The Trinity on Thursday – Time, Trinity and Text

A common objection from some of my muslim friends is that the doctrine of the Trinity stems solely from one place in the Bible – 1 John 5:7.

John

In the King James version (KJV) of the Bible – there is a piece of text which is super trinitarian in its implications – except it shouldn’t be there. That’s why it is in the KJV as above but not in the New International Version (NIV) or most others for that matter. Many though not all Muslims think that this piece of text, this verse, is the sole reason Christians declare that God is Triune – Three co-eternal and co-equal persons in the one being of God. This is a strong objection.

Let’s think about that argument and it’s implications. It would mean that in the earliest centuries to support the errant teaching of the Trinity idea – someone inserted this bogus text into the Holy Bible. No insertion into the text and there would have been no Trinity and certainly no scriptural warrant for being trinitarian. But  the argument goes, it was inserted and that’s why we have the doctrine of the Trinity.

But this is simply not the case. The verse no where to be seen in any greek text, appeared in the body of the text no earlier than the 15th century and only as a margin note – a schema of understanding, a devotional piece some time before that. No where near the earliest centuries of the church. And the understanding of the divinity of the Son and the Spirt was emerging very early on in the christian community, being described at the end of the second century using the word Trinity. No where near the time of this textual insertion.

time

For source click the image

And another thing I am a trinitarian Christian because I seek to read the whole Bible fairly and carefully and I actually can’t say I have ever read this so called ‘only verse that leads to the Trinity understanding’. Go figure. No bogus verse and yet trinitarian.

See Dr. Dan Wallace’s scholarly treatment of this issue below or click here

“5:7 For there are three that testify, 5:8 the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three are in agreement.”  ‑‑NET Bible

Before τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, the Textus Receptus reads ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ πατήρ, ὁ λόγος, καὶ τὸ ἅγιον πνεῦμα, καὶ οὗτοι οἱ τρεῖς ἕν εἰσι. 5·8 καὶ τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες ἐν τῇ γῇ (“in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 5:8 And there are three that testify on earth”). This reading, the infamous Comma Johanneum, has been known in the English-speaking world through the King James translation. However, the evidence—both external and internal—is decidedly against its authenticity. Our discussion will briefly address the external evidence.1

This longer reading is found only in eight late manuscripts, four of which have the words in a marginal note.  Most of these manuscripts (2318, 221, and [with minor variations] 61, 88, 429, 629, 636, and 918) originate from the 16th century; the earliest manuscript, codex 221 (10th century), includes the reading in a marginal note which was added sometime after the original composition. Thus, there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516. Indeed, the reading appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either manuscript, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until AD 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant, since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity.2 The reading seems to have arisen in a fourth century Latin homily in which the text was allegorized to refer to members of the Trinity.  From there, it made its way into copies of the Latin Vulgate, the text used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Trinitarian formula (known as the Comma Johanneum) made its way into the third edition of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1522) because of pressure from the Catholic Church. After his first edition appeared (1516), there arose such a furor over the absence of the Comma that Erasmus needed to defend himself. He argued that he did not put in the Comma because he found no Greek manuscripts that included it. Once one was produced (codex 61, written by one Roy or Froy at Oxford in c. 1520),3 Erasmus apparently felt obliged to include the reading. He became aware of this manuscript sometime between May of 1520 and September of 1521. In his annotations to his third edition he does not protest the rendering now in his text,4 as though it were made to order; but he does defend himself from the charge of indolence, noting that he had taken care to find whatever manuscripts he could for the production of his Greek New Testament. In the final analysis, Erasmus probably altered the text because of politico-theologico-economic concerns: he did not want his reputation ruined, nor his Novum Instrumentum to go unsold.

Modern advocates of the Textus Receptus and KJV generally argue for the inclusion of the Comma Johanneum on the basis of heretical motivation by scribes who did not include it. But these same scribes elsewhere include thoroughly orthodox readings—even in places where the TR/Byzantine manuscripts lack them. Further, these KJV advocates argue theologically from the position of divine preservation: since this verse is in the TR, it must be original. But this approach is circular, presupposing as it does that the TR = the original text. Further, it puts these Protestant proponents in the awkward and self-contradictory position of having to affirm that the Roman Catholic humanist, Erasmus, was just as inspired as the apostles, for on several occasions he invented readings—due either to carelessness or lack of Greek manuscripts (in particular, for the last six verses of Revelation Erasmus had to back-translate from Latin to Greek).

In reality, the issue is history, not heresy: How can one argue that the Comma Johanneum must go back to the original text when it did not appear until the 16th century in any Greek manuscripts? Such a stance does not do justice to the gospel: faith must be rooted in history. To argue that the Comma must be authentic is Bultmannian in its method, for it ignores history at every level.  As such, it has very little to do with biblical Christianity, for a biblical faith is one that is rooted in history.

Significantly, the German translation done by Luther was based on Erasmus’ second edition (1519) and lacked the Comma. But the KJV translators, basing their work principally on Theodore Beza’s 10th edition of the Greek NT (1598), a work which itself was fundamentally based on Erasmus’ third and later editions (and Stephanus’ editions), popularized the Comma for the English-speaking world. Thus, the Comma Johanneum has been a battleground for English-speaking Christians more than for others.

Unfortunately, for many, the Comma and other similar passages have become such emotional baggage that is dragged around whenever the Bible is read that a knee-jerk reaction and ad hominem argumentation becomes the first and only way that they can process this issue. Sadly, neither empirical evidence nor reason can dissuade them from their views. The irony is that their very clinging to tradition at all costs (namely, of an outmoded translation which, though a literary monument in its day, is now like a Model T on the Autobahn) emulates Roman Catholicism in its regard for tradition.5 If the King James translators knew that this would be the result nearly four hundred years after the completion of their work, they’d be writhing in their graves.


11For a detailed discussion, see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 2nd ed., 647-49.

2Not only the ancient orthodox writers, but also modern orthodox scholars would of course be delighted if this reading were the original one. But the fact is that the evidence simply does not support the Trinitarian formula here—and these orthodox scholars just happen to hold to the reasonable position that it is essential to affirm what the Bible affirms where it affirms it, rather than create such affirmations ex nihilo. That KJV advocates have charged modern translations with heresy because they lack the Comma is a house of cards, for the same translators who have worked on the NIV, NASB, or NET (as well as many other translations) have written several articles and books affirming the Trinity.

3This manuscript which contains the entire New Testament is now housed in Dublin. It has been examined so often at this one place that the book now reportedly falls open naturally to 1 John 5.

4That Erasmus made such a protest or that he had explicitly promised to include the Comma is an overstatement of the evidence, though the converse of this can be said to be true: Erasmus refused to put this in his without Greek manuscript support.

5 Thus, TR-KJV advocates subconsciously embrace two diametrically opposed traditions: when it comes to the first 1500 years of church history, they hold to a Bultmannian kind of Christianity (viz., the basis for their belief in the superiority of the Byzantine manuscripts—and in particular, the half dozen that stand behind the TR—has very little empirical substance of historical worth). Once such readings became a part of tradition, however, by way of the TR, the argument shifts to one of tradition rather than non-empirical fideism. Neither basis, of course, resembles Protestantism.

See also a follow up piece of Dr. Wallace’s here.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 5

This will be the last in the Eichenwald Files. All the pieces I have linked to or excerpted say similar things (consistency anyone?) and are all by credible scholars – in the world of scholars. I have posted this series each week to leave a resource trail for Christians and the ‘curious and open-minded other’ to be exposed to careful, thoughtful, rigourous and defendable material. Rarely are ordinary Christians (like me) aware of such voices or exposed to them. That is one of the purposes of the Humble Donkey.

For the last File (5) I am directing you to Dr. Dan Wallace and his response to Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece.

Phil

For source click image.

You can find the full Wallace response here as well as other interesting materials by clicking here.

But here is an interesting excerpt from the section entitled:

Error 4: Simplistic Biblical Interpretation When it Suits His Purpose

Second, Eichenwald employs other simplistic interpretations to deny the NT’s affirmation of Christ’s deity. His statement that ‘form of God’ in Philippians 2.6 “could simply mean Jesus was in the image of God” betrays his ignorance about biblical interpretation. The kenosis, the hymn about the self-emptying of Christ (Phil 2.6–11) has received more scholarly interaction than perhaps any other paragraph in Paul’s writings. To claim that Jesus’ being in the form of God may mean nothing more than that he was human is entirely against the context. The hymn begins (vv. 6–7) as follows:

“who [Christ], although he was in the form of God,

he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,

but he emptied himself,

by taking on the form of a slave,

by looking like other men,

and by sharing in human nature.”

Christ’s humanity is mentioned only after he is said to have emptied himself. Thus, ‘form of God’ must mean something more than humanity. Further, the parallel lines—‘he was in the form of God’ and ‘taking on the form of a slave’—are mutually interpreting. Jesus was truly a slave of God; this is how he regarded himself (cf. Mark 10.45; Matt 20.27; 26.39). If ‘form of slave’ means ‘slave’ then ‘form of God’ may well mean ‘God.’ The rest of the hymn confirms this interpretation. Philippians 2.10–11 alludes to Isaiah 45.23, where God says, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (NRSV). Paul quotes this very text in Romans 14.11 in reference to YHWH—a book Paul wrote six or seven years prior to his letter to the Philippians. Yet in Phil 2.10–11 he says,

“at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father” (NRSV).

Now the confession is about Jesus and it is a confession that he is ‘Lord.’ Either Paul is coming perilously close to blasphemy, something that a well-trained rabbi could hardly do, or he is claiming that Jesus is indeed true deity. And to underscore the point, he notes that all those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will make this confession—language that is reminiscent of the second of the Ten Commandments, as found in Exodus 20.4: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (NRSV). The Decalogue—known as well as any Old Testament text to an orthodox Jew—is unmistakably echoed in the kenosis. To use this in reference to Jesus is only appropriate if Jesus is true deity, truly the Lord, YHWH himself.

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files 4

chinese

Click image for source

Amy Hall from the useful apologetics website and ministry Stand To Reason [Click here to go there] has picked out a piece of Dan Wallace’s critique of the Newsweek/Eichenwald Christmas piece. She has bullet pointed this short section for ease of reading and comprehension.  

I think this is an important point from Wallace as I encounter word game / Chinese Whispers / Telephone Game models being proposed as fact with regard to how the books of the New Testament and particularly the gospels were transmitted.

Click the word response below to get to Dan Wallace’s full treatment.

In his response to the now infamous Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald attacking the Bible, Dan Wallace succinctly explained why the transmission of the Bible was not like a game of Telephone (bullet point formatting added by me for ease of reading):

The title of Eichenwald’s section that deals with manuscript transmission is “Playing Telephone with the Word of God.” The implication is that the transmission of the Bible is very much like the telephone game—a parlor game every American knows. It involves a brief narrative that someone whispers to the next person in line who then whispers this to the next person, and so on for several people. Then, the last person recites out loud what he or she heard and everyone has a good laugh for how garbled the story got. But the transmission of scripture is not at all like the telephone game.

  • First, the goal of the telephone game is to see how badly the story can get misrepresented, while the goal of New Testament copying was by and large to produce very careful, accurate copies of the original.
  • Second, in the telephone game there is only one line of transmission, while with the New Testament there are multiple lines of transmission.
  • Third, one is oral, recited once in another’s ear, while the other is written, copied by a faithful scribe who then would check his or her work or have someone else do it.
  • Fourth, in the telephone game only the wording of the last person in the line can be checked, while for the New Testament textual critics have access to many of the earlier texts, some going back very close to the time of the autographs.
  • Fifth, even the ancient scribes had access to earlier texts, and would often check their work against a manuscript that was many generations older than their immediate ancestor. The average papyrus manuscript would last for a century or more. Thus, even a late second-century scribe could have potentially examined the original document he or she was copying.

If telephone were played the way New Testament transmission occurred, it would make for a ridiculously boring parlor game!

Text Tuesday – The Eichenwald Files

Over the next number of Tuesdays I am going to reblog a number of posts that respond to the pre-Christmas Newsweek slammathon on the Bible and Christianity. Although it was the pre-Christmas edition, it’s theme of ‘Christians and their everyday reading of the Bible stink, like really badly’, is not just for Christmas. It seems that it is for life.

The extensive Newsweek piece (8500 words – 14 pages), labelled by many as Newsweak because it was so badly researched, biased, unbalanced and unrepresentative of widely available credible scholarship is actaully a wonderful encapsulation of what a lot of people believe already. Typically this is because they’ve heard someone say the same sort of things many, many times before or read them somewhere like Newsweek – typically in the pre-Christmas or easter edition. Ever noticed that coincidence of the publishing industry.

So looking at thoughtful, thorough responses can be a useful exercise for the open-minded and edifying for the Christian believer.

Think

Before I link to a response to the piece, here is the link to the article which is available online by clicking here.

Go there, let it confirm some of your own thoughts, biases or whatever but then give New Testament scholar Michael Kruger a hearing by clicking his name. It’s part one of two responses by him. He is thoughtful, generous and corrective where he needs to be. Enjoy.

Text Tuesday – Is the Bible limited to 66 books?

Before my blog-break last October I had been posting (mostly re-posting other people’s thoughtful work) on the text of the new testament in particular and the Bible in general.

I plan to occasionally do that again and today is such a day. Before re-posting Rob Phillips‘ work I will give some personal context. I dialogue infrequently with some great Muslim chaps and they do love to try and tear apart the New Testament as we have it today. Howver, their concerns and criticisms have lead me to investigate this important part of the Christian faith more deeply. Much of what convincingly speaks to me has been re-posted on the Tuesday Text series – see Textual Studies in the Categories on the right hand side of the screen if you want to see more.

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Click image to source

However I love to refine my understanding and position on things as I go along. While I have regularly told muslim friends if an early letter by Paul or similar was found and could be authenticated I would be happy for it to be added to the New Testament (as such). This post has given me pause for thought on this matter. Over to you dear Baptist brother.

Rob Phillips: click here to get the source of this material

Some scholars today cast doubt over the canon of Scripture — those 66 books that the church has long held to be the complete written revelation of God. They justify their views by claiming: 1) that surviving texts of the Old and New Testaments are corrupt and therefore unreliable or 2) that early church leaders deliberately excluded certain books for personal or political reasons.

As Craig L. Blomberg responds in his book “Can We Still Believe the Bible?”: “… there is not a shred of historical evidence to support either of these claims; anyone choosing to believe them must do so by pure credulity, flying in the face of all the evidence that actually exists.”

But what if we discovered an apostolic writing that has remained hidden for the last 2,000 years?

For example, in 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul alludes to an earlier letter to fellow believers in Corinth. We don’t have that letter, nor are we aware of its specific contents. Let’s say, however, that archaeologists unearth a clay pot containing a manuscript dating from the mid-first century and fitting the description of Paul’s letter.

Should the church welcome 3 Corinthians as the 28th book of the New Testament? Not so fast.

The New Testament offers hints of the process of canonization, but little more. As Jesus prepares His followers for His passion and return to heaven, He promises to send the Holy Spirit, who will enable the disciples to remember Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26), testify further about Him (John 15:26) and proclaim truth (John 16:13).

In other words, the same Holy Spirit who authors Scripture will ensure that authentic testimonies about Jesus are written, preserved and shared.

Some New Testament books receive a great deal of scrutiny before their inclusion, most notably Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude and Revelation. And some don’t make the cut for a variety of reasons, such as the gnostic gospels of Judas, Barnabas and Thomas.

So, what criteria did the early church use as a guide? Blomberg notes three predominant requirements: apostolicity, catholicity and orthodoxy.

Apostolicity

This does not mean that every book is written by an apostle, but rather that each book is written during the apostolic age.

In addition, no book in the New Testament is more than one person removed from an apostle or another authoritative eyewitness of the life of Christ.

Mark, for example, is not an apostle, but he is a traveling companion of both Peter and Paul. Early church tradition attributes much of Mark’s Gospel to the memoirs of Peter.

Luke, in a similar manner, travels with Paul and interviews eyewitnesses of Jesus.

Catholicity

This has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” simply means “universal.” Catholicity means that believers throughout the world to which Christianity was spreading were in agreement on the value of these books –- and used them widely.

No books that were found only among one sect of Christianity or in a single geographical location are included in the New Testament canon.

Orthodoxy

This refers to the faithfulness of the books to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Blomberg writes, “It is a criterion that could not have developed if people had not recognized that the heresies afflicting the church in its earliest centuries were parasitic on orthodoxy. That is to say, the heresies developed in response to apostolic doctrine –- modifying it, challenging it, trying to refute it, supplementing it or simply rejecting it.”

By the late second century, we see lists of 20 to 22 books accepted as authoritative, increasing to 23 early in the third century, and finally to 27 by no later than AD 367, when Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, writes his Easter encyclical to the rest of the church and lists the books that Christians still accept today.

So, back to our original question: What if Paul’s earlier letter is discovered? While the letter would be instructive, and might pass the tests of apostolicity and orthodoxy, it would fail the test of catholicity. There is no evidence this letter was read widely in the early church.

The key is to remember that the Holy Spirit ultimately fixes the canon of Scripture. The tests of apostolicity, catholicity and orthodoxy do not determine which books are inspired; they simply help us discover them.

The Table: who’s it for?

CommunionReduxThis question comes out of a recent conversation with our best buds on Communion and when, if ever, one should hesitate to partake. It is something I have been thinking about for some time. A side question of who exactly can participate in communion arises and that will be my main focus in this post. I will be using the phrase ‘the table’ to describe the receiving of and participating in communion. For those wondering what is meant generally by communion within a christian context and what I am meaning by, it will become clear as we go along.

Thoughts and issues:

  1. Anyone can physically go to the table and receive the bread and wine (often grape juice) – that is obvious. That anyone can physically walk into a church worship gathering and go forward to take at the table does not mean that they should. In fact they shouldn’t and they may actually be exposing themselves to trouble in doing this.
  2. Firstly no one gets to the table in the true spiritual sense except by their being an adopted child of God. By this I mean that there are spiritual realities and benefits at the table that can only be accessed if the person is of the faith and is receiving said benefits by faith.
  3. So by a kind of membership and by a kind of remembering coupled with believing in what is remembered, spiritual realities – blessings and graces, are available to them – the believing member who remembers.
  4. And there is a right way for such a christian believer to approach the table. In faith, remembering what it symbolises and in fact is, and remembering what has made it possible. Firstly, what it symbolises and is. It is two things and the interplay between them is necessary to keep in mind and beautiful to behold. The first thing that it is – is drama – a double re-enactment. On the night before Jesus was crucified, he took a cup and took bread and spoke of them as being his body and blood. Body and blood being broken and being poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Spoken and broken.
  5. Hours later he would be nailed to a cross where his body was broken and his blood poured out. Broken and bled. The table re-enacts and captures both these realities – the last supper and the last brutal hours of Jesus’ life.
  6. But another thing the table is is a family gathering. Brothers and sisters together sharing the communion they have together before their heavenly Father who sent his eternal Son to bring others into this family relationship. Jesus is, in a very real sense, our elder brother. The Father and the Son have made family membership available to all  – by invitation only. The invitation is the Gospel. See my posts on the Gospel for clarity on what this actually means.
  7. If there are three components (and there are more) to the table this should help us answer the key question of who should participate in the table and what state this participation demands.
  8. Recapping, there are three components to the table a) the re-enactment of the Last supper of Jesus b) the remembering of the last hours of Jesus c) and it is the family meal for those doing the first two and rembering and receiving the benefits of them both with gladness.
  9. The answer to the question who can participate and receive is clear when we remember all three of these. The family members – the christian believers can and should enjoy the table and its benefits. They should approach the table in faith and in good conscience – being at peace with their God and his people. To approach otherwise is inviting trouble and the scripture speaks of physical implications of demeaning the table by a poor approach.
  10. The non-believer however should not participate at the table at all. The believers should support the non believing visitor in understandiing what is open to them and what is not and why? Actually, something greater than the table is open to them and through it and after it, the table becomes open to them.
  11. If the Gospel is the door to the house, the table is something enjoyed having entered the house by the door.
  12. This is actually the place of great confusion, often emotional confusion for many christians – unnecessarily so. Many christians wish for the table to be accessible to all – christian believers and non christians. They are motivated wonderfully but mistaken woefully. The motivation comes from the true understanding that Jesus is for all, that on the cross as his arms were forcefully kept apart through the nails of execution, he was opening his arms to all mankind to come to him for forgiveness, for restoration, for love and for life.
  13. All true. However they make the simple mistake of treating the table like it is an invitation to Christ. Christ turns away none who would come. Then none should be turned away from the table – Christ’s table. For such a person the wooden table and the wooden cross have become one and the same. No christian would turn away anyone from going close to the fountain of forgiveness – the cross and so it should be with the table. Such a conflation of two wonderful things is highly problematic and is in danger of leaving the seeking, wondering, searching non-christian with a sense of welcome but without reality.
  14. An inappropriate understanding leads to inappropriate guidance. When I say the non christian does not have access to the table, I am not saying he does not have access to Christ and his salvation. I am in fact saying and shouting that he has. And having received Christ’s salvation through repentance and faith, he then has access to a great many things, one of which is the table. First things first. Faith first, then the fruits of the faith. If you invite someone to the fruits without first encountering the gardener whose fruit it is – you are at risk of demeaning the fruit, the gardener, the faith community and the seeker.
  15. Communion is therefore exclusive. It is an insiders meal. Christ is exclusive. Exclusively for all.
  16. All outsiders may come via the wooden cross to the wooden table. But none may come directly to the table. What sense would it make to them. See the scriptures below – see their obvious context and apllication.
  17. Jesus said to his disciples – Do this in memory of me. The outsider, the non disciple is not asked to do this in memory of him. Of course I can hear the ‘proving’ testimony being advanced with haste. It goes something like this “My friend or I came to faith eventually in Christ after receiving or after a season of participation at the table, it is what drew me”.
  18. I delight in and don’t doubt your wonderful arrival in Christ. But the vageries of your journey, like mine with all its quirks should not be seen as normative or necessary or recommendable. That we arrived in Christ, the one who said Come unto me, is the repeatable, necessary, recommendable step.
  19. The table is exclusively for those who profess Christ (as Saviour and LORD). The table is a family meal. For the family of God in Christ – who have made this profession.
  20. Look at the verses – the activiity of partaking, breaking bread, is among the believers. Not among the interested, the seeker, the one who physical can go to the table but the one who has a rightful, blood bought, family space at the table.

1 Corinthians 11:28 ESV

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Acts 2:42 ESV

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Acts 20:7 ESV

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Acts 20:11 ESV

And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.

1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Acts 2:42-47 ESV

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

 

Text Tuesday – Ten problematic red letters

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For source of image – click it

 There is a method of marking out Jesus’ words in Bible publications. They are printed in red. This method is only sometimes used. On the positive side, it makes his words easier to spot and quite convenient when scanning through a page quickly. However it has its downsides. Some chrsitians have begun to elevate these red letter words above the black letter words. We can then lose context and fail to see the rest of scripture as of equal value.

I attended an exciting evening of friendly christian-muslim discussion and debate in London last night. One of the thoughts that came out from the muslim perspective was a general though not complete acceptance of the red letter words of Jesus in the Gospels. Many though not all. This is not too surpirsing because many of the sayings and teachings of Jesus would be happily endorsed by almost every religious group in the world. His teachings on love, justice, sacrifice and service are unparraleled but yet universal. Hence their attractiveness. So I understand that my muslim friends (like Hindus and Buddhists) would be very accepting of much but not all of the actual spoken words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

But I took a few minutes today to just scan through one of the gospels – Matthew – and see a few of the things my muslim friends ceratinly could not accept because of a message from 600 years after Jesus that they have an allegiance to. I think I can hear a couple of muslim friends saying “no problem” to one or two of these. But an honest reading and a sense of their meaning in the original context should deflate any such aspirations. But I do accept them because long before an ostensibly good man in a cave brought to those outside the cave, a message so contrary to Christianity, the black letters and the red letters of the Gospels were part of the literature of the world – that’s the parts that the good man in the cave would like and those he wouldn’t. I must accept them all.

10 problematic statements of Jesus (red letter) for our muslim friends:

  1.  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Matthew 11:27
  2.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:5-8
  3. He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:39-42
  4. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 13:40-43
  5. Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10
  6. The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life. Matthew 17:22-23
  7. We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life! Matthew 20:18-19
  8. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28
  9.  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Matthew 26:32
  10. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

Text Tuesday – those pesky scribes

Very interesting talk from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace – How badly did the scribes change the New Testament?

One of my pieces of learning over this last year is in regard to what must be believed, can be believed and how some things are to be believed – by Christians. The corollary of this is knowing what is not being believed. I want to post some simple thoughts soon on how we as Christians can impose on ourselves somethings in regard to belief that we don’t have to – but we seem to do it enthusiastically and with ill effect. It is important to note that a great many interested parties have vested interest in ensuring we fall prey to these impositions. I will hopefully get to this soon – apples and oranges will be the theme.

Text Tuesday: Textual Criticism, the New Testament, and the Qur’an

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Dr. Small’s book as pictured is an abridgement of the larger version reviewed by Dr. Hurtado.

For Christians thinking about the New Testament in terms of its textual landscape, it is worth clicking through to Larry Hurtado’s blog below to read his post in full. Dr. Hurtado is a scholar of the New Testament and Christian Origins.

If you have the priviledge of discussing texts – biblical and quaranic with good Muslim folk – it is an especially interesting read. The two key points for me (briefly mentioned) are about the role of the presence or absence of ‘state sponsorship’ for want of a better phrase and also the desire and need for correctives that arose in both traditions. In Islam – this was toward the text (I am thinking about Uthman) and in Christianity, this was toward belief and doctrine – (I am thinking about the great church councils – Nicea for example). The relationship between power and orthodoxy are interlinked for both communities. But both communities were exercised about potential threats to orthodoxy in different ways.

The early(ish) Islamic community embarked on its quest for textual orthodoxy in the full bloom of its power and has been consequently very successful. Whereas Christianity needed or at least saw fit to embark on its quest for doctrinal (not textual) orthodoxy relatively late and with relatively liitle power in place. These adventures in securing orthodoxy seem poorly understood by many, misrepresented by some and challenging to all – for different reasons. A key staple of Islamic rhetoric appears to be one of Islamic textual stability. A key polemic against Christianity is one of instability of doctrine and belief. But what if in spite of all the offensive and defensive bluster Christianity was somewhat more stable that its critics wish to allow and Islam was a little less stable than its adherents can allow? It certainly would make for more interesting conversations – with more learning and listening, wondering and journeying.

Over to you Dr. Hurtado.

 Textual Criticism, the New Testament, and the Qur’an

Larry Hurtado's Blog

I’ve recently reviewed a fascinating book:  Keith E. Small, Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham/Boulder/New York/Toronto/Plymouth:  Lexington Books, 2012), the review appearing in Scottish Journal of Theology in due course.  The book arises from Small’s 2008 PhD thesis, and is an impressive and stimulating work.  To engage in depth his data requires, of course, a good competence in Arabic, one of my many deficits.  But Small’s analysis and judgements seem measured, always based on evidence he proffers, and also respectful of the scholarship (both “Western” and traditional Islamic) that he so profusely engages.  My reason for mentioning the book on this blog site is that Small’s study prompts some interesting comparisons with the textual history of the New Testament.  Indeed, comparing the two textual histories (of the Qur’an and the New Testament writings) might enhance our appreciation of each one.

As an immediate comparison/contrast, note Small’s opening statement (p. 3): …

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Text Tuesday – Book Review

This is a portion of a review of Bart Ehrman’s recent book by the important New Testament and Early Christianity scholar Larry Hurtado. The review is posted in its entirety over at Christian Century.

 

Lord and God

Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God

Through his words and actions, Jesus of Nazareth excited expectations that he was (or would be) the Messiah. That Jesus inspired this hope likely led the Roman authorities to crucify him. Jesus didn’t actually claim divinity for himself, and he wasn’t worshiped as such during his earthly ministry. The ascription of divine status to Jesus and the accompanying devotional practices that are reflected in the New Testament arose only after—though astonishingly soon after—Jesus’ crucifixion. Key to this development were experiences (“visions”) of the resurrected Jesus, which generated in the earliest circles of Jewish believers the conviction that God had raised Jesus (bodily) from death and exalted him to a unique heavenly status and glory. Further developments in christological belief over the ensuing decades and centuries led to the classic doctrine of the Trinity.

That, in a nutshell, is the thrust of Bart Ehrman’s book. To anyone familiar with a historical approach to the topic, these will not be novel conclusions. Indeed, they have been affirmed by a significant number of New Testament scholars, especially over the past several decades. That an astonishing “high Christology” erupted quite soon after Jesus’ crucifixion, and that the risen Jesus featured remarkably in the corporate devotional practices of earliest believers, has been increasingly recognized. As the great German New Testament scholar Martin Hengel observed about developments in the 20 years between Jesus’ execution and the earliest letters of Paul, “in essentials more happened in Christology within these few years than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history.”

However, Ehrman’s book is intended for readers generally unacquainted with this scholarly work. Among those readers he obviously aims to have a dramatic impact. Many Christians unacquainted with the historical data will assume that beliefs about Jesus’ divine status derive from Jesus’ own claims, and many non-Christians will likewise assume that the validity of traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus depends upon whether Jesus actually made corresponding claims. For both kinds of readers, the “news” that Jesus didn’t actually make the sort of claims for himself that earliest believers made about him may seem somewhat sensational.

As in his other popular books, Ehrman clearly seeks not simply to inform but also to stir controversy among this varied readership. More specifically, he hopes to startle naive traditionalist Christians, nettle anxious apologists of Christian faith, and reassure fellow agnostics (Ehrman’s self-description) and skeptics that there is justification for their doubt. (He is obviously able to stir a response: published almost simultaneously with this book is a multiauthor riposte, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature, released by Zondervan.)

Ehrman’s polemical agenda may well make for a lively discussion and a marketable book, but it also lessens somewhat his ability to give a balanced historical picture. Ehrman, who teaches at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, gained prominence by way of a string of books with a similarly sensational tone aimed at a general readership on a variety of topics—variants in New Testament manuscripts (Misquoting Jesus), the problem of evil (God’s Problem), and pseudonymous writings in the Bible (Forged). These books generated appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and phenomenal sales, at least compared to most books by scholars. In all these works he makes frequent reference to his own journey from naive and fundamentalist Christian to voluble (but generally genial) agnostic. Along with (and as another result of) his popular books, he often engages in public debates with Christian apologists, adding to his public stature.

In those prior books, Ehrman drew more directly on his own scholarly expertise. In this one he focuses on matters on which he himself has not been a noted contributor. He draws heavily (and respectfully) on the work of a number of other scholars (including my own work, such as Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity) who in recent decades have probed the origins of belief in Jesus as divine. Ehrman is often good at making scholarly arguments accessible. Unfortunately, in a few matters he oversimplifies or misconstrues things, and in other cases his claims and arguments appear one-sided.

An example of oversimplifying: in the first chapter Ehrman rightly notes that the Roman world was full of gods and deified humans (especially deified rulers), and he suggests that this phenomenon helps explain the emergence of beliefs about Jesus as divine. But he fails to indicate that for Roman-era Jews the plurality of deities and demigods and the practice of deifying rulers were repellent, even blasphemous. More of an explanation is needed as to how the multiplicity of deities in the Roman environment could have been a relevant and facilitating factor for considering Jesus divine in the circles of devout Jews among whom (as Ehrman readily grants) the divinity of Jesus was first asserted.

more …

Tuesday Text 15 – Canon Misconceptions

From the wonderful and surprisingly young scholar Michael J. Kruger over at Canon Fodder.

Each one is hyperlinked to the original and bears some time getting to know each one more fully.

  1. The Term “Canon” Can Only Refer to a Fixed, Closed List of Books
  2. Nothing in Early Christianity Dictated That There Would be a Canon
  3. The New Testament Authors Did Not Think They Were Writing Scripture
  4. New Testament Books Were Not Regarded as Scriptural Until Around 200 A.D.
  5. Early Christians Disagreed Widely over the Books Which Made It into the Canon
  6. In the Early Stages, Apocryphal Books Were as Popular as the Canonical Books
  7. Christians Had No Basis to Distinguish Heresy from Orthodoxy Until the Fourth Century
  8. Early Christianity was an Oral Religion and Therefore Would Have Resisted Writing Things Down
  9. The Canonical Gospels Were Certainly Not Written by the Individuals Named in Their Titles
  10. Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 A.D.) is the First Complete List of New Testament Books

Text Tuesday 10 to 13 – The Gospels as Histories

Calling very serious christians – here is a quite academic series of talks from a very serious scholar. They are above my head but so what! I am indebted to and can confirm the advice of John Piper about reading above your level. Your level does lift over time. I can read stuff today that I couldn’t have imagined being able to engage with 5 and 10 years ago. Also while reading above your level – you do get some of the things and as you push ahead you begin to gets stuff your earlier had to gloss over.

So watching lectures is kinda’ the same deal and I encourage you to read, think and converse above your level. Big ideas under consideration are like muscles worked out in the gym. Under strain, there is growth. I certainly prefer books to running machines, though I need both.

They are all over 60 minutes so treat them like a study series and watch one a week and repeat it within the week of viewing to maximise opportunites for increased understanding.

Richard Bauckham Lecture 1 – The Gospels as Historical Biography

Richard Bauckham Lecture 2 – The Gospels as History from Below – Part 1

Richard Bauckham Lecture 3 – The Gospels as History from Below – Part 2

Richard Bauckham Lecture 4 – The Gospels as Micro History & Perspectival History

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Text Tuesday 8 – Historicity of the New Testament

TestThis post of someone else’s valuable thoughts and work continues on the theme of reliability and dependability of the texts that tell us about the birth, life, death, resurrection of the man Jesus the worlds Messiah.  Worth thinking about, whether you believe in Him or not.

Historicity of the New Testament – by James M. Rochford [footnotes at original article]

The gospels and epistles are a historically reliable record of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. There are three tests in which all historical documents are subjected in order to determine their reliability:

A. The Bibliographical Test

B. The Internal Test

C. The External Test

Let’s begin with the first test:

A. Bibliographical Test

The bibliographical test (also called lower criticism or textual criticism) asks if the manuscripts from the first-century were accurately transmitted to us today. Was the original NT documents distorted over time?

Many modern people believe that the New Testament was passed down to us like a game of Telephone.[1] I’m sure you remember the game of telephone from grade school. You might begin with the phrase, “Games are played in this space” and you end with the phrase, “James has an ugly face…” (at least, that’s how I remember it from grade school). By whispering the phrase from person to person, the message becomes distorted and unintelligible. Critic Bart Ehrman estimates that there are roughly 400,000 variations in the New Testament.[2] He writes, “There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”[3] However, this claim is misleading for a number of reasons:

First, the reason why we have so many variations in the New Testament documents is because we have so many manuscripts. Textual critic Daniel Wallace observes, “No classical Greek or Latin text has nearly as many variants, because they don’t have nearly as many manuscripts. With virtually every new manuscript discovery, new variants are found. If there was only one copy of the New Testament in existence, it would have zero variants.”[4] This objection is similar to criticizing a muscle car for burning too much fuel. The engineer might retort: “The only reason this car burns so much fuel is that it burns so much rubber!” In the same way, Ehrman’s criticism actually serves to demonstrate one of the greatest strengths of the New Testament documents: the thousands of manuscripts that support it.

To read the rest of this interesting and comprehensive article at evidence unseen – click here

Text Tuesday 7 – What is the truth about alleged contradictions in the Gospels?

Week 5 and last in this valauble series from Dr. Timothy McGrew hosted by Calvary Bible Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Alleged contradictions in the Gospels? is the subject.

I have loved this series and not just because of Dr. McGrew’s jumpers (pullovers / sweaters) but also getting to write the lovely word kalamazoo 6 times – this being the sixth.

Week 05, Powerpoint, Feb 17, 2013.pdf

Week 05, Resources, Feb 17 2013.pdf

Text Tuesday 6 – What about the alleged errors in the Gospels?

Week 4 with the Dr. Timothy McGrew series at Calvary Bible Church, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Alleged errors in the Gospels? is the subject.

Resources:

Week 04, PowerPoint, Feb 10 2013.pdf

Week 04, Resources, Feb 10 2013.pdf

Text Tuesday 5 – Is there Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels?

Week 3 of the McGrew series at Calvary Bible Church Kalamazoo, Michigan.

This week the question being addressed is Is there Internal Evidence for the Truth of the Gospels?

Resources:

Week 03, PowerPoint, Feb 03 2013.pdf

Week 03, Resources, Feb 03 2013.pdf

Text Tuesday 4 – Is there external, historical evidence for the truth of the Gospels?

Continuing the series by Dr. Timothy McGrew delivered over at Calvary Bible Church Kalamazoo, Michigan.

This is week 2 of their series – Is there external, historical evidence for the truth of the Gospels?

 

Resources referenced in the talk available in PDF form.

Week 02, PowerPoint, Jan 20 2013.pdf

Week 02, Resources, Jan 20 2013.pdf

Text Tuesday 3 – Who wrote the Gospels?

This is the first of a very good and well resourced series of talks entitled The Gospels & Apologetics by Dr. Timothy McGrew who delivered this series at Calvary Bible Church in Kalamazoo Michigan USA.

The series is accessible but demands attention and is worthy of return trips. The resources accompanying the series – capturing and going beyond the series are invaluable and great to find in one place.

Here is the outline of the 5 week series which I hope to host here each Tuesday:

1) Who wrote the Gospels?

2) Is there external, historical evidence for the truth of the Gospels?

3) Is there internal evidence for the truth of the Gospels?

4) What is the truth about alleged historical errors in the Gospels?

5) What is the truth about alleged contradictions in the Gospels?

All the delivery work is by Dr. McGrew and the setup over at Calvary Bible Church by their team, whom I am grateful to for their work – which I am just posting here to make available to my readership, such as it is.

Dr. McGrew’s resources for Who wrote the Gospels? is as follows:

Week 01, PowerPoint, Jan 13 2013.pdf

Week 01, Resources, Jan 13 2013.pdf

Text Tuesday 2 – Ten Basic Facts About the New Testament Canon

Calling serious christians – do check out these Ten Basic Facts About the New Testament Canon that Every Christian Should Memorise below and get all the links directly at Michael Kruger over at Canon Fodder

Dr. Kruger is a very important scholar and thinker in the world of New Testament canon and textual studies. Spend any time with a thinking or reworking atheist or muslim and you will know these are real issues. A reworker is someone who hears something somewhere – usually on the internet – and just repeats it ad infinitum inspite of any clarification or counter arguments offered.

Without prior thought, the christian can be so easily and unecessarily disadvantaged and left stuttering our way through an awkward discussion – with a one way train of false understandings bearing down on you. In the world of healthcare there is a very famous piece of academic work entitled ‘Information, a Prescription Against Pain’. In the world of ‘truthcare’ the same is true. Have good information to offer to questions, assertions and false notions. Actually that’s what the Humble Donkey blog is about. Resources – a presciption against Pain.

Clicking any of the Ten below will bring you to the full treatment of that fact. Thank you Dr. Kruger.

Michael Kruger

For the last month or so, I have been working through a new series on the NT canon designed to help Christians understand ten basic facts about its origins.  This series is designed for a lay-level audience and hopefully could prove helpful in a conversation one might have with a skeptical friend.

Given that there are already four installments in this series, I thought would be helpful to have them listed all in one spot.  Thus, I will list the current installments below, and plan to update this list as the series progresses.  Also, note that the bottom left of my website has a link to all my blog series.

#1: “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”

#2: “Apocryphal Writings are All Written in the Second Century or Later”

#3: “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”

#4: “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”

#5: “The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”

#6: “At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of our 27 NT books”

#7: “Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”

#8: “The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”

#9: “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”

#10 “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating.”

Truth is so obscured nowdays