Interview with Dr. Darrell Bock, The Relationship Between Israel and the Church

Dr. Darrell L. Bock is a professor and senior researcher of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a prolific New Testament scholar. He is the author of Jesus According to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations, and other books as well. He is also the Executive Director for Cultural Engagement Center at Dallas Seminary. Here we discuss the role of Israel and the relationship between Israel and the Church in Scripture. Yes, this does impact how we read the Bible.


Does the Resurrection of Jesus Mean He is the Jewish Messiah?

The resurrection of Jesus is one of the most important doctrines for followers of Jesus the Messiah. The center of Biblical faith is not found in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. It is true there is no explicit teaching throughout the entire Tanakh (i.e., The Old Testament) that says, “When the Messiah comes, what qualifies Him to be the Jewish Messiah means that He must rise from the dead.” Eugene Borowitz discusses why the resurrection of Jesus is of relative insignificance:

Jews can see that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is told against the background of Pharisaic belief. Despite this our people has never had difficulty rejecting it. Our Bible is quite clear that the chief sign of the coming of the Messiah is a world of justice and peace. No prophet says the Messiah will die and then be resurrected as a sign to all humanity. Except for the small number of converts to Christianity, Jews in ancient times did not believe Jesus had actually been resurrected. Modern Jews, who believe in the immortality of the soul or in no afterlife at all, similarly reject the Christian claim.[1}

So with these comments in mind, let’s look at the relationship between Jesus being the Messiah and his resurrection from the dead. Remember, the issue that comes up is whether the resurrection of any specific individual is a messianic qualification. The Greek word “christos” from which we get the English word “Christ” carries the same connotations as the Hebrew word — “the Anointed One” from which the word “messiah” is derived. The Jewish Scriptures record the history of those who were anointed for a specific purpose such as priests,  kings, and even prophets.

1: The Resurrection is Necessary for the Messiah to be the Davidic King

King David wanted to build a “house” (or Temple) for the Lord in Jerusalem.[1] God made an unconditional promise to raise up a line of descendants from the house of David. We find texts in the Jewish Scriptures about how the Davidic King’s rule is universal [2] and everlasting. [3]

Let’s look at Paul’s Gospel:

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 (Romans 1:1-5).

In this passage, Paul says through the resurrection Jesus is declared (by God) to be the Son of God and a descendant of David. As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy given to David’s house is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, as already said, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. Remember, Davidic kings die. It is the line of these kings that is “eternal.” The promises entailed in the covenant with David are divided by the text into two: (1) those to be fulfilled during his lifetime and (2) those to be fulfilled after his death. As Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum explain this:

The promises to be fulfilled after the death of David are also three: (1) an eternal house, (2) kingdom, and (3) throne. There are two ways in which God could give David an eternal house. It could be that every descendant would be successful in producing a male heir—something which has always created problems for every human royal house. Or it could be that someday, a descendant would be born who would never die. According to the New Testament, this is what happened: the eternal house/seed is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, a descendant of David who according to his resurrection is an eternal person.[4]

 #2: The Resurrection is Needed for Jesus to be the Initiator of the New Covenant

 Christians and Messianic Jews realize the importance of the new covenant and most would be familiar with the following Scriptures:

And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God (Mark 14:24-25).

 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”  In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me (1 Cor. 11:23, 25).

There are passages in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the coming of the new covenant. For example, Moses summons all of Israel and tells them God “has not given you them hearts to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”[5] He goes onto tell them God “will circumcise their hearts and the heart of your offspring, so that they will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and that they may live.” [6] The Hebrew expression “the stubbornness of his/their heart” occurs ten times in the Tanakh.[7]  So the need for a new covenant is the solution to this problem. The only place the words “new covenant” are seen is the following text:

Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jer. 31: 31-34).

Though Ezekiel never uses the phrase “new covenant,” as Jeremiah does, he mirrors the concept:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it.  And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezek. 11: 17-20).

 I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36: 23-28).

Just like the giving of the Torah (with Moses), the new covenant needs someone to inaugurate it. These passages promise the day when God will place his Spirit permanently inside people so they can walk in holiness and love. We can look forward to:

  1. God promises the forgiveness of sin.[8]
  2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit [9]
  3. Knowledge of God. [10]
  4. Obedience of God by his people.[11]
  5. The fulfillment of Israel’s future restoration to the land.[12]

Before Jesus rose from the dead, he made a promise related to the new covenant passages. As Jesus says:

 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you (John 14:16,17).

We can conclude with the following syllogism:

  1. If Jesus rose from the dead, He can send the Holy Spirit and inaugurate the new covenant.
  2. Jesus rose from the dead
  3. Therefore, Jesus is the inaugurator of the new covenant.

 Gentiles Participation in the New Covenant

It is abundantly clear the Lord made the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jeremiah31:31–34, quoted in Hebrews 8:8–12) and not with the nations of the world, which leads us to ask the question: how do Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant? In response, God’s plan for Israel was to be a light to the nations and be a conduit for Gentiles to come to faith in the one true God.

We see the unique calling in the Abrahamic Covenant. The promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations; the Messianic blessing is for all the world. All peoples on all the earth – seventy nations at that time- would be beneficiaries of the promise.[13] So it could not be clearer that God intended to use Abraham as a channel of blessing to the entire world. The election of Israel was for a universal goal— the redemption of humanity. The challenge is how Gentiles comes to appropriate the blessings of the new covenant we previously mentioned. After all, the context of both passages has to do with Israel. Just because the promises about are made to the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, we can’t logically conclude others are not able to participate just because they aren’t part of Israel. The Jewish Scriptures reveal that Gentiles would be restored to God through Israel’s end-time restoration and become united to them.[14]  References to the new covenant foresee Gentile involvement and blessing. [15] The prophet Isaiah illustrates that Gentiles will receive the “trickle down” blessings:

Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord, To be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered. (Is. 56:6-8)

God’s planned for Israel to be a light to the non-Jewish nations from the beginning. Thus, Gentile believers are grafted into Israel’s new covenant (Romans 11:17). As Michael Kogan says:

Has Jesus brought redemption to Israel? No, but he has brought the means of redemption to the gentiles—and that in the name of Israel’s God—thus helping Israel to fulfill its calling to be a blessing to all peoples. A Jewish Messiah for the gentiles! Perhaps, as I have suggested, an inversion of Cyrus’s role as a gentile Messiah for the Jews. Israel is redeemed by engaging in redemptive work. Perhaps redemption is not a final state but a process, a life devoted to bringing oneself and others before God. To live a life in relationship to the Holy One and to help the world to understand itself as the Kingdom of God—which it, all unknowingly, already is—is to participate in redemption, to live a redemptive life. This has been Israel’s calling from the beginning.”[16]

But even though the nations of the world have been allowed to participate in the new covenant, we see God will fulfill his promises to Israel. Though Gentiles are experiencing spiritual blessings during Israel’s partial hardening, this will escalate with national Israel’s salvation.[17] Though Israel that has been partially hardened, there will be a future group of Jewish people who will experience salvation.[18]

#3: The Resurrection is Important to Jesus being a Prophet like Moses

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia” which is considered a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it. [19] However, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward [20] as well as glory. [21] Jesus’s inauguration of the kingdom of God included not only the dispensing of the Spirit,[22] but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. Deuteronomy is a pivotal text that speaks about the first coming of the Messiah:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the Lord your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (Deut. 18: 15-18)

To be like Moses, the prophet Moses speaks about will have to be a “sign prophet.” Of course, the Torah clearly states even if a prophet’s signs and wonders do come to pass but the prophet leads the people astray to worship false gods, he is a false prophet.[23] So the ability to do signs and wonders is related to being a prophet of God. While actions by other prophets including Ezekiel and Jeremiah show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. We see God used signs to convince Moses of his divine mission: God says, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” [24]

When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”  his rod turns into a snake,[25] and his hand becomes leprous.[26] Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believedthey bowed down and worshiped.” [27] As far as Jesus being a sign prophet like Moses, we need to remember the word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.  Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” [28] “Sign” (Gr.sēmeion) is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament which is the resurrection of the Messiah from the grave. Thus, when asked for a sign, Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection.[29] Not only was the resurrection of the Messiah a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted.[30]

#4: The Resurrection is Important to Jesus Being a Priest in the order of Melchizedek

One text vital to understanding the priestly work of the Messiah is in the following text: Psalm 110:1-4:

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”  The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1-4)

Who is qualified to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek? While David did perform priestly functions, he could not be a priest forever because he died and remained dead. If the figure mentioned in Psalm 110 is David’s son, how could he be a priest forever and die?  He would have to not die. The individual must be a descendant of David, but one that is greater than David, and he must also serve as priest in some way outside of the qualification of being a Levite.

Here the Psalmist answers saying the priest would be of the order (not the line) of Melchizedek. The word Melchizedek is derived from “melchi,” which means “king” and “zedek’ which means righteousness.” Therefore, Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” Melchizedek was, as you recall, was greater than Abraham because he existed prior to Abraham. In the Tanakh, the priest was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people through his ability make to make atonement for the whole people (Lev.4:26; 31, 35; 5:6, 10;14:31). By doing this, the priests “sanctified” the people which allowed them to come into God’s presence. Another priestly function in the Tanakhh was to pray or make intercession on behalf of the people. The Messiah’s resurrection is the basis for his priesthood because in that life he can be the “priest forever” (Heb 7:17) who is typified by Melchizedek and portrayed in Psalm 110.  Here we see the purpose of the Aaron-Melchizedek contrast: to establish the permanence of the Messiah’s priestly ministry. One can see how Psalm 110 is stressed throughout Hebrews which is related to the endlessness of the Messiah’s priestly office.

 I discuss these topics in greater length in my book called “The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah.” 

The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah by [Chabot, Eric]


 [1] E. Borowitz, Liberal Judaism (New York: Behrman House. 1984), 216.

[2]  2 Sam. 7:1-4.

[3]  Ps.72:8; Is. 9:7; Zech. 9:9.

[4] 2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 21:14; 72:17; 89:36-37; Jer. 33:17.

[5] Deut. 29: 4.

[6] Deut. 30: 6.

[7]  Deut. 29:18; Jer. 3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17; Ps. 81:12.

[8] Jer. 31:34; Ezek. 36:25.

[9]  Ezek. 36:27.

[10] Jer. 31:34.

[11] Ezek. 36:27; 37:23-24; Jer. 32:39-40.

[12] Jer. 32:36-41; Ezek.36:24-25; 37:11-14.

[13]  Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14.

[14]  Ps. 87:4-6; Is 11:9-10; 14:1-2; 19:18-25; 25:6-10; 42:1-9; 49:6; 51:4-6; 60:1-16; Jer. 3:17; Zeph. 3:9-10; Zech. 2:11); G.K. Beale and B. L. Gladd,  Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. 2014),186.

[15]  Isa. 55:5; Ezek. 36:36; 37:28.

[16]  M. S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007), 68.

[17]  Rom. 11: 25-26.

[18]  Rom.11:26–29, quoting Is. 59:20–21.

[19] 2 Thess. 1:5.

[20]   Matt 25:34.

[21]  Matt 13:43.

[22]  John 7: 39.

[23] Deut.13: 1-3.

[24]  Exod. 3:12.

[25]. Exod. 4:3.

[26]  Exod. 4:1–7.

[27]  Exod. 4:30–31.

[28]  John 3:2.

[29] Matt. 16:1, 4.

[30]  Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19.


A Closer Look at the Genre of the Gospels: Ancient and Modern Historiography: What are the Gospels?


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.


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.


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.



Book Review: 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus (40 Questions Series) by C. Marvin Pate

40 Questions About the Historical Jesus (40 Questions Series) by C. Marvin Pate,

2015, 395pp.

Over the last twenty years I have read a slew of books on The Historical Jesus. I was already familiar with Pate’s book Communities of the Last Days: The Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament & the Story of Israel. It has been a nice addition to my collection of books on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Anyways, given that the publisher has provided a series with 40 questions about a specific topic, Pate covers plenty of ground with his book 40 Questions About the Historical Jesus. Part One is a section on Background Questions about the “Historical” Jesus. 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

The First Quest Period (1778-1906) operated on the assumption that the historical Jesus is not one and the same with the portrait found in the four Gospels. This was first championed by H. Samuel Reimarus in his article, written anonymously, “On the Aim of Jesus and His Disciples.” For Reimarus, the real Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher whose expectation of the soon arrival of the kingdom of God met with stunning disappointment. Christianity would have died were it not for Jesus’ disciples, who falsely claimed that Jesus arose and preached his future return and establishment of the kingdom of God. Reimarus’ study initiated the first quest for the historical Jesus, a search that spawned the writings of hundreds of books in an attempt to recover the sayings and miracles of the authentic Jesus. A traditional response consisted of conservative accounts of the life of Jesus such as J. J. Hess’ three volumes on The History of the Three Last Years of the Life of Jesus (1768–72). However, this quest also was marked by some who saw the life of Jesus from a liberal, or anti-supernatural, perspective. This was espoused  by Friedrich Schleiermacher, David Friedrich Strauss,  and J. E. Renan,  to name a few. -pg. 40-41.

Also, during the 1920s, Rudolf Bultmann’s form-critical program attempted to fill the void created by the demise of the first quest for the historical Jesus. Form criticism was pioneered by F. L. Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudolph Bultmann. Schmidt’s The Framework of the Historical Jesus (1919) claimed that the framework of the gospel stories was created by the evangelists for their own purposes and was historically invalid. Martin Dibelius’ From Tradition to Gospel (1934)- pg. 43.

In what is called “The Second Quest Period” (1953-Late 1960’s), It is generally agreed that Ernst Käsemann’s celebrated paper delivered at a Marburg reunion of Bultmann’s former students in 1953, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus,” initiated the second, or new, quest for the historical Jesus. In that paper, Käsemann challenged Bultmann’s radical divide between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, arguing that the early church held the two together—the exalted and humiliated Lord. To do otherwise was to invite the label of Docetism (the heresy that said that Jesus was divine but not human)- pg. 43.

In  the “Third Quest Period”  (1970 and on), biblical scholars have embarked on what  has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather than 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. 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. Since Ben F. Meyer’s insightful study, The Aims of Jesus (1979), a third type of study of the historical Jesus has emerged, that of rooting Jesus in the Jewish culture of his day. Meyer has been followed by both Christian scholars, e.g., E. P. Sanders (Jesus and Judaism, 1985),9 G. Theissen (The Shadow of the Galilean, 1983), James Charlesworth (Jesus Within Judaism, 1988),  and especially N. T. Wright (Jesus and the People of God, 1992 and Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996),  and John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus; Mentor, Message and Miracles; Companions and Competitor), as well as Jewish scholars like Geza Vermes, whose Jesus the Jew (1973) and Jesus and the World.-pg. 50.

 The Jewish reclamation of Jesus is also a response to The Jesus Seminar. Among the seventy scholars and laypersons that have comprised the Seminar (some are deceased now),  are 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.

Pate also mentions that there have been been different views on Jesus. Some have viewed him as an apocalyptic preacher, Gnostic teacher, or Cynic sage. Pate thinks the evidence demonstrates that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. However, Jesus is the Messiah who announced the dawning of the kingdom of God in his life and ministry—a kingdom that will be fully unveiled at his parousia- pg. 66-67.

Pate’s next section is about the sources we have for Jesus. He discusses the oral tradition (my favorite chapter), the Old Testament expectations for a coming Messiah, the canonical Gospels, sources outside the New Testament, the Apocrypha and Gnostic Gospels, archaeology, and what I can tell us about Jesus,  Paul as a source for Jesus, etc. I should note that in the chapter on oral tradition, Pate mentions the work of Richard Bauckham and others who have shown the failings of the form criticism model espoused by Rudolph Bultmann and others.  He notes that “the Jesus of history and Christ of faith—are one and the same; this owing to the reliability of the oral tradition that informs our canonical text.”- pg. 111.

The remaining sections/chapters are about the historical life of Jesus. The reader gets to learn about the birth of Jesus, the family of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, the actual teachings of Jesus, his temptations, transfiguration, his cleansing of the Temple, death, and resurrection, ascension, His message about his return, etc. Pate also gives the reader a snapshot of the Four Gospels by discussing the “main message” of each one.

A book on 40 questions means each chapter is short. But despite the length of the chapters, I think Pate gives the reader some fine starting points to chew on. There are also reflection questions at the end of each chapter. In the end, I would call this book a “comprehensive” treatment on the topic. While this is an excellent starting point for anyone new to the topic, it is also a wonderful resource for those who are looking to add to their collection on the topic.  


Interview with Dr. Craig Blomberg: Can We Still Believe in God?

In this clip, I interview Dr. Craig Blomberg who is a professor of New Testament Studies at Denver Seminary. He has written a slew of books, including The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. In this clip, we discuss his book called Can We Still Believe in God? Answering 10 Contemporary Challenges to Christianity.


Why the Resurrection of Jesus is the Best Explanation


When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. So let’s take a look at if the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an adequate explanation for the following data:

#1:The Resurrection of Jesus Explains God’s Actions in History

Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask where and when God has broken through in human history.

The last Anthony Flew said, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (see Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew.” Available from the Web site of Biola University at

Some skeptics lament that one of the reasons we can’t accept the resurrection of Jesus is because we don’t see people rising from the dead today. Firist, the entire point of the resurrection of Jesus is that it is a one-time unique event. If we had had all kinds of people rising from the dead (and not dying again as in the case of Jesus), that would not make the resurrection of Jesus unique at all.

#2: The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Explains the Post-Mortem Appearances to the Disciples:

The post- resurrection appearances are varied. We see them here:

• Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, shortly after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
• Jesus appears to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8-10)
• Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12,13; Luke 24:13-35)
• Jesus appears to Peter ( Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5)
• Jesus appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).
• Jesus again appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. At this time Thomas is present (John 20:24-29).
• Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1,2)
• Jesus is seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
• Jesus appears to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7)
• Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
• He appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:50-53).
• He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).

I find it interesting that many New Testament scholars/historians agree that the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

Allow me to mention few quotes here:

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

“That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever can agree.” (Reginald H. Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142)

Some skeptics have tried to utilize the hallucination hypothesis to explain away the resurrection appearances. To see the problems with this hypothesis, see here:

#3: The Resurrection of Jesus explains the conviction of the disciples in their proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus:

There is no reason to distrust the conviction of those that testified to having seen the risen Jesus. As we said, many historians/scholars concede that the disciples at least thought they saw the resurrected Christ. As James Warner Wallace points out in his latest book people lie or have an ulterior motive for three reasons:

1.Financial Gain: In this case, we don’t see any evidence for this. The NT shows the disciples/apostles being chased from location to location, leaving their home and families and abandoning their property and what they owned.

2. Sexual or Relational Desire: The NT does not say much about their “love lives.” There are Scriptures that speak to sexual purity and chastity.

3. Pursuit of Power:

While Christianity became a state sponsored religion in the 4th century and the Popes became powerful both politically and religiously, there is no evidence (pre 70 AD), for the early disciples pursuing power as they proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Just look at Paul’s testimony here:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” – 2 Cor. 11: 23-27

#4: The Bodily Resurrection Explains the Birth of Early Christianity/The Messianic Movement Pre-70 AD.

It is true that the old saying, “Jesus is just one of several messiah’s in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)
2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)
3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)
4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)
5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154)

Given I have written about this issue, I will briefly summarize: Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.[1]

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

Furthermore, this theme became more interesting in the discovery of what is called The Temple Scroll in 1977.This scroll is one of the longest scrolls of all that was found at Qumran. It can be observed in column 64:7-12 that the passage just mentioned in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 is seen as referring to the crucifixion. However, the theme in the Temple Scroll is expanded to include those who are crucified are cursed by God and men. It says:

“If a man passes on information about his people and betrays his people to a foreign people and does evil to his people, than you shall hang him on the wood so he dies. On the strength of two witnesses or the strength of three witnesses he shall be killed and they shall hang him on the wood. If a man has committed a capital offense and fl ees to the nations and curses his people, the Israelites, then you shall also hang him on the wood, so that he dies. Yet, they shall not let his corpse hang on the wood, but must bury it on the same day, for cursed by God and man are those who are hanged on the wood, and you shall not pollute the earth.” (2)

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. Paul could not of made it any clearer when he stated, “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:23-24). We can conclude that apart from the resurrection, the Jesus movement would of faded out very quickly (just as we see in the ones listed above).

#5: The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Explains Paul’s Christology

Paul’s Letters (dated 47 to 60 AD) are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. To see any objections to Pauline authorship, click here. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. In several of Paul’s Letters Jesus is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” 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.

Also, as pointed out by Richard Bauckham in his work on this topic, Paul believed that Jesus was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things
2. God is the Sole Creator of all things
3. God is the only being deserving of worship

So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:

1. Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things

Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

Here, Jesus is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

Jesus is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.

Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

3. Jesus as worthy of worship

As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Jesus. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship. Here is one of the earliest Christological texts:

Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

To see more on why the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for what happened to Paul, click here:


I have barely covered all the arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus. If you want to go deeper, see the online article called The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

While the Christian has a responsibility to uphold and defend the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15), Christians also are called to make daily application of the resurrection into their daily lives (Romans 6:1:7:25). If Christians understood that God wanted to radically transform their lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the world would be a different place. The Gospel is not simply a message about the death of Jesus, but his resurrection as well (1 Corinthians 15:1-12). We as Christians are called to live the resurrected life by bringing restoration and justice to a world that desperately needs hope.


1. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.
2. Roy A. Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2006), 17-18


The Shame and Embarrassment of a Crucified Messiah


It is that time of the year when many people will attend a Good Friday service this weekend. Also, since many of us think the Messiah is the fulfillment of Passover, some of us may attend a Passover event as well. But as many of us gather to remember the death of the Messiah and all that He has accomplished for humanity, it made me think of the following: How many cross necklaces have you seen around the necks of people? What about the crosses that are seen on the necks of movie stars and sports figures? If you ask the average person who is wearing a cross what it means, they may say the following:

” Jesus died for me on the cross”

” The cross is a symbol of love”

“The cross saved me”

The First Century

I don’t doubt the sincerity of some of these people. But what is interesting is that many of us don’t know how the cross was viewed in the first century. Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. According to Cicero (Vern. 2.5.168) and Josephus (J. W. 7.203), crucifixion was the worst form of death. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion to end the uprising of any revolts. Thus, the primary political and social purpose of crucifixion was deterrence. The concept of deterrence has two key assumptions: The first is that specific punishments imposed on offenders will “deter” or prevent them from committing further crimes. The second is that fear of punishment will prevent others from committing similar crimes.

But for the Jewish person, there is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:13-14 is rather telling:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

The very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. So what is seen in these verses is not the execution itself but what is done to the body after the person is executed–it is displayed as a warning to others. For Jewish people at the time of Paul, the crucified victim could be viewed as either a victim or a villain. If it is the latter, the person being condemned as a criminal would be considered cursed by God because of their actions.

Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

 Even well known skeptical scholar Bart Ehmran says:

“Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened” (2) 

A Dead Messiah and Sheol

In light of what Jewish people knew about Sheol  (the realm of the dead), a dead Messiah was an absurdity. In the Jewish Scriptures, the pictures of the fate of the wicked are presented as consciously suffering in Sheol, or the grave. It is also described as the place that both the righteous and the unrighteous are expected to go upon death (Ps. 89:48). God does no wonders for those that are in Sheol; those that are there cannot praise God. Let’s look at some of these passages:

1. “For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks?” (Ps. 6:5).


2. “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your faithfulness?” (Ps. 30:9).


3. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You? Selah. Will Your loving-kindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Abaddon?” (Ps. 88:10-11).


4. “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor do any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).


5. “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (Isa. 38:18).”

It can be concluded that any attempt to proclaim a dead Messiah who had been consigned to Sheol would have created a tremendous barrier for a Jewish person in Second Temple Period. Furthermore, a dead Messiah would have extinguished any hopes of the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.

Blessing and Curses

In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse. The blessing is for those who obey the stipulations of the covenant while the curse is upon those who violate the stipulations.

Deuteronomy 27:6 says “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all the commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:1-2).

For a Jewish person to be blessed was to be in the presence of God and enjoy his presence and all the benefits that this entailed.  The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, to be cursed was to be outside the presence of God. To be declared “unclean” or defiled meant was an offense to the Jewish people. So for the Messiah to die on a crucifixion stake was not a sign of blessing from God. If anything, it was the opposite.


“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “- Luke 9: 23

The death of the Messiah may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, to a Jewish person, a Messiah who was crucified was not a badge of honor. In reality it was a sign of rejection and embarrassment. When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the cross and self-denial here, they knew to make Jesus the Lord of their lives was going to be a life of commitment and an abandonment of autonomy.


1. Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 144-145).

2. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),  221-222.


A Look at the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus

When it comes to the formation of the early Jesus movement, 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7  is a crucial element to the proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) One key in examining the early sources for the life of Christ is to take into account the Jewish culture in which they were birthed. As Paul Barnett notes, “The milieu of early Christianity in which Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written was ‘rabbinic.’” (2)

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

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.”

The word “received” παραλαμβάνω (a rabbinical term) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

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

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

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin. Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (3).

E.P. Sanders also says:

Paul’s letters were written earlier than the gospels, and so his reference to the Twelve is the earliest evidence. It comes in a passage that he repeats as ‘tradition’, and is thus to be traced back to the earliest days of the movement. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives the list of resurrection appearances that had been handed down to him. (4)

And Crossan’s partner Robert Funk says:

The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” — Robert Funk co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.(5)

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel discusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive. (6)

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor.1:21-22)

Once again, critical scholars including those who are not even Christians say the following about the death/ crucifixion of Jesus:

I will start with two quotes from Bart Ehrman:

The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. For some it’s simply too horrific to affirm. For others it’s an elaborate conspiracy to coerce religious sympathy. But the deniers live in a historical dreamworld.(7)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (8)

Gerd Ludemann (Atheist):

The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here. (9)

Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar:

Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. (10)

Dale Martin:

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (11)

In his book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman goes on to say:

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41.

If we apply these comments to the death of Jesus we have:

The Burial of Jesus

Some skeptics assume since Jesus came from a poor family, his body would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes, which was typically in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. In other words, according to this hypothesis, although Jesus may have been placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea on late Friday, his body would have then been moved to its final location – a graveyard reserved for criminals – by Saturday night. From this point, it is argued the finding of the empty tomb by the disciples of Jesus resulted in an erroneous conclusion that Jesus had been resurrected. In response, archaeologist Jodi Magness, a non- religious Jewish archaeologist who specializes in the ossuaries at the time of Jesus says the following:

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb.” (12)

 Interestingly enough. Magness goes on to say:

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence.” (13)

 Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson concurs by saying:

“The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been the normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities. The truth is the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable.” (14)

Even though Magness and Gibson support the burial account in the Gospels, the question is whether there is any evidence for the practice of moving criminals after a “temporary” burial to a graveyard for criminals. The question is why would Joseph himself want to move the body of Jesus to a temporary graveyard? There is no way to know if Joseph had known some future family members or Joseph himself might die. Thus, he may need the tomb he had utilized for Jesus for a future purpose? Perhaps this would be a reason to relocate the body of Jesus.

Once again, one can assert all the possibilities they want. But the question is whether there is good evidence for such possibilities. We can conclude with the following: All four canonical Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and, after Pilate granted his request, he wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb. At best, a skeptic can throw out the relocation hypothesis as a possibility. But even if skeptics want to postulate that his body was buried in a trench grave, it is a worthless apologetic on their part. Why do I say this? Whether Jesus was buried in a pit or trench grave, or it happens the Gospels are correct about the burial story, skeptics will still have to provide an account for the resurrection appearances and the entire story.

The Resurrection Appearances

 Here we must examine explanations for the appearances. First, let’s observe the list of appearances:

• Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, shortly after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
• Jesus appears to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8-10)
• Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12,13; Luke 24:13-35)
• Jesus appears to Peter ( Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5)
• Jesus appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).
• Jesus again appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. At this time Thomas is present (John 20:24-29).
• Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1,2)
• Jesus is seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
• Jesus appears to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7)
• Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
• He appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:50-53).
• He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).

As far as the appearances of Jesus, once again, many critical scholars agree that the disciples at least thought they saw the risen Jesus. For example:

E.P. Sanders:

That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it. (15)

Bart Ehrman:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection. (16)

Ehrman also says:

We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that   he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead. (17)

 Ehrman also goes onto say:  

 Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. (18)

Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19). (19)

Reginald Fuller:

The disciples thought that they had witnessed Jesus’ appearances, which, however they are explained, “is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree. [1] Even the most skeptical historian” must do one more thing: “postulate some other event” that is not the disciples’ faith, but the reason for their faith, in order to account for their experiences.  Of course, both natural and supernatural options have been proposed. (20)

Gerd Lüdemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection says:

It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ. (21)

What is the best explanation for the resurrection appearances? See our post called What Did The Disciples Mean When They Say “Jesus is Risen”


1.Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970), 62.

2.Barnett, P.W., Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1997), 138.

3. Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 254.

4. Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books 1993).

5. Hoover, R.W. and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (Santa Rosa,CA: Polebridge Press, 1998), 466.

6. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

7.  Ehrman, B.  interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., “Who Changed The New Testament and Why”, The Infidel Guy Show, 2008. Available at :}

8. ____.  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,(Third  Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 221-222.

9. Lüdemann, G. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry(Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 50.

10. Crossan,  J. D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45.  While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus. But it should be noted that while the manuscript tradition of Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus  being crucified under Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus confirmed Jesus died by crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), under Pilate’s governship (26-36 CE).

11. Martin,  D., New Testament History and Literature: The Open Yale Courses Series (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2012), 181.

12. Magness, J. Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2011), 170.

13. Ibid, 171.

14.  Gibson, S.  The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (New York: HarperOne. 2009), 52.

15. Sanders, E.P.,  The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books. 1993), 279-280.

16. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,(Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004), 276.

17._______.  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230.

18. Ibid, 231.

19. Ehrman,  The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,282.

20.  Fuller, R. The Foundations of New Testament Christology(New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142.

21. Lüdemann, G. What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80. 22.