Archive for the ‘New Testament’ Category

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.

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 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.

One of the many popular anti-Trinitarian arguments against the personhood of the Holy Spirit has to do with the Greek word pneuma, translated “Spirit” or “spirit” depending on context. (A similar argument is used with regards to the Hebrew word ruach, but we’ll focus here on the New Testament.) Anti-Trinitarians often appeal to the etymology, or word origin, for pneuma, pointing out that it originates from a Greek verb meaning “to blow,” which doesn’t sound like a promising derivation for the name of a person. Or in a related argument, they will argue that the “root,” “basic,” or “literal” meaning of the word pneuma is “breath” or “wind,” and from there conclude that the Holy Spirit is merely an impersonal force that issues from God.

Both the argument from etymology and the argument from a word’s supposedly “basic” meaning are exegetically fallacious forms of reasoning. Biblical scholars have been warning against these “word-study” fallacies for years,[1] but most Bible readers, whether anti-Trinitarian or Trinitarian, have not gotten the memo, so the former keep using the arguments and the latter keep being flummoxed by them. As has often been pointed out, the English word nice derives etymologically from the Latin word nescio, which meant “ignorant,” but this tells us nothing about the meaning of the word nice! Read the rest of this entry »

Perhaps the specific argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit that I see the most appeals to the parallelism in Luke 1:35, in which Gabriel says the following to Mary:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….”

Anti-Trinitarians commonly argue that in this statement “the Holy Spirit” is parallel to, and therefore synonymous with, “the power of the Most High.” They conclude that this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, meaning, they claim, either that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force of power that in some way emanates from God or is an abstraction for the divine attribute of God’s power.

There are at least two problems with this argument. Read the rest of this entry »

A really bad argument from silence is the claim that the Holy Spirit is not a person because he is not mentioned in certain passages. Chief among the offending texts are the salutations—the opening greetings in the New Testament epistles that usually read something like “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Anti-Trinitarians commonly infer from the “absence” of the Holy Spirit in these texts that he is not a person.

Besides being an obvious argument from silence, this argument overlooks contrary evidence. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in one of the New Testament epistle salutations: Read the rest of this entry »

Another bad argument some anti-Trinitarians use is to reason that the Holy Spirit is not a person because no biblical text reports a conversation between the Holy Spirit and someone else. This argument supposedly trumps the positive evidence of the various texts that report the Holy Spirit speaking (e.g., Acts 1:16; 13:1-4; 28:25; Heb. 3:7). Yes, the anti-Trinitarian argues, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit said something, but it never reports anyone responding to the Holy Spirit; there is never any two-way communication between the Holy Spirit and someone else. The Bible reports conversations between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and the devil, and between human beings; so why, if the Holy Spirit is a person, is he never reported to have participated in a two-way conversation?

Here again, the anti-Trinitarian has manufactured an argument that seems to fit the biblical data on this narrow matter of usage, but that assumes that the Bible should present the Holy Spirit in a certain way in order to warrant readers understanding that the Holy Spirit is a person. But we have no reason to place such a demand on Scripture—which is to say, we have no reason to place such a demand on God in the way he reveals truth to us. The argument fallaciously reasons from the “silence” of the text about any conversations involving the Holy Spirit to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is not a person.

A few moments’ reflection can generate several if not many examples of other persons in the Bible for whom we happen not to have any report of them engaged in conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Trinitarians often employ a number of objections to the personhood of the Holy Spirit that are examples of fallacious arguments from silence. An argument from silence infers from the fact that something is not said that it is being denied, or that it is not true. Arguments from silence seem ubiquitous in religious discourse. However, in order for the silence of a particular text or act of speech to be the basis for any conclusion, we must know that the writer or speaker would have known the point at issue and would have said something about it on that specific occasion if he did. In short, we need to know a lot more than what we usually know about what is in an author or speaker’s mind and what his or her intentions and concerns were. Arguments from silence typically ignore evidence contrary to the assumptions that the person making the argument brings to the subject.

Arguments from silence pertaining to the personhood of the Holy Spirit are perhaps the most common types of arguments used by anti-Trinitarians on this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and many other anti-Trinitarians raise a number of fallacious objections against the orthodox Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from both the Father and the Son. One such objection is that the Bible uses neuter pronouns in reference to the Holy Spirit. One can see this sometimes in English translations such as the KJV, for example in Paul’s statement, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16 KJV). Here the English neuter pronoun “itself” translates the Greek neuter pronoun auto. The masculine pronoun “himself” would be autos, not auto. Such neuter pronouns are commonly used in New Testament references to the Holy Spirit. Many anti-Trinitarians view this usage as indicating that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, perhaps a force or energy that comes from God, or perhaps God’s immanent mode of communication and manifestation.

The objection may be properly answered in several ways, but here I simply wish to focus directly on the crucial premise of the objection, which is that the use of neuter pronouns signals an impersonal object or abstraction as the pronoun’s referent. The claim is simply and unequivocally false. For the sake of those with little or no knowledge of the biblical languages, I will explain the matter as simply and completely as possible. Fortunately, it’s really not complicated. Read the rest of this entry »