7 Things We Know about Jesus and His Followers from Non-Biblical Sources

These 7 points are nicely summarized by Paul Barnett in his volume Is the New Testament Reliable? (IVP Academic, 2003 [second ed.], p. 34).  Notably, each fact corroborates the record of the New Testament.

1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judea during the period when Tiberius was emperor (A.D. 14-37) and Pontius Pilate was governor (A.D. 26-36).  Tacitus [Annals 15.44.2-5]

2. The movement spread from Judea to Rome. Tacitus [Ibid.]

3. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. Pliny [Letters from Bithynia, c. A.D. 110]

4. He was called “the Christ.” Josephus [Antiquities 20.197-203—an undisputed passage]

5. His followers were called “Christians.” Tacitus, Pliny [see above]

6. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome. Tacitus, Pliny [see above]

7. His brother was James. Josephus [see above]

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Atheism as Parasitic on Christianity

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“The secular myth continues with a page drawn from the eighteenth-century historian Edward Gibbon:  Christianity destroyed classical civilization and brought on a Dark Age.  Civilization escaped the Dark Ages only with the rise of the Renaissance man and science.  Secular thinking helped shake off the shackles of religion and created the modern world.  Today only the vestiges of organized religion prevent humankind from achieving its full potential.  Helping “sell” this story is the promise that secularism finally will allow total personal freedom, especially in the area of sexuality.  This is a point that [Christopher] Hitchens makes explicit at the end of his jeremiad God Is Not Great.

“. . . The good news for Christian theists is that Hitchens’s story is simple to the point of being simplistic, and they have a better story to tell.  The basic story is this: the combination of Greek philosophy and Christianity produced Christendom, which has produced most of the great goods of our world.  Christendom provides a home for both reason and meaning.  It balances law and liberty.  It makes love the central motive for human action and a reasonable God the end of that love.

“While Christians often fail, the basic ideas of Christendom keep pulling humanity back from the brink of utter tyranny or ruinous social chaos.  Christian failures create secularists, who often serve as useful in-house critics of Christian inconsistencies.  Moderate secularists often make useful and important subsidiary contributions to institutions created by Christians, such as hospitals and universities.

“At their worst, evangelistic secularists are destructive cynics parasitically living within Christian-built structures and undermining their philosophical and theological basis for existence.”

— John Mark Reynolds in Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong about the New Atheism, 102-103.

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The Chalcedonian Formula

The Chalcedonian Formula is “the theological conclusion of the Ecumenical Council held in Chalcedon (A.D. 451), which attempted to delineate the relationship between Christ’s humanity and his deity.  The church accepted the Chalcedonian formula as the orthodox statement about the person of Christ.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (IVP, 1999), 24.

Concerning the Incarnation, the creed states,

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Blessings to you as you celebrate Christ’s coming!

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Quotable — How Christianity Encourages Scientific Inquiry

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From Douglas Groothuis at the Constructive Curmudgeon:

Kenneth Samples in Without a Doubt (Baker, 2004) has aptly summarized ten ways in which Christian belief creates a hospitable environment for scientific inquiry. (I have modified them somewhat.)

1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).

2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).

3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially sustains them.

4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8).

5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1). Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.

6. Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.

7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.

8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the patterns God laid down in creation.

9. God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).

10. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17).

While Christianity and science have had their scuffles, there is nothing inherent in the Christian worldview that is inimical to science rightly understood.

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Review of Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought

Christian History gives a concise review of an informative new book on Jonathan Edwards by Edwards scholar Douglas Sweeney.

Douglas Sweeney, who teaches church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has written a most helpful book on the life, theology, and impact of Jonathan Edwards—as well as on the encouragement that Edwards can be for Christian believers today. Everyone who remained even semi-alert in high school knows about Edwards for his famous (and hair-raising) sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Those who have been paying a little more attention know that Edwards was a major figure in the colonial American revivals that are called “the Great Awakening” and also that he was a major thinker who forcefully defended traditional Christianity against secularizing forces associated with the Enlightenment. An increasing number also know of Jonathan Edwards as an extraordinary theologian and Christian philosopher because of landmark scholarly books like George Marsden’s prize-winning biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003); the great edition of Jonathan Edwards’ writing overseen by Harry Stout and Kenneth Minkema that for many years has been issuing from Yale University Press; or popular presentations in many books by John Piper, such as God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway, 2006). (Continue)

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Three Articles on Calvin by Timothy George

(Via Christianity Today)

Bonus:  John Calvin on Marriage

When John Calvin was looking for a wife, he told his friends and associates his criteria: “This only is the beauty that allures me: if she is chaste, if not too fussy or fastidious, if economical, if patient, if there is hope that she will be interested about my health.” His wife Idelette died after only nine years of marriage, when he was 40 years old, and he called her “my life’s best companion.” He never remarried.

Second Bonus: Dr. Timothy George’s top 5 books on Reformation Studies, including:

Here I Stand
Roland H. Bainton

This book was first published in 1950, the year I was born. I first read it as an undergraduate, and it hooked me on the Reformation. Here I Stand tells the story of Luther as it has never been told before or since. Doctor Martinus almost steps off every page, a real human being beset by guilt but saved by grace. The woodcuts Bainton included in this book are a visual feast of Reformation iconography.

* * *

The Radical Reformation
George Huntston Williams

Williams argued that the Radical Reformation deserved scholarly attention in its own right, not merely as a reactionary “left wing” to other movements. This book traces the interconnections among a multitude of radical reformers, all of whom challenged the ecclesial and political structures of their time in their quest for an authentic Christianity. Williams himself coined the term “Radical Reformation” and provided a typology for understanding this amorphous movement. The Radical Reformation, he argues, consisted of three major thrusts: Evangelical Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Evangelical Rationalists. These are not meant to be hard and fast categories but a way to understand essential themes and common patterns among the religious dissenters who stood on the margins of the official churches of the 16th century. This is a book filled with theological insight as well as massive historical detail.

* * *

The Elizabethan Puritan Movement
Patrick Collinson

This book was first published in 1967 and helped to define the entire field of Puritan studies. Collinson interprets the Puritans in terms of their own self-understanding and burning desire for a “further reformation.” A model of historical research based on extensive use of primary sources.

(Continue top 5 books via Christian History)

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Six Myths about Galileo and the Church

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The Christian History blog sets right some popular myths about Galileo’s life and work to commemorate the “400th Anniversary of Galileo’s First Telescope.” Points 3 through 6 deal with his relationship to the church.

3.  . . .  when he did look into space and published his findings that the earth really wasn’t the center of the universe, it caused outrage throughout Christendom.

“It’s tempting to see it representing a fundamental break in the relations between science and religion, but I don’t think it represented anything of the sort,” says science historian Ron Numbers, editor of the recently published Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Harvard University Press). “In fact, at the time, it aroused relatively little interest. It was only in later decades and centuries that it came to be seen as a representation of what supposedly happens to scientific pioneers when they dare to try to correct the church’s teachings.”

In Sightings, Karl E. Johnson recently summarized some of the other facts that get in the way of the science vs. faith narrative.

Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the source of controversy, previously had been read and approved by the Church’s censors; and Pope Urban VIII, who presided over the trial, was Galileo’s friend and admirer. Consider also: prior to the trial, Galileo stayed in the Tuscan embassy; during the trial, he was put up in a six-room apartment, complete with servant; following the trial, his “house arrest” consisted of being entertained at the palaces of the grand duke of Tuscany and the Archbishop of Siena. Galileo, apparently, was no ordinary heretic.

4. Friendly or not, the Roman Catholic Church thought Galileo’s science contradicted Scripture and therefore could not be true! That’s why Cardinal Bellarmine ordered Galileo to back away from Copernican theory.

Well, there is this quote:

In the learned books of worldly authors are contained some propositions about nature which are truly demonstrated, and others which are simply taught; in regard to the former, the task of wise theologians is to show that they are not contrary to Holy Scripture; as for the latter (which are taught but not demonstrated with necessity), if they contain anything contrary to the Holy Writ, then they must be considered indubitably false and must be demonstrated such by every possible means.

But that came from Galileo. Cardinal Bellarmine, a friend of Galileo, said this:

If there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than that what is demonstrated is false. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.

At issue were biblical texts that said the earth “cannot be moved.” But a geocentric view of the universe owed more to the Greek mathematician Ptolemy than to Scripture. (Continue)

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