Trinity in the New Testament?

No one would dispute that the modern doctrine of the Trinity, with its terminology and creedal formulations developed in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries and is not present in the New Testament. The word “Trinity” itself is first used around 170 AD by Theophilus of Antioch. Furthermore, whereas the Holy Spirit is never worshipped in the New Testament, we do have a declaration to worship the Spirit in the Nicene Creed. However, were these later creeds and terminology a separate invention or developments to articulate concepts already present in the New Testament? While common knowledge skeptics would like you to believe it was a separate invention, I’m not quite so sure about that.

As I dug into this question, I actually found a remarkable amount of scholarship in agreement that the New Testament presents a “triadic” understanding of God (e.g. see Larry Hurtado’s God in New Testament Theology pp. 99-110; as well as this, thisthis, and this). That is, there is one God without doubt, but there appear to be three distinguishable components of the one God – these components being God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Whether you’d like to call these ‘persons’ or you have some other term is not quite relevant, as long as this term is used in recognition of this fact.

Let me also make an important distinction. There are perhaps two “forms” of Trinitarianism. There’s the idea that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all completely equal, and then there’s subordination Trinitarianism, which asserts that God, the Son, and Spirit are all God but the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate (such as in, say, authority) to the Father. So, while Jesus is clearly considered to be God in the Gospel of John, Jesus also declares that “The Father is greater than I” in John 14:28. This is the form of Trinitarianism I see reflected in earliest Christianity and, as we’ll see, in the New Testament (whereas the first form is a later development). Anyways, back to the main topic.

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The very beginnings of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, i.e. the use of new terms and ideas in order to articulate concepts already present in the New Testament, began with Justin Martyr around 150 AD. Larry Hurtado writes in his Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2005);

As noted already, Justin also emphatically maintains that the Son/Logos is not a creature, but instead shares the same “being” as the Father. Justin is in fact our first witness to the use of new terms in Christian discourse to try to conceive and articulate the unique relationship of Jesus to God, and to accommodate a limited but real plurality within a rigorously monotheistic stance. He refers to one divine ousia (being, essence, substance) and distinguishable prosopa (“faces”; 1 Apol. 36-38). Thereby he makes a prototypical effort that anticipates and shapes references to one divine essence or substance (Lat. substantia; Gk. ousia) and three “persons” (Lat. personae; Gk. hypostases) in Tertullian and later Christian thinkers on the road to the developed doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, he carefully distinguishes between this view of divine unity and plurality and the views of others. For example, he emphasizes that, though the Son/Logos is distinguishable from the Father and derives in some unique way from the Father, this does not involve any diminution of the Father {Dial. 128). That is, attributing divine nature to the Logos/Son does not for Justin involve any reduction or threat to the Father and creator of all. Justin uses the analogy of a torch taken from a fire to illustrate his view. Just as lighting one fire from another does not reduce in volume or intensity the first fire, and yet the second fire is fully the same nature as the first, so the Son/Logos proceeds forth from the Father (61.2). They fully share in the same divine nature, each without minimizing the other, and yet are rightly distinct, both in actuality and in a proper conception of divine things. (pg. 646)

So, by 150 AD, there were Trinitarians like Justin, even if the term ‘Trinity’ may not yet have existed. But we can clearly go even earlier. Trinitarian formulas can be seen in the Ascension of Isaiah, written anywhere between the late 1st to early 3rd century AD, where Isaiah speaks of “the primal Father and his Beloved Christ, and the Holy Spirit” (Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 599). Hurtado writes at further length;

The most extended narrative of heavenly worship is in 9.27-42, however, where a similar triadic view is presented. Having reached the seventh heaven, which is bathed in incomparable light, Isaiah sees innumerable angels and “all the righteous from the time of Adam onwards” (9.6-9). Then, after his angel guide explains how the descent of the Beloved One will make it possible for the righteous to receive their robes, crowns, and thrones (9.10-26), Isaiah sees a figure “whose glory surpassed that of all” being worshiped by Adam, Abel, and all the other righteous and angels (9.27-28). Crucially, at this point the angel guide directs Isaiah to “Worship this one,” whom the angel identifies as “the Lord of all the praise which you have seen” (9.31-32), the Beloved One; Isaiah joins in the worship and sung praise directed to this figure. Then another glorious figure approaches, subsequently identified as “the angel of the Holy Spirit who has spoken in you and also in the other righteous” (9.36), and Isaiah is likewise told to join the angels in worshiping this one (9.35-36). Finally, in a carefully prepared climax to this scene, Isaiah sees “the Great Glory” (but with his spirit, for it appears that his eyes are blinded by the light of this glory, 9.37), and he relates how “my Lord” and “the angel of the Spirit” both offered worship to this third figure, along with “all the righteous” and the angels (9.40-42). (pg. 599)

Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 AD, who would certainly have been contemporary with at least one of the authors of the Gospels, writes in the 13th chapter of his Letter to the Magnesians to be obedient “to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit”. Even earlier, likely towards the final years of the 1st century, Clement of Rome asks in a fit of confusion as to way there is corruption within the Christian ranks; “Do we not have one God, and one Christ, and one gracious Spirit that has been poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ?” (1 Clement 46:6; also see 1 Clement 58:2). Therefore, John McGuckin writes;

However “simple,” or even “crude,” Clement’s trinitarian theology may be in the eyes of later readers, it is nonetheless fully formed and fairly impressive. (“The Trinity in the Greek Fathers,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity. Cambridge University Press, 2011, 51).

Given how early these Trinitarian formulas appear in Christian writings (these writers consider Jesus to be God and distinguish between the Father and Spirit), it doesn’t seem absurd to suggest that a triadic understanding of God could also appear in the New Testament. All that would be required to show a triadic interpretation of God in a Christian text is to show that 1) Jesus is considered God and 2) the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father (since, by default in Christianity, we know Jesus and the Father are distinguished and that the Spirit is God), leaving us with three distinguishable components of the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – which builds a triadic logic/understanding of God. So, can these two features be shown in the texts of the New Testament? They can.

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There are several Trinitarian formulas in the New Testament including in Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2 and Revelation 1:4-5. Take the Book of Revelation, for example. Jesus is clearly placed on the level of divinity (e.g. in Rev. 22:13, Jesus calls himself the “Alpha and the Omega, the first  and the last, the beginning and the end”), and the Holy Spirit, variously referred to as the “seven spirits” throughout Revelation, is distinguished from the Father in the following triadic formula in Revelation;

“Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”), and the Holy Spirit, variously referred to as the “seven spirits” throughout Revelation, is distinguished from the Father in the following triadic formula in Revelation;

Revelation 1:4-5a: John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne [Spirit]and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead [Son], and the ruler of the kings of the earth [Father].

Thus, Archimandrite Januariy writes;

The elements of initial triadology in the Book of Revelation are carefully studied. It is affirmed that the last book of the New Testament contains a rather developed triadology… It is pointed out that there are numerous indications of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of his equality with God. The absence of direct indications of the personal character of the Spirit is noted. Nevertheless there are numerous indirect allusions to the Spirit reckoned as the third person of the divine Trinity. (“The Elements of Triadology in the New Testament” in Melville, ed. The Trinity: East/West Dialogue. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013, 99.

That’s Revelation. What about the Gospel of John? In John, Jesus is clearly considered God (e.g. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word [i.e. Jesus, see John 1:14], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, and towards the end of the Gospel, Thomas declares when he sees the resurrected Jesus “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)). That leaves the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God. And in fact, it appears as though the Spirit is distinguished from the Father. Here, our focus will be on the New Testament’s longest discussion on the Spirit, John 14-16, where the Spirit is called “the Paraklētos” (Advocate), in reference to its role as the advocate of Jesus sent in His name by God. Where to begin?

John 14:26 (also see John 15:25-27) says “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name. If we were to assume that the Father and Spirit indistinguishable, this verse would have the odd effect of implying that the Father sent himself to the disciples in Jesus name. Otherwise, if we accept that this passage distinguishes Father from Spirit, we’re left with a Trinitarian view. Then John writes later;

John 16:7-11: Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

(Keep in mind that the Advocate is just another name for the Holy Spirit, see John 14:16-17.) Here, we’re told that Jesus will send the Spirit. In a non-Trinitarian reading, this would mean that Jesus is the one sending the Father! This would violate John’s understanding of the Father’s superior authority (John 14:28). This would appear to imply that Trinitarianism is the correct logic to frame John in. John distinguishing the Spirit from the Father. Now, the next question becomes this: is John unique in doing so? In fact, it looks like he isn’t. This is actually part of a wider pattern we find in earliest Christianity and the rest of the New Testament.

Larry Hurtado points out that this appears to be part of the larger New Testament context where the Holy Spirit is described and emphasized much more strongly than prior Old Testament and other Jewish texts where the Spirit is merely God’s divine presence. In the entire Old Testament, the Spirit is mentioned 75 times. In the entirety of the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, there are 35 references to the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Spirit is referred to 275 times. One should also take note that the New Testament is a fraction of the length of the Old Testament, and so the new focus on the Spirit is much more substantial then one might first guess. Larry Hurtado also shows that the New Testament begins to describe the Spirit in much more personalized terms.

Moreover, the New Testament references often portray actions that seem to give the Spirit an intensely personal quality, probably more so than in Old Testament or ancient Jewish texts. So, for example, the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness (Mk 1:12; compare “led” in Mt. 4:1/Lk 4:1), and Paul refers to the Spirit interceding for believers (Rom 8:26–27) and witnessing to believers about their filial status with God (Rom 8:14–16). To cite other examples of this, in Acts the Spirit alerts Peter to the arrival of visitors from Cornelius (10:19), directs the church in Antioch to send forth Barnabas and Saul (13:2–4), guides the Jerusalem council to a decision about Gentile converts (15:28), at one point forbids Paul to missionize in Asia (16:6), and at another point warns Paul (via prophetic oracles) of trouble ahead in Jerusalem (21:11). (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” in Beeley and Weedman eds. The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology. Catholic University of America Press, 2018, 62)

It’s true that, unlike Jesus, the Spirit never receives worship in the New Testament like Jesus does, where we might look at the Nicene Creed which does say that we ought to worship the Spirit. However, the Spirit is occasionally described in terms of religious ritual throughout the New Testament. Thus, in an obviously Trinitarian formula in one of the Synoptic Gospels, the resurrected Jesus proclaims towards the end of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). Perhaps even more clearly is in a letter of Paul, 2 Corinthians 13:13, where 1) a distinctly Trinitarian formula appears distinguishing the Spirit from the Father and 2) the Spirit is described in ritualistic terms: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. I also should mention Gordon Fee’s argument in relation to this passage;

Granted, Paul does not here assert the deity of Christ and the spirit. What he does is equate the activity of the three divine Persons (to use the language of a later time) in concert and in one prayer, with the clause about God the Father standing in second place (!). (italics not mine – Fee, Gordon, “Paul and the Trinity: The experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God,” in Davis, Stephen. The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity. Oxford University Press, 2000, 52.)

I’ll also mention that Fee also argues that two passages that don’t appear in Trinitarian formulas, 1 Corinthians 10:10-12 and Romans 8:26-27, also help demonstrate Paul distinguishes between God and Spirit. You’ll also recall how I pointed out earlier that in order to show a triadic understanding of God in the New Testament, all that needs to be shown is that 1) Jesus is considered God and 2) The Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father. Perhaps, however, an even more rapid way to cut to some sort of Trinitarian conclusion is to show that Jesus is identified with the Spirit. On that note, Adela Yarbro Collins writes;

For those used to thinking in Trinitarian terms, one of the peculiar aspects of Paul’s letters is the way in which he seems to associate very closely, if not identify, Christ and the Spirit. The most striking instance is 2 Cor 3:17, “The Lord is the Spirit, and the Spirit of the Lord is freedom.” (“Paul and His Legacy to Trinitarian Theology” in Beeley and Weedman eds. The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology. Catholic University of America Press, 2018, 165)

I should also point out that some try to argue on the basis of some Pauline passages that Jesus is undoubtedly separated from God in His entirety in verses such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which says “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” So, there is God and there is Jesus. Of course, this ignores the fact that whenever Paul qualifies his use of the word “God”, he qualifies it as the “Father” (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:24), and so here we really have a dichotomy between Father and Christ, rather than God and Christ. What solidifies this interpretation is a verse already mentioned earlier and good to quote in full again: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13). Here, Paul distinguishes the word “God” from “Holy Spirit”, even though we know elsewhere in all the Old Testament texts and Paul’s letters that God and the Spirit are not really separate beings at all. Therefore, there is no reason to think that Paul could not have done the same with the words “God” and “Jesus Christ” without discounting the possibility of Jesus being God.

In fact, that Jesus is God in the letters of Paul seems to be precisely Paul’s way of understanding things, since Paul took a number of Old Testament devotional and divine declarations to YHWH, the God of Israel, and applied them to Jesus with equal force:

Likewise, notice how in the opening lines of 1 Corinthians Paul so easily combines references to the Corinthian believers as “the church of God” and as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and then even designates Christians simply as “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (who is) their Lord and ours” ([1 Cor.] 1:2) … the full phrase that Paul uses here is specifically a remarkable adaptation of a familiar Old Testament formula, to “call upon the name of the Lord,” that designates offering worship (typically sacrifice) to Yahweh (e.g., Gn 12:8, 13:4, 21:33, 26:25; Ps 99:6, 105:1; Joel 2:32 [Heb 3:5]). But Paul’s remarkable use of the phrase explicitly makes Jesus the recipient of this action. As Conzelmann noted, we have here “a technical expression for ‘Christians’” by reference to a ritual action that is reflected in other New Testament texts as well (Acts 9:14, 21, 22:16; 2 Tm 2:22). It is also one of the most obvious instances of Paul’s application to Jesus of what David Capes called “Yahweh texts.” In Romans 10:9–13, we get another reference to this ritual invocation/confession of Jesus as a common feature of gathered worship. Moreover, in v. 13, Paul’s obvious (indeed, remarkable) use of the statement from Joel, “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” shows that he sees the ritual acclamation of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament expression. The acclamation of Jesus is now the proper way in which to “call upon the name of the Lord.” That is, the worship of God must now be done with reference to Jesus, and the acclamation of Jesus is now integral (even requisite) to the proper worship of God. (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” pp. 57-58)

Paul also does this in Philippians 2:6-11, wherein Paul’s description of Jesus’ exaltation, Jesus receives “the name that is above every name” (Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel), and because of this, “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” – clearly echoing Isaiah 45:23’s description of the God of Israel: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear”. Also notice how Paul adds the phrase “in heaven and on earth” to this allusion, emphasizing Jesus’ cosmic sovereignty. Even more impressive about this citation to Isaiah is that just two verses earlier God declares “There is no other god besides me”. Paul is citing a monotheistic declaration of God in the Old Testament and inserting Jesus right into it, clearly showing that Jesus now belongs in the divine identity. This is in addition to a text we just passed over, 1 Corinthians 8:6 (“there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”) which says that it is through Jesus that all things are created, and this verse may be, in fact, a reformulation of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 LXX (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord”) which would mean Paul included Jesus within the singular most important declaration of monotheism in Israel’s scriptures (which surely could not have been accidental).

And what secures all of this is the fact that in Paul’s letters, Jesus is the subject of public, corporate worship, unparalleled by any figure beside God in Second Temple Judaism. For Paul, people pray to Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2: those “in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”, Paul’s prayer to Jesus in 2 Cor. 12:8-9; 1 Thess. 3:11), people confessionally invoke the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22; Romans 10:9-13; Phil. 2:10-11), people are baptized in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 6:3), Jesus is the reference in Christian fellowship for a religious ritual meal (i.e. the Lord’s Supper; see 1 Cor. 11:17-34 – in pagan cults, the reference for ritual meals is always to a deity), and Jesus is the source of continuing prophetic oracles to believers (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Also don’t forget Jesus appears twice in Trinitarian formulas in Paul’s letters (2 Cor. 13:13, 1 Cor. 12:4-6). So there’s little doubt that Paul understands Jesus as God. At this point, let’s move on to seeing Jesus as God in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). The focus here will be on Jesus receiving divine worship as well as some of the findings of the recent work of Richard Hays.

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One of the distinguishing features of Jewish monotheism was that only God could receive your divine worship (even if other figures could be prostrated towards/bowed to). Now, the Greek word for worship προσκύνησις (proskynesis) can either refer to divine worship or prostration. Therefore, even though Jesus receives προσκύνησις several times throughout all three Synoptics, it isn’t immediately clear that Jesus is receiving divine worship. However, in some cases, it is unambiguous. Let’s begin with the end of Matthew’s Gospel after Jesus rises from the dead and reappears to the disciples in heavenly glory, and consequently receives προσκύνησις.

Matthew 28:16-20: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Several clear features appear in this text which unambiguously shows Jesus to share in God’s divine identity. For one, Jesus declares that he’s been given all authority in heaven and on earth – referencing Jesus’ sovereignty over the entire cosmos (of which heaven and earth constitute the two realms), a form of authority solely held by God. Being given this authority implies Jesus’ subordination and exaltation to divine status (paralleled in Philippians 2:6-11). Secondly, in the final verse of the Gospel, Jesus says “I am with you always”. This is connected to the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus when he’s born, receives the name Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This alludes to Isaiah 7:14, where a child receives the name Immanuel meaning “God is with us”, and while in Isaiah it might have referred to God’s presence symbolized by the child, in Matthew, God’s presence is equated with Jesus own presence when Jesus declares that he will be eternally present with the disciples. It appears that Matthew 28:20 echoes the many times where God declares in the Old Testament that He will be present with His people (Jeremiah 1:7-8; Haggai 1:13) but draws directly from Genesis 28:12-17, especially v. 15 where God tells Jacob “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” – also note that this Genesis verse is virtually identically worded to Matthew 28:20 in the Septuagint Greek. (For those unfamiliar, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the Septuagint was its Greek translation in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It was the Septuagint that the authors of the Greek New Testament read and used to access the Old Testament scriptures.) But the larger correspondence between Matt. 28:20 and Gen. 28:12-17 is even more striking, as Richard Hays explains;

But other than the direct verbal parallel, there are other noteworthy similarities. In both texts, the Lord comes and stands in the presence of hearers. Jacob is told that “all the tribes of the earth” will find blessing through him, while the Eleven [disciples] are told to go with good news to “all the nations/Gentiles.” In both texts, the recipients of revelation greet it with fear and worship. The promise that the Lord will bring Jacob “back to this land” is closely bound together with the theme of the end of the exile, which we have encountered throughout Matthew’s story from the beginning. But most significantly, in both texts, the Lord speaks in the first person and promises continuing presence (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Baylor University Press, 2014, 49-50)

So, in the midst of Jesus appearing in heavenly glory after being resurrected to his disciples and declaring his divine sovereignty over the cosmos and declaring His eternal presence, like that of the God of Israel with his followers forever, and the appearance of perhaps the most straight forward Trinitarian formula in the entire New Testament, Jesus receives worship. This is clearly divine worship and indicates Jesus to be receiving worship due to God. Larry Hurtado writes;

Much more frequently than the other Gospel authors, Matthew uses the Greek word proskynein to describe the reverence that people offer Jesus. The verb designates a reverential posture that one adopts toward a social superior when pleading for mercy or seeking a favor (e.g., Matt. 18:26), but also it can mean the worship one gives to a god (e.g., 4:9-10)… In at least three Matthean scenes, the gesture still more obviously connotes reverence that readers are to see as reflecting their own worship practice, in which Jesus is recipient along with God. In the concluding sentence of the Matthean version of the story of Jesus walking on the waves (14:22-33; cf. Mark 6:45-52), the disciples reverence and acclaim Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33). This is a striking modification of the Markan version, which ends with the disciples amazed but not perceptive of what has been revealed (6:52). Finally, twice in the postresurrection narratives Jesus’ followers give this reverence to the risen Jesus: the women hurrying from the tomb (Matt. 28:9), and in the climactic scene, where Jesus meets his followers and commissions them in august tones (28:17). In all three scenes Jesus’ transcendent status and power are indicated, and it seems undeniable that the intended readers were to take the scenes as paradigmatic anticipations of the reverence for Jesus that they offered in their worship gatherings. (Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 337-338)

Likewise, Jesus also receives divine worship in Luke. Here, I’ll only find it necessary to quote Richard Bauckham’s argument;

In association with the closing words of Jesus in their respective Gospels, Matthew and Luke both say that the disciples worship (προσκυνέω) Jesus (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:5240). I have already noted that the gesture of bowing down before someone, indicated by this verb, does not necessarily indicate the worship due only to God, but can be an acceptable gesture to any superior. However, there is good reason to suppose that Matthew and Luke both use the word deliberately to refer to divine worship. The matter is simpler in Luke’s case. He uses the word only three times in his Gospel. Two of these occurrences are in the temptation narrative. The devil tempts Jesus to worship (προσκυνήσῃς) him, to which Jesus replies with a quotation adapted from Deuteronomy: “Worship (προσκυνήσεις) the Lord your God and serve only him (αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις)” (cf. Deut 6:13) (Luke 4:7-8).41 The third occurrence is in 24:52. We should also note that, in his redaction of Mark’s story of the exorcism of Legion, where Mark says that the demoniac worshipped (προσεκύνησεν) Jesus, Luke avoids the word, describing the gesture differently (“he fell down before him”). That Luke treats προσκυνέω as a term to be used only of the worship of God is confirmed by the occurrences in Acts (7:43; 8:27; 10:25; 24:11). So it seems that, by restricting his use of the verb in his Gospel, he indicates that Jesus should receive the worship due to God, but that this is appropriate only at the end of the narrative, when Jesus is on his way to his enthronement in heaven. When characters in the rest of the narrative, who were not in a position to recognize Jesus’s divine identity, bow down to him, Luke uses other terminology (5:8,12; 8:28, 41, 47; 17:16: see the Table). Thus he observes the difference between Jesus in his humiliation in «the form of a servant» and Jesus sharing God’s universal sovereignty on the cosmic throne. (“Is “High Human Christology” Sufficient? A Critical Response to JR Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 27.4 (2017): 516-519. Also see Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 345.)

In other words, the suggestion that προσκύνησις can refer to prostration in Luke doesn’t survive linguistic scrutiny. So, we can see that in the post-resurrection narratives in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus receives divine worship and his inclusion within God’s identity becomes unambiguous. A few other areas can be located where Jesus’ divine status is made clear in Luke-Acts, such as in Acts 2:14-41, where Peter gives a sermon constituting the life of Jesus and begins by quoting Joel 2 and ending with verse 32: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” – the same text referring to the God of Israel that Paul used (see above) is applied to Jesus once more. Public corporate worship to Jesus is also evident throughout Acts. In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen prays to Jesus in his dying words as he’s being stoned for the faith, and in Acts 9:13-14 Jesus is again the subject of prayer invocation. In Acts 8:16, we’re told of people baptized into the name of Jesus.

Mark does not have a surviving post-resurrection narrative and all the instances where Jesus receives προσκύνησις cannot be shown to reference divine worship. In this case, however, we must bring out Richard Hays works on Mark’s use of the Old Testament to show that Mark considers Jesus to be the God of Israel. The Gospel of Mark begins;

Mark 1:1-3: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”

The messenger being sent ahead of Jesus is obviously John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-8), but take notice of how Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3 for how John, the messenger, will prepare a way for Jesus. But in Isaiah, the messenger is preparing the way for God. Isaiah 40:3: A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Mark takes a passage referring to a messenger making way for the God of Israel to a messenger making way for Jesus. Hays points out Mark doing similar things in a number of other instances in the Gospel. In Mark 6:45-52, Jesus walks on the sea. I’ll quote the entire thing:

Mark 6:45-52: Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

There is at least one passage in the Old Testament where the God of Israel walks atop the sea, and that is in Job 9:4-11. It looks like Mark had this passage from Job in mind here, and there’s one clinching argument to demonstrate this. Something that’s always baffled interpreters when it comes to Mark 6:45-52 is when it tells us that Jesus “intended to pass them [the disciples] by”. Mark leaves this unexplained, and no one has really been able to make any sense out of it. Why did Jesus want to pass the disciples by? However, in Job 9:4-11, the only place in the Old Testament where God walks on top of the waters like Jesus does in the Gospels, we see the exact same thing. In Job 9:8, we’re told it it is God alone who “stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea”. In the Septuagint, the text of God trampling upon the waves of the sea is rendered as “who alone stretched out heaven and walked upon the sea as upon dry ground”. This is what Mark read. And in Job 9:11, we read about God: “Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.” A perfect parallel that resolves this long-standing problem. Richard Hays writes;

Thus, in Job 9 the image of God’s walking on the sea is linked with a confession by God’s mysterious transcendence of human comprehension: God’s “passing by” is a metaphor for our inability to grasp his power. This metaphor accords deeply with Mark’s emphasis on the elusiveness of the divine presence in Jesus. Thus, the story of Jesus’ epiphanic walking on the sea, read against the background of Job 9, can be perceived as the signature image of Markan Christology. (Reading Backwards, pp. 24-25, esp. 25)

Therefore, where God is portrayed as walking on the sea in the Old Testament, Mark takes this exact text and applies it to Jesus’ walking on the sea, identifying Jesus with the God of Israel. Thus, in all three Synoptic Gospels, whether in the post-resurrection narratives or in the body of the text, Jesus is identified with God, or within God’s divine identity, or whatever phraseology pleases you. Richard Hays’ two excellent books Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014) and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016) demonstrates this at even further length with even more examples. However, I’m not trying to write a book here and what I’ve shown will suffice. Earlier, we’ve seen that the Holy Spirit receives newfound emphasis and individuality in the New Testament and is distinguished from the Father, especially in John 14-16 and Matthew 28:19. Given that the authors of the New Testament considered Jesus to be God, and distinguished the Holy Spirit from the Father, we can see how a Trinitarian framework fits them perfectly. I also noted very early that the modern doctrine of the Trinity is not to be found in the New Testament. However, that does not mean it contradicts the views of the authors of the New Testament. As Hurtado himself explains, the “later-developed doctrine” of the Trinity isn’t in the New Testament “not because they rejected such a doctrine, but because the philosophical questions and categories taken up later had not arisen among them in their time” (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” pg. 64). So, as I pointed out earlier, the categories used to describe the Trinity, such as with the use of terms like “persons”, “being” and “essence” only came about later. However, their understanding of God is indeed triadic, and we have a single God distinguished into the Father, Son, and Spirit.

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Were there any first-century synagogues?

I just wanted to write a short post on the topic of a recently debunked academic claim against the historical reliability of the Gospels, settled in academia just a few years back. As recently as 1995, Howard Lee Clark published a paper in the prominent Cambridge journal New Testament Studies arguing that, contrary to the descriptions in the Gospels, there were no synagogues before 70 AD. There were synagogues after 70 AD however, when the Gospels were written, so the Gospel authors inaccurately projected backward something from their own period to the ministry of Jesus. This, at the time, shed doubt on the reliability on a rather important feature of Jesus’ ministry, i.e. his preaching throughout the synagogues in Galilee.

If you had any impulse that this is an absurd claim, you were right. Since 1995, many synagogues from precisely this period have been discovered, including the famous one at Magdala in 2009 (the place where Mary Magdalene is from) and a synagogue found in a rural village in Galilee just in 2016 at Tel Rekhesh. Another six sites where synagogues dating before 70 AD have been discovered include (1) Gamla (2) Modi’in (Kh. Umm el-‘Umdan) (3) Qiryat Sepher (Kh. Bad ‘Issa) (4) Masada (5) Herodium and (6) Kh. Diab. That would make eight synagogues overall. See this recent paper by one of the very archaeologists excavating this site, Mordechai Aviam, pp. 223-225, who summarizes the recent archaeological progress being made in Galilee in the last few years. (Aviam says there are nine sites where pre-70 synagogues were discovered but I cannot see his reference to the ninth site.)

Aviam further expresses his archaeological confidence that in “almost every Jewish settlement – whether a polis or a village – had a synagogue in this period, as reflected in Matt 4:23 and as revealed by the very small synagogues at Kh. Diab in the Land of Benjamin and the one at Tel Rekhesh in Galilee” (pg. 225). As Aviam also explains on pp. 225-6, scholars have proposed varying predominant functions for the synagogue. For example, the major synagogue scholar Lee Levine argued that synagogues oriented towards a social function for the community. On the other hand, the Gospels describe synagogues as having a religious function. Aviam notes that these recent discoveries back up the descriptions in the Gospels on the religious function of the synagogue.

I have also written the following somewhere else but it’s a useful summary so I’ll repost it here;

… These series of discoveries confirmed that synagogues did, in fact, exist during Jesus’ ministry and that the Gospels had not misplaced them into the story. This conclusion is also supported by Josephus and Philo of Alexandria who wrote of first century synagogues (Jewish Antiquities XVI.6.2Quod omnis 81), as well as two pre-AD 70 inscriptions mentioning synagogues, including the Theodotus Inscription (see pg. 244 in the linked paper) discovered by Raimund Weill in his 1913-4 excavations at Ophel, and the inscription known as SEG XVII 823 discovered in the North African city Berenike. A good summary of the synagogue and its origins is in the Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Brill 2011), 1723-1746. Jesus is regularly depicted as entering and teaching in the synagogues, such as when Matthew narrates “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (4:23).

Is Luke 1-2 original to the Gospel, or added later?

A while ago, I had read on Bart Ehrman’s blog that Luke 1-2 was probably not original to the Gospel of Luke and a later addition. In the other Gospels, there are two passages that a lot of scholars think are additions, i.e. Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8-8:1-12, in part because these passages are not found in some of the earliest manuscripts. However, Luke 1-2 is found in all the earliest manuscripts, which might make us wonder how Ehrman, in spite of the textual evidence and view of the majority of scholars, would suggest that this passage is a later addition.

The reasons Ehrman give aren’t very good. We’re told, for example, that Luke 3 could be a good place to start the Gospel. Frankly, John 1:19 also sounds like a good start for John. So the beginning must be added on! Another reason given is that the genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 doesn’t “make sense” to Ehrman because it’s not placed at the moment when Jesus was born. However, Ehrman says, it makes perfect sense if Luke 1-2 wasn’t part of the original, because then the genealogy would be in the place where Luke describes Jesus’ baptism and the voice of heaven speaks from it! But if this is such a good location for Luke to place the genealogy, as Ehrman tells us, then why couldn’t have Luke just put it there anyways even with a birth narrative? Is that really impossible? Ehrman also says that some of the themes in Luke 1-2 are not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel (being born of a virgin, coming from Bethlehem), but if this is even a point credible enough to consider, it’s also true of the resurrection narrative of Luke. Is that any indication a later addition? Turns out, when Luke is narrating something as specific as the origins of Jesus, which won’t have much overlap with Jesus’ ministry, there will be a lot of unique details.

I was thinking to myself that there must be some sort of more empirical reason why Ehrman, and presumably a few other scholars here and there, could have suggested that Luke 1-2 was a later addition in spite of the manuscript evidence, and I came up with a possibility. I was reading Larry Hurtado’s major monograph Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2005) and it was noted that the original Greek of Luke 1-2 was quite Semitized, and so doesn’t properly fit with the rest of the Greek of Luke’s Gospel. So this might have been the reason for some scholars to suggest this. However, Hurtado didn’t point this out in the context of arguing (or even mentioning) if Luke 1-2 was a later addition. However, Hurtado notes some other serious hypotheses advanced by a variety of scholars;

As is well known to students of Luke, the very “Semitized” Greek of Luke 1-2, and the thoroughly Judaic tone and content of these speeches in particular, have led some scholars to propose that the Lukan narrative here may represent pre-Lukan sources and the speeches may derive from pre-Christian circles of devout Jews. But whether Luke 1-2 embodies pre-Lukan or even pre-Christian sources/material or is substantially the author’s own effort to produce a deliberately Judaic and biblical like narrative of Jesus’ birth, my point here is that the very tone and cadences of the Lukan nativity account clearly function to present Jesus’ birth in the closest connection with biblical Israel and the messianic hopes that the author sees confirmed in Jesus. (pg. 327)

So, it appears that if anything, Luke could have been using earlier sources to document his narrative, otherwise, could also be Luke’s own attempt to Judaize the story of Jesus’ birth (as is well known, many early opponents of Christianity, including some Jewish opponents, had suggested Jesus was an illegitimate child rather than virginally born). It’s not all too uncommon for Luke to have Semitized sections in Luke-Acts. Therefore, the Semitized Greek of Luke 1-2 also cannot indicate any real reason for considering this section of the Gospel a later addition. All in all, there’s no significant challenge to the authenticity of this text to consider. Again, this is a very rare claim and most people will never encounter it, however, it’s good to show that there’s no evidence for it and it’s off the table.

Thoughts on Mark’s Supposed Geographic Errors

One of the longstanding discussions in academia is whether or not the author of the Gospel of Mark was a Jew or Gentile, and related to this, is whether or not Mark was written in Galilee (i.e. where the ministry of Jesus mostly took place) or the diaspora (the diaspora is essentially a term for the land outside of Israel, and so diasporan Jews are Jews who do not live in Israel). I’ve been going over this recently, and I’m essentially convinced that the author of Mark was, in fact, Jewish (rather than a Gentile convert to Christianity), not only for his detailed understanding of Jewish culture and the Hebrew scriptures, but including his important knowledge and use of Aramaic and Hebrew. Martin Hengel, for example, wrote that “I do not know of any other work in Greek which has as many Aramaic or Hebrew words and formulae in so narrow a space as does the second Gospel” (Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 46). One argument, at least advanced by Bart Ehrman, that the author was a Gentile, was owned badly enough by scholar Deane Galbraith that Ehrman accepted to being entirely mistaken, and though Galbraith isn’t decisive on the issue himself, he has resolved another issue of mine related to the topic, namely, whether or not Mark was mistaken on saying Joseph of Arimathea bought the shroud on the Sabbath day to cover Jesus with it. But don’t Jews not work on the Sabbath? As Galbraith noted, the Greek is ambiguous and it may also imply that Joseph had already bought the shroud.

Anywho, it’s also debated whether or not Mark was composed inside of Galilee or outside of it. I’ve not made any decision on the topic as of yet. A point that some scholars cite to claim Mark was composed outside of Galilee (the usual alternate location being Rome) is that Mark gets a bit of Galilean geography wrong. I was reading a paper written by Joanna Dewey, a member of the Jesus Seminar, and she writes;

It has often been argued that Mark was stunningly unclear on the geography of Galilee. In particular, in Mark 5:1–20 Gerasa is too far inland from the lake, and in Mark 7:31 Jesus is said to travel from the villages of Tyre north toward Sidon in order to get to the Decapolis farther south. As Adela Collins describes it, that would be like going from Chicago to Indiana via Wisconsin and then East and South through Michigan. (‘A Galilean Provenance for the Gospel of Mark?’ Forum [Third Series] 2 (2013), pg. 103)

In a second, we’ll see why Dewey doesn’t agree with this. But first of all, I must note that even if Mark did botch up a little bit of Galilean geography, that frankly wouldn’t really affect the debate on the location of the composition of Mark’s Gospel, or the one on Mark’s reliability. Josephus, who was very familiar with Galilean geography (he lead the Jewish forces stationed in Galilee in the Roman-Jewish War), also botches up a bit of his own Galilean geography (see Ze’ev Safrai’s chapter in the edited monograph Josephus, the Bible, and History, 295-324). Also, see this article by John Bruegge on how Josephus’s biases shaped his geographical descriptions. So this doesn’t really impact either this debate or the one on Gospel reliability. The fact that even Josephus makes such errors also refutes Adam Winn’s argument (The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel, 2008, 85-86) that unfamiliarity with the geography of anywhere in Palestine, such as Judea and the Decapolis, means Mark could not have been written anywhere in Palestine, including Galilee. However, it seems that there’s good reason academics have noted for doubting the presence of such geographic errors in Mark’s account.

On this note, Dewey’s been convinced of Mark’s knowledge of Galilean geography by the important contribution of H.N. Roskam’s The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in its Historical and Social Context (2004), in pp. 104-109. Instead of wasting words, I’ll quote Roskam directly;

A reference concerning Galilee that seems to be problematic occurs in the story about Jesus walking on water in Mk 6:45-52. Kurt Niederwimmer argues that the mention of Bethsaida in Mk 6:45 shows that Mark did not know that this village was located on the north-east coast of the lake.108 The setting of the preceding story, that is, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand in Mk 6:30-44, is, according to Niederwimmer, the east side of the lake.109 Accordingly, Niederwimmer considers the evangelist’s remark in Mk 6:45 that the disciples were heading for Bethsaida by crossing the lake ‘to the opposite side’ (είς τό πέραν, v. 45) to be mistaken, because both Bethsaida and the supposed location of the feeding miracle were on the same side, that is, the east side of the lake.110 From a careful analysis of the geographical references in Mk 6, however, it will become clear that Mark locates the feeding miracle in Mk 6:30-44 not on the east coast of the lake, but on the west coast.

The feeding of the five thousand, which is related in the next passage, Mk 6:35-44, also takes place somewhere on the west coast of the lake. In Mk 6:32 it is said that Jesus and the disciples ‘went away (άπήλθον) in the boat to a deserted place,’ not that they crossed the lake to the other side.114 Thus in Mk 6:32, and still in Mk 6:45, Jesus and his disciples are thought to be on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, at a quiet place somewhere in the vicinity of Tiberias. From there the disciples head by ship for Bethsaida which is indeed, as Mk 6:45 says, on the other side, i.e. on the north-east coast of the lake. The geographical reference in Mk 6:45, therefore, proves to be correct. The view that Mk 6:45 contains a geographical error is based on a misinterpretation of the word άπήλθον in Mk 6:32. Now that it has become clear that in Mk 6:45 the disciples are thought to sail from the west coast of the lake in the direction of Bethsaida on the north-east coast, the setting of the rest of the story of Mk 6:45-52 is also understandable. The disciples set off in a boat on their own. When they are halfway, in the middle of the lake, Jesus catches up with them (v. 48). From the point where they meet they cross the water to the coast and end up in Gennesaret (v. 53). Gennesaret was probably situated on the north-west coast of the Sea of Galilee, about halfway between Tiberias and Bethsaida.116 The movements of Jesus and the disciples in Mk 6:45-52 are perfectly compatible, therefore, with the geography of the area around the Galilean Sea. (pp. 105-107)

How does Roskam deal with the problem explained by Dewey above in Mark 7:31? In pp. 107-8, Roskam shows that the geographic problem has to do with where Mark understands Sidon to be, rather than the Sea of Galilee, a much more minor error. However, Timothy McGrew, a philosopher (admittedly not a historian) at Western Michigan University seems to have provided a rather adequate solution to this supposed problem more fully in 2012 (and his argument has been beautifully animated if you’d like to see both the extent of the supposed problem and the solution). As yet, I have not seen any adequate problems in McGrew’s reconstruction. On pp. 97-100, Roskam also notes two unresolved geographical problems Mark has, one with Judea and one with the Decapolis, regarding Mark 5:1-20 and Mark 11:1. However, I think in McGrew’s recent work, coherent explanations for both passages have been offered. So, it is unlikely that there are any geographical problems in Mark’s Gospel, and the presence of geographic problems in a source like Josephus eliminates the relevance of any even if they did exist, either in the discussion of where Mark’s Gospel was written, or on the question if such errors say something significant about a source’s reliability.

A Response to Tim O’Neill on the Resurrection of Jesus

Tim O’Neill is an excellent atheist. Being widely read in ancient historiography, certainly over a much longer period and knowing far more than I do, he eventually became sick of the atheist misrepresentations of ancient history and launched the blog History for Atheists, a favorite of mine. In it, he refutes various myths told and retold by the oddly unskeptical skeptics about the history of Christianity, including absurd claims of Christians having destroyed the ancient works by showing, in fact, that under the new dominance of Christianity in light of the conversion of the Roman Empire, non-Christian works were almost as likely to survive into the present day as Christian works. He debunks the ridiculous idea that Christians destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria or that Nicolas Copernicus waited until his deathbed to publish his heliocentric theory in fear that the Christian orthodoxy would clamp down on him. In a series of posts, he’s basically laid to rest any credibility of the work of Richard Carrier, a failed historian and unbelievably biased quack whose created an entire (rather unsuccessful) career out of trying to claim that Jesus didn’t actually historically exist. Such is but a small contribution made by O’Neill in his new blog.

Of course, I’ll have to hold up some disagreements with O’Neill as well. This post, in particular, will be devoted to responding to his detailed and lengthy argument on Quora arguing against the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus (in response to someone’s question ‘What evidence is there for Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection?‘). I think the first paragraph of O’Neill’s answer in his question summarizes his argument;

The source evidence that exists that purports to show that Jesus “rose from the dead” actually indicates how this idea most likely developed and evolved over time.  It indicates that the idea that Jesus was somehow “resurrected” was a way his followers dealt with his sudden and unexpected execution and that this idea developed from an abstract one into one of a more concrete, physical revivification.  The contradictions in the various accounts, which date from the 50s AD through to the 90s-100 AD, show this process of development.

So, the source evidence (Paul’s letters and the Gospels) reveal that the claim of Jesus’ resurrection was actually a sudden response to his unexpected execution and that, as can be gleaned from a study of the texts, our surviving accounts reveal that the story has been evolving over time, which helps discredit them. Let’s see what I can do here to weaken the case. To set up, I’ll outline the most important areas where me and O’Neill are on the same page. Jesus had an apocalyptic theology, Paul is the only first-hand surviving account, and the Gospels were written between 70-100 AD (I’d just say 90-100 AD, but O’Neill suggests John is between 90-120 AD).

O’Neill begins by pointing out that a text making a miracle claim isn’t identical to it being historically accurate, and that even the highly credible Roman historian Tacitus, closely associated with the court of the emperor Vespasian, reports miracles taking place here. Then, O’Neill writes;

One form of miracle that was widely believed in was the idea of apotheosis, where a great man is physically taken up in to the heavens and raised to divine status. It was claimed that Romulus, the founder of Rome, underwent this process and later appeared to his friend Julius Proculus to declare his new celestial status.  The same claim was made about Julius Caesar and Augustus, with supposed witnesses observing their ascent into the heavenly realm.  Lucian’s satire The Passing of Peregrinus includes his scorn for the claim that the philosopher was taken up into the celestial realm and was later seen walking around on earth after his death.  The Chariton novel Callirhoe has its hero Chaereas visiting the tomb of his recently dead wife, saying he “arrived at the tomb at daybreak” where he “found the stones removed and the entrance open. At that he took fright.”  Others are afraid to enter the tomb, but Chaereas goes in and finds his wife’s body missing and concludes she has been taken up by the gods.

Remember, Jesus was exalted again after His death back to the status of divinity (Philippians 2:6-11), and, therefore, can be likened to a form of apotheosis. O’Neill’s argument here is that in the world of Roman paganism, apotheosis was largely common and so may help describe the psychology of the early Christians in accepting a theological apotheosis for their own just-dead prophet. There’s a crucial flaw in this argument, however, which is the sheer extent to which pagan apotheosis was rejected by 1st century Jews as a component of their monotheism. Larry Hurtado, perhaps the worlds leading historian of early Christian Christology, writes;

Second, the Jewish monotheistic stance forbade apotheosis, the divinization of human figures, and thus clashed with a major theme in pagan religion of the time. Philo’s quip about Gaius Caligula’s claim to divinity aptly illustrates Jewish attitudes, and is all the more important in coming from a diaspora Jew who in some other respects shows a cosmopolitan attitude: “Sooner could God change into a man than a man into God” (Embassy to Gaius 118). This rejection of apotheosis as ridiculous and blasphemous seems in fact to have been characteristic of devout Jews of the Roman period, and this in turn makes highly implausible any explanation of the Christ-devotion attested in, and affirmed by, Paul as resulting from the prevalence of the notion of apotheosis in the Roman era. Though Jewish writings of the time show that principal angels and revered human figures such as Moses or Enoch could be pictured in a highly exalted status, and described in terms that can be compared with divinization, the refusal to accord any such figure cultic worship shows that we are not dealing here with a genuine apotheosis. In light of the allergic sensitivity of devout Jews of the time about claims of apotheosis, any scholar who wishes to propose the relevance of this category for explaining the Christ devotion of the first couple decades of the Christian movement is obliged to provide a cogent description of the specific process by which Christian Jews could have adopted this repellent category without realizing it. (Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005, 91-93)

In a footnote (n. 34), Hurtado describes the weaknesses of a similar proposal by Adela Yarbro Collins, that Jews unconsciously adapted such pagan tropes. Elsewhere, he points out that likening what happened with Jesus to apotheosis is simplistic, and that this wasn’t apotheosis since Jesus didn’t become an additional God to Christians, rather Jewish monotheism was reconfigured to include Jesus (pg. 51). Hurtado shows that even in the thoroughly Hellenized writings of Philo of Alexandria, apotheosis is rejected as absurd. While divinizing language may be applied to the ascents of Moses and Elijah in some of the texts of this time period, the failure for these figures to receive any cultic worship demonstrates these aren’t really cases of Jewish apotheosis. Therefore, the prevalence of this pagan belief can, in no way, explain the readiness of the early Christians to accept Jesus’ resurrection and deity. Hurtado writes, “we have no other Roman-era example of a religious movement with similar ties to the Jewish religious tradition of exclusivistic monotheism and with a devotional pattern that involved so thoroughly a second figure in addition to God” (pg. 7).

I’ll also mention that O’Neill goes on to explain the story of the pagan deity Apollonius of Tyana in the works of Philostratus, and notes the numerous similarities it has with the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, the Life of Apollonius is a third-century writing and, as O’Neill points outs, these stories may very well have been borrowed directly from the story of Jesus. O’Neill also details how the Jewish apocalypticism in the era of Jesus, regarding the views of the coming end of the world and God’s judgement, included a belief in the general resurrection of the dead. This, in fact, is accurate. O’Neill points this out to refute an apologetic (that wont be argued for here) that the resurrection of Jesus was unthinkable at the time, since there was no idea of individuals being resurrected before the end-time general resurrection itself. Even in the New Testament, several resurrections before Jesus’ are mentioned, including that of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43) and Lazarus (John 11:1-46).

In a recent paper, John Granger Cook has detailed that there were several other places in the Jewish literature where the resurrection happens;

From the second century BCE onward clear traces of resurrection can be
found in some Jewish texts. Claudia Setzer summarises the ambivalent views of ancient Judaism admirably:

… Jewish materials from the second century BCE through the first century CE exhibit a range of understandings of the afterlife. Fairly explicit claims of bodily resurrection appear in texts like 1 Enoch (51), 2 Maccabees, 4Q521,  and Sibylline Oracle 4. A mix of concepts of resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul appear in 1 Enoch (91, 103), 1QH, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch and Pseudo-Phocylides. Ambiguity prevails in works that nevertheless imply resurrection, such as ‘the Book of the Watchers’ [1-36] in 1 Enoch, The Testament of Judah, Psalms of Solomon, and CD 2:7–12. (Cook, John Granger. “Resurrection in Paganism and the Question of an Empty Tomb in 1 Corinthians 15.” New Testament Studies 63.1 (2017): 60-61.)

This paper will become important in just a moment. Now that we’ve seen how O’Neill outlines the background of the story of the resurrection, we’ll move into his latter argument; the evolution of the stories of the Gospels themselves. O’Neill analyzes five sources to outline how the resurrection story evolved, in order of their dating. First, Paul’s writings (c. 50 AD), then the Gospel of Mark (c. 70 AD), then Luke (c. 80 AD) and Matthew (c. 80 AD), and finally, John (c. 90-120 AD). This will show that the stories of the resurrection in the Gospel clearly underwent literary development, evolution and embellishment over a series of decades, and, according to O’Neill, shows a transition from describing a purely spiritual resurrection in Paul’s theology, where Jesus never undergoes any bodily resurrection, to the Gospels, where bodily resurrection is fully envisioned and the details of the story become increasingly legendary. Here’s what O’Neill says about Paul (to read O’Neill’s entire comment, see here).

Paul then goes on to scold some of the Corinthians for saying there was not going to be a general resurrection of the dead – as already noted above, this idea was not universally accepted by all Jews and it seems to have become disputed in the Corinthian community of the Jesus sect.  Paul asks “if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (v. 12) and goes on to call Jesus’ resurrection “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”, ie the pre-figurement of the coming general resurrection.  He goes on to address the question of whether this coming resurrection will involve the rising of physical bodies and says in response “How foolish!”.  Then he goes on to explain that the coming general resurrection will not be physical but involve “spiritual bodies”.

If Jesus’ resurrection is the pre-figurement of the coming general resurrection of the dead, therefore, it is clear that for Paul his rising did not involve a physical body.  This is why Paul’s references to and insistence on the fact of the rising of Jesus makes no mention of the evidence of a physical revivification of his dead body that features in some of the later accounts: the empty tomb, discarded grave cloths, people touching Jesus, Jesus eating and his physical form flying up into heaven.  For Paul, at this early stage of the development of the story, the risen Jesus is a spiritual concept involving visions, not physical encounters.

As far as I’m concerned, the proposition that Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection, and that Jesus never bodily rose from the dead according to Paul’s theology, is a minority view in scholarship. Nevertheless, I’ve written a complete critique and refutation of this claim here. The following will be a full reposting of this evidence.

Spiritual resurrection in Paul is argued for in a few ways, including arguing that some terminology Paul uses when discussing the resurrection of Jesus is compatible with a spiritual interpretation of the resurrection. Before I begin, I’ll just note that the Greek word ōphthē, conjugation of ὁράω (horao) which Paul uses to say that he saw Jesus and O’Neill mentions in his case for spiritual resurrection, simply means “to perceive with the eye” (doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with spiritual sight) and so can’t be used to open up the possibility that this was a spiritual vision and, thus, a spiritual resurrection, any more then I claiming to have seen a lion with my eyes implies that I saw a spiritual lion from heaven. Here’s the definition of the Greek word from Frederick Dankers’ Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago 2009), pg. 254. I’m posting a screenshot since it’s difficult copying and pasting this.

Screenshot (6)

Here, Dankers lists the primary definition of horao as to perceive with the eye, as in, you’re looking at something physical. Dankers lists the use of horao in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 here, and not under the tertiary definition of “extraordinary mental or inward perception”, listed in the bottom half of the screenshot (where verses like Hebrews 2:8, which says we can’t see everything God subjects to Himself, are listed). The way Paul uses the term for seeing Jesus’ resurrection, is, at best, neutral. Just had to take care of this little detail first, since I’ve seen others use it to argue for spiritual resurrection here.

The terminology Paul uses to describe the resurrection only refers to someone physically coming back to life and isn’t compatible with spiritual resurrection. The Greek word Paul uses for ‘raised’ is ἐγείρω (egeirō) which has been conclusively shown by James Ware to mean someone physically waking up from sleep, or in this context, physically getting up (The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5, 2014, 492-497). Both terms imply a physical movement upwards when describing resurrection. There is no evidence that these Greek terms include the possibility of spiritual resurrection.

There’s more. Cook has recently shown that in the context of Jewish and pagan belief in the centuries revolving Jesus’ life resurrection was solely viewed as a bodily phenomenon, showing that in the context of Jesus’ era, his followers would have assumed physical resurrection and the presence of an empty tomb. That’s to say that the historical context to early Christianity suggests Jesus ‘spiritually ascending to heaven’ despite a rotting corpse outside Jerusalem likely wouldn’t have been a possibility. While some have tried to argue spiritual resurrection can be found in Daniel 12, Cook points out;

A convincing defence of bodily resurrection may be found in A. Chester, Future Hope and Present Reality, vol. I: Eschatology and Transformation in the Hebrew Bible (WUNT 293; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012) 291–5. The Hebrew verb in Dan 12.2 (יקיצו) should be compared with the verb used for Gehazi’s failure to raise the dead boy in 2 Kings 4.31, who showed no signs of waking/rising (הקיץ לא), translated in 4 Reg 4.31 with the very material οὐκ ἠγέρθη. Cf. Levenson, Resurrection, 186.” (pg. 61, n. 34)

Therefore, the cultural context of when Christianity came on the scene shows Jesus’ followers could only have believed in physical resurrection and their appearance experiences must have been physical in nature.

Some argue for spiritual resurrection by appealing to 1 Corinthians 15:44, which, in the English translation, appears to suggest that Paul did view resurrection as spiritual. O’Neill cites this text as well.

1 Corinthians 15:44: It is sown a natural [ψυχικόν] body, it is raised a spiritual [πνευματικόν] body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

The use of this verse to defend spiritual resurrection, however, becomes untenable when we look at the Greek terms being translated as ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’. The Greek psuchikon (ψυχικόν) which translates to ‘natural’ is only used by Paul in one other passage, that is, 1 Corinthians 2:14. Here, it’s used to refer to those who live in sinful desire and has nothing to do with physicality. Richard Hays writes about the meaning of this term;

The term psychic is difficult to translate properly; it refers to human beings living in their natural state apart from the Spirit of God and therefore unenlightened and blind to the truth. They don’t ‘get it.'” (Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, 46)

The second Greek word to look at here, translated as ‘spiritual’, is pneumatikon (πνευματικόν), sometimes used in the New Testament to refer to immaterial beings (such as in Ephesians 6:12). However, Paul mostly uses this term to simply refer to spirituality, such as spiritual wisdom, gifts, blessings, songs, etc (Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 2:13, 9:11, 12:1; Romans 5:19, etc). To sum up, in 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul is contrasting the spiritually unenlightened (natural people) with the spiritually enlightened (spiritual people). For a more detailed refutation of this argument, see historian Michael Licona in his The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pp. 406-413). For a more direct further refutation, also see this online article by James Ware showing that the contextual and lexical evidence renders a spiritual resurrection reading of this passage untenable.

Sometimes, advocates of spiritual resurrection even cite Paul in Acts 9 and 21 to claim Paul experienced a spiritual resurrection, since those chapters just record that Paul just saw a light and heard a voice. Of course, the same passages also say that the people traveling with Paul also saw the light he saw, which would rule out a spiritual appearance only taking place in Paul’s mind. Not only that, but an attempt to appeal to Luke-Acts for support of the concept of spiritual resurrection turns out to be a case of cherry-picking verses to support your argument, since all the other resurrection appearances mentioned by Luke-Acts are unequivocally physical (see Luke 24; Acts 1:6–11, Acts 10:41). Which implies that Luke, like Paul, had no concept of spiritual resurrection, and so Acts 9 and 11 are just less clear instances of a physical appearance happening.

Hence, it appears to me that it is highly plausible that Paul didn’t believe in spiritual resurrection. To summarize;

  • All the terminology Paul uses in his epistles to describe Jesus’ resurrection are either consistent with or directly implies bodily resurrection
  • In the era of Jesus, almost if not all conceptions of resurrection in Judaism were believed in terms of bodily resurrection — hence, Cook notes that the idea of spiritual resurrection at this time in Judaism is a “category mistake” (pg. 61)
  • Although O’Neill and others appeal to the visions described by the Acts recounting Paul’s appearance, a look at Acts’ description of resurrection elsewhere shows the author believed in a physical resurrection (it might as well be special pleading if one admits that the other appearance in Acts are physical but this one is spiritual

Also see James Ware’s recent paper Paul’s Understanding of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:36–54 (JBL 2014), where Ware shows that Paul’s grammar also strongly indicates bodily resurrection. Thus, O’Neill’s most significant piece of ‘evolution’ in the Christian understanding of the resurrection, the transition from belief in spiritual to bodily resurrection, doesn’t actually exist.

O’Neill now begins to address the stories and development of the four Gospels. I’ll pick out a number of flaws here and there throughout O’Neill’s argument, before moving to my major argument.

On the way there [the women going to visit Jesus’ tomb] they ask each other “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3), which should strike most readers as a question they should have asked before they set out, if this story was historical.

Really, should it strike us? Well … not really. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not too uncommon for people to not actually have thought out all the details before going out with each other, especially on something so emotional where these women … might just really wanted to have seen Jesus as soon as possible. Surely, this is not such an absurd possibility to consider?

Secondly, the use of the word ἀποκυλίω (to roll away) indicates that the stone closing the tomb in the gMark account is meant to be round.  A survey of First Century Jewish rock cut and cave tombs by Amos Kloner found that 98% of them were closed by square stones prior to 70 AD, with only four of the surveyed sites closed by a rolling round stone.  After 70 AD, however, round stones became far more common.  So this detail seems to be indicating the kind of tomb in the later First Century, given that a tomb of this style was exceedingly rare in Jesus’ time.  This could just be the writer of gMark indicating the kind of tomb in the time he was writing or it could be that the tomb itself, an element conspicuous by its absence in Paul’s version, was an addition to the story.

The details seem to be accurate; most stones closing tombs in the Jewish land at this time were square stones, and round stones only appear later on in the century. So perhaps this sly detail in the Gospels, where they say the stone was rolled away, gives away ahistoricity? Nope. As scholar and archaeologist Urban C. von Wahlde has pointed out to the Biblical Archaeology magazine, the square-shaped stones would also have been rolled. It’s a bit obvious if you think about it. What else were they going to do? Carry around the gigantic rocks?

It is not necessary to change the definition of kulio to make sense of the Gospel accounts. Von Wahlde points out: “It may very well be that people rolled the ‘cork-shaped’ stones away from the tomb. Once you see the size of a ‘stopper’ stone, it is easy to see that, however one gets the stone out of the doorway, chances are you are going to roll it the rest of the way.” Although they certainly would not have rolled as easily as round (disk-shaped) stones, cork-shaped stones still could have been rolled.

Moving on, O’Neill points out there are no resurrection appearances in the Gospel of Mark. Though he neglects to mention that in Mark 14:28, Jesus explicitly tells his disciples that after his resurrection, he’ll go ahead and meet them at Galilee (therefore, the appearances are implied). O’Neill also suggests that while Joseph of Arimathea may be historical, it’s possible he was invented to make the Gospel story fit better with Old Testament ‘prophecy’ (i.e. Isaiah 53). Another possibility is as scholar Jodi Magness explains, Joseph’s actions seem to be the likely consequence of following Jewish law;

Joseph of Arimathea seems to have been motivated by a concern for the observance of Jewish law. On the one hand, Deut 21:22-23 mandates burial within twenty-four hours of death, even for those guilty of the worst crimes, whose bodies were hanged after death. On the other hand, Jewish law prohibits burial on the Sabbath and festivals. Because Jesus expired on the cross on the eve of the Sabbath, he had to be buried before sundown on Friday, because waiting until after sundown on Saturday would have exceeded the twenty-four-hour time limit. Since there was no time to prepare a grave, Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his family’s rockcut tomb. (Magness, Jodi. Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011, 165).

Let’s talk about some actual (well, supposed) development. O’Neill, throughout his answer, places emphasis on two discrepancies in the four resurrection accounts. The first is the number of women that visited Jesus’ tomb. Mark says that there were three women (16:1), Luke says has an unspecified amount but at least five (24:1, 10), Matthew has two (28:1), and John has one (20:1). Clear development of the story? Asides from the fact that there’s no linear pattern of development through the four Gospels, as Michael Licona points out in his recent monograph Why are there Differences in the Gospels? (Oxford 2016), an analysis of the Gospels in the background of their genre (ancient biography) shows many of the differences between Gospel accounts are the product of the literary techniques commonly seen throughout ancient biographical works (neither I, nor Licona, are inerranists). In the case of the number of women, it’s clear that the Gospels are using the literary technique of spotlighting. No development happening. Imagine a stage of dancers performing at a show. The stage goes dark, you can’t see anyone. The spotlight shines on a single dancer. You know all the other dancers are there, but you can only see one. That’s spotlighting. Literary spotlighting is a single person being mentioned in a story while the author/reader knows that others are present, even if not explicitly mentioned. Quite common in ancient biography. In fact, when it comes to the resurrection stories and the number of women present, we know literary spotlighting is happening.

John 20:1: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Remember, John’s Gospel only reports one woman, Mary, visiting the tomb. So what did Mary mean when she said “we” in the above verses? It’s clear that John, even though he doesn’t mention other women being present, is explicitly aware of them. Hence, we know that the variance in the number of women between the Gospels is a product of literary spotlighting, rather than contradiction or literary development. This isn’t the only place where literary spotlighting happens in the resurrection accounts. Licona points out another;

Now look 12 verses later [Luke 24:12], when Jesus is talking with the Emmaus disciples. Luke says they were kept from recognizing Jesus and told him that their women friends had gone to the tomb that morning, discovered it empty, and were told by angels that Jesus had risen from the dead. They added that when the women informed them of this, “some of those with us” went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said (24:24). In 24:12, Luke only mentioned Peter. But it’s obvious that he knew of others in 24:24. Luke was shining his literary spotlight on Peter in 24:12.

In Luke 24:12, Peter is described as going to the tomb, but a few verses later, the word “us” is used to describe the people going back to the tomb. Another example of the Gospels describing a number of people present at a scene while knowing others are present.

Another supposed theme of development O’Neill cites is the men/angels present at the tomb when the women get there. Mark says that when the women get there, they see a man (16:5), Luke mentions two men (24:4), Matthew mentions one angel (28:1-2), and John mentions two angels (20:1-2, 12). Is any development happening? Is the number of people increasing, or are the authors turning the men into angels as time goes on? The discrepancy between the number of angels/men present can clearly be attributed to literary spotlighting — Mark and Matthew are aware of more then one angel, they simply don’t mention them. But were they men or angels? Clearly, all the Gospels are describing angels. Mark describes a “young man dressed in white”, whereas Luke describes “two men in dazzling clothes stood”. White/dazzling clothing is regularly used all throughout the New Testament as a mark for heavenly visitation (e.g., Mark 9:3; Matt 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10; 10:30. See also Dan 7:9; 2 Macc 3:26, 33; 2 En 1:4–11; Gos Pet 36, 55; Josephus, Ant 5:277). In fact, as it happens, Luke even ends up calling the men angels in a tucked away verse later on anyways (24:22-23). No development.

O’Neill also says Matthew places little emphasis on Jesus being physically resurrected — though, this is irrelevant, I’ve already shown there’s no evidence of spiritual resurrection in earliest Christianity (or Judaism at all), and Matthew clearly believed in physical resurrection. O’Neill mentions that Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions an earthquake taking place during this time. Here, I’ll simply point out that in 2012, a number discovered of scientists discovered (see this paper in the geological journal International Geology Review) that a 6.3 magnitude earthquake took place in this region between 26-36 AD (the authors note the possibility of this being Matthew’s earthquake). So I wouldn’t discount the story too quickly.

We’re then told that the guard present in at the tomb in Matthew also appears to be a product of legendary development. Here, I’ll reference a defense of the historicity of the guard in the journal New Testament Studies. These points are hardly as indefensible as O’Neill makes them out to be. O’Neill also claims another contradiction exists in the accounts — in Matthew, the tomb is rolled away after the women arrive, whereas it’s already rolled away in the other Gospels. But as Licona points out, the grammar of Matthew’s Gospel allows for a reading where the stone is already rolled away. O’Neill continues;

In the other two gospels [Mark and Luke], the women are specifically going to the tomb to anoint the body.  This is strange, because the Jewish custom was to do this at burial – there is no evidence of people ever doing it afterwards.  Given Jewish taboos about dead bodies, it is a very unlikely thing for them to do.

I’m not familiar with this topic myself, so I’ll assume O’Neill is right and that this detail is, at best, implausible in light of Jewish customs at the time. What O’Neill doesn’t bother doing is taking the next step and talking about how accurate the Gospels are as a whole in their description of Jewish burial customs. We’re about to see why. Byron McCane writes in his explanation of burial customs in 1st century Palestine writes;

As soon as death was certain, the deceased’s eyes were closed; the corpse was washed, and then wrapped and bound. According to the third-century C.E. Jewish tractate Semahot, men could only prepare the corpse of a man, but women could prepare both men and women. Literary depictions often suggest that perfumes or ointments were used for this washing. The body was wrapped and bound in strips of cloth. John 11 has such preparations in view: Lazarus’s “hands and feet [were] bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth” (John 11:44).

After primary burial, the procession returned to the family home, where expressions of condolence continued. Rituals of death continued for several days thereafter. Literary sources, including John 11, agree that for the first seven days, the immediate family remained at home in mourning. If mourners left the house during this time, it was presumed that they would go to the tomb. In John 11, Mary leaves the family home, and neighbors and friends assume “she was going to the tomb to weep there” (John 11:31).

Archaeological evidence has been decisive in the interpretation of some New Testament texts about tombs, graves, death, and burial. In particular, the saying of Jesus in Matt 8:21-22 presupposes secondary burial: “‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (a parallel passage occurs at Luke 9:59-60). Luke 11:47-48’s “tombs of the prophets” most likely refers to the monumental Hellenistic tombs in the Kidron Valley. And the Lazarus narrative in John 11 accurately represents typical customs of mourning, tomb construction, and grave wrappings.

Jodi Magness (who I mentioned earlier) is a world-renowned expert on precisely this topic, and is quite clear that the Gospel description is overall largely consistent with the historical evidence;

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial appear to be largely consistent with the archaeological evidence. In other words, although archaeology does not prove there was a follower of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea or that Pontius Pilate granted his request for Jesus’ body, the Gospel accounts describing Jesus’ removal from the cross and burial accord well with archaeological evidence and with Jewish law. The source(s) of these accounts were familiar with the manner in which wealthy Jews living in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus disposed of their dead. (pg. 171)

So, while one particular detail here and there may be implausible throughout the whole of the Gospel descriptions regarding the resurrection of Jesus, it’s evident that, by and large, the Gospels are rather accurate on the topic and that this supports the case for the resurrection if anything. Perhaps O’Neill was just tired when he wrote that, his answer is a long one.

Now, we can finally move on to perhaps my major argument. Rather than think of the argument myself, I’m just going to appropriate the evidence O’Neill provides. O’Neill offers this highly useful chart on to prove the ‘development’ of the Gospels. I’ll use the same chart to prove precisely the opposite.

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There ya go, clear evidence that there is no decipherable ‘development’ in the sources at all. The order of the sources in this chart is Paul first, then Mark, Matthew, Luke, and finally John. There are 20 rows under the first row that describes which sources have which details, each row being devoted to explaining which sources contains which resurrection details. In the following, ‘Row 1’ will be the row with the Sunday appearances details, and the rest follow numerically. In the entire chart, the only details mentioned by Paul are found in rows 13-16. Why? An early stage in the later development? Actually, Paul is just writing letters to the churches addressing their various theological problems, rather than giving a detailed account of the events leading up to and surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. The other Gospels, however, are all biographies of Jesus and so we would naturally expect them to have much more information. In fact, the only details Paul qualifies for, rows 13-16, are from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 — a section of Paul’s letters that he didn’t even compose himself. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is just an early creed, dating to within a few years or perhaps a few months after Jesus’ died (as scholars have known for a while) that Paul is simply passing on in his own letters. In other words, Paul actually devotes no space of his own whatsoever to deal with the actual history of the resurrection (and just quotes a short creed to do that for him), and so it’s obviously completely unsurprising why he has so little information. This topic of the actual history of the events was secondary to the purpose of Paul’s letters — i.e. dealing with the theological issues of the early churches he’s connected to and helped establish. It’s hardly methodologically sound to compare the biographical details of Paul, in his utterly non-biographical descriptions, to actual biographical accounts. Let’s try looking at the Gospels.

The Gospels all agree on the details in rows 1, 3, and 5, so no development there. Rows 2 and 7 are about the number of women and the angels, row 8 is about the earthquake, and row 15 is about the appearance to the disciples, which I’ve already dealt with. The following will focus on the rest of the chart. Other than that, most of the details in this graph … show very little evidence of any linear development. For example, row 6 has a “rolled stone”. The first three Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) qualify for this detail, but the final Gospel, John, mentions no such thing. So is the development happening in the inverse direction of time? Other details are totally ambiguous and no line of development can be made out. In row 4, which has “anointing” (of Jesus), the first Gospel has it, the second doesn’t, and the third does, and the fourth doesn’t. Where is the ‘development’? Another phenomenon that takes place is that the Gospel in the middle, Matthew, mentions several details that no other Gospel mentions (rows 8, 9, 11, 18), Luke has two details mentioned nowhere else (rows 19 and 20, although apparently row 20 is ‘implied’ by John), and John, the latest of the Gospels, has one detail not mentioned in the other Gospels (row 12). (Maybe after Mark, the later the Gospel is, it has less development.)

Taking a look at this, it seems to me that the distribution of details … it’s actually quite random. All Gospels have unique details, and there’s no clear evidence that the latest of the Gospels tend to accumulate in details nowhere present in the earliest (I can only seriously see this in 2 out of all 20 details, in rows 17 and 20, and since there’s only two such examples, this could be due to … chance). There’s only two completely unambiguous cases of what looks like development through the four Gospels, and that’s regarding how many people the women told about the empty tomb after seeing it and the intimacy of each resurrection appearance. Perhaps just a wee bit of legendary development such as in an element here and there in Matthew and John, quite minor, can help explain this all away. And yet, bits of development here and there isn’t much to make a case out of. The case made for the resurrection by Christian historians, such as in Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (InterVarsity 2010), is quite a lot more convincing. Also see Michael Licona smash agnostic historian Bart Ehrman in their 2016 written debate on TheBestSchools (warning: it’s incredibly long) on the topic of the evidence for Christ’s resurrection. In truth, while O’Neill sets up a long case, very little of it survives, perhaps far too little to have grounds for seriously challenge the Christian resurrection.

O’Neill ends by taking a look at the psychology of the earliest Christians, claiming that the psychological evidence indicates that when expectations/prophecy of a religious group get dashed, they reinterpret the prophecy to make it out to be a victory or something. The examples O’Neill gives for this are quite modern (Jehovah’s Witnesses and some UFO cult in the 1950’s). Apparently, this explains why the Christians came up with the idea of a resurrected Jesus — O’Neill comes up with the convenient explanation that after having their hopes shattered by Jesus’ death, they just looked at Isaiah 53 and just put the rest together. A few years ago, O’Neill answered another question on Quora regarding who the Messiah claimants in Jesus’ era were (besides Jesus). The only one definitively known to have claimed to have been the Messiah is Simon ben Kosiba, who led a major uprising against Rome, and O’Neill points out that a number of these other characters may have been interpreted as Messianic figures as well. And yet none of their followers continued the cult after the Romans smashed their leader. If we actually look at ancient Judaism, we realize that when a group of Jews lose their Messiah claimant, they tend not to depict him as resurrected or continue the cult at all.

Before Christianity, there was actually no expectation of a dead or resurrected Messiah among Jews at all, let alone one crucified by the Gentile Romans. If the followers of Jesus ever did come to some psychological conclusion in light of his death (the evidence suggests they wouldn’t have, instead, they would have just disbanded following Jesus’ crucifixion, as we’ve just seen), they would have never come to the belief that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Instead, they simply would have come to the belief that Jesus had ascended to heaven, like Elijah. There’s no reason why the early Christians should have come to the belief in resurrection or appearances on O’Neill’s hypothesis. Secondly, there’s another little detail O’Neill forgets that his thesis can’t account for. Remember, he claims that the followers of Jesus simply reinterpreted his death as a triumph in light of his death because of their psychological trauma … OK … what about Paul, who had never met Jesus and was a persecutor of the early Christians, who came to the belief that the risen Jesus appeared to him? What psychological trauma did he have when a preacher he had never heard of got crucified?

It looks to me like all this evidence in my point-by-point response to O’Neill is weakening if not fatal to O’Neill’s case against Jesus’ resurrection. And hallelujah for that. Enjoy a nice, long and excellent video on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection by InspiringPhilosophy;

Does God Send People To Hell?

The YouTube channel InspiringPhilosophy, certainly the most excellent channel on any study of Christianity or theism on the website and quite a large channel for its topic at that, just released what may be its best video yet: Does God Send People To Hell? My mind seems to have shifted in biblical interpretation on quite an important topic since I simply was unaware of the scholarly material here. This is probably a deeply important video, in my perspective. Here it is, and enjoy — I don’t often share any videos here. Consider the video to be my blogs solution to the question in the title.

Yes, Bob Seidensticker, Christianity Built the Universities and Hospitals

In the last month or so, I’ve encountered a tiresome series of two posts on Bob Seidensticker’s atheist blog that got my attention in a peculiar way. People well-read in ancient history are aware that, as is the consensus of all modern historians, the modern university evolved out of the Christian cathedral in the 12th and 13th centuries, and that the second medical revolution in human history is also a result of Christianity (see my earlier post here). So yes, Christianity is essentially responsible for the modern university and hospital. Bob, in what can only be termed his sheer lack of historical knowledge, tries to launch a full-out assault on these propositions. Normally, random blogs can be ignored, but if you type in something like “Christianity and university origins”, Bob’s posts are one of the first things that pop up. So strap yourself in, because this is going to be a full-lengthed complete refutation of Bob’s two posts. I engaged him at length in his own comments section, and after demonstrating his countless errors there (as well as those of his many fan readers), I’m gathering all of it here. So, let’s begin with the Christian origins of the university in the Christian cathedral — more specifically, what scholarship says about it. Edward Grant, arguably the worlds leading historian of science, writes;

The cathedral school was an evolutionary step on the path to the formation of the university, which was a wholly new institution that not only transformed the curriculum but also the faculty and its relationship to state and church. (God and Reason in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2004, 29.

Jacques Verger, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Paris, also writes;

But at the same time, in the field of teaching, the early decades of the thirteenth century were marked by serious mutations and ruptures, which must also be considered. Of these, the first and most visible was the appearance of an institutional structure which was completely new, without any real precedent and with an exceptional historical destiny: the university. (“The Universities and Scholasticism,” in The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume V c. 1198–c. 1300. Cambridge University Press, 2007, 257.)

Although there were other educations of higher learning in the ancient world, starting with institutions like the Lyceum and Plato’s Academy in ancient Greece, and the madrasas in the Islamic empire, none of these were modern universities, as we’re about to see. Jacques Verger writes elsewhere;

No one today would dispute the fact that universities, in the sense in which the term is now generally understood, were a creation of the Middle Ages, appearing for the first time between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It is no doubt true that other civilizations, prior to, or wholly alien to, the medieval West, such as the Roman Empire, Byzantium, Islam, or China, were familiar with forms of higher education which a number of historians, for the sake of convenience, have sometimes describes as universities. Yet a closer look makes it plain that the institutional reality was altogether different and, no matter what has been said on the subject, there is no real link such as would justify us in associating them with medieval universities in the West. Until there is definite proof to the contrary, these latter must be regarded as the sole source of the model which gradually spread through the whole of Europe and then to the whole world. We are therefore concerned with what is indisputably an original institution, which can only be defined in terms of a historical analysis of its emrgence and its mode of operation in concrete circumstances. (A History of the University in Europe. Vol. I: Universities in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2003, 35)

Oddly, Bob, in his own post, admits that Harvard University, itself, was founded as a Christian missionary school. Harvard writes on its own website that “Harvard University was founded in 1636 with the intention of establishing a school to train Christian ministers”. Harvard goes on to note its original motto, adopted in 1692, was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae” (or “Truth for Christ and the Church”).

So, historians clearly agree that the modern university emerged in 12th and 13th century medieval Europe, evolving from the Christian cathedral schools. This was not the only role Christianity played, though. The church would go on to personally establish a number of the earliest modern universities, including the University of Toulouse (1229), Macerata (1290), Sapienza (1303), Perugia (1308) and others. The papacy developed the studium generale that they could grant universities (which also marks the invention of accreditation), and this title meant the following. If your university was checked out and made sure that it was good by the Church, they could endow you with the title of being a studium generale. Once your institution received this title, its teachers would have the ability to go on and teach at any other university without needing to undergo re-examination every time. Verger explains the significance of this concept;

This dimension of universality was well demonstrated by the idea of the studium generale which, emerging from the practical experience of the first universities, became commonly accepted, notably in pontifical documents, in the middle of the thirteenth century; as a studium generale, the university was from that point onwards defined as an institution of superior teaching of pontifical foundation (or imperial foundation, as the case may be), whose members enjoyed privileges and titles which were valid in all of Christendom precisely because of the support of the papacy. Consequently, the university represented, in the manner of the papacy itself, a kind of power at the heart of Christian society, an intellectual authority of a superior nature. Naturally, outside Paris and Bologna, this pretension to universalism was often rather theoretical. Nevertheless, it was an expression of the essential spectrum of high culture during the Middle Ages, which the universities, with the support of the Church, took over during the thirteenth century. (The New Cambridge Medieval History, pg. 264)

Although the Holy Roman Emperor could also exercise the right to grant the title of Studium Generale to a school, the practice was developed by Pope Honorius III in 1219 and mostly exercised by the Church. The Church, therefore, was clearly central to establishing and enabling the existence of the modern university. By the time of the Reformation, there were some 81 universities, 53 of which had a papal charter. The medieval universities were also centers of conflict, and the Church played a major role in their protection; university students were granted the benefit of the clergymen, which means it was a considerable crime to attack any of them, and furthermore, that they had the right to appeal any court case to a more lenient ecclesiastical court rather than an imperial one. Throughout the medieval period, the Church was the protector of the university, and universities would often appeal to the Church to help settle their disputes. The Church also granted universities legal independence. So yes, Christianity was the progenitor of the modern university. How does Bob get around all this? Well, he just claims that they aren’t really modern universities at all because … some of them had faith statements and requirements. Imagine my shock. It’s incredible how one can make up the most absurd excuse to get around conclusions that they’re uncomfortable with. Of course, history doesn’t owe you comfort. Many modern universities still have faith requirements, like Biola and Liberty, and yet no kook would claim that they aren’t modern universities or deny that they’re accredited institutions.

So, why are the universities around 1200 considered the first modern universities? They had degrees, standardized curriculum, distinctions between graduate and post-graduate degrees, lectures, theses, they had developed the idea of defending your doctoral thesis, etc. Furthermore, crucially, these schools, unlike educational institutions before them, had things like accreditation, the licentia docendi — the right to teach, the universities had developed into legal corporations, the universities had gained independence and privileges, and the studium generale had developed allowing for the universities — allowing scholars who had a degree in such an accredited institution to teach in any center of learning without needing a re-examination. In these universities, students would study essential subjects — grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium), as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the quadrivium). Then, a number of institutions would offer advanced courses in medicine, civil and canon law, and theology. These are clearly modern universities. Which explains why historians agree that they’re the earliest modern universities. See quotes above.

What about the hospitals? Here, Bob does no better.

We can look to the Bible to see where Christian contributions to medical science come from.We find Old Testament apotropaic medicine (medicine to ward off evil) in Numbers 21:5–9. When God grew tired of the Israelites whining about harsh conditions during the Exodus, he sent poisonous snakes to bite them. As a remedy, God told Moses to make a bronze snake (the Nehushtan). This didn’t get rid of the snakes or the snake bites, but it did mean that anyone who looked at it after being bitten would magically live. So praise the Lord, I guess.

According to Bob, God miraculously healing people in Numbers 21:5-9 is magic. Earlier, I refuted the idea that there’s magic anywhere in Christianity — in fact, the Old Testament places the death penalty for people who claim to practice magic. Historians rigorously define magic as the idea that, through the practice of a series of ritualized steps, you can bend the divine will (of spirits, demons, etc) to doing an action for you accompanying the performed ritual (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 212). In Numbers 21:5-9, none of this happens, rather God just miraculously heals some people. Bob also falsely claims that Jesus thought demon possession was the cause of disease. He doesn’t cite any verses, but through experience, I’m already aware of the ones being alluded to;

Matthew 4:24: News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.

Mark 1:34: And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

It only takes a few seconds of reading to realize that these verses never say that demon possession is a cause of disease, rather, it only lists people having various sorts of problems (seizure, disease, paralysis, demon-possession) in the same list and yet clearly distinct categories, as in, they are different things and don’t cause each other. Which means Bob is wrong.

Finally, we get into the history. Bob starts off with a red herring that the father of medicine is Hippocrates. And yet, not a single person that Bob’s article is hypothetically responding to has claimed that medicine itself has origins rooted in Christianity. The first medical revolution (that is to say, the beginning of the study of medicine itself) certainly comes from Egyptian, Roman and Greek civilization. The second medical revolution, however, is entirely owed to Christianity. Something our friend Bob never bothers to address (since, in all likelihood, he has little understanding of anything to do with the history of medicine). Albert Jonson writes;

The second great sweep of medical history begins at the end of the fourth century, with the founding of the first Christian hospital at Caesarea in Cappadocia, and concludes at the end of the fourteenth century, with medicine well ensconced in the universities and in the public life of the emerging nations of Europe. (Albert Jonson. A Short History of Medical Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2000, 13)

What, exactly, was the second medical revolution in history? Pretty simple, actually. There were virtually no hospitals in Greece and Egypt, and in the Roman empire, the only people who had any access to hospitals were soldiers. That’s because Rome only ever bothered to build hospitals in military fortresses. Not a single civilian hospital has been discovered anywhere in the Roman empire before the Christian era. Once Christianity comes along, however, everything changes. Starting with Basil of Caesarea founding the first Christian hospital in the end of the 4th century, and by the 5th century in the Christian east, civilian hospitals became ubiquitous due to the actions of private Christian individuals. See Vivian Nutton’s Ancient Medicine, pp. 306-307. Christianity, as Jonson says, is the progenitor of the second medical revolution in history — the reason why, almost anywhere you live, you can reasonably expect to find a nearby hospital in times of trouble, is because Christians made them common. Oddly, Bob never addresses this, rather just talks about medieval hospitals. Hospitals were obviously not just “places” to die like Bob ignorantly claims, rather hospitals would supply food, water, and care for the needs of the patient. Basic care to ill patients, by itself without even the requirement of modern medicine, has significant positive effects on the health outcome of the patient.

Did Christian medicine advance past Galen? It did, obviously, with the revival of dissection in the 11th/12th centuries (after a thousand year European hiatus since the pagans in Rome decided to stigmatize it). One important contributor, Mondino de Luzzi, made a number of important contributions to the study anatomy and procedures of dissection. Many very important anatomical advancements were also made by Jacopo Berengario da Carpi. That helped out quite a bit, and the culture the medieval world placed around medicine lead to the medical progress of Renaissance men such as Vesalius. But, of course, Bob, to prove otherwise, cites a random blog entry by some random guy named ‘Jim Walker’ to claim otherwise. Even noted historical quack Richard Carrier thinks Jim is a moron. Bob claims that Christianity set medicine centuries behind — besides the fact that I can’t even think of a more nonsensical claim if I tried, historian Nancy Girisai writes “But the emergence of Christian society of the early medieval West did not result either in the abandonment of such ancient medical knowledge as was available or in the disappearance of secular medical practitioners” (Medieval & Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice, University of Chicago Press 1990, 7). Bob, to try to take away the credit from Christianity and try to set it on just Christian individuals, writes;

but because in Europe at that time, pretty much everyone was Christian.

And yet that fails to explain why there were virtually no civilian hospitals in the entire pagan era of Roman history, and once Christianity comes around, it takes a few decades for them to become ubiquitous. The worst section in this entire article is “Christianity’s poor attitude toward learning.” To prove Christianity’s hatred for reason, Bob produces a fictional quote from Martin Luther where he writes “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.” According to Bob’s source, this quote comes from Luther’s Table Talks, “Works 22”. Anyone who actually bothers to check the reference, however, finds out that it doesn’t exist. It’s just as fictional as the quote misattributed to Tertullian where Tertullian supposedly says “I believe because it is absurd.” Just last year in an excellent 2017 paper, Peter Harrison traces the origins of the misattribution of this Tertullian quote. You can read a summarized version of Harrison’s work here on Aeon. Non-existent quotes, like the one Bob uses, have a long pedigree in being utilized in anti-religious polemics.

Bob goes on to cherry-pick the words of Peter Harrison’s, where Harrison writes that “curiosity” was discouraged from the patristic period until, basically, the 17th century. It brings a proverbial tear to my eye to see the work of Peter Harrison, possibly my favorite historian of science (along with Lawrence Principe) having his views misrepresented to support the notion that Christianity, according to Bob, “might have set modern medical science back centuries” (refuted earlier with a reference to Nancy Girisai’s work). Harrison writes elsewhere in his work that;

When examined closely, however, the historical record simply does not bear out this model of enduring warfare [between science and religion]. For a start, study of the historical relations between science and religion does not reveal any simple pattern at all. In so far as there is any general trend, it is that for much of the time religion has facilitated scientific endeavour and has done so in various ways. Thus, religious ideas inform and underpin scientific investigation, those pursuing science were often motivated by religious impulses, religious institutions frequently turn out to have been the chief sources of support for the scientific enterprise and, in its infancy, science established itself by appealing to religious values. (The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion. Cambridge University Press, 2010, 4)

In the same chapter, Harrison goes on to explain that Christianity was the patron of the early universities, peacefully co-existed with science and even sponsored it throughout its history, and writes that “we might regard this period as one that saw Christianity set the agenda for the emergence of modern science” (pg. 6). Surely, Bob, not knowing the actual history, would be flabbergasted to read such heretical things. Not surprising. Medieval scholasticism originated out of Christian theology in the medieval period as a reasoned method to defend Christian doctrines and the scholastic method got so far (reaching its height with Aquinas’s Summa Theologica) that it laid the foundations for the establishment of natural science (Colish, Marcia L. Medieval foundations of the western intellectual tradition, 400–1400. Yale University Press, 1999, 317–351). Christian churches were the biggest sponsors for the study of astronomy for six centuries, in fact, their sponsorship of astronomy in these centuries probably exceeded that of all other institutions combined. John Heilbron writes;

[T]he Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions. (The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories. Harvard University Press, 1999, 3)

Historian of science Noah Efron writes that, for more generally science itself, Christianity was the leading patron of science for a crucial millennium (“Myth 9. That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science,” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Harvard University Press, 2009, 81). As Efron observes, it would be an obvious error to claim that Christianity was the sole cause of the rise of modern science, and yet, he also notes how historians have increasingly noted the ways that Christianity was crucial for its rise. It appears to me that Christianity, in human history, though clearly not the sole cause (lest one ignore the contributions of India, Greece, the Islamic world, etc), was the single largest factor for the rise of modern science. Perhaps by a large margin. Finally, let’s end with Bob’s only reasonable point throughout the entire post.

Christianity had an uneasy relationship with any ideas that didn’t directly support the Church. The 1559 Index Librorum Prohibitorum listed books by 550 authors that were prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church, though prior lists had prohibited books almost since the beginning of Christianity. The list is a Who’s Who of Western thought and included works by Sartre, Voltaire, Hugo, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, Hume, Descartes, Bacon, Milton, Locke, and Pascal. The List was abolished only in 1966.

Yes, an Index of Forbidden Books once existed that discouraged the reading of various works. Bob, unsurprisingly, doesn’t bother to mention the near absent impact that the Index made on learning. To balance out these perspectives, here’s the context that historian of science John Hedley Brooke provides for the Index;

It is important not to exaggerate the oppressive effects of Index and Inquisition. The Counter-Reformation did not prevent Italian scholars from making original contributions in classical scholarship, history, law, literary criticism, logic, mathematics, medicine, philology, and rhetoric. Nor were they isolated by the Index from European scholarship. Prohibited books entered private libraries where they would be consulted by those prepared to break the rules in the interests of learning. One such collection was in the hands of Galileo’s Paduan friend, G. V. Pinelli. One can lose a sense of perspective if the condemnation of Galileo is taken to epitomize the attitude of Catholic authorities toward the natural sciences. Relatively few scientific works were placed on the Index. The attempt to put a stop to the moving earth stands out because it proved so tragic an aberration – a personal tragedy for Galileo and, in the long run, a tragedy for the Church, which overreached itself in securing a territory that would prove impossible to hold. (Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 1991, 145)

Brooke then goes on to note the Church’s major contributions to the progress of science through the Jesuit order. So yes, Bob, Christianity built the universities and the hospitals. Which, by the way, is a good thing.

Christian Hospital Revolution in Ancient Rome?

As one develops their understanding of ancient history, loose threads from here and there tend to get tied up in a nicely coincidental way. Now, in a rather lucky way today, this happened to me as well, and because of its relevance to this blog … here we are.

So I happened to be aware that Christians had done very good work in world history when they (starting with Basil of Caesarea) built the first Christian hospital in the late 4th century AD — one of the most important events in the world history of medicine. In case you aren’t convinced of how good this all is, read on;

The second great sweep of medical history begins at the end of the fourth century, with the founding of the first Christian hospital at Caesarea in Cappadocia, and concludes at the end of the fourteenth century, with medicine well ensconced in the universities and in the public life of the emerging nations of Europe. (Albert Jonson, A Short History of Medical Ethics, 13.)

The establishment of the first Christian hospital in the 4th century, Jonson tells us, marks the beginning of the second medical revolution in human history. (On a note of slight relevance, it’s sometimes claimed that Ashoka, Indian emperor in the 3rd century BC established a chain of hospitals, though this is a modern myth). I’ve known this for a while, however, I didn’t know why. Well, I do now, and it really animates this Christian accomplishment. The ancient Roman empire built hospitals known as the valetudinaria (my research indicates historians don’t consider the valetudinarian to have been hospitals in the modern sense, they were at best forerunners to it that came with Christianity). They were mostly military hospitals, though there were a few civil ones. The only function these civilian hospitals had involved some imperial households sending their slaves to them for the benefit of their health so that the household wouldn’t have to dispose of the slave, but these civilian hospitals oddly end up disappearing by 80 AD. (Smith, Virginia, Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity, 142; Guenter Risse, Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals, 47-48). In other words, the entire history of these civilian hospitals for civilians included a few slaves belonging to the few imperial landowners only between the frames of sometime after 100 BC to 80 AD getting help. At best an infinitesimal fraction of the Roman world had any access to a hospital.

The only people who had actual access to Rome’s hospitals were the military. The military hospitals would be built in military camps, tending to soldiers who had been injured — such as in Julius Caesar’s camps during his war in Gaul, forts in Britain (such as around Hadrian’s Wall), and Rome’s northernmost border at the Rhine-Danubian rivers that separated Rome from the barbarians. Then, Christianity comes along. Ann Hanson, a world-class papyrologist and distinguished historian of ancient medicine at Yale University’s Department of Classics, writes;

The general public was not serviced by hospital facilities until the empire had become Christian and charity for the sick and dying was considered part of the Christian’s duty. (Ann Hanson, A Companion to the Roman Empire, 492-523 esp. 505)

The second medical revolution in history that Jonson’s talking about appears to be that the Christian extension of the hospital, previously only for soldiers in military camps and gladiators, was now being extended to the general public. The most major figure in this proces is probably Basil of Caesarea, who founded the first Christian hospital towards the end of the 4th century. By the 5th century, they had become ubiquitous in the Christian east (Vivian Nutton, Ancient Medicine, 306-307). Though there had existed earlier healing temples in the pagan worlds, Christians built a new institution that is the modern concept of the hospital. In effect, charity unlike before, was institutionalized by the community.

Based on scriptural injunctions, charitable Christian institutions were designed for such multiple functions as sheltering and feeding the poor, providing clothing, and performing other caring functions. Poorer members of a Christian congregation were to be cared for through voluntary and concerted efforts under the supervision of clerics and deacons. (Risse, Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals, 74-75)

Before healing and caretaking was primitive and often magical (Risse writes that “[g]iven the scope and frequency of the social problems, the classical pagan models of a personal, individualized hospitalitas were clearly inadequate” (pg. 80)), but now caretaking and charity had been institutionalized (partly in the rise of a new Christian charitable institution, the xenodocheion that fed and sheltered the poor) and subject to rapid expansion in size, facilities, and competitive patronage from all levels of power in society, all in the motive of the religious charity of Christianity. Before hospitals were few and almost no one lived in an area where one existed, now they were everywhere and ubiquitous. In the beginnings of the Islamic Arab empire, it was Nestorian Christians like the Bukhtishu family and Hunayn ibn Ishaq that helped build many of the first hospitals there and translate the many medical texts to offset what would later become burgeoning medical progress in the Islamic Golden Age. Nowadays, at least here in Canada, there are quite a lot of hospitals — I have at least one well-known hospital within an hour of walking from me (and probably a few minutes driving). However, we didn’t always live in a world of abundant hospitals, and the first step was taken towards this, where we are today, was established by Christians pursuing their Christianity in the 4th century AD.


In ancient Greece, the cult of Asclepius, though a latecomer to the plethora of deities, rose very quickly and gained much popularity. Though many cults claimed that their gods could heal, only the cult of Asclepius had medicine as the sole focus of their deity. With the rise of this cult, many temples and shrines devoted to Asclepius, known as Asclepeion, were built. As far as I’m concerned, over 300 have been archaeologically excavated. Though only open to cult members, here is Vivien Nutton’s account of how exactly the members of the cult received medical assistance from the cult;

At the shrine suppliants would purify themselves at a sacred spring, before offering an appropriate sacrifice, and then, wearing white robes, undergo a second purification before entering the abaton or an adyton, ‘the inaccessible’, words that stress that it is a building barred to the normal visitor. Only those prepared to meet the god or to serve him as a priest were allowed to enter or to find out what actually took place within. A man called Aeschines, who climbed a tree to see if he could see what was happening when the suppliants were asleep, was punished by falling on to a fence and nearly losing his sight. The abaton itself was a long porticoed edifice with distinctive individual rooms: when no such building existed, as in the early years at Athens, it was enough to sleep within the temple itself or perhaps even its precinct. If the suppliants were fortunate, while asleep they would receive a vision from Asclepius. In it sometimes the god himself appeared and healed them by acting as a physician or surgeon; sometimes it was one of the sacred snakes or dogs who appeared to lick or enter the person; sometimes the dream itself was a mere riddle and required further assistance to be understood. On waking, the sufferer might be completely recovered, all paralysis or swellings gone, but sometimes the god had given instructions which needed to be interpreted by a priest or temple guardian and then followed up before a cure was secured. Many of the treatments find parallels within contemporary medicine, but others were perhaps selected for public display precisely because of their striking divergences from it. But to think of the healing encounter solely in terms of medical techniques is to miss the context in which it takes place – the physical setting, the sacred spring, the sacred grove (even if, as at the Asclepieion at Athens, it could have hardly amounted to more than three or four trees), the sacrifices, and the reassurance offered by the memorials, whether inscriptions or cultic recitations, that this was a place where healing was available. (Ancient Medicine, 2004, 109-110)

For the most part, it appears as if the devotee would appear at one of the shrines, and begin by undergoing a few of the cult rituals (purifying yourself at the spring, offering an animal sacrifice, putting on robes and undergoing a second purification, etc). The devotee would then undergo incubation (sleep at the shrine for one night), and, for the most part, that appeared to be that. If you received dreams and were divinely healed, you were divinely healed, although, apparently, some of the ‘medical’ techniques of the Greeks may have been replicated at the temple. The large emphasis on dreams, as far as I’m concerned, may have been a continuity of Hippocratic medicine, which certainly considered dreams very important to curing and in the realm of the physician to interpret. Ancient Greeks divided medicine into three categories; dietetics (your diet), drugs, and surgery — dreams belonged to the first category. Anyhow, the clear difference between the Asclepian temples and Christian hospitals should be readily apparent. The near entire focus of one was on religious ritual and divine healing by the leaders of the cult, whereas the other nearly entirely focused on providing food, shelter, and care to those ill or sick. One was available only to cult members, the other was available to everyone. The Christian hospitals rapidly evolved once they began, growing in size and scale, and was institutionally oriented towards the physical care for the sick. This is why historians consider the Asclepian temples, at best, some form of precursor to the hospital, which only comes with Christianity.

A simple explanation for why Jesus didn’t return yet

Well, hasn’t Jesus really given us a wait, eh. That doesn’t really matter, though, since there’s finally a solution that I’ll gladly endow you, dear reader, with, to knock over the annoying accusations of Jesus being a “failed prophet” because He predicted that the end of the world would come within the lifetimes of His disciples and yet He didn’t. Now, this has probably been the biggest challenge to Christianity in human history, and finally, with modern scholarship, it can be toppled over. I was plowing through the lovely forums of BioLogos — this is an institution established by Francis Collins, one of the greatest scientists in the world (who needs to finally receive his Nobel Prize for being one of the main guys to decode the human DNA), a former atheist convert to Christianity after reading C.S. Lewis for promoting Christianity with science.

Sam Harris, when he wasn’t busy spreading enormous cohorts of misinformation about the history of the Roman Empire, the history of early Christianity, Galileo, and science and rationality in the medieval Islamic world — as was wonderfully demonstrated by the atheist medievalist Tim O’Neill — or getting lopped by William Lane Craig in a debate (and, perhaps, thinking that this took place because Craig had the opening speech or that Craig tried to require him to respond to his major critical points in the debate), said that Francis Collins, who he admits has impeccable credentials, maybe should not lead the National Institute of Health (and therefore controlling tens of billions of dollars) because … he thinks Collins got some religious questions wrong (irony maximally achieved) .. in fact, Sam tells us, these errors are so bad that they “repudiate” the scientific worldview. Collins has now lead the NIH for over a decade and it’s clear Harris’s quack concerns have been unwarranted. Harris claims that Collins, the nicest guy in the hemisphere, engages in dishonesty on every page of his book The Language of God (or perhaps Harris is too much of a child to realize people can honestly come to Collins’ conclusions). Harris ridiculously claims it’s “taboo” to criticize religion in the U.S. (perhaps in certain social circles, but that’s true of any topic in “certain social circles”) and makes numerous other absurd errors — the idea that miracles involve a violation of scientific laws — in fact, this is a rookie philosophical mistake that professional philosophers are usually quick to rebuke. Just a few months ago, in the July of 2018, Cambridge published a short book titled Miracles by David Basinger, where Basinger quickly explains, in the first few pages, that this doesn’t work; rather, a miracle is simply a circumvention of natural events;

At least since the time of David Hume, miracles have often been defined by proponents and critics alike as violations of natural laws… As we will discuss in Section 2, many have challenged the coherence of this understanding of miracle. Also, as we will discuss in Sections 3 and 4, even if coherent, this concept of miracle raises epistemological and moral concerns… [a]n event that is in part the result of non-natural causation is best viewed as a circumvention (overriding) of the natural order rather than as a violation of this order. (pp. 6-7)

Anyways, this is all besides the point — one can endlessly question Harris’s views on history or philosophy (I’ll commend him for his work on opposing radical Islam). Anyways, I was reading through the BioLogos forums (yes, we’ve gone a far way off) and, on the topic of original sin, someone referred to an article by biblical scholar Pete Enns (who I’ve heard of before but hadn’t read into) about how original sin was shaped by Augustine in the 4th century and isn’t in the Bible (despite Augustine’s mistranslation). Quite important to know. So, I went through Enn’s blog, and whatdoyaknow, a three-part explanation on how Jesus’ prophecy didn’t fail, as recently figured out by some young scholars in Oxford (as young scholars in Oxford tend to do). As my personal research into scholarship would go on to show (coincidentally, at that) they were right,  and so now I’m going to write about it.

A few clear points need to be made, first. Many scholars believe that in the 1st century, a major branch of Judaism was apocalyptic, prophesying the soon coming end of the world. Albert Schweitzer is the author of the theory, I think. This interpretation was once the scholarly consensus, though the consensus has fragmented and, at best, it can be described as the majority position right now. This was closely related to Jesus’ doctrine of the nearness of the kingdom of God, and how we should repent due to its coming. Jesus, just as the Gospels say, prophesied His return within the lifetimes of His disciples — see; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2); “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matt. 16:28).

The young scholars are Christopher M. Hays, Brandon Gallaher, Julia S. Konstantinovsky, Richard J. Ounsworth OP, and C. A. Strine who finally published their findings in 2016What happened when a prophecy in the Old Testament went unfulfilled for the Israelite’s? Well, we don’t need to worry about that because Jeremiah told us exactly how prophecy works. Just read and try to come up with an alternate explanation that Occam’s Razor doesn’t make quick work of.

Jeremiah 18:5-11: Then the word of the Lord came to me:Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it,10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

This text shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that prophecy of judgement in the Bible is conditional on how we act in response to that prophecy — God may prophesy the destruction of some kingdom and if that kingdom repents, God will respond by not destroying them. And this is the view of the entire Bible. Somehow, centuries later, it was forgotten (somewhere after the church fathers who knew and held it). As I was doing research on the scholarly meaning of Deuteronomy 18:18-22 (since some Muslim apologists try to squeeze the passage in absurd ways to get it to mean some sort of prophecy of Muhammad in the Bible), I acquired a 2001 commentary on Deuteronomy by Walter Brueggemann (one of the major scholars of our day, and since the commentary is so good we can agree to forgive Brueggeman for being a postmodernist who thinks the Bible is “an act of faithful imagination”).

As he’s explaining Deuteronomy 18:20 — a verse that says that if a prophecy fails, the one who made it will be executed on terms of being a false prophet — he explains regarding the interpretation that some people derive from this, that the future is fixed by God;

This approach to the future assumes that the future is fixed, stable, and settled, that is, that persons, communities, and world are all subject to a fate that is once for all decreed. From the angle of covenant, such a perspective is completely mistaken, for the future under the rule of YHWH is a zone of freedom. The future is not a settled fate but an open destiny partly given and partly chosen, still to emerge. The entire weight of Deuteronomy is to insist that Israel may indeed choose its future (30:15-20). Techniques that presume a settled fate, if embraced by Israel, would lead to a collapse of the theological premise of covenant. (pg. 193; also see pg. 196)

And if you question Brueggemann’s exegesis in the slightest, try squaring it with the passage he cites, Deuteronomy 30:15-20, which also has this explicit explanation of conditional prophecy. Sorry, but calling anyone a biased fundy (I’m not of course) won’t help you get around this — maybe one can resort to the tactics of Edward Babinski in the comment sections of blogs — not someone noted for accuracy — on how this all doesn’t count because, apparently, Christians have done bad things in the past or that scholars can’t give a percentage (really) of the number of people that need to be Christian before the conditions of the prophecy are met (Babinski leaves unexplained how he determined that the percentage of population adhering Christianity is the condition for the fulfillment of prophecy). I also remember, from my own research, encountering a long time ago and quickly saving a verse from Isaiah in the assumption that it will become relevant to the question of the Second Coming in the future. How right I was.

Isaiah 56:1: This is what the Lord says: Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.

As early as Isaiah, the Old Testament was saying that judgement and salvation is coming soon. Centuries before Christianity. And yet no reader in 1st century Israel found this a troublesome idea or wondered why it was taking so long despite Isaiah clearly saying that it was coming soon, in fact, they, along with Jesus, continued to say that the end was coming soon (the same prophecy of nearness centuries before Christianity happens again in Zechariah 1:14-18). Conditional prophecy, the explicit teaching of the Old Testament, doesn’t leave us with any questions for the Old Testament — the end didn’t come, despite us being told it’s coming “soon”, because of how the Israelite’s acted in response to the prophecy. I wonder if any other view can make sense of this Isaiah verse and its reception to me like the explicit Old Testament teaching of conditional prophecy. Anyways, dear reader, there’s more we must look at.

Acts 3:19-21: Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21 who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

So repenting is the cause of God sending Jesus to return from heaven. So if we don’t repent, the cause won’t take place, and so the Second Coming, therefore, will not take place. Conditional. Our actions, if we live righteously and as good Christians, can hasten and quicken the Second Coming, and this is the condition of the conditional prophecy. If we continue to act in an evil way, it will take longer. So Jesus didn’t fail to return. Our response to the warning of His return in our lifetimes resulted in the date being pushed. And an obvious clinch for this point of argument is that the (religious) Jews still believe, today, that if they just got their act together, God will finally send the Messiah to rule in Israel for the rest of time. The more we look under our nose, the harder it seems for anyone else to come up with a real, alternate explanation.

In the publication of these findings, the monograph When the Son of Man Didn’t Come, the conditional view of prophecy is demonstrated throughout the Bible, church fathers, rabbinic literature, and other ancient near eastern texts. Important scholars (sadly this category excludes Babinski) such as Paul Fiddes and John Barton (who wrote an excellent commentary on the Bible that is freely accessible here) at Oxford, Anthony Thiselton at Nottingham, Ian McFarland at Cambridge, Edward Adams at King’s College (scroll down to the endorsements on the publishers page), and Morna Hooker (also Cambridge) in the journal Theology, have praised this work by the young Oxford scholars as the most original research on such a topic available. Absolutely incredible how, in the last few years, such amazing findings are being made in scholarship. It’s the time to be alive (notwithstanding the suffering that is life). And it’s as simple as that. A simple explanation for why Jesus didn’t return yet.

A short update. Though I, myself, took up an apocalyptic interpretation of the early Christian movement, this position itself has been cast into doubt once I read a recent colossal 46-page paper by N.T. Wright in the journal Early Christianity (see Hope Deferred? Against the Dogma of Delay; 2018) arguing against this interpretation. I should, therefore, note a second crucible in the claim that Jesus’ prophecy didn’t quite work out. This is not an alternative to what I’ve already written — everything I’ve written, whether or not the early Jesus movement was apocalyptic, remains a reality. However, if in fact Wright’s arguments are correct (here I strongly recommend reading the paper), then there was no delay as the early Christians never believed that the coming of Jesus was necessarily near to begin with. That means, in all, there’s two fat problems this ‘problem’ for Christians has.


Update: There’s a long Patheos response to Hays’ thesis that I defended myself here. I’ve responded to that article under the comments, here. If the link doesn’t bring you immediately to my comment, scroll down to the comment section and mines should be the first one to appear.

No, Muhammad isn’t in Isaiah 11 (or Genesis)

I haven’t been writing many of these as of late, but I’ve been recently doing a lot of looking at the Islamic arguments for the supposed prophecy of Muhammad in the Bible. It turns out, dear reader, that the Qur’an actually claims Muhammad is prophesied in the Bible. Well, this is what it precisely says;

Those who follow the messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write, whom they will find described in the Torah and the Gospel (which are with them). He will enjoin on them that which is right and forbid them that which is wrong. He will make lawful for them all good things and prohibit for them only the foul; and he will relieve them of their burden and the fetters that they used to wear: Then those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow light which is sent down with him: they are the successful” (Quran 7: 157)

And I consider this to essentially be one of the most clear refutations of Islam — the fact that Muhammad is prophesied nowhere in the Bible (or, as the verse in the Qur’an specifically says, in the Torah and the Gospel). The most clear demonstration of the fact that Muhammad is nowhere in there is to simply look at the Muslim arguments for this being the case. So I found Jamal Badawi’s 45 page paper (which I used for the translation of the Qur’anic verse above), written for the purposes of promoting inter-faith dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Jews — a very good goal — and arguing that Muhammad really is in the Bible after all, we just have to look! Badawi’s first evidence, one that’ll convince “any unbiased mind” is Genesis 12:2-3, where God promises to Abraham that his descendants will make a great nation and will become a blessing to the world.

Genesis 12:2-3: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and those shalt be a blessing And I will bless them that bless thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Badawi’s argument is pretty simple. Abraham had several sons, including both Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac’s descendants were the Israelite’s, where we gained men like Moses, David, and Jesus, whose efforts clearly fulfill the prophecy, and Ishmael’s descendants include Muhammad, who fulfills the prophecy through Ishmael’s end. Makes perfect sense, Badawi tells us, except for … the part where the Bible tells us that the covenant only belongs to Isaac’s descendants. Badawi finds himself in a tricky situation here, because Genesis has such problematic verses for his thesis like these …

Genesis 17:21: But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”

Genesis 21:12: But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.

(Badawi accidentally confuses Gen. 17:21 with Gen. 17:2 and Gen. 21:12 with Gen. 21:21.) So, how does Badawi explain away these inconvenient verses? Well … Biased Israelite’s just added them in later! Badawi quotes a biblical scholar saying that the injunction to conquer the Canaanite’s in Deuteronomy is there because Israelite’s wanted God to belong to them only, and essentially reasons that “Well, if Israelite’s were biased towards having God only for themselves, these verses must be additions to exclude Ishmael from God’s covenant!” Of course, Badawi is obviously making this up to explain away an obvious refutation of his claim. Badawi shies away from admitting that there isn’t really the slightest bit of evidence that would suggest to “any unbiased mind” that these verses ever added on. As the Latin proverb goes, quod grātīs asseritur, grātīs negātur — or more commonly said today, that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Another passage Badawi tries to use is Isaiah 11:1-2.

Isaiah 11:1-2: Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Jesse, Badawi ensures us, is really Ishmael, which shows that God promised in the Bible that Ishmael and his descendants (===== Muhammad) would bring blessings to the earth. The obvious problem is that Jesse isn’t actually Ishmael at all, in fact, Jesse is the father of David, and they were both Israelite’s (as in descendants of Isaac) and none of this is relevant to Ishmael or Muhammad. Badawi, just like before, has a little trick to get around these inconvenient points. He cites the Encyclopedia Biblica which says that the name Jesse is actually a contraction of Ishmael, which solves everything — this Jesse isn’t actually the Israelite Jesse at all, the father of David (which is the only Jesse, as it turns out, ever mentioned in the entire Bible), but rather Ishmael! So everyone should convert to Islam. Not so fast. Since I was pretty skeptical of this claim, I actually decided to go and check the Encyclopedia Biblica myself — it wasn’t easy since Badawi’s citation was so vague (probably because he never read it himself and was just carrying off the citation from somewhere else).

It turns out that the Encyclopedia Biblica was published in four volumes in 1899 by biblical scholars Thomas Kelly Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black. All four volumes are accessible through Archive. I tracked down Badawi’s citation to pg. 2434 of the second volume of the encyclopedia (something I had to do because, again, Badawi’s citation is amazingly vague), which says that the name Jesse is either a contraction of the name Ishmael or Abishai (Badawi doesn’t mention the second one). But it’s a contraction and therefore a different name. Ishmael, as in the actual son of Abraham, is never referred to as Jesse anywhere, and the idea that this must be a special exception is a plain special pleading fallacy. Badawi also fails to mention that the authors of Encyclopedia Biblica — his own source — refers to Jesse in Isaiah 11 as the one that’s the father of David on pg. 1944 (as in not Ishmael), and they also say that Isaiah 11 is a messianic prophecy (surely Badawi knows that, according to Islam as well as Christianity, Jesus is the Messiah, not Muhammad). Badawi also claims that Isaiah “would” have referred to David alongside Jesse (or even David alone) if he was really referring to Jesse, the father of David (the only Jesse in the Bible I might add), but Badawi is also making this up — there’s absolutely no reason why a prominent figure like Jesse couldn’t be mentioned alone — Paul clearly had no trouble with this when he quoted Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:12 as a reference to Jesus (which also shows that no actual Jew in the time of Paul even had the idea that this was somehow a different Jesse). Later in Isaiah 11, referring to the same descendant of Jesse, we’re prophesied that this descendant will gather the Jews back into Israel and bring a kingdom of complete peace — two things Muhammad totally failed to do.

And not only that, but according to the Qur’anic verse above, Muhammad is prophesied in the Torah and the Gospel. Isaiah 11 is not in the Torah or the Gospel. So how can this even be an option for a prophecy of Muhammad according to Islam? The types of gymnastics someone would need to do in order to jump over all these amazingly big problems for these claims is just more evidence that there are no prophecies of Muhammad in the Bible, which means Islam is false. The arguments for Muhammad being prophesied in Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 42, or the Advocate in the Gospel of John are equally, even oddly absurd and ones I’ll address in the future (hint: Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 42 aren’t even prophetic texts and only refer to Israelite’s, whereas John is talking about the Holy Spirit, not Muhammad, and if we were to interpret the Advocate as Muhammad rather than the Holy Spirit, it would have the funny effect of making the verse mean that Jesus is the God of Muhammad, the last thing a Muslim would want to admit).