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.

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Dale Tuggy: Are the Persons of the Trinity “Selves”?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in Trinity

In Dale Tuggy’s response earlier today to my previous post, he says, “Bowman reproduces the common theological saying that the ‘Persons’ of the Trinity are not ‘persons in the modern sense,’ that is, what I call ‘selves.’” This is not accurate. I never said anything about whether the Persons of the Trinity are “persons in the modern sense.” Neither the word modern nor any synonym appeared in my post. What I said was that the term was and is used analogously rather than univocally. This is as true of the ancient Greek word hypostasis or the ancient Latin word persona as it is of the modern English word person. Nor did I deny that the three Persons might be called “selves” but rather emphasized that it depended on precisely how such a term is understood.

This misunderstanding leads Dr. Tuggy to critique my position on the grounds that it is incompatible with certain NT teachings that are actually quite important to my understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s look at these NT teachings briefly. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »

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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 »

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Anthony Buzzard, the Shema, and the Trinity

   Posted by: Rob Bowman   in Christology, Trinity

On Monday, August 25, the Unitarian writer Anthony Buzzard sent me a private message on Facebook, asking a theological question with no explanation of the purpose of his communication. I responded briefly and he followed with a more elaborate statement of his argument thinly veiled as a question. When I asked the reason for his communication with me, he simply restated his argument. I then asked him again on Friday, August 29, why he was communicating privately with me and if his intention was a private conversation or to get me to say something he could quote somewhere. Before he answered my question, Buzzard posted a YouTube video quoting selectively from my book Putting Jesus in His Place[1] and attempting to make a case that I was knowingly contradicting Jesus’ own teaching! He then sent me another private Facebook message saying he thought the conversation should be with everyone.

Buzzard’s claim that he was seeking a conversation with everyone is strange. He and I are both on Facebook and we even used to be in the same public Facebook group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Biblical Discussion Group. He could easily have initiated a public discussion in that group or in any of the other many online groups where I can be found, or by inviting me to join one of his groups. He still has not explained the reason for the private messages. This is not the first time he has done this. In November he sent me a private Facebook message taking issue with something else in my book. I very specifically told him that I was not going to get into a private discussion with him about such things.

In the YouTube video, Buzzard quoted selectively and out of context from Putting Jesus in His Place in order to pose his challenge. This is what he quoted:

If Judaism has a creed, it is the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, known as the Shema…. Jesus affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment…. his view was in the mainstream of Judaism.[2]

Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The recent LDS.org 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 LDS.org 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 »

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I’d like to share a brief thought on an issue that comes up with surprising frequency. Very often, when discussing the Bible’s teachings with others, I am told that I am going about it the wrong way by trying to understand what the Bible says using my reasoning. There are many variations on this theme:

  • You can’t understand the Bible with your intellect because the Bible is spiritual.
  • You can’t understand the Bible using reason because God is beyond reason.
  • You can’t understand the Bible on your own because you need ______________ (our church, our bishops, the magisterium, a living prophet, additional scripture, the priesthood, a burning in the bosom, revelation from the Holy Spirit, our organization, our literature, etc.).

You get the idea. Suffice it to say, I’m doing it all wrong. Or so I’m told. We’re talking about the Bible, I make some point about what it’s saying in context or some such thing, and all of a sudden a penalty flag is on the field. The ref announces “Offside!” and the ball is taken by the other team. (I almost never use football analogies, so that one’s for my friends in Alabama.) Read the rest of this entry »

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On July 9, 2014, the LDS Church issued an article on its official website LDS.org entitled “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.” This was another article in its recent series of semi-scholarly articles on “Gospel Topics” focusing on such controversial and problematic issues as the doctrine of becoming gods, Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, and the past ban on blacks in the Mormon priesthood. This new article addresses the fact, known for 46 years, that the text of the LDS scripture called the Book of Abraham does not correspond in meaning to the text of the extant fragments of the papyri from which Joseph had purported to translate it. As the new article states, “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.”

I plan to address a number of points in the new article in some forthcoming resources. Here I will only comment briefly on the main point of the article, which is that the Book of Abraham need not be viewed as a literal translation from any of the Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith had acquired in 1835. The article does not, however, take a position as to how one should understand the relationship between the papyri and the book. “The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.” Instead it mentions several hypothetical explanations that Mormons have proposed and defended over the years: Read the rest of this entry »

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