Pastoral Epistles – A Conservative Perspective (4/4)

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

A Conservative Perspective

The theology of the Pastoral Epistles has been a subject in question by many scholars over the years. Many cite terms and ideas not seen elsewhere in Paul in order to support the idea of a pseudonymous author. However, Carson and Moo make it clear that these terms may be used differently, but are generally couched in Pauline terms. Besides, there are plenty of other terms that are used just as Paul used them in his uncontested letters. In short, the argument for a pseudonymous author on the grounds of theological terms and ideas is, at the best inconclusive, as it can be just as easily argued that the theology makes a claim for Pauline authorship.

Additionally on the subject of theology, it is proposed that the piety of the Pastorals is altogether divergent from Paul’s other authorial work. “There is a demand for “godliness” (1 Tim 2:2 etc.), correct teaching (1 Tim. 6:3), and, above all, “sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3)” (Carson and Moo 2005, 565). Nonetheless, it is not impossible to think that Paul himself placed vested interest in such things as godliness, correct teaching and sound doctrine—all subjects covered to some degree in other letters he wrote. In the end, these theological points and more stand to make some look to pseudonymity while others are convinced by the same points that Paul himself made various developments for varying situations (ibid, 566). Carson and Moo finally assert the following: “All the historical references in these letters ring true as statements coming from the life of Paul, but the same cannot be said of a date quite a long time after he had died” (ibid, 568). Pauline authorship is simply not as ludicrous as some authors and scholars would have us to think.

Now we turn to the subject of dating the Pastoral Epistles. Beginning with 1 Timothy, we can adduce a date in the early 60s AD. Carson and Moo relate the following explanation:

If Paul was released from his imprisonment in Rome and wrote this letter (1 Timothy) during the course of his subsequent missionary activities, we should date it during the 60s, probably the early 60s. It has traditionally been held that the apostle was martyred under Nero (who died in 68). The chronology of his life is not absolutely certain but it is usually though that he arrived in Rome, as narrated in Acts, in 59 or 60. Allowing for the couple of years of his imprisonment there (Acts 28:30), he would have been released in 62. His letter to the Romans shows that he wanted to go to Spain, and he may have gone immediately on release and gone to Macedonia later. Or he may have gone immediately to the East and left a trip to Spain until a later time….Eusebius says Paul died in 67; if this is correct, we could put the writing of the letter at 65 or even 66 (Carson and Moo 2005, 572).

The second book of Timothy was most likely written during a second imprisonment of Paul in Rome. This imprisonment would be a later one that that described in the book of Acts. With this said, the letter had to be written in the early or mid-60s. Depending on the date of Paul’s death we can date the writing of 2 Timothy to either 66-67 or a bit earlier to 64-65.

The last of the Pastorals, Titus, is a bit trickier to date; however, Carson and Moo set forth two possible dates:

It seems better to think of this letter, like the other Pastorals, as coming from a time after Paul’s release from a first Roman imprisonment. In that case, it was written before 2 Timothy, and somewhere around the same period as 1Timothy—that is, not later than the middle 60s (583).

Conclusion

In summary, several arguments set forth on each side of this debate about the Pastorals seem noteworthy. Overall, I find those who argue for a pseudonymous author as stretching their theories into facts; they seem much too quick to press such theories as absolutes. In the end I ascribe to the conservative perspective. I find that one of the most appealing facets of this argument is the humility and the looseness with which it is held. Carson and Moo help the reader to understand that we know only in part and we should not force our ideas on the text but always seek to come to God’s word in humility while other authors seem to be force-feeding ‘fact’ that is really just theory in a fact-like coat! May we always approach the scriptures with humility and as learners.

Pastoral Epistles – A Conservative Perspective (3/4)

July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

A Conservative Perspective

Carson and Moo ascribe to a Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. The arguments adduced by atheists and moderates against Pauline authorship seem to diminish or—in the least—are no more possible than the conservative perspective when taking into scope all the evidence.

Beginning their discussion of the Pastorals by touching on their relationship to the other Pauline epistles, Carson and Moo inform the reader that the letters are all written to people who hold positions of pastoral responsibility and the undertaking of selecting pastors. “The three letters form a unit,” they claim, “in that they are the only New Testament letters addressed to individuals with such responsibilities” (Carson and Moo 2005, 554). However, they point out quickly that although this similarity may link these three letters, “nothing conclusively demonstrates that they were written at the same time or from the same place, or that the author intended them to be studied together” (ibid, 554).

They first address the argument of vocabulary (as mentioned in earlier perspectives of atheist and moderate). The following is said to counter such arguments:

The arguments sound impressive, but they are not as convincing as they seem to be at first sight. Those who put them forward do not always notice, for example, that most of the words shared by the Pastorals and the second-century writers are also found in other writings prior to A.D. 50. It cannot be argued that Paul would not have known them, nor can it be argued that Paul’s total vocabulary is the number of words in the ten letters (2,177 words). It is not necessary to argue that Paul produced hundreds of new words in his old age, for if he could use 2,177 words, there is no reason for supposing that he could not use another 306 words, most of which are known to have been current in his day. That some of the words are used with different meanings signifies no more than that the contexts are different. Paul also uses words with different meanings in different contexts in the ten letters (Carson and Moo 2005, 556).

They add to this the fact that the three letters we call the Pastoral Epistles differ from one another just as much as they differ from the uncontested Pauline letters. What’s more, the vocabulary statistics do not necessarily point to a single author for the compositions. “If the figures show that the three Pastorals were written by one author, they also show that that author may well have been Paul,” they comment.

In discussing rhetorical style, Carson and Moo pose this question: “One wonders whether the difference in style between the Pastorals and the ten Pauline letters is greater than the difference that might legitimately be expected between private letters to trusted fellow workers and public letter to churches, letters usually addressing specific difficulties” (Carson and Moo 2005, 559). These complexities increase as we consider the influence of an amanuensis.

Looking further into the literary style of the letters, Carson and Moo site the work of Johnson in naming both I Timothy and Titus as “mandate letters” and 2 Timothy as “testament”, both of which would correspond with Paul’s situation while they would be hard to match up with later writers. Therefore, careful study and thought on the genre of the letters promote apostolic authorship. However, knowing the genre does not lock-in Pauline authorship.

They also address the historical problems—i.e. reconciling historical facts written in Acts and other Pauline letters with the information in the Pastorals. Many scholars have endeavored to prove that the historical data of the Pastorals indeed fit within Paul’s ministry. Carson and Moo say, “We simply do not have enough information. Especially if we do not take the Pastorals as a unit but consider the letters individually, historical data pose no insuperable difficulty to Pauline authorship” (Carson and Moo 2005, 562). In short, there is no insurmountable obstacle to the historical prospect of Paul’s release from prison and ministry in the East for a length of time, followed by re-arrest, imprisonment and subsequent martyrdom.

Certain details of content in the Pastorals make one question how they could be written by anyone other than Paul. These include details that link them to the other Pauline corpus such as mention of Paul’s cloak and scrolls in 2 Timothy, leaving Timothy in Ephesus as he traveled to Macedonia, mention of Onesiphorus searching for Paul and finding him in Rome, etc. Could we expect for such detail to be of any significance if not linked by Paul to his other letters? “It is not easy,” Carson and Moo point out, “to see what to make of these and other such references on the theory that the letters come from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, and from an author who did not know Paul’s situation” (2005, 563). The bottom line: “The Pastorals are much more akin to the accepted letters of Paul than they are to the known pseudonymous documents that circulated in the early church” (Ibid 563).

“There is nothing in the way of false teaching as described in these letters,” assert Carson and Moo, “that does not fit into what is known during the time of Paul’s ministry” (Carson and Moo 2005, 564). They explain that the “teaching called knowledge” that they speak of is not—as many would have us think—speaking of the full-blown Gnosticism which would be characteristic of the second century. These letters simply do not belong into the second century. They further comment on the false teachers in the Pastoral Epistles and how these teachers aren’t necessarily the same in all of the three letters.

Addressing the assertion made by many scholars that the ecclesiastical organization described in the Pastorals was too advanced for Paul’s time, Carson and Moo draw us to the fact that the epistle to the Philippian church included a salutation from Paul that addressed the overseers or bishops and deacons at Philippi, along with the believers. And, in the book of Acts we read of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch: “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord…”.(Acts 14:23).

Adding to the discussion of ecclesiastical organization, we must recognize that 2 Timothy must be excluded, as it does not address ordained ministry as the other two Pastorals do. Both Titus and 1 Timothy address the offices of elders (bishops) and deacons, but we have no real reason to suggest that the organization was greater than or beyond these specific offices, both of which could certainly have materialized in the very early church. This organizational argument against Pauline authorship does not seem to stand.

Pastoral Epistles – An Atheistic Perspective (2/4)

July 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

An Atheist Perspective

B. D. Ehrman, in his Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, paints quite a different picture of the books of the Bible that have traditionally been called the Pastoral Epistles. Ehrman asserts that while the same author penned all three epistles—1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus—, that author was not Paul. He founds his position nearly completely on facets of the letters that date them to the late 1st century to early 2nd century—a post-Pauline date. Arguments he puts forth include one of non-Pauline vocabulary, varying word usages for “righteous” and “faith”, the problems addressed by the letters involving a more advanced gnosticism than Paul’s day, and the author’s basic orientation as one more like a ‘proto-orthodox’ position that developed into the second century.

Ehrman’s first argument countering Pauline authorship is that of vocabulary:

With the Pastoral Epistles…we do find an inordinate number of non-Pauline words, most of which do occur in later Christian writings. Sophisticated studies of the Greek text of these books have come up with the following data: apart from personal names, there are 848 different words found in the Pastorals; of these, 306 occur nowhere else in the Pauline corpus of the New Testament (even including the Deutero-Paulines). This means that over one-third of the vocabulary is not Pauline. Strikingly, over two-thirds of these non-Pauline words are used by Christian authors of the second century. Thus, it appears that the vocabulary represented in these letters is more developed than what we find in the other letters attributed to Paul (Ehrman 2000, 357).

Secondly, Ehrman asserts that we should give heed to different usages of words. Paul gives one meaning to words in all of his other work, while differing meanings are assigned to like words in the Pastoral Epistles:

As brief examples, Paul’s word for “having a right standing before God” (literally, “righteous”) now means “being a moral individual” (i.e. “upright”; Tit. 1:8) and the term “faith,” which for Paul refers to a trusting acceptance of the death of Christ for salvation, now refers to the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion (e.g., Tit 1:13) (Ehrman, 2000, 358).

Together, asserts Ehrman, these considerations about vocabulary point the reader to conclusion of post-Pauline authorship.

In addition, we must look at the problems addressed by these epistles: false teaching in the guise of Christian Gnosticism, etc. Such Gnosticism was not developed until after Paul’s death. Could Paul then have addressed this himself in these letters? The answer must be, “no”.

The conclusion of non-Pauline authorship and post-Pauline authorship is quite clear in light of the vocabulary and the issues the church was facing—namely false teaching of Gnostics. Unlike Paul who was concerned with the imminent coming of Christ and the end of the word, these proto-orthodox Christians—as Ehrman calls them—were concerned with pressing issues of heresy and church organization and order, signaling the fact that they expected to be around for a while. Thus, the conclusion according the Ehrman is as follows:

An unknown author within a church that subscribe to Paul’s authority took up his pen, perhaps some thirty or forty years after the apostle himself had died, to do what some Pauline Christians had done before him and what others would do afterwards: compose writings in the name of the apostle to address the crushing problems of his day (Ehrman 2000, 362).

Pastoral Epistles – A Moderate Perspective (1/4)

July 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Introduction

An attempt has here been made to interact with just a few of the vast selection of arguments set forth on the subject of the Pastoral Epistles—with specific attention paid to their authorship and dating. Beginning with a moderate perspective, we find that authenticity is adduced as ludicrous as evidence clearly informs the reader that Paul did not pen these letters. From here, we take a look at an atheist perspective that evinces much the same outlook on the Pastorals. Finally, we try these arguments by standing them up against conservative counterarguments that set forth Pauline authorship.

A Moderate Perspective

Udo Schnelle brings a moderate’s perspective to the table on the discussion of the Pastoral Epistles. He finds several reasons for rejecting Pauline authorship of these three letters; these include countless extraordinary linguistic features, historical inconsistencies with Acts and the other Pauline letters, reflection on issues facing third generation Christians, and lastly, the Pastorals exhibit sizable differences from the theology found in letters of undisputed Pauline authorship.

Schnelle’s first argument demands that the records in Acts and those of the authentic Pauline letters cannot be reconciled with what we find in the Pastoral Epistles. He says the following rather matter-of-factly about Titus:

Paul cannot be considered a candidate for the authorship of Titus, since the mission on Crete and Paul’s spending the winder in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12) is found neither in the authentic Pauline letters nor in Acts (Schnelle 1998, 329).

In addition, examples are given of this mismatch of information found in the Pastorals and other Pauline work. “Timothy,” states Schnelle, “had for years been a close coworker with Paul, yet according to I Timothy 1:3 he is expressly warned once again before Paul’s departure to struggle against the heretics. What function would the letter have had in view of the brief absence of Paul? What themes and problems are addressed with which Timothy would not have long since been familiar from his long years of service as a co-worker in the Pauline mission?” (Schnelle 1998, 329).

A second argument adduced is that of the milieu of the letters: purportedly 3rd generation Christians that would necessarily be after Paul’s lifetime. Here, Schnelle compels the reader to look at the high organization of the church receiving these letters; this is more advanced than the charismatic churches Paul founded. Such organization necessitates time for such change to occur and be set in place. The house church model of Paul’s day has been replaced by a system that involves office holders. The letters are, after all written to instruct the churches how to carry out church order and give descriptions of just who should fill the offices of the church. Paul’s circumstances would not have called for such direction and instruction. In addition, Schnelle asserts that there is a shift in concern from a debate with Judaism to the Christian community amongst pagans.

Third, Schnelle argues against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles based on linguistic features. He notes: “The Large number of hapax legomena is striking: 66 in I Timothy, 60 in 2 Timothy, and 32 in Titus. The Pastorals also have a distinctive vocabulary in comparison to the other Pauline letters. ‘The Pastoral epistles…with their total of 3484 words would normally have a distinctive vocabulary somewhere between that of 2 Corinthians and Galatians, i.e. around 130 distinctive words. In fact, however, they have 335 words not found elsewhere in Paul, a good 50 more than Romans, which is twice as long! That is a number, of course, which speaks very strongly against the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles” (Schnelle 1998, 330). Schnelle obviously sees these linguistic details as red flags to the authenticity of these letters.

A final argument against Pauline authorship involves theological divergence from the uncontested Pauline epistles. “Lacking (from the Pastoral Epistles),” notes Schnelle, “are concepts such as the ‘righteousness of God,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘cross,’ ‘son of God,’ and ‘body of Christ.’ A reflection of the specific Pauline doctrine of justification is found only in Titus 3:4-7; the antithesis ‘flesh/spirit’ does not occur at all. In addition, there are shifts in the manner in which the same subject are treated. While in Paul ‘faith’ is the means by which salvation is appropriated, in I Timothy the dominant meaning is the content of faith as doctrine to be believed” (Schnelle 1998, 330).

Another theologically significant divergence involves the parousia of Christ; in the Pastoral Epistles the parousia turns into an epiphany, something that will arrive at the proper time and is suggestive not of imminence, but of a futuristic time. This differs from Paul’s immanent view of the coming of Christ.

After belaboring the point that Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is ludicrous, Schnelle gives the following statement on who he feels authored this body of letters:

The author of the Pastorals was an unknown member of the Pauline school who wrote and circulated the letters ‘in the course of a new edition of the previous corpus’ of the Pauline letters (Schnelle 1998, 332).

“The Pastorals are intended,” says Schnelle, “to overcome an internal crisis in the church caused by false teaching, to implement appropriate official structures in circumstances that had changed and to secure the continuing influence of the apostle Paul in the whole church” (Schnelle 1998, 332). In short, it is asserted that the author was a Hellenistic Jewish Christian, most likely educated, lived somewhere in Asia Minor, and was writing with nearby churches in mind.

Schnelle discusses the location and date of composition in relation to the concerns voiced in the letter: “The Letters to Timothy are concerned with the church situation in Ephesus and so probably originated there” (Schnell 1998, 333). Timothy, he points out, appears as promoter of Paul’s theological perception in Ephesus. And, although purportedly written in Rome, the second letter to Timothy also takes as fact Timothy’s prior presence and work in Ephesus. The internal affinity between the other Pauline letters and the Pastorals also point to Ephesus as the location of composition.

As for the dating of the Pastoral Epistles, Schnelle gives the following reasons why they must be dated around 100 CE:

(I) The tradition about Paul’s own life and person is still drawn from the living tradition of the church. (2) The structure of church offices in the Pastorals is different from the church order presupposed in Ignatius and Polycarp for the time between 110 CE and 130 CE. (3) The Pastorals belong within the process of the formation of the Pauline corpus. (4) The early from of a Christian Gnosticism, the type of false teaching opposed by the Pastorals, points to the period around 100 CE (Schnelle 1998, 333).

The Case for Christ, A Review

May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan. 1998. 304 pp. $8.92

Lee Strobel, with a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale Law School was an award-winning journalist for thirteen years at the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers. Strobel has interviewed thirteen leading scholars and authorities, asking questions a tough-minded skeptic would ask about Jesus of Nazareth and the biblical record of his life. The conversion of Lee Strobel’s wife and his amazement by the fundamental changes of her character, her integrity, and her personal confidence, prompted him, then an atheist, to reexamine the case for Christ. In Strobel’s quest for the truth, he uses his experience as a legal affairs journalist to look at numerous categories of proof–eyewitness evidence, documentary evidence, corroborating evidence, rebuttal evidence, scientific evidence, psychological evidence, circumstantial evidence, and even fingerprint evidence. Strobel asks that the reader to take the role of a juror and place any preconceptions and prejudices aside to weigh the evidence open-mindedly and fair basing conclusions on the credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the facts.

Strobel divides the investigation into three parts: examining the record, analyzing Jesus and researching the resurrection. The are fourteen chapters in the book each following a typical pattern. The first part of the chapter involves stating why this type of evidence is important and often gives real life cases as an example of the importance of the evidence. The second part of the chapter usually introduces the scholar to be interviewed, gives his credentials and in some cases personal background. The third part of the chapter consists of the actual interview with dialogue between Strobel and the scholar interviewed. The chapter then concludes with Strobel asking the scholar how their studies have affected their personal faith and gives their replies.

Part one, examining the record, involves the questioning of the gospels, evidence for Jesus outside the gospels, and archaeological confirmations or contradictions. There are six chapters in the part of the book and five scholars are interviewed. Chapter one and two deal with the eyewitness evidence and ask the questions, “Can the biographies of Jesus be trusted?” and “Do the biographies of Jesus stand up to scrutiny?” The interview is done with Dr. Craig Blomberg. Chapter three deals with the documentary evidence and asks the question, “Were Jesus’ biographies reliably preserved for us?” The interview is done with Dr. Bruce Metzger. Chapter four deals with the corroborating evidence and asks the question, “Is there credible evidence Jesus outside his biographies?” and the interview is with Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. Chapter five is titled the scientific evidence and the question it asks is, “Does archaeology confirm or contradict Jesus’ biographies?” The last chapter in the first part of the book on examining the record is the rebuttal evidence and asks, “Is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of faith?” and the interview is with Dr. Gregory Boyd.

The second part of the booked titled Analyzing Jesus has four chapters. The first chapter in this part of the book is entitled the identity evidence and asks the question, “Was Jesus really convinced that he was the Son of God” and the interview is with Dr. Ben Witherington III. The second chapter in this part of the book is the psychological evidence and deals with the question, “Was Jesus crazy when he claimed to be the Son of God?” and the interview is with Dr. Gary Collins. The ninth chapter in the book, the third in part two, deals with the profile evidence and asks the question, “Did Jesus fulfill the attributes of God?” and the interview is with Dr. D.A. Carson. The final chapter in the second part of the book deals with the fingerprint evidence and tries to answer the question, “Did Jesus-and Jesus alone-match the identity of the Messiah?” the interview with Louis Lapides, M. Div, Th. M.

The third and final part of the book researches the resurrection and has four chapters. Chapter eleven overall, and the first chapter in this part of the book, deals with the medical evidence and tries to answer the question, “Was Jesus’ Death a Sham and his resurrection a hoax?” and the interview is with Dr. Alexander Metherell. The second chapter in the last part of the book is the evidence of the missing body and asks the question, “Was Jesus’ body really absent from his tomb?” and the interview is with Dr. William Lane Craig. Chapter thirteen deals with the evidence of appearances and asks the question, “Was Jesus seen alive after his death on the cross?” and the interview is with Dr. Gary Habernas. The last chapter in part three of the book looks at circumstantial evidence and asks the question, “Are there any supporting facts that point to the resurrection?” and the interview is with Dr. J.P. Moreland. The book ends with a conclusion or the verdict and tries to answer the question, “What does the evidence establish-and what does it mean today?”

In the first part of the book Strobel drills Dr. Blomberg with many questions on the eyewitness evidence of the gospels and their validity. Blomberg stresses two reasons why biographies of that day were different then those of today: the two reasons being one literary and the other theological. Literary was different in that they thought history was worth recording due to the lessons learned from the characters described. The theological difference is that Christians of that day believed that as wonderful as Jesus’ life and teachings and miracles were, they were meaningless if it were not historically factual that Christ died and raised from the dead, providing atonement of the sins of humanity. Strobel asks a very good question in reference to, “Why would Matthew—purported to be an eyewitness to Jesus—incorporate part of a gospel written by Mark, who was not an eyewitness?” Blomberg gives an even better answer when he states, “It only makes sense if Mark was indeed basing his account on the recollections of the eyewitness Peter, who was among the inner circle of Jesus. So it would make sense for Matthew to rely on Peter’s version of events as transmitted through Mark.”

Strobel also questions John’s theological bent by asking if it means that his historical material may have been tainted and therefore less reliable. Blomberg answers by saying the he doesn’t believe John to be more theological, he just has a different cluster of theological emphases. The theologian’s emphases being; Luke, the theologian of the poor and social concern; Matthew, the theologian trying to understand the relationship of Christianity and Judaism; Mark, who shows Jesus as the suffering servant. When trying to date the gospels, if you place Paul in Rome at the end of Acts, then Acts dates around A.D 62 and Mark and Luke must be written even earlier leaving very little time for myths and legend to develop.

Chapter two involves testing the eyewitness evidence. We can see from the beginning of the gospel of Luke that he clearly states that he intended to write accurately about the things he investigated and found to be well-supported by witnesses. Rabbis of that day became famous for having the entire Old Testament committed to memory. So it would have been well within the capability of Jesus’ disciples to have committed much more to memory than appears in all four gospels put together—and to have passed it along accurately. It was an oral culture and we must remember that eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ words were originally in poetic form. Although there are numerous points at which the gospels appear to disagree, once you allow for the elements of paraphrase, abridgement, explanatory additions, selection, omission—the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards. The disciples had nothing to gain except criticism, ostracism, and martyrdom, so it is very unlikely that they would change thing to make him look good. Within the last hundred years archaeology has repeatedly shown that the longer people explore the more people, places, and events that can be verified, particularly the gospel of John. If critics could have attacked the initially very vulnerable and fragile movement on the basis of falsehoods or distortions, they would have, but that’s exactly what we don’t see.

Chapter three deals with documentary evidence and the reliability of the preservation of the New Testament. Although there are no surviving originals of the New Testament, the unprecedented multiplicity of copies that have survived show that the more copies that agree with each other the more you can cross-check them to figure out what the original document was like. Copies of the New Testament commence within a couple of Generations whereas in other ancient texts, maybe five, eight, or ten centuries have elapsed between the original and the earliest surviving copy. Even though ‘the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.’ is not in the earliest manuscripts, it does not dislodge the firmly witnessed testimony, of the Bible, to the doctrine of the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus. Variations among texts tend to be minor rather that major. Scholars Norman Geisler and William Nix conclude, “The New testament, then, has not only survived in more manuscripts than any other book from antiquity, but it has survived in purer form than any other great book—a form that is 99.5 percent pure.”

Chapter four asks if there is credible evidence for Jesus outside his biographies. Josephus, a first-century historian, was immediately mentioned by Yamauchi, the scholar interviewed for this section of the book when asked for evidence outside the gospels. Josephus’ collaboration with the hated Romans made him extremely dislike by his fellow Jews, but he became very popular among Christian, because in his writings he refers to James, the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus himself. Tacitus, the most important first-century historian, recorded what is probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament. In A.D. 115 he explicitly states that Nero persecuted the Christians as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that had devastated Rome in A.D. 64. There are also references to Christianity by a Roman called Pliny the Younger, and a few passage in the Talmud mention Jesus.

In Chapter five the question arises whether archaeology can confirm or contradict the gospels. The first question was the census mentioned in the birth narratives of Jesus. A discovery of ancient census forms, an official government order dated A.D. 104, has shed quite a bit of light on this practice. The second question involved the existence of Nazareth with no mention of it in the Old Testament, by the apostle Paul, by the Talmud or by Josephus. The answer to this question is that archaeologists have found a list in Aramaic describing the twenty-four ‘courses’, or families, of priests who were relocated when Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70. One of them was registered as having been moved to Nazareth showing that this tiny village must have been there at the time. The final question in this chapter referred to the slaughter at Bethlehem, and the problem that there is no independent confirmation that this mass murder ever took place. The possible explanations give were that first, Bethlehem was probably no bigger than Nazareth, so there would have been a relatively few babies. Second, Herod the Great was a bloodthirsty king killing members of his own family, so the fact he killed some babies in Bethlehem would not captivate the attention of the people in the Roman world.

Chapter six questions whether the Jesus of history is the same as the Jesus of faith. The Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars who vote on the validity of each verse of scripture, is questioned. Jesus paralleled with wonder-working rabbis is questioned. Jesus and the “mystery religions” in which there are stories about gods dying and rising, and rituals of baptism and communion are questioned. The secret gospels and talking crosses are also brought up in this chapter. The conclusion given by Dr. Boyd states, “The theological truth is based on historical truth. That’s the way the New Testament talks. Look at the sermon of Peter in the second chapter of Acts. He stands up and says, ‘You guys are a witness of these things; they weren’t done in secret. David’s tomb is still with us, but God has raised Jesus from the dead. Therefore we proclaim him to be the Son of God.’ If the Jesus of faith is not also the Jesus of history, he’s powerless and he’s meaningless. This chapter concludes the first part of the book on examining the record, we now will proceed to the second part, analyzing Jesus.

Chapter seven deals with whether Jesus was really convinced he was the Son of God? Explanations begin with the fact that Jesus has twelve disciples, yet notice that he’s not one of the Twelve.” There had to be a reason why the sign above his head said, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ Jesus sees his miracles as bringing about something unprecedented—the coming of God’s dominion. Jesus witnessed to the truth of his own sayings, he speaks on his own authority. Jesus used the term “Abba” when he was relating to God, a very personal term. In conclusion Dr. Craig states, “The clues for a high Christological self-understanding of Jesus are present even in the attenuated twenty percent of Jesus’ sayings recognized by the members of the Jesus Seminar as authentic.”

Chapter eight asks the question, “Was Jesus crazy when he claimed to be the Son of God?” Dr. Collins states, “In an analogous way, Jesus didn’t just claim to be God—backed it up with amazing feats of healing, with astounding demonstrations of power over nature, with transcendent and unprecedented teaching, with divine insights into people, and ultimately with his own resurrection from the dead, which absolutely nobody else has been able to duplicate. So when Jesus claimed to be God, it wasn’t crazy. It wa the truth.” Jesus being a possible hypnotist is also discussed and his roles as an exorcist. Jesus seems to path both tests in that the ability to hypnotize large groups of people, such as those at his trial and crucifixion, is unheard of.

Chapter nine asks if Jesus fulfilled the attributes of God. Jesus lived and forgave like God, his moral perfection and forgiveness of sin are undoubtedly characteristics of deity. The mystery of the incarnation was explained using Phillipians 2, where Paul tells us that Jesus, ‘being in the form of God, did not think equality with God was something to be exploited but emptied himself. He became a nobody.’ You’re dealing with formless, bodiless, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Spirit and finite, touchable, physical, time-bound creatures. Every attribute of God, says the New Testament, is found in Jesus Christ: omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, eternality, and immutability.

Chapter ten deals with the fingerprint evidence. Did Jesus-and Jesus alone-match the identity of the Messiah? Dr. Lapides states that there are more than four dozen major predictions of Jesus in all. The coincidence of just eight prophecies being fulfilled are one chance in one hundred million billion. It is not possible that gospels were altered because the Jewish community would have jumped on any opportunity to discredit the gospels by pointing out falsehoods. Intentional fulfillment of all prophecies is not possible, there is no way Jesus could make sure Judas would be paid thirty pieces of silver. We know into the final part of the book researching the resurrection.

Chapter eleven deals with whether Jesus’ death was a sham and his resurrection a hoax. Dr. Alexander Metherell, M.D., PH.D. goes into vivid and detailed description beginning with the night before the crucifixion and the great stress and torture exhibited. The doctor states that people under great amounts of stress have been known to sweat beads of blood, making what is mentioned in scripture medically plausible. After describing the torture in detail and the nailing he goes on to state that Jesus ended up dying from asphyxiation, making it possible for fluid to build around the heart thus confirming scripture when a Roman thrust a spear into his side and saw both water and blood. The final conclusion is that there is no possible way Jesus could have survived.

Chapter twelve deals with the evidence of the missing body. The most compelling evidence for this is the testimony of the witnesses. When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, it’s very extraordinary the empty tomb story should feature women discoverers in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder and any fabrications of the empty tomb story would have most certainly place the male disciples as discovering the tomb. Chapter thirteen states the evidence of the appearance Jesus after his resurrection: to Mary Magdelene, to the other women, to Cleopas and another disciple, to eleven disciples on the road, to eleven disciples and others in Luke 24:33-49, to ten apostles and others, to Thomas and the other apostles, to seven apostles in John 21:1-14, to the disciples, and he was with the apostles at the Mount of Olives before his ascension. Chapter fourteen asks if there are any supporting facts that point to the resurrection. One fact is that the disciples were willing to die for their beliefs. The second fact is the conversion of skeptics. The third fact is changes to key social structures. The last two facts are communion, baptism and the emergence of the church.

In conclusion, Strobel reviews the biggest questions and gives his personal verdict. I loved the book Strobel asked many questions that I have been asking myself since my conversion. I feel that Strobel’s introduction to the chapters, stating why the type of evidence was unnecessary, but I like how he ended each chapter by asking each scholar how their acquiring of knowledge has affected each of their faith. I liked it most when each scholar resonated that more knowledge requires more faith, and faith strengthens faith. My favorite chapters were seven and eleven, seven because that’s where my faith had been challenged and eleven because of the emotional strings touched by the doctor in describing the events that occurred. I have found that this book is especially good for believers who need strengthening of faith. Although designed for unbelievers I have had trouble using it as a witnessing tool. Overall, I loved the book and I am sure I will continue to check it references in my personal study.

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