiah in relation to God (“God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” “there is one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ”). They described heavenly visionary experiences of Yeshua in heaven, having his own divine glory (“the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” “his face was like the sun shining in full strength”). They did not say “Yeshua is God” directly, but described his divinity always in relation to God (“the Word was with God, the Word was God”). They did not try to specify the relationship between Yeshua and God beyond a certain mysterious vagueness. They did write as those who had encountered something incomprehensible which they felt compelled to believe and put into practice but which they were reluctant to describe with too much precision.” – The Divine Messiah, Kindle Locations, 1000-1009. 

 Anyone who studies historical method is familiar with what is called historical causation. Historians seek out the causes of a certain events. As historian Paul Barnett says, “The birth of Christianity and the birth of Christology are inseparable both as to time and essence.” (1) One thing for sure: the birth of Christology was very early and not something that was invented much later in Church history.

We must not forget that within Judaism there is a term called “avodah zara” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God i.e., idolatry. In other words, the acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zara. (2) As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds the position that Jewish people are forbidden to pray and worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9).

Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. We know that from about AD 48 until his death (60 to 65 AD) Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. To read any objections to Paul’s Letters, see here.

In their book The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy say,

“During the reign of Pilate and Herod, when Caiaphas was high priest, we find a Jewish movement arising that worships a recent contemporary alongside and in a similar manner as Yahweh-God. To call this development “novel” is a significant understatement. In truth, it constitutes nothing less than a massive paradigm shift in the first century Palestinian Jewish religious worldview.” (3)

After looking at these issues, we must utilize what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” (Abduction)

  1. Inference refers to the process of collecting data and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence.
  2. We compare the evidence to the potential explanations and determined which explanation was, in fact, the most reasonable inference in light of the evidence.
  3. The best explanation will cover all the data.

Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. So let’s look at the options on the table and see if we can come up with an explanation that explains the data at hand:

#1: Religious Syncretism

While there were various Jewish sects during the time of Jesus, religious syncretism is a form of idolatry. First, the Jewish Scriptures forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). Following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, it can asked whether Jews still fell prey to physical idolatry. Some skeptics assert that since Israel always had problems with idolatry in their early formation, it would not be a challenge to assert they could fall into idolatry again by worshiping one of their own countrymen as God. But this is problematic; To assert that Israel’s previous problems with idolatry which would lead to further into idolatry in the Second Temple period leads me to cry “anachronism.” Remember, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament( 1 Cor. 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph. 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8). Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor .5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9) (see Walter A. Elwell’s Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pgs 364-365). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act (by saying Jesus is divine) and but then later speak against idolatry? It seems rather inconsistent.

#2 Hellenism or Polytheism?

The syncretism objection is related to the Hellenism/Polytheism possibility. The first followers of Jesus were exclusively Jews. The book of Acts gives a reference to the early followers of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). However, it is asserted that as the Christian faith spread, it became a predominately Gentile based religion. By the time of Jesus, Jews had encountered the impact of Hellenistic culture for three hundred years. The word “Hellenistic” was given to describe the period of history that started with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and ended when Rome conquered Alexander’s empire in 30 B.C .It is also safe to say that several forms of Jewish culture during the Roman period were somewhat Hellenized. This is why it is often argued that the incarnation grew out of Hellenistic presuppositions. But as Paul Eddy points out in his article Was Christianity Corrupted by Hellenism? from the middle of the third century BC, while Jewish Palestine had already experienced the effects of Hellenism we need to remember that Hellenism did not tend to infiltrate and ‘corrupt’ the local religious traditions of the ancient world. Rather, people maintained their religious traditions in spite of Hellenistic influence in other areas of their lives. Also, there are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23).

#3: The Deity of Jesus is Legend?

As I already said, the earliest documents for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s Letters. In them, we have one of the earliest confessions of the deity of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

“For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

A glance at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 shows that according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord. In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

#4: The Christology of Jesus can be explained by the disciples experience with Jesus before the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances.

I think if we look at these four options, #4 explains the paradigm shift that is mentioned above. To read further, see our resurrection resource page. 

NOTE: See our 28 Suggested Readings in Christology

Also, see the current book on the topic by Andrew Loke.

Sources:
1. Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005), 8.

2. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, 160-174.

3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 132.

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Why Can’t People Seem to Agree?

Something that has come to my attention (it has always been there) is a phenomenon that is happening every day. With the ongoing debates about the racial divide and COVID (which is ongoing), it seems like so many people just can’t agree. Of course, many people on both sides of the aisle are not terrible people. They just seem to disagree on so many issues. When I started doing campus apologetics (back in 2005), I started to engage with plenty of atheists and skeptics. I can recall several times where we would look at the same arguments for God’s existence/the Messiah, and not come to the same conclusion.

Confirmation Bias

It was then that I began to explore the issues about how people form their beliefs. One thing that has always been at the forefront is confirmation bias.  For example,in the online article “What is Confirmation Bias?” People are prone to what they want to believe,  the author says the following:

Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true.

Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. Thus, we may become prisoners of our assumptions. For example, some people will have a very strong inclination to dismiss any claims that marijuana may cause harm as nothing more than old-fashioned reefer madness. Some social conservatives will downplay any evidence that marijuana does not cause harm.”

Granted, there are textbook definitions as well. But the point is we all tend to look for what confirms our existing beliefs and we can tend to shun any contrary evidence. If one has an a priori commitment to something, it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it).

I have seen confirmation bias in religious discussions, political discussions, medical discussions, etc. It is part of the human condition. I explored this even deeper in the book by Jonathan Haidt called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided on Politics and Religion. I also had a chance to witness to his nephew at The Ohio State University.

What I find amusing is when someone cannot admit they are susceptible to confirmation bias. I used to hear atheists tell me that only religious people were guilty of confirmation bias. I then began to push back and tell them they do the same thing.  I do not know anyone that is able to approach a topic like faith or politics without being prone to some confirmation bias. This does not mean we can’t arrive at any objectivity. We are not doomed to pure subjectivism.  God’s existence is an objective reality. Whether one has the desire to embrace Him or they don’t see the need for Him has no bearing on whether He exists or not. Same goes for the resurrection of the Messiah.  We are making an historical claim. One’s feelings, emotions, and state of happiness has no bearing on whether he rose from the dead.  But we need to work hard to curb our confirmation bias.

Binary Thinking 

Another problem we have is that there is an overload of binary thinking. Binary thinking is always seeing things in terms of two options that are usually mutually exclusive. That is all the possibilities are either option A or option B and not both. As the following article says:

When the brain reacts in a binary way, it leads to quick, irrational decisions and action; when a dialogue is engaged between the emotional and rational parts of the brain…. We can come to believe that reality is defined by two mutually exclusive categories….  Events are thus construed as dilemmas to be resolved in favor of one alternative or the other.”- see – “When Binary Thinking Is Involved, Polarization Follows”- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/empathy-and-relationships/201701/when-binary-thinking-is-involved-polarization-follows

Some extreme examples of binary thinking are the following:

“You can’t be supportive of Black Lives  Matter, and support the safety  and care of the police as well. You can’t be for both.”

“You Christians only care about protecting  the baby in the womb and then you don’t care about what happens to the child after they are born.’

“ Are you conservative or liberal?” If you’re for the poor and the oppressed, you’re liberal. If you  care about pro life positions, you’re conservative.”

You can’t be pro science and support Biblical faith. It’s one or the other.”

“ You can’t care about climate change and be a conservative. That’s a  liberal position.”

Facts, Interpretation, and Application

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Another problem is people don’t agree on facts and data. For example, when someone asserts certain issues about the racial disparities in our country, I always tell them the following:

An assertion is the act of asserting something without evidence. Evidence is facts or observations presented in support of an assertion.

You may hear the following:

“ I think that there are a lot of economic disparities in our country.”

“I think the criminal justice is rigged to hurt the black community.”

“______ is a racist.”

My response is that perhaps these assertions are true. But you need to provide data and evidence to support these assertions.  Just asserting something because you feel that way or someone has had a powerful experience does not mean policy can be made off that experience. Policy is made by looking at evidence and data. And guess what? The evidence and data that is given might have some bias. For example, if I cite the article here called  University Administrator Forced To Resign Over Study Finding No Racial Bias In Police Shootings – The Police, someone will probably tell me it comes from a biased source. Granted, the firing did happen. But the point  is that  we do not always agree on the facts and data. We also might have different facts and we can cite sources that disagree with each other. Because we do not agree on the facts, we then might not agree on our interpretation of the facts. We make inferences off the facts and try to come up with the best explanation.

The bottom line is that if we are going to attempt to love God with all our being, we need to be aware of these issues. We all have assumptions, or presuppositions and worldview commitments that impact how we interpret the world around us. Just remember, these issues when you have discussions with people who do not arrive at the same conclusions as you do.

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Book Review: Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A New Transdisciplinary Approach (Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies), by Andrew Loke

Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A New Transdisciplinary Approach (Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies) by [Andrew Loke]

Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A New Transdisciplinary Approach (Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies), A.Loke, Routledge; 1st edition, 2020, 246pp.

Andrew Loke is an up and coming scholar who has published other books on cosmology and Christology. Given I have published my own book on the resurrection of Jesus, I took great interest in this resource. Loke’s book does not disappoint. I was eager to see if Loke provided a different approach than previous books on the topic.  The book title says Loke is using a “Transdisciplinary” approach to the resurrection. To elaborate on this,  he says “ In addition to the tools and methods of analytic philosophy, this monograph uses the methods of historical-critical biblical studies, such as a consideration of the religious, social, and cultural background of the earliest Christians, their understanding of sacred texts, their religious experiences, their interactions with surrounding cultures, and the challenges that they faced. This monograph also incorporates insights from psychology and comparative religion. It advances the assessment of the relevant evidence by addressing recent psychological research concerning memory distortion and philosophical discussion concerning miracles. It incorporates the perspective of comparative religion by examining claims of resurrection in other contexts, including that involving cognitive dissonance in the case of the rabbi (‘Rebbe’) Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902–1994), some of whose followers claim his ‘resurrection’ in the context of religious ridicule and skepticism (Marcus 2001). By engaging with various disciplines, this book demonstrates how a transdisciplinary approach can be useful for bridging the divide between biblical, theological, and religious studies and contributing to the discussions in each discipline concerning the resurrection of Jesus.” – pg 2.

Loke does achieve this in this book. Thus, he crosses over into several disciplines. Loke discusses criticisms and provides responses to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman, Richard Carrier, and others. Loke rightly tackles one of the most common objections to the resurrection which happens to  be the intramental/hallucination hypothesis (Chapter 4). He clarifies the difference between hallucination, illusion, delusion, and vision. He says:

“A  hallucination should be understood in the present context as ‘a sensory experience which occurs in the absence of corresponding external stimulation of the relevant sensory organ, has a sufficient sense of reality to resemble a veridical perception, over which the subject does not feel s/he has direct and voluntary control, and which occurs in the awake state’ (David 2004, p. 108).”- Pg 91.

An illusion, however, is defined as perceiving an external entity with the normal processes of sensory perception, but not as what it is (i.e. there are other causal factors which distort the perception of the properties of this entity). -Pg 92.

A delusion is a false belief, while a mass hysteria is a collective delusion. There have been documented cases of mass hysteria. – Pg. 92.

A ‘vision’ may be veridical or non-veridical. A veridical vision is defined as having an experience of perception of an external entity in the presence of external causal relation by which that entity is causing that experience of perception, without utilizing the normal processes of sensory perception (Copan and Tacelli eds. 200 p. 197). This is a supernatural vision hypothesis, which is discussed in Chapter 8. A non-veridical vision is defined as having an experience of perception of an external entity in the absence of external causal relation by which that entity is causing that experience of perception. Examples would be hallucination and illusion. – Pg. 92.

As Loke notes, “Given that hallucinations are caused intramentally, expectation is evidently a relevant factor. Bloom (2009, pp. 109–110) notes that, for mass hallucination to occur, having common triggers (e.g. a shared environment suggesting a shared idea-pattern or percept) is not enough; each of the percipients must be prone to hallucinatory activity as well. In what follows, Loke argues that it is unlikely that these conditions are fulfilled in the case of the resurrection appearances. One issue is whether all the ‘eyewitnesses’ already had prior belief that Jesus would rise from the dead. The historical evidence indicates otherwise.”- Pg. 96.

Loke’s specific attention to detail shines through in this chapter. He does the same with other chapters as well.

Loke thinks that despite the incomplete record we possess, the historical consideration should be the following:

1.Jesus’ crucifixion in around AD 30.

2.Individuals (including former unbelievers Paul and James) and groups of people (including Jesus’ apostles who were familiar with him) claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus shortly after that.

3.The threat of persecutions against them and their willingness to die for their religion.

4.The importance of the claim of Jesus’ transphysical bodily resurrection for the earliest Christians.

5.The reverent fear of being judged by YHWH for being false witnesses were present among them.

6. The skepticism of bodily resurrection were present among them and their audiences.

7. The commonsensical idea of ‘checking out’ the ‘eyewitnesses’ were present among them.

8.The mobility and ‘networking’ among the earliest Christians.

9. The author of Matthew’s account of the guard of Jesus’ tomb would not have committed a ‘credibility suicide’ by inventing an easily falsifiable story for his apologetic purpose.

Loke also discusses the objection to miracles. He thinks miracles are identifiable ad that the naturalistic alternatives fail. This combined with a relevant religious context will entail sufficient epistemic justification for the conclusion of a miraculous resurrection.- Pg. 197.

As far as the naturalistic alternatives, Loke goes into great detail to show why the the legend hypothesis, no experience hypothesis, intramental hypothesis, mistaken identity hypothesis, swoon hypothesis, and escape hypothesis all fail the criteria for historicity. He also demonstrates that naturalistic hypotheses for the empty tomb such as the unburied hypothesis, remain buried hypothesis, removal by non-agent hypothesis, removal by friends hypothesis, removal by enemies hypothesis, removal by neutral party hypothesis, fail as well. In Chapter 7, he even shows that even a combination of a number of them, each covering the weaknesses of the other, can’t explain away the resurrection of Jesus.

While much more can be said, this is a significant contribution to the field of resurrection apologetics. I highly recommend it.

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“Who Do you Say I Am?”: Cultural Confusion and the Identity of Jesus

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.

Here are some of the current views of Jesus in the surrounding culture:

Yes, there is a group called Ask a Muslim who actually spends time and money telling others Jesus was Muslim.

Here we also see Mormons have their own view of Jesus:

We have also have those that have their identity wrapped up in politics. Both sides assume Jesus falls more in line with their political party.

To see more about The Black Hebrew Israelite Movement, see here: 

To see one of many responses to the Aslan book, see here:

To see a response to the Smuley book, see Michael Brown’s book here.

As see here, there is plenty of confusion about who Jesus is. For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

Books That Deal With These Issues

I quickly want to mention two books. I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). And by the way, The Jesus Legend is critical reponse to legend theorists. For those that want to see how silly it is to propose the theory that Jesus didn’t exist- click here to read Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Let’s Look at the Quests

The First Quest Period-1778-1906:

The First Quest was marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)

The No Quest Period-1906-1953:

Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970:

Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:

Naturalism: The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. In this worldview, miracle accounts and any references to the non-natural realm are generally rejected. This is unjustified. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are non-natural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6) It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).

Therefore, the entire starting point in studying the life of Jesus is about one’s presuppositions. Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. It is used interchangeably with ontology (Gk. ontos, “being,” and logos, “word about”). Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality.

These issues demonstrate that in investigating the evidence for the life of Jesus, every historian interprets the past in direct relationship to his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). Hence, a worldview will always impact one’s historical method/philosophy of history. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, several aspects of the life of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way. Remember, naturalism is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.

To read more about this issue- see the Boyd/Eddy book or The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. There is also new book by Mike Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

“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.” (8)

A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on:

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(9) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults. (10) Some of the resources that deal with this issue are the following:

The Players in the Third Quest

1. E.P Sanders

Sanders is noted for asserting in 1985 the historical authenticity of eight activities of The Historical Jesus:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist 2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed. 3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of their being twelve 4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel 5. Jesus engaged in controversy about the temple 6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by Roman authorities 7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement 8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement

In 1993, in a more popular work, Sanders added six more facts to his list:

1. Jesus was born circa 4 B.C., at the approximate time of Herod the Great. 2. Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee 3. Jesus taught in small villages and towns and seemed to avoid cities 4. Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples 5. Jesus was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, apparatnly at the orders of the High Priest 6. Although they abandoned Jesus after his arrest, the disciples later “saw” him after his death. This led the disciples to believe that Jesus would return and found the kingdom.

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (11)

2. N.T. Wright

Wright has been another major player in the Third Quest. Wright agrees with Sanders list but still adds some of the following items about what we can know about Jesus:

1. Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, and probably some Greek 2. Jesus summoned the people to repent 3. Jesus made use of the parables to announce the kingdom of God 4. Jesus effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as demonstrated the truth of his proclamation of the kingdom 5. Jesus shared table fellowship with a socially and diverse group, including whom many Torah observant Jews would regard as “sinners.’

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

3. Craig Evans

One of the active scholars in the Third Quest is Craig Evans. One of his recent books is Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Evans this past May. His knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, early Judaica, and the cognate languages is unsurpassed.

Evans adds a few items to the lists of Sanders and Wright: 1.The public viewed Jesus as a prophet 2. The Romans crucified him as “King of the Jews.” 3.That following Easter his followers regarded him as Israel’s Messiah.

The Core Facts

Gary Habermas makes an important point when he says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.”Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (12)

Here are five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah

Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see: http://preventingtruthdecay.org/jesusresurrection.shtml

It is important to understand that I don’t want to say that just because I offer a list of core facts that are universally agreed on by historians and Biblical scholars makes it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the five facts that are mentioned. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. So there was some impartiality in the study.

The Jesus Seminar

It is important to mention that another group of scholars who are involved in the Third Quest are the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar come from various academic, professional, and  religious backgrounds.  Among the seventy scholars and laypersons that comprise the group, the  individuals that are regularly in the public eye include Robert W. Funk  (co-chair), John Dominic Crossan (co-chair), and Marcus Borg (Oregon State   University). For most of those in the Seminar, there is a dichotomy  between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” The “Christ of faith”  is seen as a figure of the early church who was elevated to a divine status by  the use of early Christian creeds and through the mythological embellishment  accounts of the Gospels that were written later. (13) In  a debate with John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, William Lane  Craig exposed Crossan’s naturalistic presuppositions. Craig asked Crossan if  there was anything that would convince Crossan that Jesus rose from the dead as  an historical fact. Crossan responded by saying a person has the right to say,”I by faith believe that God has intervened in the resurrection event.” However,  Crossan then goes on to say, “It’s a theological presupposition of mine that  God does not operate in that way that they.” (14)  To see some critques of Crossan and the Seminar’s views see here:

Conclusion:

The good news is that the quest for The Historical Jesus may be shifting to what is called “The Interdisciplinary Quest.” This means that there are many people from a variety of academic backgrounds such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, etc., that are all weighing in on this topic. It should be interesting to see what happens in the future. I can only speak for myself in that I see no dichotomy between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. You can decide for yourself.

NOTE: SEE OUR RESOURCE PAGE HERE: 

ALSO SEE OUR SUGGESTED READING LIST

Sources:

1.Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386. 2.Ibid. 3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182. 4.Ibid. 5.Ibid. 6.Geisler, pgs 385-386. 7.Ibid. 8.B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167. 9.Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2001, 152.

13. House. W.H.,and Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and  Christian Evidences.Grand Rapids,   MI: Zondervan Publishing House,  2006, Chart 51.

14. Copan, P. Will The Real Jesus Stand Up? A Debate between William  Lane Craig and John Dominic CrossanGrand  Rapids, MI: Baker  Books. 1998. 61-62.

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Discipleship of the Mind/The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Discipleship of the Mind/The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Within Christian discipleship, scholars, theologians, and philosophers are asking, what ever happened to cultivating the intellectual life of the Christian? There have been several books written on this subject. One book that I recommend is Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland

It is imperative for Christians to understand the history of anti-intellectualism in the church. In this brilliant book, Dr. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.

Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology. Christians originally founded several American universities. The minister was regarded as proficient in both spiritual and intellectual matters. (1)

When the first Great Awakening happened in the United States from the 1730’s to 1750’s, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine Biblical authority in the late 1800’s. In other words, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophies of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German higher criticism, and Darwinian evolution. During the middle 1800’s, Christianity continued to see an anti-intellectual approach in sermons. Ministers such as and Charles Finney who preached during the Laymen’s Prayer Revival ( 1856-1858), delivered simple sermons that were more tailored around emotions in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally informed. Moreland notes that many positive things did come out of this period. However, the downside was that since thousands of people were converted on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new converts were not trained to think theologically or doctrinally. (2)

Moreland has also commented on the impact of Christians refusing to be informed about the language of ideas in the marketplace. As Moreland says:

Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn’t matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart and that’s all that really matters to me. So we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether. (3)

Another book that has traced the history of anti-intellectualism in the church is Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness. In this book, Guinness says:

Loving God with our minds is not finally a question of orthodoxy, but love. Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety. We need to affirm certain truths: Intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism, for the perils of intellectualism-supremely in Gnosticism- are deadly and ever recurring. Or passion is not for academic respectability, but for the faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our everyday discipleship as Christians. For anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus’ commandments. Thus, if we take the commands of Jesus seriously, we cannot dismiss the charge of anti-intellectualism as elitism or intellectual snobbery. As God has given us minds, we can measure our obedience by whether we are loving him with those minds, and disobedience whether we are not.(4)

In his book,The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ author David W. Gill makes a significant contribution about the relationship between intellectualism and discipleship by stating that we should advocate Christian minds, not intellectualism. Gill says:

Let me stress one more time that I am not advocating intellectualism in the Christian life! We must give our brains to God. But we are more than brains. I do indeed want people to develop their minds under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship. (5)

Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:

Acts 4:13: “The Jewish elders and rulers observe that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned.” Many have concluded that intellectual emphasis has no place for the life of the believer. Is this right? It is important to understand that the Jewish leaders did not mean that Peter and John were irrational or intellectually unskilled. They meant that they had not undergone the proper rabbinical training. (6)

Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28. (7)

1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:
” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Does this passage say God is against reason? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (8)

One of the primary texts used for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, “But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted believers. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word,” inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard. Peter does not suggest we be prepared to do give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! (9)

Some Suggestions in Restoring the Christian Mind

1. In order to restore the mind within the local congregation, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on critical thinking and apologetics. As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothius says:

Since we as Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), it is the responsibility Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. (10)

2. Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity from a Christian / biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity). As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (11)

3. Establish a Worldview: The term worldview is 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. 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.(12) 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.

4. Engage the Culture: According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Christians also have a responsibility to be aware of the issues within our culture.

My suggestion to change this problem is to challenge congregants to take a survey with five spiritual questions and engage people on a regular basis. Once they see how people respond to the questions, they will begin to see how inept they are to handle objections to the faith. By doing a survey, this allows the congregants to witness firsthand the tremendous amount of diversity in our culture. One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that cannot be answered, it allows the believer the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue.

As William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (13)

5. The university: From a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically as well as apologetically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?

What about Christians who want to study philosophy in college? Should they avoid it? Groothius says:

Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness. (14)

6. Understand the proper relationship between faith and reason: As David Gill says above, “Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.” Another challenge in restoring the Christian mind is the misunderstanding of the biblical use of the word “heart.” How many times has the Christian been told, “Faith is an issue of the heart, not the head.” How can we correct this problem? Remember, biblical faith also involves a commitment of the whole person. In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. (15)

1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997. 22-23.

2. Ibid.

3. Koukl. G. The Value of Philosophy. Retrieved November 9, 2007. Available at http://www.str.org/site/.

4.Os Guinness. Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What To Do About It. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1994, 18-19.

5. Gill, D.W. The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press,1989, 30.

6. Moreland, 57-60.

7. Ibid.

8. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 13.

9. Moreland, 57-60.

10. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at http://www.answersinaction.org.

11. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

12. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

13. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

14. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto.

15. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 297.

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