Was Jesus Interested in the Old Testament?

I was astounded to learn that the Jesus Seminar claims that “Scripture was of interest to early Christians but not to Jesus” (Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels [IVP: 2008], 38 [Kindle]).  “Therefore, when we encounter passages in the Gospels where Jesus quotes or alludes to Scripture, the Seminar thinks it is the early church that is speaking, not Jesus.”

But wherever they get that idea, it’s not from the text.  Evans points out some fascinating facts.

  • According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus quotes or alludes to twenty-three of the thirty-six books of the Hebrew Bible (counting the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles as three books, not six).
  • Jesus alludes to or quotes all five books of Moses, the three major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel), eight of the twelve minor prophets, and five of the “writings.” In other words, Jesus quotes or alludes to all of the books of the Law, most of the Prophets and some of the Writings.
  • According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus quotes or alludes to Deuteronomy fifteen or sixteen times, Isaiah about forty times and the Psalms some thirteen times. These appear to be his favorite books, though Daniel and Zechariah seem to have been favorites also.
  • Superficially, then, the “canon” of Jesus is pretty much what it was for most religiously observant Jews of his time, including–and especially–the producers of the scrolls at Qumran.

 

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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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The Purpose of the Bible

Nicely summarized by Dr. Robert Plummer of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (Kregel Academic, 2010)

The Bible itself is evidence of one of its main claims—that is, that the God who made the heavens, earth, and sea, and everything in them is a communicator who delights to reveal himself to wayward humans.  We read in Hebrews 1:1-2, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

These verses in Hebrews point to the culmination of biblical revelation in the eternal Son of God.  This Son became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, forever uniting God and man in one person—100 percent God and 100 percent man (John 1:14).  The prophecies, promises, longings, and anticipations under the old covenant find their fulfillment, meaning, and culmination in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

The purpose of the Bible, then, is “to make [a person] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).  The Bible is not an end in itself.  As Jesus said to the religious experts in his day, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).  So, under divine superintendence, the goal of the Bible is to bring its readers to receive the forgiveness of God in Christ and thus to possession of eternal life in relationship with the triune God (John 17:3).

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Book Review – Delighting in the Trinity

Author Michael Reeves tackles what is perhaps at once the most familiar, most complex, and even the most puzzling Christian doctrine: the Trinity.

He begins by acknowledging that even the words “God is a Trinity” evoke stiffness, a dogma that seems irrelevant. In contrast, he points out, “God is love” brings out warm feelings, something most can relate to, and want to.

And then he says it: “God is love because God is a Trinity.”

Reeves states his overall theme early: “Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God.” And this current flows through the book. What is this God like who invites us to know Him? And what difference does it make that He is a triune God rather than a single-person god?

Comparing the Lord God of Israel to single-person deities is one of the most interesting aspects of Reeves’s work. It is true that because we are used to fitting “God” into our own expectations, the idea of “Trinity” or a “triune” being is awkward at best. We prefer the single-person deity as an entity much easier to understand. Yet a comparison of other gods and the Lord God of Israel reveals some widely differing beings.

For example, according to the Qur’an, Allah “begets not, nor is he begotten”—a strikingly different being than one we know as Father. And God couldn’t be a Father without having offspring.

Marduk, in Babylon’s creation story, creates human beings so he and the other gods can have servants to rule over. Reeves invites readers to take this further. If a god is a solitary being, he has no one to love (in contrast to God the Father, who was loving the Son before creation); he can love himself, but that’s a selfish love. A single-person god must, by his essence, be all about self-gratification. How could a solitary deity be loving when love involves another? Remember that the Son in the Trinity came to serve others, to give up His live for many.

Reeves turns to Aristotle’s god. If being good involves being good to another, how can a solitary god be good when there is no one to show goodness to? Aristotle determines that the universe exists right alongside God, so he gives his goodness to it. But Reeves concludes that this reasoning means that for God to be himself, he needs the world. He’s dependent on it to be who he is; this god of Aristotle’s is good, but not necessarily loving.

If at this point you’re reminded of your freshman introduction to philosophy class, I encourage you to stay with it. Reeves is making the point that before creation, our triune God was neither lonely nor in need of gratification, for He was eternally loving His Son in the Spirit.

Since in a single-person god system, the god would have created beings in order to rule over and be served by them, sin would thus be about behaving and acting wrong. A single-person god might offer forgiveness, but not make us his children (because he wouldn’t be a father). This god’s beings might live under his protection, but he wouldn’t offer closeness.

The author returns to Allah, a single-person god. His only “companion” in heaven is a book, the Qur’an. This is a book, a word that is about him, just a thing. In contrast is our triune God—and this is a lovely truth beautifully expressed by Reeves—who gave us His Word, which is His very self: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He didn’t just drop a book from heaven, He came Himself. So the Father sends the Son, the Son makes the Father known, and the Spirit makes the Son known through Spirit-breathed Scriptures.

God invites us to know and love Him, not just live under His rule; if He did, then only outward behavior would matter. And because it is not outward behavior that is the problem, but what we desire—usually ourselves—the Spirit gives us new hearts.

Reeves continues on the theme of knowing this God who is bursting with fullness and sharing and fellowship, and asks who could prefer a leaner, stripped-down version, i.e., the single-person variety who offers a dull version of religion. And later in the book he reflects on the type of God he’d want to emulate. Would it be a self-contemplative one like Aristotle’s? a cruel deity? Or a triune God to whom love and relationship are central to His being?

The author comments on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 in which He requests that His followers “may be one as we are one.” What is oneness? To a single-person god such as Allah, oneness means sameness. He says, “the once diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same.” But oneness for the triune God means unity. Jesus is praying that His followers be united, but not all the same.

I’m not sure I agree with this contention, but it’s an interesting point.

Reeves’s explanation of God’s wrath is one of the best I’ve read. He says that prior to creation, when the Father was loving the Son, He was never angry—there was nothing to be angry about until Adam and Eve sinned. Anger toward evil is how a God who is love responds to evil: because evil harms us, the created beings He loves, responding with anger is the only possible way He can respond. Most explanations of the wrath of God start and end with His holiness (which isn’t wrong), but this one looks at it from the aspect of God’s love.

The author touches upon the evergreen topic of those who just don’t believe in any god, but believes that the antitheists’ problem is not with the existence of a god, but with the character of the god they presume. He said that those who don’t believe often describe the deity they don’t believe in as cold, selfish, greedy. And, Reeves allows, “if God is not a Father, if he has no Son and will have no children, then he must be lonely, distant, and unapproachable; if he is not triune and so essentially unloving, then no God at all just looks better.”

A book titled Delighting in the Trinity must by its essence be a little ethereal; after all, no one can physically see these beings. And is such a discussion useful, or is it just something Christians talk about over coffee or in conjunction with that intro to philosophy class? Does it matter? Let’s consider the book’s subtitle: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Interesting. Different. Intriguing. Not a book about doctrine per se, but a true introduction to what makes Christianity different from any other belief system: its triune God.

For the very bones of the Christian faith are the greatest commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. These suit a triune God and His outreach to us, His sharing of Himself. It makes becoming like such a God a “warm, attractive, delightful thing.”

I recommend this book without qualification. I didn’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions, nor was I easily able to follow everything he wrote, but his contentions are well expressed, and his treatment fresh.

Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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Book Review – Between Babel and Beast

Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective by Peter J. Leithart (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2012) is a thought-provoking book for Christians who want to be the light and salt of the world today. This volume is a follow-up to his previous book, Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2010). For those who read Defending Constantine, this book presents us further opportunity to catch a glimpse of Leithart’s dynamic, yet rather unconventional mind on the very important topic of cultural engagement. For those who have not had a chance to read Defending Constantine, you can find my review here.

In part 1, Leithart presents a survey of biblical accounts of empires, from the pre-flood cities of Cain and Lamech to the fall of Babylon in Revelation. What underlies this survey is his conviction that “Politically, the Bible is a tale of two imperialisms” (the Abrahamic and Babelic empires) (p. xi). To some extent this part is a presentation of an “empire-centered” hermeneutic: The entire framework of Leithart’s interpretive process is centered on “empire.”

Leithart holds that after the long succession of empires beginning with Babylon and ending with Rome, Jesus as the Son of Man received the kingdoms of the earth (e.g., Persian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman) and as the Ancient of Days gives them to His faithful disciples. Hence, He is imperium-in-se who replaced the ancient system (Israel in empire) with a new, “Abrahamic empire” which marked the end of “Israel-in-Empire, οικουμηνη.” And the embodiment of Jesus’ Abrahamic empire is none other than the church. It is no longer the earthly empires that protect God’s people from destruction. “Instead, the church as the fifth empire keeps its doors open day and night so that kings from across the sea will be able to enter and pay homage to the Son who reigns from Zion” (p. 51).

In part 2, Leithart examines “Americanism,” which he defines as “the fundamental theology of the American order, a quasi-Christian, biblically laced heresy” (p. xii). While part one is a biblical presentation of empire, part two is a historical presentation of empire—how Christendom, “God’s imperium,” lost its metapolitical framework of Christian politics to secular politics over the centuries and how this contributed to the birth of “Americanism.”

Leithart argues that “God’s American Israel” was a phrase that was a “fundamental paradigm to help early American settlers understand their role in God’s history” (p. 67). The Puritans who settled Massachusetts Bay Colony believed that they were the modern-day Israel who were led by God to an unknown land for divine purposes. Their mission therefore was to serve and advance the Kingdom of God as bearers of freedom and justice. Consequently, the distinction between Christianity and their political agenda (freedom and justice) became fuzzy. America soon began to use its military power to impose its philosophy on the world. In the end, Leithart concludes, “Early in our history, we did not have the power to impose our will on the world. But as our power increased, Americanism was there, able to impel a Babelic form of imperialism” (111).

In part 3, Leithart examines how America succumbed to Americanism and “freely consort[ed] with beasts if it [would] serve our political ends” (p. xiii). Attention is given to political and military dealings and economic policy in the 20th century to argue that America stands between Babel and beast. Leithart’s words are alarming. He states, “Babel-like, we believe we have brought history effectively to its conclusion: American democracy is everyone’s tomorrow. Babel-like, we want everyone everywhere to confess with one lip our American creed of liberty, democracy, and free markets. Babel-like, we are anxious until everyone looks like us . . . until we can force most everyone to play by our rules” (p. 134).

In conclusion, Leithart calls for a repentance of being Americanists. American churches should “teach and preach from a de-Americanized Bible, one that understands that the imperium of the church [“Jesus is an imperator” and the church is “God’s imperium”], not American hegemony, fulfills the hopes of Israel” (pp. 151-152). He argues that the church should not discourage Christians from participating in government or the military. Yet, the church should encourage Christians to participate in a way that changes America and turns her resources and power to justice, charity and peace.

Although I appreciated Leithart’s scholarship and presentation of this important topic, a few questions need to be raised. I am not certain about Leithart’s three types of world empires: Babel, Beasts and Guardians of God’s People. Leithart argues extensively that the Babylonian, Persian, and Roman empires fit into this last category, Guardians of God’s People—though he admits they were not this exclusively. Yet, as the Bible attests, God can use even the evil of the world to advance His Kingdom. As God used the ravens to feed Elijah, which were considered by the Israelites to be an unclean and detestable bird, God can use the most detestable thing in the world to bring glory to Himself.

Further, while I am in basic agreement with Leithart that God can use empire (along with other human institutions) to advance His kingdom, I am not certain I would agree with Leithart that empire is the ideal vessel to achieve this end. As mentioned above, God can use the most detestable thing to accomplish His purposes. In fact, Jesus called some of those who prophesied in His name “evildoers” (Matt 7:21-23). In this sense, Leithart’s concepts of an Abrahamic empire, the church as God’s empire and the fifth empire may be an oversimplification of admittedly complex biblical accounts of historical empires.

In my view the real gems of this book are found in parts 2 and 3. Leithart’s warnings to American Christians are shocking: “What if America is herself locked in the ancient logic, the satanic cycle? What if Americanism, increasingly detached from the checks and balances that orthodox metapolitics provides us, has left us prey to the same sacrificial dynamics as Islam” (p. 81)? I grew up in Japan where imperialism ruled about 100 years. For me at least, America is the country that heroically ended Japanese imperialism that contributed to two world wars and resulted in the exploitation of other Asian countries. But, the same America is the country that brought devastation and indescribable human suffering to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus I agree with Leithart that “America stands ‘between Babel and beast’” (xiii). Yet, I believe that Leithart’s message can also speak to Christians around the world—after all, we human beings are so easily blindsided by our own good that we often overlook our own evil in pursuing our goals. How easily we imprison the prophets. I appreciate Leithart’s challenging warnings, and therefore highly recommend this book.

— Reviewed by Naomi Noguchi Reese, PhD candidate, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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New Books in Philosophy, Theology, and Apologetics – April 2012

* Philosophy and the Christian Worldview: Analysis, Assessment and DevelopmentDavid Werther and Mark D. Linville, eds (Continuum, Feb. 2012)

“The editors have aptly assembled an impressive array of Christian philosophers to honor Professor Keith Yandell’s remarkable contributions to the philosophy of religion. The contributors, along with Yandell himself, rigorously assess various truth claims pertaining to religious beliefs, and in so doing, provide some significant rational support for the truth of the Christian worldview.” –Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.

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* True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of AtheismTom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, eds. (Patheos Press, March 2012)

“True Reason,” edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, brings together a compendium of writers–philosophers, apologists, ethicists, theologians, historians–who look carefully at the best arguments atheism has and evaluate their validity, logic, assumptions, and naturalist conclusions.  Authors include noted philosopher William Lane Craig and popular apologist Sean McDowell, along with Gilson, Weitnauer, John DePoe, Chuck Edwards, Matthew Flannagan, Peter Grice, Randy Hardman, David Marshall, Glenn Sunshine, David Wood, and Samuel Youngs. Each chapter tackles a different atheist argument and brings reason fully into the discussion.”

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* Equality, Freedom, and ReligionRoger Trigg (Oxford University Press, Jan. 2012)

“Roger Trigg looks at the assumptions that lie behind the subordination of religious liberty to other social concerns, especially the pursuit of equality. He gives examples from different Western countries of a steady erosion of freedom of religion. The protection of freedom of worship is often seen as sufficient, and religious practices are separated from the beliefs which inspire them. So far from religion in general, and Christianity in particular, providing a foundation for our beliefs in human dignity and human rights, religion is all too often seen as threat and a source of conflict, to be controlled at all costs. . . . Given the central role of religion in human life, unnecessary limitations on its expression are attacks on human freedom itself.”

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* The Historical Jesus: An Essential GuideJames H. Charlesworth (Abingdon Press, 2008)

“Recent years have seen an explosion of talk about the historical Jesus from scholarly settings as well as media outlets (including sensational TV documentaries and national magazines). How is the student of the Bible to assess these various claims about Jesus? And what difference does knowledge of his time and place make for Christian faith, theological thinking, and historical research? James Charlesworth presents the solid results of modern study into the life and times of Jesus, especially regarding the role of the Essenes, the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the nature of messianic expectation, and much more. No one today is better equipped than James Charlesworth to lead students through the thickets of controversy that surround much of contemporary historical Jesus research.”

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* Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly FalseThomas Nagel (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2012)

“In Mind and Cosmos Thomas Nagel argues that the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology . . . “

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The Missing Links – April 1, 2012

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Tes...

The front side (recto) of Papyrus 1, a New Testament manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew. Most likely originated in Egypt. Also part of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. oxy. 2).

Dr. Bryant G. Wood recently presented lectures on “Archaeology and the Conquest: New Evidence on an Old Problem.”  Wood is editor of Bible and Spade, and director of the Excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir (suggested as a possible site for Biblical Ai). Four separate talks cover:

  • Background and Chronology of the Exodus and Conquest
  • Digging Up the Truth at Jericho
  • The Discovery of Joshua’s Ai
  • Great Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Old Testament

Alexander Pruss points to a new blog on the philosophy of cosmology.

Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman debate on the topic: “Is the original New Testament lost?”

A new article on “Platonism and Theism” is up at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Alvin Plantinga lectures on “Religion and Science: Why Does the Debate Continue?” at Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church in Seattle Washington

Craig Blomberg writes on “Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters” (PDF). 

Peter S. Williams engages with the question “Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?”

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