Social science on religion: a paradigm shift

While reading Rodney Stark’s incredible scholarly book The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, I have learned of a paradigm shift has ensued in social scientific theory. Rodeny Stark is a world-renowned sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, who has used his vast expertise in the social sciences and impressive learning of the historical academic literature to present a very, very persuasive monograph accounting for the rise of Christianity.

Rodney Stark documents how the social sciences has had, from the beginning, an axe to grind against religion. Almost every religious motive that appeared under the study of social scientists, they explained through an appeal to religious irrationality. Some of these confused social scientists had ascribed the ability of early Christians to take on persecution to be evidence of masochism! The irrationalist theory, however, has been uprooted in recent decades of social scientific research, finally, and a paradigm shift has occurred in these studies that actually, and in my opinion convincingly, accounts for religious thought through appeal to rationalist (rather than irrationalist) understandings. Stark explains:

Rather, from the beginning, social scientific studies of religion have been shaped by a single question: What makes them do it? How could any rational person make sacrifices on behalf of unseen supernatural entities? The explicit answer to this question nearly always has been that religion is rooted in the irrational. Keep in mind that the imputation of irrational religious behavior by social scientists is not limited to extraordinary actions such as martyrdom. Rather, they have been content to apply the irrationalist argument to such ordinary activities as prayer, observance of moral codes, and contributions of time and wealth. For whether it be the imputation of outright psychopathology, of groundless fears, or merely of faulty reasoning and misperceptions, the irrationalist assumption has dominated the field. The notion that normal, sophisticated people could be religious has been limited to a few social scientists willing to allow their own brand of very mild, “intrinsic,” religiousness to pass the test of rationality. Thus, until recently, the social scientfiic study of religion was nothing of the sort. The field was more more concerned with discrediting religion than with understanding it. This is clear when it is realized that only in the area of religious belief and behavior have social scientists not based their theories on a rational choice premise. Indeed, my colleagues and I recently showed that antagonism toward all forms of religion and the conviction that it soon must disappear in an enlightened world were articles of faith among the earliest social scientists, and that today social scientists are far less likely to be religious than scholars in other areas, especially those in the physical and natural sciences (Stark, Iannaccone, and Finke 1995). Nevertheless, despite the enormous weight of learned opinion that created and sustained it, the irrationalist approach to religion recently has fallen upon evil times–beset by contrary evidence and by the unanticipated theoretical power of rational choice theories imported from microeconomics and modified appropriately. This chapter represents another step in that direction and extends my efforts to establish a scientific, rather than a polemical and political, basis for studies of religion. In it I shall attempt to show that, when analyzed properly, religious sacrifices and stigmas–even when acute cases are considered–usually turn out to represent rational choices. Indeed, the more that people must sacrifice for their faith, the greater the value of the rewards they gain in return. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity pg. 167)

Stark later goes on to say that “This suggests why the recent introduction of rational choice theories in the social scientific study of religion has been recognized as a major shift in paradigms (Warner 1993)–the irrationalist position is in full retreat” (pg. 178). Boom! I can see that the atheistic takeover of academia has literally lasted for hundreds of years. In our most recent decades, as new advances, theories and defenses have arisen, as well as the simple decline of atheistic ability to continue offering their own defenses in light of the most recent advancements and discoveries, it looks as if a new age is finally coming to light in the academic world, and the fact that the actual defenders of atheism are in a way, disappearing. In 2011, Christopher Hitchens died. Victor Stenger passed away in 2014. James Randi is 89 years old. A new day can be seen, and a new sun is rising out of the darkness.


God’s comdemnation of child sacrifice

Many people know that in ancient societies, there was a prevalence of the idea of child sacrifice. In order to demonstrate your devotion to the deity, or perhaps to cover for a corruption that has been committed, you were to offer your child as a sacrifice. Recently, as I was reading through the Book of Jeremiah, a verse came out and took my attention:

Jeremiah 7:31: And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

The Book of Jeremiah is one of the major prophetic books of the Old Testament that’s mostly devoted to condemning the evil and sins of God’s people, similar to other prophetic books (like Amos). Anyhow, as God was listing the sins and evil of the Israelite’s in Jeremiah, he mentions yet another one: they were sacrificing their own children. God says He never commanded this to them, nor had it even entered His mind. If God made no such command, why were the Israelite’s doing it? Well, the passage makes it clear, the Israelite’s were going to the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom where they sacrificed their children. Throughout the Old Testament, this is a location in particular where Israelite’s who followed pagan and Canaanite religions would go to in order to burn their children alive (child sacrifice) to deities like Molech and Baal.

2 Kings 23:10: He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech.

The continuation of the passage from Jeremiah above is worth quoting in full where God declares He will destroy this practice by turning Topheth into a desolate wasteland:

Jeremiah 7:31-34And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 And I will bring to an end the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of the bride and bridegroom in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for the land shall become a waste.

Topheth is also mentioned in Jeremiah 19:6; 19:11-14, and Isaiah 30:33. The implication is clear, God seriously condemns child sacrifice. It is popular on the internet in anti-religious circles to argue that God commanded child sacrifice with regards to Abraham and Isaac, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice his child Isaac to him. However, scholars consider this ridiculous. God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac in the end, and the entire event is meant as an event to see whether or not Abraham would do the most extreme thing had God commanded it. Consider Abraham’s circumstances. God had told him earlier that he would become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5), and that Abraham was the one to whom God promised the promised land for his descendants (Genesis 15:18) and that through his descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). However, Abraham’s wife, Sarah (her name Sarai at the time), is barren, and her age is ninety years old. However, God tells Abraham that through Sarah, he will bring Abraham a son, and he will name that son Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that God establishes His covenant with Abraham and through Isaac that his descendants will become a nation, etc etc. God miraculously gives Abraham and Sarah the ability to have Isaac. However, all of a sudden, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The entirety of God’s plan with Abraham’s descendants, everything God has put Abraham through in his entire life was for this one moment: for Isaac to live on and make way for the future of Abraham’s promise and covenant with God. Yet God commands Abraham to give Isaac’s life for God’s sake. This was the ultimate command God could have given Abraham, and one that established Abraham’s trust in God to the very end. Abraham succeeded, and in the end, God made sure that Isaac did not die and in fact fulfilled His promise to Abraham. This does not condone child sacrifice in any way, and we have seen from previously mentioned verses, among many others that child sacrifice is not only an evil, but one of the greatest reasons why God utterly destroyed the Canaanite’s (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

God is a God of righeousness, and Jeremiah made that very clear when he wrote “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”” (Jeremiah 33:16).

Many ancient Christian texts being discovered

Recently, a growing number of discoveries are being made in regards to ancient Christian texts, especially Gnostic ones. With at least two discoveries in the last several months, one of which I’ve already written about, I’ll document the others a little more here as well.

The first to mention has already gained widespread fame in scholarly and even popular circles, that being the Gospel of Judas. It’s a 2nd century Gnostic text, obviously not written by Judas the brother of Jesus. It was published in 2006. I’ve yet to read the text, but in contrast, the Gospel of Thomas was discovered in the Nag Hammadi collection back in 1945 along with the majority of Gnostic discoveries.

Then, perhaps a much more important discovery was made, of which I’ve written more about here. The discovery of the writings of Fortunatianus of Aquileia was discovered, an author in the mid-4th century AD, whose writings predate even those of Aristotle and Jerome. His work had previously been known about through brief mentions in works such as Jerome’s, but never before have we actually had, in our hands, a copy of his work. It was published in the last few months (open-access, meaning anyone can read it for free), and it is the oldest commentary on the four Gospels in our possession. Before him, we had Origen of Alexandria (perhaps the greatest Christian writer of the 2nd century) who had written two individual commentary works completed on the Gospels of John and Matthew.

Now, we have the Greek text discovered of the First Apocalypse of James announced at the Society of Biblical Literature. Previously, if I’m not mistaken, this work was available in Coptic (since the codices at Nag Hammadi are all Coptic), however, the Gnostic works were originally composed in Greek. Thus, this finding (found at Oxford) gives us access to the text of the First Apocalypse of James in its original language, rare for a Gnostic text.

The rate of new biblical archaeological discoveries is, in my documentation, increasing over the last few years. I’ve recorded only two findings of importance in 2015 and one in 2014. In 2016 and 2017, I’ve documented at least fourteen, many of which you can read here on my site page on Academic Christianity. Fortunatianus and the First Apocalypse of James both came to light in the last few months alone. The findings of these two new manuscripts, including our Gospel of Judas, represents our increasing understanding of the earliest centuries of Christianity and how Christian behavior was developing in this period. For example, Fortunatianus wrote his works in Latin, and as one of the earlier Latin writers of Christianity, what we have of him provides another contribution to our understanding of early Latin Christianity as well. The more we understand this, the better we can look at our predecessors, and the better we can look forwards to the new challenges to Christianity in this century. We’ve gone this far, no point in giving up now!

Psalm 111:2Great are the works of the Lordstudied by all who delight in them.

Academic Christianity

Recently, I’ve been creating a new page on this blog documenting advancements in Christian academia, and the defense of Christianity since 1990, when the worldwide academic movement of Christianity, in my opinion, really took off. I’ve worked pretty hard on it and it’s now my longest (or maybe second longest) page on this website since I’ve documented quite a bit on it. To draw attention to it here, I thought I’d post some of the progress I’ve had on it and re-post a number of the archaeological advancements I’ve recounted since 1990:

(you can access the full page by clicking here)

1990 and Beyond

Archaeological Discoveries

In the November of 1990, in a burial cave located in South Jerusalem, several ancient ossuaries were discovered, one bearing the name “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”. This Caiaphas has been identified by archaeologists to have been the High Priest of Israel, Caiaphas, who is mentioned towards the end of the Gospels as an antagonist of Jesus and one of the men who ended up causing Jesus to get crucified on charges of blasphemy. In other words, this ossuary has validated the existence of this important man, and it should be mentioned alongside the Miriam Ossuary discovered in 2011 which also mentions Caiaphas, and it says “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Ma’azya from Beit Imri”.

One of the greatest archaeological discoveries relating to the truth of the history of the Bible was made in 1993, when excavations at Tel Dan lead by the famous archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered the first archaeological inscription mentioning King David by name (now known as the Tel Dan Inscription dating to the middle of the 9th century BC), shifting academia into accepting the historicity of David, one of the most important men of the Old Testament. The contents of the inscription provided substantial substantiation to the historicity of 2 Kings 9, of which I have written further about here. A year later in 1994, André Lemaire and Émile Puech, two important epigraphers, both independently came to the conclusion that David is further mentioned in the Mesha Stele, dating to about c. 840 BC.

In the ancient Philistine site of Gath, excavations led by the renowned archaeologist and scholar Aren Maier discovered a pottery sherd containing an important inscription in 2005. As the Washington Times reported;

A shard of pottery unearthed in a decade-old dig in southern Israel carried an inscription in early Semitic style spelling “Alwat and “Wlt,” likely Philistine renderings of the name Goliath, said Aren Maeir, who directed the excavation.

The sherd, found in Gath, the hometown of the famous Goliath known from the Bible (1 Samuel 17:41), contained an Indo-European name that is etymologically similar to ‘Goliath’. According to Maier, “Here we have very nice evidence the name Goliath appearing in the Bible in the context of the story of David and Goliath … is not some later literary creation.” In other words, this finding confirmed that the name Goliath was likely a real name in Goliath’s period in the hometown of Gath, lending credibility to the biblical account of David’s battle with Goliath and as something that could not have been invented by later biblical writers.

In 2007, Michael Jursa, an Associate Professor of Assyriology at Vienna University found an ancient Babylonian tablet referring to a man named Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, a chief member of Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court. The significance of the realization of this identity was that Jursa realized this figure was already known to have been mentioned in the Bible, precisely, Jeremiah 39:3, thereby confirming his existence (although the Bible offers a variant spelling of this his name, Nebo-sar-sekim, although the figures have been identified as the same person).  According to Irving Finkel regarding thisfinding, assistant keeper in the British Museum’s Middle East Department, “This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find… If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.”

Before 2000, no synagogues were entirely known to have been found anywhere in ancient Israel in the Second Temple Period (530 BC – 70 AD), Judah, Samaria or Galilee. Since the Gospels recorded that Jesus preached in synagogues during His ministry in the Second Temple Period, some scholars concluded that the Gospels, written decades later, projected their own time into the time of Jesus and erroneously placed synagogues in His story, even though they didn’t exist at the time. Since then, in a short period, eight synagogues have been discovered dating to the period Jesus lived in, the first being in Gamla, another in Magdal, discovered in excavations in 2009 alongside the Magdala Stone, and a more recent one being discovered in 2016 at Tel Rechesh, the first synagogue found in a rural rather than an urban setting. These series of discoveries in a brief period of time confirmed that synagogues did in fact exist during Jesus’ ministry, and that the Gospels had not misplaced them into the story. Matthew wrote “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).

One of the most important events recounted in the Old Testament is the Babylonian invasion of Israel and Jerusalem c. 605 BC, and the exile of the Jewish people out of Israel. Although this event had already been authenticated from Babylonian records discovered in the 19th century, another detail of Babylon’s invasion that 2 Kings and Jeremiah record were confirmed, that is, that Babylon burned down Jerusalem during its invasion. According to Joe Uziel, leading excavations in an eastern portion of the City of David in 2017 on behalf of the IAA, found that Jerusalem had been set on fire by the invading forces of Babylon as they conquered the land of the Israelite’s.

(you can access the full page by clicking here)

Old Testament Scriptures Mentioning Salvation to the Gentiles

Most of us Christians are not living in Israel, nor are we Jewish. In the Old Testament, God reveals Himself to Israel, and in the New Testament, God advances His plan by bringing His own Son to proclaim the Great Commission, that is, the spread of God’s redemptive plan to the entire world through faith in Christ as the one whom died for our sins on the cross and subsequently rose from the dead beyond the borders of Israel. Matthew’s Gospel documents the Great Commission Jesus proclaims after He rises from the dead, and uses it to end his Gospel.

Matthew 28:19-20Go 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.”

Now, some may and have asked, if this was God’s original plan (that is, to use a line of prophets in Israel to pave the way for the advent of Jesus to bringing about the message of salvation to all the nations and people in the world), should it not be precedented in the Old Testament? Is this prophesied before Jesus comes along with His message? This soteriological question is answered in a number of important Old Testament texts, where God, while He is called the God of Israel, we are also made abundantly clear He is also the God of the Gentiles.

Here, I will produce the texts of the Old Testament (at least that I’m aware of) that speak of God’s blessings and salvations extending to the entire world, beyond the borders of the promised land and the people of Israel tracing their origins to Abraham (I found a number of them here). Perhaps the most explicit of these, with the most explicit connection to Jesus, is Daniel 7:13-14, the first of the prophecies that I will reproduce here.

Daniel 7:13-14As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

Geneesis 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Psalm 22:27: All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lordand all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

Isaiah 42:4He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 49:6he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 56:3-7:  “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me.I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear! “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant.I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

Isaiah 60:1-3Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Jeremiah 16:19-21: O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.20 Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no gods!21 “Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”

Zechariah 2:11: Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

Malachi 1:11: For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.

Paul and the physical resurrection of Christ

In Christianity, a major tenet of our worldview holds that Jesus bodily, not spiritually, rose from the dead, as is reflected in the Gospels and other early Christian literature. This is in contrast to the belief some people (mostly non-Christians) have today that the earliest Christians believed Jesus spiritually rose from the dead, not bodily. Two days ago, I came across someone going by the pseudonym taterskank who commented the following on my recent post about the Greek Bible (New Testament);

Interesting tidbit, the Greek word Paul uses for the Resurrection “appearances” in 1 Cor 15:5-8 is ὤφθη (Greek – ōphthē). This word didn’t necessarily mean something was physically seen with the eyes but could just mean that someone just “spiritually” saw or experienced something. Well, the appearance to Paul was a spiritual vision (not a physical interaction with a revived corpse) and he makes no distinction in nature, quality, or type with regards to the “appearances” to the others. Therefore, Paul could be saying they all had the same or similar spiritual experiences. This is important because Paul is the earliest and only firsthand source therefore he’s more likely to preserve history better than the later secondhand or worse gospels.

Some specific notes need to be made here before it’s shown Paul held to a bodily resurrection just like every other Christian. Firstly, the people who make this claim don’t believe that the Gospels purport a spiritual resurrection, they only believe that the letters of Paul (which were written before the Gospels) hold to the idea of a spiritual resurrection, and thus claim that this was the earliest view of Christians which only later evolved into the notion of a physical resurrection represented in New Testament works post-dating Paul’s letters. This 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.

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 Greel word Paul uses for ‘resurrection’ is ἀνάστασις (anastasis), which can only mean someone physically coming back to life according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary;

386 anástasis (from 303 /aná, “up, again” and 2476/hístēmi, “to stand”) – literally, “stand up” (or “stand again”), referring to physical resurrection (of the body).

Interestingly, the Greek word ἀνάστασις is cognate (derives) from ανά, which means ‘to stand’, otherwise referring to a body actually getting up (in the case of ἀνάστασις, that is, their body getting up back in life after having been dead). Secondly, the Greek word Paul uses for ‘raised’ is ἐγείρω (egeirō) which means someone physically waking up from sleep, or in this context, waking up from death. Both these terms imply a physical movement upwards when describing resurrection, hence, Paul believed Jesus bodily rose from the dead according to basic Greek terminology, and there is no evidence that the range of these Greek terms could include the possibility of spiritual resurrection.

There is more, however. If Paul believed in the empty tomb, he must have believed in a physical resurrection, since there is no way that Jesus’ tomb could become empty unless Jesus’ body actually left the tomb. In January of 2017, the Cambridge journal New Testament Studies published a paper titled Resurrection in Paganism and the Question of an Empty Tomb in 1 Corinthians 15 by John Granger Cook, a prominent historian and Professor of Religion and Philosophy at LaGrange College. In this paper, Cook demonstrates that in the context of Jewish and pagan belief in the centuries revolving the life of Jesus, resurrection was only viewed as a bodily phenomenon, and therefore demonstrating that in the context of the time of Jesus, His followers would have simply assumed physical resurrection and an empty tomb and would have not had any thoughts or even understanding of ‘spiritual resurrection’, that is to say, that Jesus would be ‘spiritually ascend to heaven’ despite a rotting corpse around Jerusalem. Therefore, the cultural context of when Christianity came on the scene is quite demonstrative that the followers of Jesus could only have believed in a physical resurrection and their appearance experiences were only physical in nature, and that the tomb had to be empty.

Secondly, it can be argued that the early creed Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15 implies very strictly that the tomb of Jesus became empty after the resurrection. Here is the entire creed;

1 Corinthians 15:3-7: For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

In this early creed Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15 that dates to within a few years if not months after Jesus’ death, Paul writes of Jesus “that he was buried, that he was raised” in a formulaic pattern where one action is transitive to the next, that is to say, when Jesus is “buried” he is then, from this burial, “raised”. This seems to imply that Jesus’ body was entered into the tomb during the burial and then came out of the tomb after the burial when Jesus rose, implying an empty tomb (as argued here in another paper published to the journal New Testament Studies by another prominent historian W.L. Craig). This, of course, also goes to show that Paul clearly makes his belief in the bodily resurrection. Furthermore, importantly, Paul was a Pharisee before converting to Christianity, and Pharisaic Jews strictly believed in bodily resurrection. As John Dominic Crossan writes in a paper titled A Vision of Divine Justice: The Resurrection of Jesus in Eastern Christian Iconography, “Is Eastern Christianity’s communal Anastasis of Jesus or Western Christianity’s individual Resurrection of Jesus in closer continuity—even granted its radical paradigm-shift—with pre-Christian Jewish tradition about bodily resurrection in, for example, Pharisaic circles?” (pg. 6).

To conclude my argument, I’ll also refer to another section of 1 Corinthians 15 regarding the resurrection that I find to directly reference the physical aspect of the future resurrection at the end of the world.

1 Corinthians 15:53-55For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

According to Paul, our physical bodies will be taken and changed to become incorruptible. In other words, the resurrection must necessarily involve our actual bodies, and what will happen is that these bodies of ours, in the end of the world, will be taken and transformed so they are no longer perishable and corruptible and last eternally in heaven, the kingdom of God coming to our world. Paul’s belief in the bodily resurrection of the righteous in the end of the world must imply Paul also believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, since, of course, Paul tells us Jesus is the “fruit fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23) of the final resurrection.

The Greek Bible

Many people over the years I’ve seen since beginning my studies into Christianity, refer to the ‘Hebrew Bible’ — i.e. the Old Testament. In contrast, I’ve only seen the term ‘Greek Bible’ (referring to the New Testament) for the first time in the last two weeks. Sometimes, we forget that John never tells us Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), He tells us Jesus said “ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ Πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν”, that is, in Greek. In the last few weeks I’ve begun learning the Greek of the New Testament in order to be able to read the Greek Bible in its original language. And I think this is very important.

I’ve learned a number of things in my studies and as I’ve been understanding all the rules of Greek grammar (variations of the definite article, cases, etc). I’ve seriously expanded my knowledge in one realm of my life I never thought would really change all that much. Besides learning the Greek itself, I’ve discovered a number of very important figures in the scholarship responsible for translating our Bibles into English (such as William D. Mounce), I’ve learned English doesn’t actually come from Latin (even though it borrows a lot from it), and I’ve even learned that many of those physics signs, such as α (alpha), β (beta), γ (gamma), δ (delta), θ (theta), μ (mu) and others all actually derive as Greek letters. Secondly, the Greek Bible wasn’t written in modern Greek, it was written in Koine Greek — that is, the form of Greek that rapidly spread around 300 BC as Alexander the Great started taking over the world and was used up until about 300 AD. The word ‘Koine’ means common, and the reason why we refer to this form of Greek as ‘Koine Greek’ is because it was the common language of much of the world in the age of Jesus, including that of the entire Roman Empire. Jesus’ native language was Aramaic, but he, including his followers, knew Koine Greek, since probably everyone was bilingual at the time (many of whom live in America and Canada may not intuitively know this, since most of us here only speak one language, i.e. English).

However, I think there’s something more important here than all these factoids (such as the fact that our word ‘alphabet’ comes from a combination of the terms alpha and beta, the first two Greek letters), and it’s actually understanding the New Testament and being able to read it as the Evangelists transcribed it. The truth is, there are some good translations out there — some really good translations, in fact, there are translations out there that will be able to make you understand the text of the Bible better than if most people tried to learn and read the Greek of the New Testament for themselves. However, no translation is absolutely perfect, since a perfect translation is impossible between any two distinct languages. Uncovering the New Testament in its original brings you one, important step forwards to understanding the message and advent of Jesus. This is a goldmine for any believer, and it gets even better once you understand that you can only read some of the really advanced and good commentaries out there by knowing Koine Greek (and also Hebrew if you want to read a technical commentary on the Old Testament). So, I’ve decided to take the path of learning Koine Greek, and I invite you to follow me as well on this exciting path.

Jesus’ Subtle Kingdom

Throughout the Gospel accounts, the four Evangelists take us on a story, each of them narrating the ministry of Jesus in a way that reflects how they want a newcomer to the faith to approach the character of Jesus and have His wisdom unravel into our minds and lives, and, hopefully by the end of it, the Evangelist will have convinced us to believe. As John explicitly tells us, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). Each Evangelist takes us on a journey through the wonders and signs of the man they believe is the Christos, Christ.

Many may know that in modern times, there are those who even believe that Jesus never actually claimed to be God in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and that they explain the divine statements in John by ascribing to the notion that it reflects a later, developed theology as the final Gospel written, so we cannot trust John when he writes to us saying that Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” (14:7-8), “I and the Father are one” (10:30), etc. However, as I will soon show, even subtle statements in the Synoptic Gospels reveal the high Christology that the Synoptic authors had and that Jesus definitely claimed to be God in a manner just as advanced as John. Indeed, very nicely, over the last 20-25 years a consensus has been emerging in academia that the earliest understanding of the life of Jesus was in fact that Jesus is God, and this came at the very beginning of belief in Jesus, not decades later at the time of John’s Gospel as late as the 90’s  AD. Some of the most influential academics to bring about this emerging consensus include Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado (who runs a great blog here) and others.

However, before showing statements in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus’ claim to be God is just as powerful as any of those in John (if not as explicit), we will go even earlier than the Gospels, the letters that Paul began writing in the late 40’s. Paul’s letters predate the Gospel accounts by decades, and may predate John by as much as over 40 years, and yet Paul makes statements about who Jesus was that are on the level of if not exceeding how clearly John makes Jesus to be God. Paul tells us Jesus existed “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and humbled Himself to take on human form so that He may die for our sins and then yet again become exalted, he tells us that Jesus is “God over all” (Romans 9:5), and many other things I have already written about. So, the Christology of John cannot be viewed as a late development but the earliest understanding of Jesus in Christian circles.

In the Synoptics, where so many claim that Jesus never claimed to be God, we find some subtle, yet very very telling things Jesus said about Himself that made it clear to any listener who was paying attention that He was directly claiming to be God. In Luke, Jesus is contiually proclaiming the coming of the “kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43; 9:2, etc etc), however something later changes — in Luke 22:30, Jesus says His disciples will eat at “my kingdom”. In other words, Jesus throughout His ministry tells those who listen that the kingdom of God is coming, but suddenly, Jesus now proclaims that it is His kingdom that is coming. Jesus here, I believe, unambiguously claims to be God.

Then, there’s a double tradition (Q?) in both Luke and Matthew where Jesus says “All things have been entrusted to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27/Luke 10:22). Who can claim to have the sole knowledge of God but God Himself, and who can claim that the only way anyone else can know the Father is if He wishes to reveal the Father to them but God alone? Even in Mark, Jesus does things that only God can do, such as forgive the sins of others (Mark 2:1-11) and when the High Priest finally asks Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus reponds “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:61-62).

I could go more in depth, but for all purposes here, this shows that all four  Evangelists believed Jesus to be God and record that Jesus claimed to be God. As a further reading, I would highly recommend Richard Hays’ Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. It’s not an easy read, but it’ll be one of the best books you ever read on the subject, and highly convincing as well. Jesus definitely claimed to be God.

Discovery of the earliest commentary on Matthew

Fortunatianus of Aquileia was one of the most important Latin writers of the early Church during the 4th century AD, yet he is not as well known as other early classical writers of Christianity such as Irenaeus, Origen or Jerome due to the fact that his writings have been lost. However, recently, his works were rediscovered, and this year they were published for free by De Gruyter, the worlds largest publisher of open-access books.

Fortunatianus is the earliest known author of a commentary on the four Gospel’s and his works were held in high esteem long after his death, and indeed, even the famous Jerome, author of the Vulgate translation of the Bible which was upheld for almost a thousand years after his death, commented lavishly at the elegance of Fortunatianus’ works. Fortunatianus’ commentary on Matthew and the other Gospels spans over a hundred pages long, and now that his work has been rediscovered, our corpus of early Church texts and our understanding of Latin Christianity has received a major contribution. In the next few decades, Fortunatianus may be known alongside men such as Ambrose and Athanasius, and his name may become immortal in human history. To have such a major contributor to the works of early Christianity predating the likes of Augustine and Jerome in our hands is very important, and there is yet another important thing to take into account here from his works.

Fortunatianus, as far as I’m concerned, is the second earliest commentator on the Bible to take a huge step into allegorical interpretation (the first I know of being Origen). Indeed, this demonstrates and reinforces the fact that allegorical interpretation was one of the earliest interpretations known to Christian writers, making it a traditional interpretation. This is important to take into account when deciding whether other key biblical texts are literal or allegorical and so the Christian community must take great care when deciding whether certain parts of the Bible were meant to be taken literally or allegorically.