Saturday, 11 November 2017

Fatscript Podcast Episode 8: Joel

Totally chuffed to co-host today with my brother, Josh! Remember, my book chapter is out! Check it out here.  Did you like the transition music? Check out the whole song here and even download it for free! Thanks for listening!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

John’s third impacting figure: Dr Dale Tuggy

Fatscript Episode 7 show notes, John’s third impacting figure: Dr Dale Tuggy

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Figures who have impacted my journey: Larry Hurtado 2, on Paul...

...including a fresh rediscovery of the gospel for me, how we carefully overlap the LXX and NT usages of Kyrios, why Joel became special.

On God being "our Lord" or "our LORD", results are as scant as I predicted, including Adonai.

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Figures who have impacted my journey: Larry Hurtado

Some notes:

- Book chapter is out! Check it out here. Almost works as a standalone paper.

- Quote from James McGrath review of Ehrman's most recent book:  Accurate memory is preserved, even in the process of distorting or reinterpreting it. And so it is frustrating when Ehrman discusses the work of famous form critics such as Bultmann and Dibelius but talks only about the fabrication of memories to meet the needs of churches in the pregospels period, to the neglect of the more interesting question of how the needs of those churches might have led to the reinterpretation of things the early Christians remembered about what Jesus said and did that were not pure fabrication (64–65). Some will suspect that Ehrman is still influenced here by his fundamentalist background, which tends to think of matters of authenticity or historicity in an all-or-nothing manner.

By the way, apologies to McGrath for probably mispronouncing his name!
- John's gospel criticism, please don't misunderstand me on the Jesus is/is not God thing!
- Dr. Hurtado's blog:
- Dr. Hurtado's interviews on Trinities hereherehere and here
- Dr. Hurtado's personal recommendation to my series on his post here
- Tetragram/tetragrammaton , relief from trinity work. First contact. Explain the project *dormant*
- My "gleanings" from my first response series (first series summary here) to Lord Jesus Christ
- Key terms: programmatic inclusion alongside. Binitarian.
- Question of centrality (see my post on Hurtado's opening words here)
- mutation proponent, and "unsuccessful mutations"
- methodology
- Jesus as LORD/Lord.... more on that next time!

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Sample Chapter is out!

I have no idea how much time I have spent crafting this chapter. I feel like I have written it several times over the last couple of years!

This opening chapter of my book manuscript introduces a new combination of already established theological concepts. It applies hermeneutic principles of interpretation to the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity, thus opening a middle ground between "Triune God advocacy" and Biblical Unitarianism and, I hope, increase the opportunities for productive dialogue between these traditionally-opposed schools.

This, the opening chapter, is a very personal one.

Particular credit goes to Marc Gallagher who gave me some fantastic constructive criticism and advice on it a few months ago, although quite a number have contributed in various ways to the development of the thesis of this book, which I extract here from the uploaded chapter:

First century Christian faith did indeed seem to have – at least in the more successful strands of Christianity of the time – an all-new trinitarian hub, and indeed did not yet feature a tri-personal God. The latter would be the expression and safeguarding of the former. That is the thesis of this book: the Triune God is the fourth-century expression and safeguarding of the first-century triune faith.

Please read or download the chapter in full here.

As readers may have learned already from a previous post, I haven't had much luck with my first three publishers, so until the book situation changes, I will tend to prioritise my other goals via this blog. Hopefully, folks might at some point realise that the Triune Hub hypothesis could give new leverage and clarity to the trinitarian enterprise. If that does happen, I may not even be the best person to publish on it. I'm more committed to getting a more accurate perspective of the past and improving the state of Christian apologetics to mind too much, although I have wondered and prayed about a partnership. But this chapter remains one of my most nurtured, careful and developed pieces I have written to date, so if you would like to read it I'd love to hear your feedback.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 10: Invocation and Confession of Jesus

In the last posts in our second series on Larry Hurtado's book, we looked at Jesus' role in the prayer of the earliest stages of the Christian movement, firstly with a summary of Hurtado's own content, and secondarily with my own concerns of mapping out a first-century form of trinitarianism, I wanted to highlight the Holy Spirit's perceived central place in the religious life of the community, including prayer.

Today is somewhat a continuation of the theme of prayer as Hurtado opens a section he calls Invocation and Confession of Jesus. On "invocation", you can practically hear the Old Testament thunder rumbling already (at least I do, as my work on my commentary on Joel continues slowly behind the scenes). Let's see, though what Hurtado's key points are in this section.

One great piece of textual evidence for dating this back to a pre-Greek phase (Aramaic), is the invocation of Maranatha, that is preserved in 1 Corinthians 16:22. Hurtado points out the lack of any need for Paul to translate this saying to his Corinthian recipients. He may overstate things by assigning this lack of need to translate to its place in a super-early liturgy.

On p. 141, Hurtado dips slightly into Christian-mode, I think, when he states: Such a corporate cultic appeal to Jesus simply has no analogy as a regular feature of any other known group connected to the jewish religious tradition of the time [ok so far], and it, too, indicates, public devotional life of early Christians in a way that is otherwise reserved for God. My emphasis. I get fidgety every time someone says that some kind of possessive usage of Lord - e.g. Come, Our Lord! - was reserved for God. We have frequently noted on this blog, and in part at the instigation of a couple of blog posts made by Hurtado himself (e.g. here) that the Septuagint translators' opting for the anarthrous LORD as a translation for the tetragrammaton of Yahweh, God's personal name given in Hebrew, is not compatible with "my, your, their, our" etc. All such forms of language are essentially with reference to a title, something which Yahweh was not. Further, the translators (the first Alexandrian wave in any case) were careful to maintain that distinction via the anarthrous use. For newcomers to the blog, what we are talking about here is something a little akin to "Pharoah" or "Caesar". It was a bit like a title, but since it was so attached to this one individual, LORD (as opposed to the LORD) functioned in a similar way (one exception was discussed on the blog - "LORD of hosts", which you can read more about in The Name of [the] LORD if you would like to find out more).

So is Hurtado about to cut some Kyrios corners here? Actually, he is headed to a well-known (to the first century Jews) text of 1 Enoch, which is an eschatological reference reframed to have Jesus coming with all his holy ones: And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly. (Ch. 1v9) That is certainly extremely interesting that God's visitation in judgement would be reframed via his glorified Messiah, but it's perhaps a little strange to paint this systematic invocation or programmatic inclusion starting here. But we quickly arrive at the more familiar references of Romans 10:9-13 and its reference to Joel 2:32. Here we truly have something phenomenal, which I won't have time to expand on in today's post, but LORD's anarthrous usage is applied to or finds fulfilment in Jesus ( τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου ) !

Thursday, 14 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 9: Prayer - where was the Spirit?

In Part 8, we realised that a minority of passages during the canonical era included direct prayer or calling to the Lord Jesus, while reserving prime recipient to God (the Father) himself as the standard Christian pattern. I failed to note that no mention of the Holy Spirit was included in this section - an error on my part. Hurtado's focus is on the ultra-early explosion of Jesus devotion in a Jewish monotheistic context. My focus is on a first-century establishment of a triune hub mutation to the Jewish Christian faith, so the impetus is on me to spot that, research and expand as appropriate.

Since we are on Paul, we should be careful not to fall prey to an "under-realized eschatological perspective" (G. Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God p. 141;), "for Paul prayer has been radically transformed by the coming of the Spirit" (idem. p. 146)" and "[t]he  beginning of Christian life is marked by the indwelling Spirit's crying out 'Abba' to God (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). On all occasions,' Paul urges elsewhere, 'ray in/by the Spirit'; this injunction applies to every form of prayer (Eph 6:18)." (idem. p. 146). This seems of utter importance to realise that the departed Lord Jesus has given this greatest gift that indeed permits that he and the Father might remain present with his people. Among his people. Literally, in their minds. It's literally mind-blowing! Imagine having a personal life-giving power within you that actually helps you to pray when your own words fail you?

I have to say that it is hard to write about the topic of prayer and the Holy Spirit's inclusion without becoming personally excited and involved!

Praying also gives way to praying in tongues, something else we know that Paul practised and is connected with a series of other spiritual gifts demonstrating the life of the eschatological people of God. Praying in this new way embraces the person's and the congregations' entire mind, it is transformational, it utterly embraces weakness and glorifies God and Christ in the wake of our own inability.

Definitely worth a mention, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Big T Little t: It's time to call in the A-Team!

Remember The A Team? What a great show!

One of the great characters from that 90s classic was Mister T. You don't mess with Mister T!
Today I want to reflect again on Tuggy's dichotomy between little-t big-T, which continues to bug me. I have already blogged on the Jewish Roots of the Trinity and especially in my Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation. Dale's amazing at showing distinction where there appears to be just mud. He's a trained analytic philosopher, he's just doing his job and doing it well. But there are problems in applying dichotomies across time and culture, especially with regards to this multi-personal God issue that has provoked so much inquiry in his own life and also in my own.

I've hinted at this before, but I'm going to emphasise it again now. Biblical Unitarians - to whom I owe so much and whom I love, at least those that I have had the privilege of meeting - are fully capable of accepting quite unaware the very fourth-century categories they so firmly oppose. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Not so long ago, I blogged quite a successful blog summary (What On Earth Has John Been Up To?) in which I included some of my next goals (one of those was a study on John the Baptist, which is already completed, hurrah). Believe it or not, my intuition about the Restitutio interview seems to have been pretty well dialled in - presenter Pastor Sean Finnegan read my blog summary hyperlinked above and has expressed interest in doing an interview. So, that plug aside (watch this space!), my point is that in preparing to speak to Sean I looked up a debate he did on Youtube way back in 2008ish, up against a Trinitarian. I didn't make it all the way through. It was the sort of debate that just makes you think how do those people even think that fast?! One sentence caught my attention, however, where Sean said something along the lines of: "no, I do not believe that Jesus is of the same essence as the Father". The same essence?

I should be careful here! Sean, you might even be reading this, so in maximum warp-speed 10 respect, please hear me right. I'm just trying to point out that it is very easy for any of us to take our opponents' categories for granted. Perhaps Sean wouldn't say that nine years later, either way, it doesn't matter for the purpose of this example. Back to Small T vs Big T.

Dale Tuggy's point is that "small-t" trinitarian refers to a triad. All "small-t" trinitarians are in fact, according to Dale's tightly defined definitions, biblical Unitarians. That is to say that God himself, remains one individual, no matter how much he and his actions are bound to his Son and his Spirit. Over the past year or so, I have come from a point of curiosity, through scepticism now to rejection on the possibility of some almighty conceptual switch. As I have understood the dichotomy thus far, the radical switch from Point A (God Is A Single Person Deity) to Point C (God Is A Three-Person Deity) shift is too great. As I stressed in my response to Dale, to which his response is still due at some point I hope, there has to be a Point B. That Point B is not adequately described as "biblical Unitarian". I'm sorry, but I find that almost as guilty as the back-projecting as some Trinitarians are in their own apologetics.

In my view, the whole perspective is upside down. It wants to start with ontology, which is precisely where Paul Ricoeur has warned us not to begin. If we begin there and disregard the goals, loyalties, injuries, politics, history and other stakes then we can miss important data - this data is so much more complex and nuanced its complexity and nuance require a more hermeneutic approach. It is this hermeneutic approach that says: how do we perceive? How do we conceptualise the seen realm and the unseen realm? If we do that, and we are able to factor in the historical probability of the first-century Christian mutation of Judaism having started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub" via the baptismal rites, then we are released into realising that it is, in fact, the Triune God version of the Trinity that should receive the "small T", since it is interpretative of that which precedes it. It is, therefore, the earlier, Jewish-Christian expression and understanding from which it is developed is that which should truly bear the "Mister T" belt.

According to my own definitions, then, I think that makes me a Capital-T Trinitarian! It might frustrate, however, to realise that it is not in any way an outcome of a one-self or three-self decoding process of the ontology of God, since it begins with the social human psyche.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 8: Prayer

THIS IS WHERE Hurtado's study gets up, close and personal, if we will let it. Why? Because: "Who did they pray to" is just a tiny step from "who do I pray to". Also, in ways surely never glimpsed by the disciples when they asked for assistance on how to pray to Jesus, the issue of how to pray seems complex when there are at least two, closely related potential recipients. So how does Paul handle it?

Paul's prayers seem to primarily aim for God, although as ever, Jesus is never far removed from view. In Romans 1, the prayer is even offered "through" Jesus. However, as Hurtado rightly notes, there are other occasions when both are addressed, such as 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

There are also petition moments that include Jesus, such as Paul's famous petition to the Lord Jesus for the removal of his "thorn" in 2 Corinthians 12. Fascinatingly, Hurtado also informs us that in the "unsuccessful mutations" of Christianity, direct prayers to Jesus are actually more prominent than in the canonical material, which seems to keep something of a balance. Hurtado concludes:

Overall, we get the impression of a remarkably well-established pattern of prayer in which Jesus features very prominently, either as recipient or as unique agent through whom prayer is offered. Moreover, there is simply no analogy in Roman-era Jewish groups for the characteristic linking of Jesus with God in the prayer practice reflected in Paul's letters. (p. 140)

You may have noticed that I have been treating God as a uni-personal individual. This is in keeping with Hurtado and, I strongly believe, with Paul. We also are clearly thin on Holy Spirit in this area, certainly as a recipient of prayer. That obviously does not mean that Paul dos not have a great deal to say about the Holy Spirit, and indeed sees the Sprit as interceding/praying for us in Rom 8.

Monday, 4 September 2017

LJC S2 Part 7: Paul assumes and does not criticise Christ-worship and Jesus centrality

In Part 6 we tracked the development of the Gentile inclusion process, from Peter addressing Jews from all nations in Acts 2, through understanding (and rejoicing) that non-Jews could be partakers in the great eschatological people via their legitimate receiving of God's great outpouring of his Spirit, to the eventual dawning in Galatians that the scope of Christ's salvation for his People of God was far wider - far greater - than Torah observance of circumcision.
Before advancing in Hurtado's chapter today in Paul, perhaps I could just add in the tension enhanced by Matthew's later addition in Matthew 5:18: "For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (NIV). So, hopefully it is starting to become more obvious as we allow Hurtado to immerse us in the first-century world, just what a whopper of an issue male circumcision was to the flourishing Christian movement.

Remember how in Chapter 1 we surveyed Hurtado's general thesis? We looked at his four major reasons that helped shaped Christian worship the way it did, and I praised it for its clarity. We had (the rather epic) Jewish monotheism, Jesus himself, religious experience and the religious environment. Here now Hurtado dips briefly into this model and asserts that for Paul indeed Jesus was this ultimate model for Christian living: "Jesus also functions as the inspiring model of the ethical qualities that are to characterize the present life of the redeemed and of the eschatological outcome of their redemption as well." (p. 134)

The section I want to focus on today is simply entitled "Binitarian Worship". Readers might remember that in the first series I had a post entitled: What does Hurtado mean by "binitarian"? I don't want to re-hash all of that here, but I'd like to give a shout out to blog reader, Richard Wilson, who astutely pointed out in a comment he left on one post that Hurtado has distanced himself over the last decade or more separating us from this important 2003 publication Lord Jesus Christ over this term, preferring to speak these days more of "dyadic worship". This is indeed evidenced over the exchange I had with Hurtado concerning his differences with Dunn here and here, alsoace given to Jesus in Pauline Ch in the first series. Good spot Richard! This problem of quite how we describe this early Christian worship is indeed not satisfactorily solved by calling it "binitarian". Binitarian sounds a lot like trinitarian-minus-one. Trinitarianism itself suffers from a lot of ambiguity, but given its ultimate form of the Triune God, then we could indeed agree that Hurtado's move away from binitarian to be a good one. Our author is certainly not implying that for our first-century founders that God himself is binitarian, otherwise his use of "both" would be entirely redundant: "The christological material we have surveyed here reflects an impressive... place given to Jesus in Pauline Christianity. As Kreitzer and Richardson have shown, in Pauline Christianity we see a remarkable "overlap" in functions between God and Jesus, and also in the honorific rhetoric used to refer to them both." (p. 134)

What I can say in summary and in strong agreement with Hurtado throughout this part is to assert the following: Is it not extraordinary that in all of the Pauline correspondence, despite all the issues that he addresses, that the centrality of Jesus and his overlap in functions with God are never critiqued? Hurtado goes into some detail to attempt to demonstrate that this would have included the earliest, Aramaic-speaking followers of Jesus themselves.


I am particularly pleased with what follows. I am a bit of a stickler for detail, as my queries on the precise definition of "binitarian" have probably shown. This time, however, on the question of "Christ devotion", which is clearly demonstrated, Hurtado is going to take head on the challenge (particularly from the likes of Dunn) that this should not be overlapped with how we might define "worship". Does the devotion to Christ reflected in Paul's letters really amount to "worship" in the sense of reverence directed to a deity? (p. 137) Here, Hurtado throttles up to full power and unleashes dense summaries of a string of publications he has published over the years that demonstrate the unique and divine status and "programmatic inclusion" of Jesus alongside the one true God of the Israelites. He is able to compellingly sweep aside allusions to occasional alternative intertestamental Jewish figures who had received some honorific recognition, or some sort of emergence of Jesus in the pagan sense of the Roman religious context of the time, highlighting the consistent "constellations" of practices evidenced and assumed by this earliest extant Christian writer, Paul.

In my next  post, we'll see what Hurtado has to say about prayer in particular, which I hope should cause us who believe in Christ and the Father to reflect afresh about how we address them in light of the earliest Christian practice.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

LJC S2 Part 6: Hurray - *they* can become Jewish Christians too!

WHEREVER YOU ARE and whoever you are, you probably know the experience of being on the outside of a group you'd like to be in, or being comfortable in a group, perhaps with a certain role to play and being glad of it. Perhaps the group is quite informal or abides to strict rules. Perhaps there is a leader present to give guidance and instruction, even discipline, like the teacher in the class.

Group dynamics are a part of our way of life and have affected every human life on the planet since the dawn of our species. Today's post, number 6 in our second sequence on Larry Hurtado's 2003 book Lord Jesus Christ, is concerned precisely with religious group dynamics about who's in and who's out.

In this second chapter focussed on Paul, Hurtado reminds us that we are not examining a specific man's theology, but rather the kind of church communities that were supported by him (and vice versa), as he expands a chapter section he calls "Jesus' Redemptive Death and Resurrection".

Most folks know that one of the most defining aspects of the Christian message is that "Christ died for our sins", which is certainly not something that Paul came up with:

Everyone he is writing to obviously already believes in Jesus' redemptive death, resurrection and exaltation, and it gets "tucked away" into a good number of his exhortations or instructions etc., sometimes on quite different topics and often without expansion. Two major exceptions exist, however, but before we get to those, I need to share an insight about the "who's in in and who's out" revolution in the New Testament.

As I took a break from writing this post (the shower is always a great place for new insights I find!) I was struck with a deep urge to study Acts 11 afresh. As I did this I noticed two things.

Firstly, as I have taken for granted like most Christians do, I was reminded of the nonetheless profound discovery of Peter - gentiles are "in". Not only is their food "OK", but the true purifier and enabler, the Holy Spirit is just as freely given to the Gentile believers as the Jewish believers who rejoice (v. 18). It is very hard to describe quite how powerful a paradigm-shift that would have been, and indeed it seems to have needed this profound spiritual encounter in Acts 11 and direct command from the Lord (I presume Jesus) for Peter to grasp it.

But there is a second thing that I noticed. Imagine you are Peter and your heart has been broken about these outsiders, you now see them as your brothers and sisters and a sort of ancient, deep-rooted "racism" has just powerfully fallen from your eyes and dissolved into joy. We have nothing over them, we are all equally indebted to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, equally empowered by God through the precious sending of his Holy Spirit. WE ARE EQUALS. This still leaves the following possibility open: So, of course, they can get circumcised - they're "in" now! 

If we look even further back at the Pentecost described in Acts 2, whom is Peter addressing? They may well be people of different languages, but you can be clear on one thing - sorry to be so crude - there were probably few foreskins in that crowd. These were "fellow Jews" (v. 14), "Fellow Israelites" (v. 22, 29). That's why chapter 11 is after chapter 2, and it's chapter 11's unfinished business with regard to the terms of that wonderful new inclusion that gives rise to an important disagreement between Peter and Paul described in Galatians 2:11-14. Because of James' firm Jewish stance and Act's 11's unfinished business, Paul would attempt to lever Peter and his influence in Jerusalem back toward a fuller understanding of what Peter had already had revealed to him in part. The issue of circumcision may seem trivial to us now, but underneath it lay a huge theological question about the nature of salvation and Jesus' centrality that is far from trivial: The salvation is universal; his centrality is cosmic.

This, then, is how I propose we arrive at Hurtado's two exceptions to Paul's relative quiet on Jesus' redemption: Galatians and Romans. In Galatians, Paul describes his disagreement with Peter; In Romans, Paul is presenting his ministry more fully since he is writing to a church that he did not plant.

It is certainly worth noting that Paul presumes a familiarity with the idea that Christ’s death and resurrection are redemptive among the Roman Christians to whom this epistle is addressed, circles he had no role in founding, and that had been established at a very early point by other Jewish Christians who “were in Christ before I was” (such as Andronicus and Junia, Rom. 16: 7) (p. 129, emphasis mine)

In both the letters of Galatians and Romans, then, there are different contexts that both required a fuller treatment of God's redemption by Paul:

In both letters Paul explicates and defends the validity of his mission to Gentiles, and his message that all believers are redeemed through Christ, and so Gentiles are not required to supplement their conversion by observance of Torah. (p. 130)

As I already mentioned, the massive issue of "who's in and who's out" was clearly not yet fully resolved for the Galatian churches. For a lot of these Jewish followers of Christ, they could believe that Christ had borne their sins redemptively, even that he had been resurrected by God and now reigned on high at God's right hand, having sent the Holy Spirit to God's people to advance God's kingdom until Christ's climactic return. And some had had the insight that this included, not just Jews from all nations (as in Acts 2), but everyone is welcome to the Jewish Jesus club of being God's children. But:

Jewish = Circumcision = Torah observance = Insufficiency of God's salvific work in Christ + hindered access to Gentiles.

Hurtado conjectures interestingly that along with Peter, perhaps Paul himself too had had to seriously rethink his own position on this issue first as a Torah-abiding Jew (p. 131).

Friday, 25 August 2017

It all started with **B A P T I S M** (4): The Star Points To Another Who Points To Another

IF ANY FIRST-century historical individual could be credited with the largest pressure on the primitive Jewish Christians to adopt a form of trinitarian thinking, it would be the wilderness apocalyptic preacher known as "John the Baptist". It sounds kind of whacky, but it's true! Let's take a moment to recap our Journey thus far, in this the last of four instalments into John the Baptist, and why I reach this conclusion.

In Part 1, I just wanted to get straight to the point and offered 9 bullets that reconstruct how John's ministry was necessarily contrasted with Jesus' baptism with the Holy Spirit, and concluded: This trinitarian saying [trinitarian baptismal formula] was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had astarted to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".

In Part 2, I wanted to demonstrate how significant John the Baptist was from a non-Christian source, the Jewish historian Josephus. Here John receives as much attention from Josephus as Jesus. He is understood to have had massive influence such that even that God himself would overturn Herod's army in vengeance against the execution of his beloved prophet, John.

In Part 3, I took on the problem of the date of John's death, which is problematic if you cross the gospels' chronology with that of Josephus, but also a good angle from which to look at how the portrayal may have developed over the later stages of the first century. Here I present, gospel author by gospel author, the portrayal of John the Baptist, noting first in Mark the basic events and assumed death of John and Luke's expanded version which includes John's own birth narrative alongside Jesus'. Then we saw that Matthew almost seems to take on the challenge against the Josephus chronology, integrating narrative that explicitly informs Jesus of John's tragic demise. Finally, we saw in John's gospel that the author simply allows Jesus to "steal the show", allowing John to slip from view once he has served his purpose to point to the light.

What I failed to note in looking at Matthew (and regular readers will know I have a special relationship with Matthew!), is the relevance of the date of Antiquities, where Josephus describes John's ministry and death. It was written no later than 94 AD, but possibly earlier. Given all the other late indicators I am seeing for Matthew, I would suggest that this over-emphasis on Jesus' interaction with John's death is a firm contribution to a composition date of Matthew around the 90s close to John. It obviously contributes to the strong consensus that composition by the disciple Matthew is very unlikely.

Another thing we didn't do was look at the passages in Acts that refer to him. We'll not lose too much time on them individually now, as there are actually 9 of them, but they really do consistently echo what we have been saying all along: the contrast between the two main first-century Jewish figures, and that John points to Jesus. For that to mean something big so much decades later, can only mean that John's ministry continued to make a huge splash in Judea and beyond for decades.

Thus, regardless of when John really died, John's memory is dedicated to being that of a star player that nonetheless pointed to the hero and saviour of all, Jesus Christ, the inaugurator of the new Eschatological Age of the Spirit! It is with these ideas in mind that I called this last part: The Star Points To Another Who Points To Another.

Thank you for following the journey, blessings.

For reference, those 9 bullets again, followed by all New Testament references to John.
  • John's impact was really very big indeed and his renown mid-first-century may have been comparable with Jesus', see for example Apollos' of Alexandria's familiarity with his ministry in Acts chapter 18 and Paul's encounter with 12 disciples in Ephesus in the following chapter.
  • A clear historical relationship connects these major first-century Jewish players of John and Jesus; some credible scholars, have Jesus first being John's disciple before starting his own movement.
  • We have no texts of any followers of John.
  • For Jesus followers, Jesus has to be bigger and better than John. If John was great, and Jesus much greater than him. This could only have contributed to his final exalted status.
  • Contrary to popular Christian apologetics, killing a leader does not necessarily kill off the sect he started unless he is resurrected. John is solid proof of that. 
  • John and Jesus are firmly differentiated on the following grounds:
    • the Christ was more successfully understood to have really been raised back to life, unlike the rumours that surrounded a resurrection for John, 
    • John's humility seems genuine and may indeed have heralded the coming Messiah, turning down offers of honour, recognition and prestige (which ironically had the opposite effect), while Jesus combined humility and the messiahship,
    • Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit; John baptised with water.
  • Since both martyrs were hugely influential baptisers and their ministries overlapped, their baptisms (and order of death) were at times confused.
  • Someone, somewhere, decided: enough is enough and came up with the threefold baptismal formula to clear it up once and for all. This may have been the author of Matthew's gospel, (whom I strongly believe wrote later than Luke and Acts, which bear witness to the confusion), or it may have been the author of the part of the Didache that also contains the baptism formula. Since both those sources are Jewish, that someone was almost certainly a strongly Jewish Christian (leader). 
  • Conclusion: This trinitarian saying was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".

New Testament References

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Why We Bind Theology To Doxology

1. Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology (J. I. Packer). describes Packer as "perhaps one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries."

2. I think a good theologian prays well, first. No theologian who doesn’t has even begun to understand the discipline. And then s/he serves the Church, and his or her particular part of it (down to a local congregation) in humility and faithfulness. Theology belongs to the Church; any theologian divorced from the Church is a bad theologian, however brilliant or knowledgeable. A good theologian has a grasp of gospel values, and would swap everything s/he has written to see one sinner repent, or one broken life healed. A good theologian writes and speaks only to help the Church be more faithful to the gospel, bringing whatever knowledge of the tradition, whatever insight into contemporary modes of thought, and whatever native cleverness s/he may possess, all into service of this one end. A good theologian is marked by humility and cheerfulness, knowing how far short of the mystery of God and God’s works his/her best efforts fall, and knowing that in the good grace of God something of lasting worth may still come from them. A good theologian, finally, does know something, and has some capacity of thought, and so can make a contribution through his/her God-given vocation.
I am not a very good theologian.

(S. Holmes)

I describe Stephen Holmes as an extremely knowledgeable and apparently humble theologian. Holmes had an important impact on my own understanding of the Trinity around 2014-2015, and I continue to use his book for reference on historical contributions.

The purpose of our learning and contributions is not for us, but for Another and for others who worship that Other - God, say Holmes and Packer and indeed the lion's share of Christian theologians. Are they correct? Does theology lead to doxology? Doxology defines itself pretty clearly to me, but how is theology to be defined? If it is that which we can say of God via the biblical text on the historical platform from which we gaze, then we presume the reality of the God in question. Thus, in the case of Christian theology, then we must indeed humbly agree and reaffirm what is said above.

However, it should probably be remembered as well that Christianity is also an intensely historical phenomenon which has affected humanity globally. Therefore, historical studies can and must overlap considerably with the work of theologians. This is where we need to tread carefully and, I think, welcome the inter-worldview historical task. On the one hand, "neutral" history without faith commitment could actually shed greater light on Christianity's authenticity. On the other hand, it could also cast doubt on central tenets, doctrines or beliefs. 

This comparison and overlap remind me a little of the evolution "debate": we see some anti-christian science on the one hand, and six-day creationists on the other. However, I think, most people overlap: scientists on the most-part are not setting out to disprove religions, simply to understand the universe better and produce life-enhancing insights. It's positive, not negative. Further, many Christians, myself included, do not believe a six-day creation 6000 years ago to be at all credible in light of the data produced by extensive research. What do we do in that overlapping space? We interact. Christians do science; scientists have faith. Both are enhanced. 

The same should be said and clarified for theology and history. Historical theology reaches back through the hermeneutical spiral toward the source, both for theologians and historians of religion. Collaboration is necessary. Collaboration produces the results both enterprises need and should detract from individual glory.

But let's get back to the Christian task of theology. Yes, theology in its brute form is without a doubt a Christian task. But why point out that it has to lead to doxology? What might the alternative be? Obsession? Pride? Distraction?

For me, I do believe there is truth in this from the perspective in which I have been raised and have now affirmed as an adult believer. But during my recent journey, theology has been quite historical when I was horrified to consider that my cherished trinitarian beliefs no longer seemed to fit the biblical text that I also cherished so dearly. Theology is also about wanting to know the truth, and that's ok. That can take time. And mistakes. And learning. And humility. Such a process can run deep through your soul, and, without you even realising it, prepare the way for a deeper and sounder doxology than the fractured, pride-ridden self could have arrived at without the history. 

Is the theology to doxology idea something of a paradox, why even bother saying it? Perhaps theology requires that it be said from the same lips of those who have authentically and personally wrestled with the issue for themselves (I make no judgement on either Holmes or Packer here), but that incarnational approach I find deeply appealing. Any preacher who speaks of his own pride gets my instant and total attention. I can relate to him or her. Now we get real. Now we get to ditch the crowns, and we can do it together and we can do it alone.

Perhaps also theology doesn't want Christians to get too lost in historical analysis and forget their purpose. As we have said, there is this wide overlap with historical analysis, with its neutral goal of simply better understanding past events. There can be a conflict of interests though here. Let's take my example of the Gospel of Matthew. I have deeply divided feelings about the Gospel of Matthew. Part of me loves it - in particular, we get the sermon on the mount, which is amazing. My history part loves it too, as I now understand the baptism formula in 28:19 in a new light that enhances earlier teaching. However, my faith part has at times suffered as I have wrestled with the modifications that I see this author has made to his sources and his thinly concealed objectives. My understanding of Scripture and inspiration has been severely tested in the case of Matthew, yet when I look back in history I also get fresh faith: Matthew ends up being the most popular and retranscribed gospel (I think) for the early church. A massive contribution has been made by Matthew, and I am an inheritor of its contribution, whatever the conclusions I reach about it. 

It may feel like a paradox at times when we get to ugly texts or bits we don't know if they are even literally truely recounting actual events in our past. But if we stop for a second as Christians and ask ourselves why we are even asking that historical question, we should remember to answer ourselves: because we want to know God better.

Friday, 18 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M** (3): Gospels on John the Baptist's death

WE ARE LOOKING at how we ended up toward the end of the first century with a strong Jewish-Christian leader deciding that the clearest way to ritualise baptism was in the threefold name (“in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). We are exploring the impact of John the Baptist with regard to that hugely significant step.

In yesterday’s post, we saw that for Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century, John was probably perceived to a similar degree of historical importance as Jesus. At the end, of that post, however, we discovered the awkward possibility that John may have been killed as late as 36 AD. I wondered initially if that really clashed with a New Testament position on Jesus and John or even whether it mattered all that much.

Well, I have to admit, it would definitely clash. Whether it matters, is a personal issue we all have to resolve and my method is to find the most likely path while still ensuring the New Testament authors receive the most credibility possible (as difficult as I find that at times with Matthew). So, that’s what I propose to do with you right now.

The date limits for Jesus’ crucifixion seem fairly firmly set at between 30-33 AD. The New Testament has John's imprisonment and execution before Jesus' crucifixion, but let's just have a quick look to see how that played out (using the MPH - Matthean Posteriority Hypothesis – ordering to which I subscribe, don’t worry if you don’t know what that means) to be sure:

Mark 6: No direct acknowledgement of John's death from Jesus

The whole event is in a "Markan Sandwich":
  • Jesus' disciples go on mission
    • Herod Antipas hears about this, but has had (funny tense required) John killed, duration of imprisonment not entirely clear, but might not have exceeded a year, given the event of John's execution being Antipas' birthday "party". John's disciples have buried John.
  • Jesus' disciples feed back on mission, and it's time for a break, retreat.
However, John’s death is assumed by Mark in 8:28 (Jesus questioned by some to be a resurrection of John the Baptist), and at least imprisoned in 11:30 (John’s baptism: was it from heaven…?)

Luke: No direct acknowledgement of John's death from Jesus, but it is assumed.

Luke's relating of the Baptist's story is spread across several chapters.  
  • Ch. 1: John's birth and naming
  • Ch. 3: John's ministry and imprisonment
  • Ch. 7: John's messengers sent to Jesus (presumably from his prison cell)
  • Ch. 9: Herod has already killed John, and wants to see Jesus. But like in Mark, Jesus simply debriefs his disciples and they try to retreat for a break.
  • Chapters 11, 16 and 20 refer to John's work in the past tense.

Matthew: Jesus knew of John's imprisonment and his death

Mat 4:12      “Now when Jesus heard that John had been imprisoned, he went into Galilee.”
Mat 14:12    “Then John's disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus”.

Great! Thank goodness for that, Matthew clears it all up for us then! Josephus must have had a mix up about dating whole battles and stuff.

Only problem for me: I just don’t trust Matthew 100%. Remember for me, it’s “Love, Hate & Late” with this guy. I don’t want to get into it too much here, we’ll touch base with him again in our summary. Right now, let’s see what John is writing right at the end of the century about John’s death…

John: the Baptist slips from view

John (the writer of the fourth gospel)’s treatment of the Baptist is typical of his approach to Jesus as a whole. Jesus is the focus and spotlight. That means that other significant characters, like John the Baptist, don’t necessarily need to have their loose ends tied once they have served their primary purpose of promoting Jesus and his message. This is simply because the focal point is locked so resolutely on the “light of the world” who has moved on. With that in mind, look at these verses and how the wording morphs in the space of just a few verses:

John 5:32-33,35     

“There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth”. “He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light.” 

And then that’s pretty much it. After this chapter, John’s name is mentioned just twice more in chapter 10, as ever with primary regard to Jesus.

Strange, huh? Just like that, he’s gone, with a slight twist of a sentence.


There are good grounds for assuming that Matthew is writing later than Mark (Hurtado puts Mark around 65 AD), and Luke and Acts. For everyone, both John and Jesus were executed decades before. It is generally acknowledged that of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew displays the greatest amount of theological shaping and reordering of material. He will go to considerable lengths to show Torah fulfilment (like having Jesus sitting on two donkeys, which was Matthew’s total misreading of Zechariah 9:9), eschatological fireworks of dozens of resurrections (that everyone else forgot) just after Jesus’ death, and a whole host of things.

However, although Matthew plays it loose, we also get to have his version of the baptismal formula, so all is forgiven! But we remember that he is all about making connections happen. He does it thematically, he does it prophetically from the past and into the future, and he sure makes certain that Mark and Luke’s efforts to connect and distinguish John and Jesus are as explicit as possible. Of course, Matthew’s method, however artificial it may sometimes appear, does not detract from the possibility that John was genuinely and even naturally held by the early emerging Christian communities to be such a great predecessor to Christ, that their deaths would be presumed the same ordering as their overlapping ministries: John first, then Jesus.

Some of those emerging communities may have vacuumed up some of the remaining John-movement communities that continued to function decades after his demise, which, given the consensus that (the great-but-humble) John had vouched for Jesus as the Messiah, could only have fuelled the Jesus movement.

Tough Choices

But let's not run away from the awkward bit. So what are our choices? Firstly, if this really matters to you, then you should really read a specialist on Josephus, there will be plenty of resources there on such a significant historian, and check the difficulty of John’s death dating is substantial. If it really does seem quite likely, then I think you are basically left with two options, but conservatives won’t like either (obviously).

Firstly, you could simply accept the logical flow I presented above that was integrated by Mark and followed and clarified by Luke then Matthew (and virtually ignored by John). This would mean that in reality, at Jesus’ crucifixion, John was either:

1.     Still in prison
2.     Not yet in prison, ministering.

If pushed, I would prefer 1. That gives Jesus the space to attract the crowds and attention without competing against John. A long prison stay is not something I have heard discussed before, but this might be because neither Josephus nor the gospel writers imply it. Thinking about 2., I just can’t see it, although I guess it would have to remain a possibility, given the strong evidence of godly humility at the heart of both movements.

Oh yes, there is a third possibility: simply something else happened that we'll never know!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Proposition de Prière

Le saviez-vous, qu’il est possible que quelqu’un d’autre que Jésus soit à l’origine du « Notre Père » ? Dans la version trouvée en Luc 11, nous lisons une version plus courte de ce qu’on associe à cette prière dans sa version plénière. Le contexte est important :

Jésus priait un jour en un certain lieu. Lorsqu’il eut achevé, un de ses disciples lui dit : Seigneur, enseigne-nous à prier, comme Jean l’a enseigné à ses disciples. Il leur dit : Quand vous priez, dites : « Père ! Que ton nom soit sanctifié ; que ton règne vienne. Donne-nous chaque jour notre pain quotidien ; pardonne-nous nos péchés, car nous aussi nous pardonnons à quiconque nous offense ; et ne nous induis pas en tentation ». Il leur dit encore : Si l’un de vous a un ami, et qu’il aille le trouver au milieu de la nuit pour lui dire : Ami, prête-moi trois pains, car un de mes amis est arrivé de voyage chez moi, et je n’ai rien à lui offrir, et si, de l’intérieur de sa maison cet ami lui répond : ne m’importune pas, la porte est déjà fermée, mes enfants et moi sommes au lit, je ne puis me lever pour te donner des pains, je vous le dis, même s’il ne se levait pas pour les lui donner parce que c’est son ami, il se lèverait à cause de son importunité et lui donnerait tout ce dont il a besoin. Et moi, je vous dis : demandez, et l’on vous donnera ; cherchez, et vous trouverez ; frappez, et l’on vous ouvrira. Car quiconque demande reçoit, celui qui cherche trouve, et l’on ouvre à celui qui frappe. Quel est parmi vous le père qui donnera une pierre à son fils, s’il lui demande du pain ? Ou, s’il demande un poisson, lui donnera-t-il un serpent au lieu d’un poisson ? Ou, s’il demande un œuf, lui donnera-t-il un scorpion ? Si donc, méchants comme vous l’êtes, vous savez donner de bonnes choses à vos enfants, à combien plus forte raison le Père céleste donnera-t-il le Saint-Esprit à ceux qui le lui demandent.

Jean le Baptiste était, je pense, à l’initiative d’une forme primitive de cette prière, mais Jésus va la réinterpréter et fera introduire l’Esprit Saint comme une notion de don qui répond aux besoins les plus fondamentaux de l’homme, plus fondamental encore que le pain, qu’on peut toujours trouver ou demander. Notons bien, il ne dit pas ne pas être reconnaissant envers Dieu pour toute chose, bien sûr, il n’est pas un père méchant comme ça. Mais Jésus veut pour ses disciples, pour nous, le meilleur. Il veut changer l’objectif final de la prière, l’Esprit Saint en nous.

D’un point de vue chrétien, puisque nous comprenons bien que le Christ après sa résurrection était exalté à un point tellement haut qu’il siège maintenant à la droite de Dieu le Père, je propose cette prière trinitaire :

Notre père et notre frère, que votre nom soit sanctifié ; que votre règne vienne.

Père, comme ton fils bien-aimé, Jésus, nous a instruit de faire, donnes-nous aujourd'hui donc l’Esprit Saint pour qu’il ‘fasse le ménage’ chez nous, qu’il ôte toute amertume, méfiance, crainte de rejet et orgueil qu’il est sûr d’y trouver, pour que nous puissions être remplis et assurés de notre identité de fils et filles bien aimés de toi, pour être équipés pour porter le Royaume en nous, pour être une source de bénédiction pour les autres. Donnes-nous aussi ton Esprit pour nous guider sur les chemins à prendre et à éviter, pour percéverer dans la prière et dans l'adoration.

Jésus, c’est à toi maintenant que nous pouvons adresser notre louange, car tu as hérité le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom, que chaque langue te confesse comme Seigneur et chaque genou se plie devant toi, à la gloire du Père, tout par l’action de l’Esprit agissant puissamment en nous.

Amen J

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M** (2): Josephus on John

Let's get back to the size of John's ministry. Let's start with the major first-century Jewish historian:


·         The text (with my emphases): Baptism of Purification, Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the Baptist [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret. 
    And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod. 

·         Summary

According to this Josephus account, popular Jewish understanding was that John was God's agent, with not just human, but divine significance, so much so that God could take revenge on Herod's army. Mess with John? You mess with God. Bad move. Josephus seemed to have gained insight into John's kind of a movement during his teenage years, where he tells of a kind of 3-year internship he did with a certain Banus, whose activities match closely to Mark's description of John. Might he have been John's predecessor? We don't know. 

·         How does John measure up to Jesus for Josephus?

Very difficult to tell. In terms of space, they seem to be of similar length. Unfortunately, extensive scholarly research has shown that Josephus' Testimonium Flavianum has almost certainly been corrupted by Christian copyists, maybe in the fourth century and there are multiple lines of evidence to back this up. The fact that the doctored text is still no longer than John makes me wonder if the original report may have been shorter the coverage given to John.

·         Awkward dating of John's death from Josephus

Awkwardly for Christianity, the dating of connected events within Josephus (the whole debacle of the daughter of Aretas, the first wife of Herard the Tetrarch, escaping following news of the new gal on the block, Herodias, and the ensuing battle between Aretas and Herod the Tetrarch) means that John the Baptist was probably killed in 36 AD, which is a tad late for many of us. I wonder if this really contradicts the New Testament so greatly? In tomorrow's post, let's start to look at how important John the Baptist seems to have been in Jesus' stomping ground from the angle of the timing of his death in Christian eyes.

(Sorry no pics today, my connection is too bad)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M**

Baptism is a major sacrament for the church, and its primary initiator is understood to be the "John the Baptist", who is acknowledged by all four gospel writers, whose followers encountered the Apostle Paul and is spoken of at some length by first-century Jewish historian, Josephus.

John the Baptist's ministry was big. Maybe very, very big. I suppose like anything you study, the more you look at it, the bigger it can seem, so I apologise if I overstate things in today's post.

My main points:

  • John's impact was really very big indeed and his renown mid-first-century may have been comparable with Jesus', see for example Apollos' of Alexandria's familiarity with his ministry in Acts chapter 18 and Paul's encounter with 12 disciples in Ephesus in the following chapter.
  • A clear historical relationship connects these major first-century Jewish players of John and Jesus, some credible scholars, have Jesus first being John's disciple before starting his own movement.
  • We have no texts of any followers of John.
  • For Jesus followers, Jesus has to be bigger and better than John. If John was great, and Jesus much greater than him, then this can only have contributed to his final exalted status.
  • Contrary to Christian apologetics, killing a leader does not necessarily kill off the sect he started. John is solid proof of that. John Dominic Crossan points out that the Roman practice was to kill non-violent protest movements' leaders only, but to kill leader and associates of violent protest movements, so the apologetic cannot be said to be entirely junk, it's just a long way from proof when one of the biggest characters of the New Testament stands (or rather lies buried) against that "proof".
  • John and Jesus are firmly differentiated on the following grounds:
    • the Christ was more successfully understood to have really been raised back to life, unlike the rumors that surrounded a resurrection for John, 
    • John's humility seems genuine and may indeed have heralded the coming Messiah, turning down offers of honour, recognition and prestige (which ironically had the opposite effect), while Jesus combined humility and the messiahship,
    • Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit; John baptised with water.
  • Since both martyrs were baptisers and their ministries overlapped, their baptisms were at times confused.
  • Someone, somewhere, decided: enough is enough and came up with the threefold baptismal formula to clear it up once and for all. This may have been the author of Matthew's gospel, (whom I believe wrote later than Luke and Acts, which bear witness to the confusion despite the intended clarity of Jesus' baptism), or it may have been the author of the part of the Didache that also contains the baptism formula. Since both those sources are Jewish, that someone was almost certainly a strongly Jewish Christian (leader). 
  • Conclusion: This trinitarian saying was said over converts by Jewish Christians in the latter half of the first century as a part of their baptism rites, and the confusion was at last resolved. This mutation of Judaism had started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub".
Tomorrow I want to get back to the size of John's ministry, but I think that's all for tonight. Aiming for shorter posts...