Archive for the ‘Biblical studies’ Category

New_World_translation_of_the_Holy_Scriptures_2013_editionJehovah’s Witnesses teach that the New Testament originally contained the Hebrew divine name יהוה (YHWH, usually spelled “Yahweh”) or some equivalent form, but that scribes in the second century systematically replaced it with the noun κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or occasionally θεός (theos, “God”). To correct this alleged problem, they have inserted the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament portion of their official Bible, the New World Translation, some 237 times. The main reason for rejecting this claim is that the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament uniformly attest to the lack of the Tetragrammaton (the technical term for the four-consonant name Yahweh) or any equivalent form except for “Yah” in the expression “Hallelu-Yah” (“Praise Yah”) found four times in Revelation 19:1-6. Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to defend the implausible conspiracy theory that the second-century church, with no centralized authority or bureaucracy, completely eliminated all occurrences of the name Yahweh in all surviving manuscripts. Not only is this claim highly implausible, there are internal evidences in the New Testament text that confirm the accuracy of the manuscripts.
Here’s one fairly simple example. Consider Ephesians 6:1-9 in the NWT (2013 edition), shown below with expressions using the Greek word for “Lord” in brackets and the English wording emphasized:

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Robert Boylan is the author of a fairly sophisticated blog entitled “Scriptural Mormonism,” in which he frequently criticizes “Trinitarians,” especially evangelicals. A check of Boylan’s blog shows that I am mentioned in some 14 posts, mostly in the past twelve months or so. I contacted Boylan through Facebook at the beginning of 2016 asking if he would be interested in some dialogue, but he did not respond. Boylan has said plenty in those posts that merits a response, but here I am going to focus on one in which I am not mentioned.

elohimNote: The day after this article was first posted on June 6, Boylan posted three articles on his blog in response. In the first of those blog articles, Boylan suggested that I should “rework the article” in light of his comments.[1] I have therefore done so instead of posting follow-up responses, as I would normally have done. After I posted a revised version of this article on June 8, Boylan posted two additional responses, which shall be mentioned very briefly in the appropriate places. This article, posted on June 9, is thus the third version of the article.


Bokovoy or Boylan?

On May 8, 2016, Boylan posted a piece he titled “David Bokovoy vs. Luke Wilson on the names of God.”[2] Boylan begins as follows:

A couple of years ago, the now-Dr. David E. Bokovoy (PhD, Hebrew Bible [Brandeis]) commented on an article produced by the late Luke Wilson of the Institute for Religious “Research” (anti-Mormons like to use [loosely] the term “research” in the names of their ministries, including Bill McKeever]). The post is no longer online, but I did save it for future use. It contains some interesting material, so I believe it worthwhile to reproduce it here:

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Mormon scholar Jeffrey Chadwick has a new article in Meridian Magazine in which he explains why he thinks Jesus died on a Thursday rather than a Friday. I won’t attempt a thorough point-by-point rebuttal here but do want to offer some brief comments.

Mark is very clear on the chronology: Jesus died on “the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42), and the women went to the tomb “when the Sabbath was past…very early on the first day of the week” (16:1-2). Here “the Sabbath” must be what we call Saturday, and therefore Jesus died the day before Saturday, i.e., Friday. Chadwick’s explanation that the term “sabbath” could apply to other festival days doesn’t circumvent its usage in context in Mark, where it is explicitly the usual last day of the week in Mark 16:1.

Chadwick repeats some dubious arguments that a minority of non-LDS Christian scholars have made for a Thursday crucifixion. For example, “the third day” almost certainly should be understood to count inclusively; hence what we call Sunday would be the third day from Friday counting inclusively. The “three days and three nights” saying (Matt. 12:39-40) may seem difficult to square with a Friday crucifixion, but it has been shown that this is a Jewish idiomatic way of speaking and is not meant to be taken literally to mean a (roughly) 72-hour period. It can’t be taken literally even on a Thursday crucifixion view, since Jesus died just a few hours before sunset (Chadwick says around 3 pm, which is the usual understanding).

Chadwick’s agenda is really to square the day of Christ’s death with the Book of Mormon, and that’s understandable. However, there are some stubborn facts that make this almost impossible. Since Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Jesus must have been born in 5 BC (and 6 BC is possible). We know this because Luke reports that Jesus’ family stayed in the Jerusalem area for over a month (cf. Luke 2:21-22) and Matthew’s account indicates that they had lived in a house in Bethlehem for a period of time after Jesus’ birth (which was not in a house according to Luke 2:7, 12) and before Herod learned about the child king (Matt. 2:11). Herod’s order to kill Bethlehem boys two years and under (Matt. 2:16) also indicates that the child was perhaps a year old, again requiring a birth in early 5 BC if not 6 BC. This means one cannot square even a date of AD 30 for Jesus’ death with the Book of Mormon’s statements indicating that Jesus lived for 33 years (since if Jesus was born in early 5 BC and died in spring AD 30, he lived for 34 years. Besides, AD 33 is probably the correct date of Jesus’ death, which means Jesus was about 37 years old when he died.

Harold Hoehner’s book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) is still the best book on the subject in my opinion. He has a more recent study but it is probably less accessible to those who are not scholars: “The Chronology of Jesus,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 3:2315-60. On AD 33 as the date of Christ’s death, see also Paul L. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion,” Church History 37 (1968): 3-13; Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43 (1992): 331-51. It should be noted that all of these scholars were working on the chronological issues without the Book of Mormon being on their radar. That is, they were in no sense trying to refute the Book of Mormon.

LDS scholars have been giving significant attention in recent years to the English grammar, vocabulary, and style of the Book of Mormon. The thrust of this literary output has been to argue that the language of the Book of Mormon, far from an embarrassing liability, is in some respects an apologetic asset—even evidence of inspiration. More broadly, these scholars have been arguing that allegations of ungrammatical usage in the Book of Mormon are often unfounded, being based on misunderstandings or ignorance regarding earlier English grammar.

The most recent offering in this burgeoning literature is an article by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. According to Carmack, who has written other recent articles of relevance, mistakes in the analysis of grammar and usage in the Book of Mormon have been made on the assumption that Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is the appropriate reference in such matters. Carmack argues that the Oxford English Dictionary should be used instead. Following the lead of Royal Skousen, the leading scholar on the textual history of the Book of Mormon,[1] Carmack argues that the English of the Book of Mormon is written mainly in the Early Modern English that was current in the 1500s but archaic by Joseph Smith’s day—and not entirely due to imitation of the KJV. On this basis, Carmack argues that Joseph could not have been responsible for the English idiom of the Book of Mormon; it must have come from the Lord revealing specific words to Joseph. At the same time, Carmack admits that some of the language in the Book of Mormon is more modern.[2]

A thorough examination of Carmack’s article is beyond the scope of what I will attempt here. There are dozens of specific examples that would need to be considered and a thicket of assertions and inferences that would need to be evaluated. Carmack’s work in this and other articles will undoubtedly be hailed as having turned the English grammar question of the Book of Mormon into an astounding evidence of its divine inspiration. I believe there are serious holes in the argument and that it raises questions so far unanswered. For example, to the best of my knowledge no one has yet explained why God would reveal a translation of an ancient scripture to a nineteenth-century man in largely (but not entirely) sixteenth-century English. However, here I wish to address just one point, albeit a somewhat tangential point to Carmack’s overall project. The point concerns the use of the English pronoun thou in the King James Version (KJV), a matter of some possible relevance to its usage in the Book of Mormon. Read the rest of this entry »

Dale B. Martin of Yale just had an article published in which he argued that Jesus was crucified because his disciples were armed and planning an assault on Jerusalem (with the expectation that heavenly forces would back them up). Hardly anyone would have heard about this, except that it was written up in Newsweek.

Martin’s argument picks and chooses from the Gospels those elements that might seem to support his hypothesis. For some reason, the Gospel authors reported dutifully that the disciples had some swords the night of Jesus’ arrest, even though they supposedly distorted a number of facts in order to hide the intent of Jesus and his followers.

The idea that Jesus was leading a revolutionary movement is not new. A few decades ago it was S. G. F. Brandon leading the charge, so to speak, of that way of viewing the historical Jesus. Refuting such revisionist theories about Jesus is like playing Whac-a-mole.

Here is a bibliography on the issue, which includes the Newsweek article, Martin’s academic journal article, and some helpful blog responses:

Main, Douglas. “Jesus Was Crucified Because Disciples Were Armed, Bible Analysis Suggests.” Newsweek, Sept. 18, 2014.

Martin, Dale B. “Jesus in Jerusalem: Armed and Not Dangerous.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37, 1 (Sept. 2014): 3-24. Subscription or single-use fee required.

Joseph, Simon J. “Armed and Dangerous?” Simon J. Joseph (blog), Sept. 23, 2014.

Le Donne, Anthony. “Simon Joseph on Dale Martin’s Jesus.” The Jesus Blog, Sept. 25, 2014. Two-part interview with Joseph.

Pounds, S. Brian. “A Reply to Dale Martin’s JSNT Essay (Part 1)” and “A Reply to Dale Martin’s JSNT Essay (Part 2).” The Jesus Blog, Sept. 23 and 24, 2014.

In a previous article on this blog, “Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity,” I discussed Unitarian writer Anthony Buzzard’s misrepresentations of my statements about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in Putting Jesus in His Place, which Buzzard quoted out of context in a recent YouTube video. After Buzzard and I exchanged comments there, Dale Tuggy, on his blog about the Trinity, offered four observations or opinions on the matter. In his fourth point, he agreed with me that the Shema is not a “definition” of God, so no comment on that point is needed here. I appreciate Tuggy’s efforts and will respond to his first three points here.

1. According to Tuggy, what Buzzard probably meant was not that Jews in the biblical era were “anti-trinitarians” but that they held to “the view, roughly, that the one God ‘is unipersonal,’ that is, just is a certain self, person, or intelligent agent.” Tuggy thinks I should concede that this is what Jews at the time believed.

So much depends on precisely how words are understood here. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity views God as a single, intelligent being. If one stipulates that a single, intelligent being is by definition a “person,” then by that definition the Jews believed that Yahweh, the Lord God, was one person. By that definition, Trinitarians also believe that God is one person. Read the rest of this entry »

In my previous article on this blog, “Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity,” I discussed Anthony Buzzard’s misrepresentations of my statements about the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) in Putting Jesus in His Place[1], which Buzzard quoted out of context in a recent YouTube video. This was just the first of two subjects on which he took issue with something I had said in that book. In this article, I will discuss his other criticism.

Referring to a comment regarding Luke 1:35 on page 88 of Putting Jesus in His Place, Buzzard made the following statement:

Robert Bowman tries to draw a distinction between being called the Son of God and being the Son of God. That will not work. In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying “Blessed are the meek,” or one of those qualities of Christianity, “they will be the sons of God,” and the parallel says, “they will be called the sons of God.” There’s no difference. I refer to the famous birth narrative book by Raymond Brown where he explicitly says, “There’s no difference. If you’re called the Son of God, that’s what you are.”

Here again, Buzzard ignores the context of the statement in my book. My focus was on responding to the claim that Jesus became the Son of God only at his baptism:

If the Father’s statement at Jesus’ baptism implied that Jesus had become the Son of God at that moment, this subtle implication was missed by both Matthew and Luke. Both of them report the same statement at Jesus’ baptism, yet both agree that Jesus did not become the Son of God at that time. Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 in his infancy narrative, “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” and applies it to the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:15). Luke states that Jesus would be called God’s Son because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). (This is not the same thing as saying that he would be God’s Son only as a result of that virginal conception.) Thus, there is no basis in the Synoptics for the idea that Jesus was “sent” at his baptism.[2]

Now, note first that I did not say that Jesus was called God’s Son but wasn’t really God’s Son. Of course, he is called the Son of God because he is the Son of God. That is not in dispute.

Second, I did not deny that Jesus’ virginal conception and birth were a reason why he would be called the Son of God. That is surely one reason why he is known as the Son of God. But Buzzard wants to claim that his conception and birth is the sole reason that he is the Son of God. That claim goes beyond the text.

Third, Buzzard claims to have found some biblical evidence against the distinction between being the Son of God and being called the Son of God, in a pair of parallel statements he claims are in the Gospels. He says, “In the Gospels we have one Gospel saying ‘Blessed are the meek,’ or one of those qualities of Christianity, ‘they will be the sons of God,’ and the parallel says, ‘they will be called the sons of God.’” Obviously, Buzzard is trying to recall something off the top of his head. Unfortunately, in this instance he mangles the texts. Read the rest of this entry »

The doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ shows up in unexpected places. One place few people would think to look is the Sermon on the Mount. Yet it is there, and in the Beatitudes of all places.

In the last of the Beatitudes, Jesus told his disciples:

“Blessed are you when others revile [oneidisōsin] you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account [heneken emou]” (Matt. 5:11).

Compare this statement with the following from the Psalms (quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament):

“Because for your sake [heneka sou] I bore reproach [oneidismon]….because the zeal for your house consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach [hoi oneidismoi tōn oneidizontōn] you fell on me” (Ps. 68:8, 10 LXX [cf. 69:7, 9 in English Bibles]).

The repeated use of the noun and verb for “reproach” or “revile” (oneidismos, oneidizō) combined with the use of the phrase heneka sou (“for your sake,” “on your account”) make it pretty clear that Matthew 5:11 alludes to the Psalm. We know that Matthew interpreted Psalm 69 (68 LXX) Messianically (Matt. 27:34, cf. Ps. 69:21), as did John (see John 2:17, cf. Ps. 69:9; John 15:25, cf. Ps. 69:4).

So what do we have here? In Psalm 69, David says in a song to Jehovah God (note verse 6) that he bore reproach for the sake of Yahweh (Jehovah) God. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus, clearly alluding to Psalm 69, says that his disciples will be blessed when they bear reproach for his sake — for Jesus’ sake. Jesus here says that a religious obligation owed to God — to be willing to bear reproach for his sake — is properly owed to him. And he makes this point in language that clearly alluded to a song of religious devotion to Jehovah God.

Jesus deserves the honors that are due to God — even the honor of being insulted for his sake. The deity of Christ is not a doctrine derived from one or two proof texts. It is the understanding of Jesus that pervades the New Testament.

In my previous article here on the Book of Abraham, I showed that there is some reason to think that it was written in direct dependence on the Book of Genesis in the King James Version (KJV). That is, Joseph Smith was not translating the ancient Egyptian papyri in his possession; he was revising and expanding portions of Genesis as he found it in his copy of the KJV. This article will show that this conclusion is true beyond reasonable doubt.

Any thorough examination of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Book of Genesis must take into consideration both the big picture and the little details. The big picture is that three of the five chapters of the Book of Abraham parallel chapters in Genesis:

Abraham 1: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 2: Parallels Genesis 11:28-12:13 with substantial additions
Abraham 3: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 4: Closely parallels Genesis 1 with some additions
Abraham 5: Closely parallels Genesis 2 with notable addition and omission

Although I could go through all of this material here line by line, the curious reader will learn far more by doing the exercise for himself. If you have never done so, I recommend opening a copy of the KJV to Genesis and a copy of the Book of Abraham and comparing the chapters as listed above. Even better, you might print out a copy of Genesis 11:28-12:13 and Genesis 1-2 on paper and go through them verse by verse, comparing them to Abraham 2 and 4-5 (even marking up your paper to show the differences, or using a highlighter to mark the parallel wording). It won’t take long, and you’ll make your own discoveries and reach your own conclusions rather than having someone else spoon feed the information to you.

As I said, we want to look at the big picture, but we also need to look at the details. Here we can take a page from the notebooks of famous detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Lt. Columbo: it’s the little, seemingly insignificant details that often tell the tale.

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The recent article “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” attempts to explain a number of problems with the Book of Abraham, the most controversial text in the Mormon canon. The most basic problem is the fact that the Book of Abraham does not correspond to the Egyptian text of the Joseph Smith papyri, a fact for which the LDS Church has no definite answer. However, from another perspective a problem that is just as important, if not as basic, is the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Bible. The new article addresses this problem briefly as follows:

Much like the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s translation of the book of Abraham was recorded in the language of the King James Bible. This was the idiom of scripture familiar to early Latter-day Saints, and its use was consistent with the Lord’s pattern of revealing His truths “after the manner of their [His servants’] language, that they might come to understanding.”

That sounds innocent enough. People were accustomed in the 1830s and 1840s to reading scripture in the idiom of the King James Version (KJV), produced not long after Shakespeare wrote his plays. That was the form that English readers in Joseph’s day would expect a newly translated scripture such as the Book of Abraham to take. The article is not specific, but the reader may be led to understand that the Book of Abraham uses such words as thee and thou, hearken, behold, and yea, just as the KJV does. Read the rest of this entry »