Archive for the ‘New Testament’ Category

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 »

Taussig, Hal, ed. A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. Foreword by John Dominic Crossan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

Hal Taussig, a founding member of the Jesus Seminar, is the editor of A New New Testament, which combines the 27 books of the real New Testament with ten other ancient texts that historically have had no place in any Christian version of the Bible. These other texts include the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Truth, the Odes of Solomon (divided into four books), Thunder Perfect Mind, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Secret Revelation of John (also known as the Apocryphon of John). Among the texts not included were the Protevangelium of James, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Barnabas (which will upset some Muslims) and Third Nephi (no doubt to the disappointment of some Latter-day Saints).

Taussig wants us to know that he didn’t decide on his own which books should be added to his New New Testament. No, he called a church council to decide the matter. His “council” included, among others, the following individuals:

  • Geoffrey Black, the president of the United Church of Christ, the first major denomination to give official endorsement to same-sex marriage Read the rest of this entry »

The February 1, 2011 issue of the Watchtower includes an article that asks, “Are You Prepared for the Most Important Day of the Year?” (21-22). This article deals with the Memorial, the annual observance by Jehovah’s Witnesses of the Lord’s Supper (what they often call “the Lord’s evening meal”). The article focuses on explaining why Jehovah’s Witnesses observe this rite only once a year and on Nisan 14, the Hebrew calendar date they accept as the correct date for the Passover. This year, Nisan 14 falls on April 17.

An Annual Observance?

The Watchtower article reasons that since Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on Passover and since the Passover was an annual festival, the Memorial also ought to be observed once a year (21). This seems plausible enough on the surface, and we should acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper does indeed have a function parallel to (and in some ways built on) the Passover, which commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus. Craig Keener points out, “As the Passover annually commemorated (and allowed new generations to share the experience of) the first redemption…so the Lord’s Supper regularly did the same for the climactic redemption” through Christ’s death (Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, New Cambridge Bible Commentary [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 98-99).

However, Jesus did not actually specify that the Lord’s Supper was to be observed once a year. Luke and Paul both report that Jesus told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24), but Jesus apparently said nothing about how often they were to do so.

Paul, however, provides some indications that Christians observed the Lord’s Supper more than once a year. Paul also quotes Jesus saying with regard to the drinking of the cup, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:25, emphasis added). He follows this quotation by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26, emphasis added). The Greek words hosakis ean, which may be translated “as often as” or “whenever,” express the sense of the action being done at “indefinite and multiple points of time” (Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. [New York: United Bible Societies, 1989], 67.36; see also any of the other standard lexicons). Anthony Thiselton cautions against understanding “as often as” to express any specific “frequency or regularity” and emphasizes the indefiniteness of the expression in Greek (Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 886). In other words, the expression indicates that the rite was observed many times but without specifying how often or even that it was done on a regular schedule.

Paul’s wording in 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 is difficult to explain if the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper only once a year. Correlating the data from 1 and 2 Corinthians with the narrative in Acts 18-20, it appears that Paul left Corinth late in the year 51 and wrote 1 Corinthians early in the year 55. (See, for example, the articles on “Chronology of Paul” and “Corinthians, Letters to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993], 115-23, 164-79.) This leaves at most three occasions after Paul’s departure for the Corinthians to have observed an annual Lord’s Supper on Passover, if that had been the Christian practice.

We can be reasonably sure that the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper far more often than once a year from the context in which Paul discusses it in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthians were making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, which took place within the context of a church fellowship meal, because some were eating their own food while letting others go hungry, and some were actually getting drunk (1 Cor. 11:20-22). These things happened, Paul tells the Corinthians, “when you come together as a church” (v. 18), which suggests that the abuses were occurring repeatedly at church gatherings. “They treat the Lord’s meal like any association’s banquet, which means that, despite the Greek and biblical ideals of equality, their seating and treatment highlighted their social stratification” (Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, 96).

In this context, Paul states, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (vv. 20-21 ESV). When he says, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat,” Paul does not mean that the Lord’s Supper was not supposed to be observed at these gatherings but that their divisive, class-conscious behavior negated the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In effect, they were failing to observe the Lord’s Supper because they were acting as if the rich among them were the hosts, rather than acknowledging that the Lord himself was the host. “Is it the Lord’s [own] Supper which is being held, or that of the host and his most favored guests? Who is the focus of attention? For whose benefit is it being held? Indeed, to put it most sharply: Who, indeed, is ‘hosting’ this meal?” (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 862, emphasis in original).

As historians commonly recognize, in Corinth and likely elsewhere during the first decades of the Christian movement, the Lord’s Supper was a rite of remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death that took place whenever the church gathered corporately for fellowship around a meal. In fact, it is probably correct to say that in 1 Corinthians “the name ‘Lord’s Supper’ embraces the entire event, including the main meal, together with the concluding rite of the bread and wine” (Hans-Josef Klauck, “Lord’s Supper,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 4:363). This simply could not have been the case had apostles such as Paul regarded the Lord’s Supper as strictly an annual observance.

Given the lack of any definite instruction or commandment in the New Testament on the question, and the evidence from 1 Corinthians 11 of the association of the Lord’s Supper with church fellowship meals, we should resist any dogmatic teaching that the Lord’s Supper must be observed according to any specific schedule. Observing it once a year on Passover is one option, but it is not a biblically normative rule, nor was it the first-century church’s practice.

An Evening Meal?

The Watchtower article also asserts that Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Supper on Passover evening after sunset “because according to the Bible, this is to be an ‘evening meal.’ (1 Corinthians 11:25)” (22). 1 Corinthians 11:25 does not, however, say that the rite is to be an evening meal. In that verse, Paul simply reports that Jesus instituted the rite of the bread and wine “after supper.” The word “supper” here translates an infinitive verb form, to deipnesai, “supping” or “dining,” and is related to the noun deipnon, “supper” or “dinner,” in verse 20. Thiselton comments that deipnon “usually designates the main meal of the day in the Graeco-Roman world. Like the English dinner, it usually denotes an evening meal in formal circles, but as in the case of the English phrase ‘Christmas dinner’ the emphasis concerns the major event rather than the specific timing. It need not always be an evening meal, although in practice it usually was” (Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 863-64). Thus, the rendering “evening meal” in the New World Translation at 1 Corinthians 11:20, 25 is an overtranslation that makes the timing of the meal specific in a way that the Greek wording does not (cf. Mark 6:21; 12:39; Luke 14:12-24; 17:8; Rev. 3:20).

There is no basis, then, for dogmatically claiming that the Lord’s Supper ought to be observed in the evening. Doing so made sense in the first-century context when it was commonly (though not universally) observed as part of a church fellowship meal. Once the rite was separated in practice from such church meals, it was natural for the rite to be observed at whatever time the church met for corporate worship. Again, Paul’s terminology in 1 Corinthians 11 is not time-specific, and no New Testament text legislates a time of the day when the rite is to be observed.

In an essay on IRR’s website, “Did Not Our Heart Burn within Us: Luke 24:32 and the Mormon Testimony,” I have argued that the “burning” of the disciples’ hearts was not the means by which the disciples became convinced of the truth of the gospel. Rather, they had experienced that “burning” feeling while still in a state of disbelief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What convinced them that Jesus had risen from the dead was God’s gracious “opening” of their eyes to recognize that it was Jesus who had physically appeared to them, talked with them, and broken bread with them (Luke 24:30-31, 35). They knew because they saw—and they saw because God graciously allowed them to see what was right in front of their eyes.

This explanation of Luke 24 receives interesting confirmation and support from a new article by Dane C. Ortlund, a Bible editor at Crossway Books. The article, “‘And Their Eyes Were Opened, and They Knew’: An Inter-canonical Note on Luke 24:31,” appears in the new issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Vol. 53, No. 4, Dec. 2010), pages 717-28. Ortlund shows that the quoted statement by Luke alludes to Genesis 3:7, where the same statement is made about Adam and Eve’s eyes being “opened” when they ate of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ortund’s conclusion is worth quoting:

“The first eye-opening with its attendant knowledge ushered humanity into a new moral universe of darkness, exile, sin, and death. The second eye-opening with its attendant knowledge pulled back the eschatological curtain to allow Jesus’ distraught disciples to perceive that he himself had inaugurated the long-awaited new world of hope, resurrection, restoration, and new creation” (728).

Christians know that the gospel is true, not because they have a “burning” feeling in their hearts (something they may or may not experience), but because they perceive the truth that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

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Feb

Judas and the Choice of Matthias: A Review

   Posted by: Rob Bowman Tags: , ,

Zwiep, Arie W. Judas and the Choice of Matthias: A Study on Context and Concern of Acts 1:15-26. WUNT 2/187. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004.

 

There have been very few books or even articles published that focus completely on Acts 1:15-26, the passage that narrates the choice of Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot following his betrayal and death. This is a crucial passage, however, for those who claim that the New Testament apostles understood their office as one that was to be perpetuated continuously from one generation to another. As I have explained in previous posts here, there are serious problems with the claim that Matthias’s appointment as apostle establishes a precedent for such an understanding of the office.

I have just finished working through Arie W. Zwiep’s academic monograph, Judas and the Choice of Matthias: A Study on Context and Concern of Acts 1:15-26. Read the rest of this entry »

On December 22, the FAIR Blog—part of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, a pro-Mormonism web site—offered a response to my series of posts here on Mormonism and apostles. The author of the blog, identified as Keller, summarizes my argument as follows:

Bowman’s posts so far have argued that contemporary Mormon practice deviates from what he finds in early Christianity: 1) Ordination to a priesthood office wasn’t always done by the laying on of hands by one holding the authority to do so and 2) The office of apostle in the sense of being a spokesman for the Lord was not meant to continue as such. Such deviations, he contends, make it impossible for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make unique truth claims about exclusively having priesthood authority.

Keller’s first point in his summary of my view is a bit off, confusing at least some of his readers. Thus, a Mormon named Lance Starr comments, “I haven’t read Bowman’s arguments but isn’t he undermining [his] own evangelical position by arguing for any ordinations at all?” Evangelicals have somewhat varying views on the subject of ordination, but the point I had made was that the New Testament never associates a human ordination ceremony or rite (involving the laying on of hands) with a man becoming an apostle of Jesus Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

Books have an enormous power to shape the way we think and in turn the way we live. Obviously, as a Christian, the books of the Bible are for me both foundational and transformative. Other books, though not inspired or authoritative, have helped me to think about the Bible, its teachings, and its truth claims. I present here a list of books by fifteen different authors. I make no claims here about these being the greatest or most important books of their kind, although in some cases I think this assessment might apply. They happen to have been especially formative for me, either in kindling interest in a certain subject or in reorienting my way of thinking about a subject. I have listed them in roughly the order in which I read them, though my recollection in this regard may not always be correct. Read the rest of this entry »

When Mormons attempt to show from the New Testament that the church cannot function without a continuing office of living apostles on the earth, they invariably cite Matthias as precedent. Matthias is the man whom Christ chose to replace Judas Iscariot after he had abandoned his apostolic office, betrayed Christ to the authorities, and then committed suicide (Acts 1:15-26).

The main difficulty with this argument is that nothing in the passage indicates that Matthias’s appointment was precedent for anything. Indeed, everything about the passage argues against it serving as precedent. The passage presents an unusual and in some ways unique event. Read the rest of this entry »

Those who have been reading this blog lately know that I am very interested in the question of whether the office of apostle is supposed to be a continuing office in the church—a claim that is central to the religion of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons. So I was interested in a paper given at ETS last week arguing for the continuation of the office of apostle. Frank Chan, a professor at Nyack College, does not accept the LDS claim that apostles in the sense of revelational spokesmen for Jesus Christ are supposed to be living and leading the church today. According to Chan, both traditional Christians and Mormons are mistaken in defining an apostle in this sense. Read the rest of this entry »

The case against the LDS claim that other apostles had ordained Paul to be an apostle is actually quite simple. (1) Both Acts and Paul predicate Paul’s apostolic ministry to the Gentiles on Christ’s appearance to Paul (Acts 9, 22, 26; 1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:15-16). (2) Paul’s description of his meetings with apostles following his conversion (Gal. 1-2) proves that the other apostles never ordained him. (3) Paul states explicitly that his apostleship was neither directly nor indirectly conferred on him by mortals (Gal. 1:1). I shall elaborate on these points in this post, giving special attention to the arguments of LDS scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson, who tries in his book Understanding Paul to show that Paul was subject to the direction of the Jerusalem apostles and ordained under their authority. Read the rest of this entry »