Saturday, February 29, 2020

What Is The Earliest Evidence For Christianity?

Let us then behold the earliest evidence for Christianity:

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
he was buried . . .
he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .
he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time. . . .
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Listed above is what scholars argue is the actual creedal tradition(s) Paul received, without Paul’s additional words and comments. This is a new discovery. Even New Testament scholar (and atheist) Gerd L├╝demann called this discovery “one of the great achievements of recent New Testament scholarship.” The early Church Fathers, medieval theologians, and reformers all knew, quoted, and commented on 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, yet it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that anyone realized it wasn’t originally composed by Paul, but was instead a creedal tradition Paul had received more than a decade before AD 49 or 50, when he planted the Corinthian church.

The two main reasons for this are found within the biblical text itself.

First is the way Paul introduces it with the words “delivered” and “received” (1 Cor. 15:3). When Paul planted the church in Corinth, he delivered certain traditions to the Corinthians that further illumined the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2) he himself had received. These included some teachings and stories about Jesus (1 Cor. 7:10; 9:14; 11:1; 2 Cor. 10:1), the account of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–26), hymns (1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 8:9), and this creedal tradition on Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (1 Cor. 15:3–7).

The second major reason is linguistic. Paul uses words and phrases here that he uses nowhere else. Phrases such as “died for our sins,” “in accordance with the Scriptures,” “he was buried,” “he was raised,” “on the third day,” “he appeared,” and “the twelve” are either only used here, or, if used elsewhere, are likewise influenced by tradition.

These considerations have persuaded virtually all scholars that 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 is a pre-Pauline creedal tradition. It dates before Paul’s earliest letters. But how early?

When and Where Did Paul Receive This Tradition?

When you survey the literature, scholars from all different backgrounds and faiths (or no faith) are virtually unanimous that this creedal tradition dates, on average, to within five years of Jesus’s death. A few argue for around a decade after Jesus’s death, some for within even a year. For instance, New Testament scholar James Dunn argues, “This tradition, we can be entirely confident, was formulated as tradition within months of Jesus’s death.”

Scholars from all different backgrounds . . . are virtually unanimous that this creedal tradition dates, on average, to within five years of Jesus’s death.

I believe that Dunn has the best estimate, and that only “months” after Jesus’s crucifixion were new converts learning and memorizing this creedal formula, possibly during the church-planting movement of the apostles and their disciples. It may have formed the foundation of an introductory catechesis for new converts. Further, 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 is the creedal summary and foundation for sermons in Acts (see Acts 10:39–40; 13:28–31) and the Passion narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Where, when, and from whom did Paul receive this pearl of great price? Scholars contend it was either soon after his conversion in Damascus (AD 34) or three years later in Jerusalem (AD 37), when he spent two weeks with Peter (Gal. 1:18) and also met with James, Jesus’s brother (Gal. 1:19). I favor the latter option. It makes the most sense of how he received information such as “[the risen Christ] appeared to Cephas . . . [and] to James” (1 Cor. 15:5, 7). New Testament scholar and agnostic Bart Ehrman agrees: “This visit is one of the most likely places where Paul learned all the received traditions that he refers to and even the received traditions that we otherwise suspect are in his writings that he does not name as such.”

Friday, February 28, 2020

Luke 1:34 And The Perpetual Virginity Of Mary

        "In Luke 1:34, when Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah, she asked the question, literally translated from the Greek, “How shall this be since I know not man?” This question makes no sense unless Mary had a vow of virginity. When we consider that Mary and Joseph were already “espoused,” according to verse 27 of this same chapter, we understand Mary and Joseph already have what would be akin to a ratified marriage in the New Covenant. They were married. That would mean Joseph would have had the right to the marriage bed. Normally, after the espousal the husband would go off and prepare a home for his new bride and then come and receive her into his home where the union would be consummated. This is precisely why Joseph intended to “divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:19) when he later discovered she was pregnant. This background is significant because a newly married woman would not ask the question “How shall this be?” She would know—unless, of course, that woman had taken a vow of virginity. Mary believed the message, but wanted to know how this was going to be accomplished. This indicates she was not planning on the normal course of events for her future with Joseph." (

        First of all, the fact that Mary was a virgin at the time the angel Gabriel announced to her the news of God using her as an instrument to bring about His will does not mean that she would always remain a virgin.

        Secondly, the text says nothing about Mary making some vow, either implicitly or explicitly. That is something which Catholics have read into the text. 

        Thirdly, if Mary knew that she would forever remain a virgin, then she would have plainly said to the angel that she would never know a man. However, her response was that of an ordinary woman.

        Thirdly, the understanding of "betrothed" found in the quoted excerpt is quite different than how the term has normally been used. The Reformation Study Bible has this footnote on Matthew 1:19: "Joseph . . . resolved to divorce her quietly. Engagement was almost as binding as marriage, and infidelity during betrothal made divorce almost obligatory."

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Note On Ephesians 1:1

1:1 [In Ephesus]: the phrase is lacking in important early witnesses such as P46 (3rd cent.), and Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (4th cent.), appearing in the latter two as a fifth-century addition. Basil and Origen mention its absence from manuscripts....Without the phrase, the Greek can be rendered, as in Col 1:2, “to the holy ones and faithful brothers in Christ.”

Excerpt taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Answering The Catholic Aramaic And Greek Word Gender Argument On Matthew 16:18

        "When Matthew’s Gospel was translated from the original Aramaic to Greek, there arose a problem which did not confront the evangelist when he first composed his account of Christ’s life. In Aramaic the word kepha has the same ending whether it refers to a rock or is used as a man’s name. In Greek, though, the word for rock, petra, is feminine in gender. The translator could use it for the second appearance of kepha in the sentence, but not for the first because it would be inappropriate to give a man a feminine name. So he put a masculine ending on it, and hence Peter became Petros." (

        This argument begs the question. It is an instance of grasping at straws. Jesus Christ naming Peter the rock in being appointed to a position of supremacy and the Greek word rock being feminine are separate issues.

        If Jesus had to change the gender from feminine to masculine in order to address Peter, then all that point indicates is that (1) rock is usually feminine and (2) Peter is a male. The Greek word has a gender. It had that gender long before the authors of the New Testament associated the term with church foundations.

        The Greek New Testament does use the Aramaic Cephas in reference to Peter (1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:14). It is also true that if Matthew wanted to tell us that Peter is the rock upon which the church is built, he could have used petros twice in the same sentence ("you are petros and upon this petros I will build my church"). But two separate terms are used in Matthew 16:18 (petros and petra).

         Aramaic was not as advanced a language as the other semitic languages. It did not have an extremely rich or complex vocabulary. It could not utilize two different words in Matthew 16:18 as does the Greek. Thus, the usage of kepha in Aramaic twice is not due to some unique primacy bestowed on the Apostle Peter by Christ but to limitations in that language.

        In addition, the New Testament does apply the feminine petra to the man Jesus Christ (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:8). There are no Aramaic manuscript copies of Matthew, which means any discussion of such involves speculation. Scripture does not use the terms petros and petra interchangeably. The church is built on the revelation that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

1 Timothy 6:13-16 And The Deity Of Jesus Christ

        "I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen." (1 Timothy 6:13-16)

        This passage clearly has Jesus Christ as its focus. He is said to be the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is said to be the blessed and only Sovereign. Christ alone possessing immortality and dwelling in unapproachable light refers to His mediating the divine glory. Paul thereby equates Jesus with God Himself. Christ is life. He furnishes us with life. Steven J. Cole gives the following commentary on 1 Timothy 6:13:

        "I charge you in the presence of God ... and of Christ Jesus” (6:13). The close association of God and Christ Jesus, plus the assumed omnipresence of Christ, point to Jesus’ deity. Paul reminds Timothy that both God the Father and Christ are listening in and watching as he gives this charge to Timothy. Keeping in mind the fact that God and Christ are always with us will motivate us to live each moment to please Him, whether or not anyone else is there."

        Interestingly enough, the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower Society agrees that 1 Timothy 6:15-16 refers to Jesus Christ:

        "Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Jehovah is “the happy God” and his Son Jesus Christ is called “the happy and only Potentate.” (1 Ti 1:11; 6:15)."

        If folks like the Jehovah's Witnesses want to admit that Christ is the object of emphasis in 1 Timothy 6:13-16, then that leaves them with the dilemma of having to explain how Jesus could be King of kings and Lord of lords. There cannot be two different figures occupying this same position of authority. The only logically consistent explanation is that Jesus Christ is God incarnate.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Conundrum For Catholics And Their Abstinence From Meats During Lent

        Despite Pope Paul VI permitting bishops to modify the meat abstinence policy as they see fit in their respective jurisdictions, the idea of weekly abstinence from meats each Friday is one that still exists in the Code of Canon Law (Canons 1250-1253). Violating this commandment is considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be a mortal sin. That means a Catholic who consumes meat on Friday is destined to hell unless the sin is absolved by a priest. This restriction has been limited to Ash Wednesday and Lent in the United States since 1966 (when Paul VI issued Paenitemini). Does this mean that adherents of Rome who ate meat on Friday and failed to confess their sin to a priest before that year are in hell? Did God "bend the rules" and release these souls from hell the moment Church policy changed?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Examples Of Agreement Between Paul And The Four Gospel Narratives

        *Jesus Christ is a man (Philippians 2:6; 1 Timothy 3:16)
        *Christ is a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 2:8)
        *Belief in virgin birth implied (Galatians 4:4-5)
        *The ordinance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
        *Jesus Christ died to make atonement for our sins (Romans 4:25; 5:1-11; 1 Timothy 2:5-6)
        *He was killed, buried in a tomb, resurrected from the grave, and appeared to people (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-6)
        *Christ testified of Himself as being the promised Jewish Messiah before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13-16)
        *Jesus Christ was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2; Galatians 3:1)
        *He ascended into heaven to be glorified (Philippians 2:6; 1 Timothy 3:16)
        *Christ is known by Paul as Lord, God, and Messiah (Romans 1:4; 10:9-10; Philippians 2:6-11)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Is Blessed The Same As Happy In Psalm 1?

So the word "blessed" - what does that mean? Many moderns translate it "happy." I think that's inadequate. I don't think we have a word for it.

But I point out in Hebrew that there are two different words for "bless"...So you have barak which means "to bless", and then you have this word ashrei.

The word barak means "to be filled with the potency for life". It's the ability to reproduce. So that when God blessed the creation, it was to be fruitful and multiply. Now when you carry that over to the NT, Jesus blessed the disciples. He himself never married. He's not saying to them be fruitful and multiply physically, but be fruitful and multiply spiritually. It's a different form of the kingdom. So that's the word "to bless", barak.

Now the other "to bless" is ashrei. The word used here [in Psalm 1:1]. And that word ashrei means that you have a blessed destiny. It usually refers to the future. And that future, that blessed future, is based upon your present relationship with God. The blessed person when you use ashrei may be in deep trouble at the time...This is a quote from Eliphaz in the book of Job. This would be the Greek equivalent of ashrei - makarios. He says "Blessed is the one whom God corrects". We don't think a person who is being disciplined is particularly blessed, but that's a blessed person. "Blessed is the one whom God corrects, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty, for he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal" [Job 5:17-18]. You have a blessed future. So be thankful that you're a blessed person because God is disciplining you to give you the celestial city. You see how that's different from the word "fill you with potency with life and victory"? It's a different word.

Or another illustration is from the Greek of the Beatitudes of Jesus. Who are the blessed? It's not the way we normally think of it. "Blessed - makarioi, plural - are those who mourn, for they will be comforted...Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you...Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." (Mt 5:4, 10-12). So the blessed person is a person who has this great reward in the future. That is not translated by "happy". It's totally inadequate for that. I agree the average person doesn't understand it always, but I think it carries more than just being happy.

Professor Bruce K. Waltke, What Do "Person" And "Blessed" Mean In Psalm 1?

Friday, February 21, 2020

1 John 5:20 And The Deity Of Christ

"R. Schnackenburg,82 who has given us the best commentary on 1 John, argues strongly from the logic of the context and the flow of the argument that "This is the true God" refers to Jesus Christ. The first sentence in 5:20 ends on the note that we Christians dwell in God the Father ("Him who is true") inasmuch as we dwell in His Son Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus is the true God and eternal life. Schnackenburg argues that the second sentence of 5:20 has meaning only if it refers to Jesus; it would be tautological if it referred to God the Father. His reasoning is persuasive, and thus there is a certain probability that 1 Jn 5:20 calls Jesus God—a usage not unusual in Johannine literature."

Raymond E. Brown, Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?, p. 558

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Dilemma For Strictly Materialistic Views Of Biology

"Nothing in nature will ever simultaneously go to both low entropy and high energy at the same time. It’s a physical impossibility. Yet life had to do that. Life had to take simple chemicals and go to a state of high energy and of low entropy. That’s a physical impossibility."

Physicist Brian Miller, "Conundrums for Strictly Materialist Views of Biology"