|Volume 2, Issue 11||June 27, 2012|
Jesus, who sent the Flood!
How James and Jude understood their brother
|The Deluge by Francis Danby (c.1837)|
My search for the archaeological evidence of Noah's Flood was due to Jesus' references to the days of Noah. Apart from his great authority, I would have never believed the historical sciences so profoundly mistaken. But how did Jesus know about those days? Was it from revelation or memory? If the latter, was he participant or observer? Jesus tells us that he shared glory with the Father before the world began. Christians believe that Jesus was Creator. But what was Jesus doing during the rest of Old Testament history?
The answer suggested in the title is a radical response to my friend James Tabor turning Jesus and his brothers into Rabbinic Jews and seeing Christianity the creation of the Apostle Paul. According to Professor Tabor, Jesus was but one of several messiahs (anointed ones) that appear in Jewish history, none of them the still to come Jewish Messiah. But I draw the contrasting high view of Jesus in the title from parts of the New Testament that Professor Tabor acknowledges as the authentic words of Jesus' brothers and first disciples. Though most Christians don't see Jesus this way today, it is how the second century church fathers from Justin Martyr to Tertullian understood Jesus.
In showing that the Jesus reflected throughout the New Testament had to date from the first Christians, I also address the claims of another Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at another University of North Carolina campus. Professor Bart Erhman teaches that Christians have lacked a reliable apostolic testimony of Jesus due to made-up and corrupted Scriptures. This author of New York Times best seller Misquoting Jesus does not believe as Professor Tabor that the Jesus of the New Testament is due so much to Paul. He ascribes Jesus' divinity to powerful Catholic bishops who he claims determined the canon of Scripture.
As I explain in the article below left, theologians since the time of the Apostles did rather diminish than create the high view of Christ taught by the Apostles that is faithfully reflected in the New Testament. As I explain here, there have indeed been corruptions in manuscripts and translations that reflect this diminished Jesus though in the very opposite of the way suggested by Professor Erhman and not nearly enough to hide the real Jesus from believers. We have always had secured in the Scriptures what Jesus' brother declared as the common faith once and for all time entrusted to the saints. [Jude 3]
To judge the beliefs of ancient peoples we can only judge by texts from their time? We have the New Testament and the writings of the early church fathers, but Professors Tabor and Erhman believe that we must also consider the Gnostic writings. Following the German scholar Walter Bauer (1877-1960), Erhman claims there were competing Christianities from the beginning of the faith, never a single gospel preached by Jesus' disciples. He explains the New Testament as due to the victory of powerful Roman bishops over other "Christianities" such as the Gnostics and Jewish "Christians" of the kind that Professor Tabor suggests.
Before showing that these professors claims cannot be true, it is fair to point out the work of each has become popular not just because of the current popularity of anti-Christian sentiment, as we tend to think, but also difficult to refute because they point to problems that many orthodox Christians prefer to ignore. In the case of Professor Tabor, it is the promise in the Scriptures that the Messiah would create a righteous Kingdom of God in the earth. Though Christians through the centuries have brought wonderful changes to a dark world, we have yet to see the Kingdom of God below as promised in the Scriptures. The reason is the problem to which Professor Erhman points: the lack of unity among Christians. Erhman fails to understand that believers must separate themselves from those who preach a different Christ than the Apostles. But he is correct in noting that institutional politics and power divide believers. Our unity will be achieved only by the Spirit of Jesus that comes through the weakness of the cross.
Disappointingly, many evangelicals defend disunity in the church using the same argument as Professors Tabor and Erhman: that the Apostles themselves lacked unity. I can't think of anything more destructive of the faith than believing that those who knew Christ, over whom he prayed for unity, were obedient neither to Christ nor their own teachings. What hope is there for the world if there is no peace in Christ! Supposing a conflict between Paul and James is just how destructive skepticism of the Bible began. The Apostles did have disagreements, as the New Testament is not ashamed to note, but they were willing and able to resolve their differences as we see them doing at the Council recorded in Acts 15. They submitted one to another and to the Spirit of Christ as they preached our common faith. Neither the New Testament nor the earliest church fathers know of lasting disagreements among the Apostles.
As in the letter of Jude, the New Testament writings do acknowledge that from the time of the Apostles, some were teaching things that did not accord with the common faith. Jesus foresaw that tares (false teachings) would soon appear among the wheat that he planted. This parable (Matthew 13: 36-43) is important for understanding the problem championed by Erhman and Jesus' solution. Jesus goes on to declare that at the end of the age the tares will be removed and the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father. What a glorious day! Erhman himself seems to recognize that problems with the text are small potatoes compared to differences in interpretation that have beset the church from earliest days. Those come from interpreting text in the light of false theologies. Jesus' promised removal of false teachings might also be accompanied by correction of the far less significant problems with the text. With recent discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament manuscripts, some scholars see a complete recovery of the essential biblical text.
But if some evangelicals have wrongly supposed that permanent disagreements existed among Jesus' Apostles, Erhman's thesis that radical departures from the common faith stem from the earliest days of Christianity is absurd. How could Gnostics who reject the Old Testament have been part of the same community as Judaizers who wanted to subject the faith to the Law of Moses? How could these groups that denied either the divinity or humanity of Jesus have belonged to those who believed that their Heavenly Lord dwelt among themselves as a man? Far from the explosive expansion that in fact occurred, such a "community" could only self destruct.
Erhman's attribution of the New Testament canon to Catholic bishops mistakes historical fact for cause. Were it the cause rather than result of the success of the gospel, where are the New Testament books that teach monarchical episcopacy? Ignatius' epistles that do teach monarchical episcopacy are among the earliest of the Christian writings. Why aren't they in the New Testament? To the dismay of monarchical pastors, in the Scriptures we possess, Jesus and his Apostles clearly teach against kingship in the family of God on earth. Then, as today, there were a lot of things that the bishops would love to add to the Bible, but they are stuck without them and with having to explain away what is actually said there.
In attributing the divinity of Jesus to the bishops, Erhman ignores or glibly dismisses the evidence from history. As early as 110 AD, the Younger Pliny writes to the Emperor Hadrian that the Christians are singing hymns to Christ as a god. Instead of fabricating Scriptures, Pliny claims they were taking oaths never to falsify their word or deny a trust when they are called upon to deliver it. They would hardly sacrifice their life had they not believed what they told him.
Erhman wants to blame the disappearance of the Gnostics on the bishops, but the problem with Gnosticism's survival is that there is nothing there to die for (not even for Jesus to die for) if anything to live for. The chief value of these teachings is that they could make a good living for teachers so long as they reserved their secrets for the initiated. In this, they follow the mystery religions of their day. By contrast, and despite some minor disputing, it is astonishing how easily and quickly the New Testament canon was accepted by what continues as Jesus' church. An ecclesiastical institution was no more responsible for the canon in the early church than for maintaining the canon in the highly fragmented church of today.
In contrast to Erhman, skeptical historians from the time of Edward Gibbon have seen the need for explaining the rise of Christianity prior to its sponsorship by a powerful state. No one disagrees that the state and established religious institutions of their day in fact opposed the first Christians. But how did that first church expand without the power and resources of a great institution? It may have been similar to how a small group of Pentecostals in the early twentieth century exploded through the world. In my early days as a confused believer, I attempted to summarize the message of the New Testament. The task was easy. It was Jesus. What is Erhman thinking? Does he imagine a college of worldly bishops excited about Jesus!
One cannot explain what Simcha Jacobovici refers to as the Big Bang of Christianity apart from some great historical miracle that convinced the disciples of Jesus was their Heavenly Lord. (Had his body not come forth from the grave, it would have been a dud.) But Erhman is correct when he says the Gnostic Scriptures don't need explaining: precisely what one should expect when the Big Bang of Christianity spread through the cold skies of Hellenistic philosophy.
Jesus explained the reason for the canon: "My sheep know my voice." Consider what happens to mainline Protestants as they abandon belief in this Bible. The survival of texts is no less difficult. If anyone doubt it, let them publish another Bible. Let them publish one, as they ought to do if they believe it shouldn't be there, leaving out only Mark 16:9-20. Professor Erhman would despise that Bible.
But was there ever a time since the day of Pentecost - according to Professor Tabor, prior to the conversion of the Apostle Paul - when Jesus disciples believed differently about his divinity than is reflected in the New Testament? If we are going to have anything reliable about the beliefs of Jesus' brothers and first disciples before the final composition, we must find it in the New Testament itself. I begin with the two letters of Jesus' brothers that Professor Tabor recognizes as authentic. Note that neither brother identifies himself as Jesus' brother but as servant to their Savior and Judge. That alone is powerful testimony to their recognizing Jesus' divinity. Though Jude is a brother of James, he is a servant of Jesus. Reflecting the title of this newsletter, Jude reveals in verse 5 who he believes Jesus is:
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. [ESV]
Most translations have the Lord
saving a people out of the land of Egypt, but the ESV follows the majority of manuscripts which contain the word Jesus
. As for those manuscripts that don't, scholars acknowledge that it is far more likely that scribes replaced the Jesus in the original than the reverse. Which words were original with Jude doesn't much matter because it is clear that all the writers of the New Testament recognize Jesus as the King of Israel, their previously unseen Lord Jehovah. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord spoken of by Isaiah the Prophet. The disciples believed that John was pointing to Jesus.
Though Jesus saves, as he also saved the family of Noah, Jude notes that he inflicts judgment on the rebellious. The other brother of Jesus who left us a letter sees Jesus as the Judge standing at the door. Christians today emphasize Jesus as Savior, but his brothers also saw him as judge of the rebellious. They did so for the same reason that Christians today associate judgment with the Lord God of the Old Testament. Jesus' first disciples had to believe that to be Jesus.
I next turn to the Sermon on the Mount because much of it is among that so-called list of Q sayings that Professor Tabor recognizes as authentically Jesus. Those who heard Jesus noticed that he spoke as one who had authority rather than as a mere teacher. We see that authority in the words of the Sermon on the Mount, even in the reduced form that Jesus' sermon appears among the Q sayings. As hermeneutics expert Henning Graf Reventlow writes: "Jesus contrasted the unconditional claim of his authority over against the Torah." Jesus modifies the Ten Commandments by including intention as making one guilty of murder and adultery. He could do so because his authority surpassed these laws. Jesus commends the Law of Moses as one who confirms by his own authority that the Law remains in effect until everything is fulfilled.
The qualification points not to a continuation but a termination of the Law in Jesus. However kosher Professor Tabor wishes him, it was Jesus not Paul who taught his disciples that the Law and the Prophets end with John the Baptist. Contrary to the kosher Jesus and however much he commends the Law of Moses as a minimum requirement, Jesus is not one who sees himself under the Law that he once gave his sinful subjects. When his disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath, we learn that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath. Who is Lord of the Sabbath but Jehovah? In his many "I have come" sayings, Jesus reveals his preexistence. In "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers here chicks under her wings..." he reveals the precise nature of his preexistence. These accounts are in the so-called Q list of Jesus' sayings. Perhaps, Q needs to be further sanitized of all hints of Jesus' divinity.
What we learn from the parts of the New Testament that Professor Tabor accepts as authentic is fully in line with what is written elsewhere in the New Testament. Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, is honored that the mother of her Lord would visit her. The Lord of the Jewess mother was none other than Jehovah. The Lord,
the name by which the Great Jehovah was translated into Greek Septuagint, is the same name by which the Apostles refer to Jesus. Jesus' ability to see his past (likely some epiphany as he sat under the fig tree) caused Nathaniel to recognize Jesus as his Heavenly King. Jesus replies that Nathaniel would see Heaven open and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
I once heard the esteemed Professor Michael Stone remarking that Jesus' use of Son of Man has no particular meaning since it applies to any man. "What," I asked, "if Jesus primary identity were a Heavily Being?" That was not an option for the Jewish professor.
Before examining how the Apostles saw Jesus in the Old Testament consider that much of this sounds unfamiliar due to how the preincarnate Jesus is ordinarily taught. Other than his being the Creator, we are accustomed to seeing Jesus in the Old Testament as a mystery, a type, as foretold but not already existing. He is the seed of the woman that would bruise the head of the Serpent. He is the Suffering Servant prefigured in Isaiah 53. He is the spiritual Rock that followed Israel in the wilderness from which they drank. (1Cor. 10:4) How do we imagine the latter: the split rock from which they drank water mounted on a cart as a portable drinking fountain following along with the children of Israel? Though not a spiritual rock, that may suffice for a Rabbinic interpretation but what Jacob sang as the Rock of Israel [Gen 49:24] and what David sang as being his Rock and Fortress appears often in the Old Testament.
Indeed, in 1Cor 10:9 Paul refers to Israel in the wilderness as putting Christ (most manuscripts) to the test. Likely the spiritual Rock to which Paul refers is the one in this Song which Moses sang in the wilderness:
The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice. [Deuteronomy 32:4, ESV]
Most helpful in understanding the distinction between Jesus and his Father appears just below this passage
Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.*
But the Lord's portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage. [Deu 32:7-9, ESV].
*The Masoretic text has sons of Israel, though the Dead Sea Scroll texts agree with the Septuagint as given in the ESV. In Exodus 6:3, the Lord explained to Moses that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty. In this Song of Moses, note the distinction between the Most High who gave the nations their inheritance according to the sons of God and the Lord whose portion is Jacob. These verses would appear a reference to the Tower of Babel when the Lord came down with a host of angels to divide the nations, an event then still in Israel's memory.
Hardly something invented by Jesus' first disciples, not only does the distinction between the Lord and God Most High appear in the Torah, but God Most High accompanied by a principle divine agent second only in authority to God surrounded by a court of divine beings occurs often in the writings of Second Temple Judaism. Importantly, though the Most High is God of all nations, the Creator Lord is king only of Israel. It is anachronistic to see the Shema
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [Deu 6:1]
as a philosophical statement defining the Godhead because the Torah recognizes other gods, divine beings that other nations worship.
For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede. [Deu 32:31]
The Shema is directed to Israel alone. Throughout the Old Testament, the nations served many gods but, though they did not always obey, the Lord directed Israel to serve him alone. He remained only Israel's King even until his days on earth when Jesus directed his disciples only to the lost sheep of Israel.
This Old Testament distinction between the Most High and the Lord solves apologetic issues that critics level against both the Lord of the Old Testament and Jesus. Unlike the Father, Jesus' foreknowledge and contemporary knowledge is limited. He regretted that he made man. He had at times to come down to the earth to see for himself what was going on. No man can see God, but time and again the Lord appears to man in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Lacking an understanding of the distinction between the Lord and God Most High, critics have explained the Lord as Israel's tribal god. Regardless the other gods, the Lord was from the beginning as he is today, the only intermediary to the Most High God. To worship the Most High God, Gentiles as well as Jews went or sent gifts to his Temple in the land of Israel (as the woman at the well explained to Jesus). That changed following Jesus' death and resurrection when all authority in Heaven and earth was granted to Jesus. (c.f. Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 1:20-23) He then sent his Apostles to the Gentiles as according to the Scriptures would happen to the Messiah following his sacrificial suffering. As I explain in the article below left, the Old Testament Jesus has been obscured by theologies based on timeless philosophy that cannot recognize the change in the dominion of Jesus following his resurrection: from Lord of Israel to Lord of all but God the Father. Man's theology can never encompass God's historical revelation.
Jesus' Apostles taught one faith: one God and one Lord. They recognized the Heavenly Father, who they also called God. They occasionally called Jesus God because he was in fact the Creator and carried God's authority. They occasionally called his Father, Lord, because he was in fact the Most High Ruler.
Either name suffices for Father or Son because to worship one has always been to worship the other.
The distinction also resolves a problem that Bart Erhman levels at the New Testament: why Jesus declares that only the Father is good. (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19) What troubled Erhman is the same as makes the title of this newsletter startling: most of us have been taught to imagine Jesus as good and the God of the Old Testament, who they suppose as the Lord of the Old Testament and Jesus' Father, as judgmental and wrathful. How this belief that so conflicts with the Scriptures came about, I discus in the articles below. If anything, the Scriptures say the very opposite, not that the judgment and wrath of the Lamb comes from anything but the Father's love coming through Jesus to save those whom the Father has given him. But when Jesus says that we should fear the one who after killing the body can also throw the soul in Hell, he had to be referring to himself. Confirming that Jesus sent Noah's Flood, Jesus taught that the Father entrusts all judgment to the Son. (John 5:22)
Regards to all,
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|Bart Erhman's "historical criticism"|
Historical skepticism is not in fact historical criticism
Over the years, several have asked that I address the claims of Bart Erhman but I have been busy with what seemed the far more difficult challenge: Jesus' references to Noah's Flood. Professor Erhman is helpful to the cause of truth because he squeals out problems in evangelical theology and biblical scholarship that others prefer to sweep under the rug. Even far more moderate claims than those asserted by Erhman are deadly to faith. Not only does this means that the problems must now be addressed, but Erhman assists in the task. He has found a way of interesting evangelicals and the public in a lot of useful history about the manuscripts and canon of the New Testament however narrow and misleading his version of that history. His showing that the manuscripts have been a bit corrupted by theological controversies, if in the very opposite of the way he proposes, may help in obtaining better texts and translations of our Bible. But that has been going on at least since the Renaissance.
The most useful thing that Bart Erhman does is demonstrate why we should not confuse theological propositions, whether statements of faith, confessions, or ancient creeds, with the inspired revelation that belongs to the Bible alone. According to his testimony, Bart Erhman is a former evangelical whose faith included the doctrine of inerrant original manuscripts of the Bible. He tells of having been converted due to the apologetic skills of a bright classmate who he much admired. It is not surprising that he would want to pursue the study of those manuscripts. But learning more about them at Princeton, he lost his faith.
Erhman's faith was never in what those manuscripts say, but in a mistaken theology about them. If not, his faith was lost with those manuscripts long before he went to Princeton. But one's faith cannot be built on what he has never possessed. The Scriptures actually teach the foundation of the church as the Apostles and Prophets (those are men, not texts, who left us their written testimony in the New and Old Testaments that it might be faithfully preserved) with the Jesus Christ of those Scriptures (still our living interpreter) as the chief cornerstone. Whoever delights in their testimony hardly notices those interesting scratches in the recording that once so troubled the professor.
In subsequent books, Professor Erhman acknowledged that his problem was not in fact those manuscripts but his hostility to the God of the Bible, who he claims does not exist whatever God may actually exist. He now preaches from his Chapel Hill pulpit what he calls the historical criticism of the Bible. Everyone has a perspective, but Professor Erhman should not call his new message 'historical criticism' because he is just a skeptic of history, in fact his new message.
Historical criticism requires some definite and responsible understanding of history by which to criticize the Bible (or any document). Such a history ought to come from documents and archaeology rather than skeptical speculation. While glibly dismissing documents that do record history from the second and third century, which he claims as his specialty, he proposes a "history" that is in fact impossible. But he isn't serious. With regard to seeing diverse views coming from Jesus, even compatible ones, Erhman completely reverses course with regard to the four gospels. He claims that because the gospels present different perspectives on Jesus and include different and sometimes conflicting details, they cannot be historical.
Believers have always noticed these differences but see them as evidence of independent testimony, the same as people report events today. References to so many of the same people, events, episodes and places of Jesus' ministry give the gospels great coherence and connection to geography and history. Fortunately for archaeology and history, the same multiple references to history and geography is found throughout the Bible. But this coherence is also the very thing that gives skeptics an opportunity to notice the multitude of differences that must accompany independent reporting of any event.
History is not just what one person experienced and remembered, yet what each experienced, however imperfectly he remembered it, was history. Have you ever heard someone interrupt to correct one who is reporting an interesting event? Don't you prefer that the corrector remain silent? Some argue that the ancients had a different understanding of history than us. Actually not, but it was different than what Erhman believes: that history is but the experience of a single person. That is a delusion that he shares with the interrupters?
Erhman is not a historical critic as he claims, but like most biblical scholars, he is but a literary critic. In our present world, literary critics are esteemed. That is because they dominate our schools and teach us that we should esteem their art. But I don't. With regard to the best fiction, their art is merely pretentious, but it is completely destructive of history, turning students into skeptics. For literary critics, no one ever has a testimony or something to say that we can take at face, but always an agenda. They are like some people that we know and want to avoid. At least, Professor Erhman lets us know his agenda, though it is not as he sometimes claims, the pure pursuit of truth. If we truly seek truth, it should not matter whether we like or dislike what is said or who said it. None of us like the truth about ourselves. Our concern should only be whether what is said is true. Unlike him, I love the God of the Bible, but as in the case of the Flood, I don't want to sweep under the rug anything that appears an avoidance of truth.
It is unlikely that Erhman's search for theological agenda of the biblical writers began with his loss of faith. One guesses this by the characteristic evangelical way that he still interprets many Scriptures, though he is now free to point out that other Scripture disagree. I have in mind the kind of teaching in which the words of the Bible are just fodder for theological propositions. Putting one's own light on the Scriptures, one learns to "deal" with Scriptures that say different things one wants to teach. Theological propositions are not devotional readings of the Scriptures, in which case one allows the Scriptures to deal with him. Erhman now dismisses the devotional reading of Scripture, but I doubt that began with his loss of faith.
One who reads these newsletters know that I have no objection to historical criticism of the Bible, precisely what I do. Historical criticism was once called the higher criticism to distinguish it from the lower criticism, also called textual criticism. The latter is in fact Bart Erhman's specialty, not surprising considering his evangelical roots. Textual criticism aims to determine what the original text said. But historical criticism attempts to place the composition and content of the text within the context of history.
Believers have traditionally recognized the lower criticism as necessary for preserving and translating the Bible, but they have been suspicious of the higher criticism. That is because they have seen so much of it from unbelievers committed to biblical skepticism. What was first to be called higher criticism was in fact deeply motivated by skepticism of all miracles, by anti-Christian sentiment, and by economic and nationalist motives among those who preferred a nominal Christianity but disliked what the Bible literally says. But historical criticism can also be done by believers as is increasingly the case with New Testament scholars and archaeologists of ancient Israel. I have attempted to extend believers' historical criticism to the early chapters of Genesis.
Believing criticism doesn't mean that one ignores or tries to explain away everything that appears to conflict with the Bible. The more confidence one has in the Bible the more objectively he can address what appears to conflict with the Scriptures, leaving them as unanswered questions until he gets more light. The best among unbelieving scholars do the same, acknowledging rather than denying that which is incompatible with their worldview. Accepting a common set of facts explains why scholars of integrity can work together, regardless of how differently they interpret them. We also accept different facts, but to engage those outside our worldview, we must argue from a smaller but common set of facts, as in the case of my disagreement with Professor Tabor at left.
The two kinds of criticism may overlap. One can examine historical reasons for changes in text as Bart Erhman attempts to do. His examination of the theological controversies of the early Christian centuries may prove helpful for the textual criticism of the Bible. I did the same in my last newsletter regard to what some have called "the longer ending of Mark" though (unlike Erhman) within the context of a definite chronology supported by historical facts. But with regard to judging the composition and content of the original manuscripts, one can hardly distinguish the "history" by which Erhman criticizes the Bible from what occurs in The Da Vinci Code of Dan Brown. In claiming that the canon of the New Testament Scriptures was determined by the church in Rome which excluded the competing gospels, Erhman scarcely differ from Brown. Yet, far from a hidden conspiracy, theirs is essentially the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The difference between Erhman and the early Catholics is that the later provided a detailed history to argue their claims.
However accurate or however biased one judges their history, the early Catholics were in fact the first historical critics of the Scriptures. But it was Protestants, following the steps of humanists such as Lorenzo Valla, that pioneered modern historical criticism. They did so to dispute parts of Roman Catholic history, such as Peter being the first Pope of Rome. Students of historiography note that our understanding of the early Christian centuries - the entire history of that era - came from the efforts of Protestants and Catholics to respectfully attack or defend this view.
Specialist that he is, Professor Erhman seems unacquainted with the social and political issues that influenced his field of manuscript history. He writes as if modern biblical criticism developed chiefly as a result of manuscript discoveries (as caused Erhman to loose his faith), and not the far more determining factors behind the Enlightenment and the nationalism that followed the French Revolution. Professor Erhman scarcely mentions Isaac LaPeyrre and Isaac Newton who are the true fathers not just of the modern historical criticism of the Bible but also of manuscript history. It was these two men who proposed the corruption of the Scriptures more than three hundred years before Bart Erhman.
|How pre-incarnate Jesus vanished from the OT
But obscurely preserved in a philosophical formulation of the Godhead
Council of Nicea in Sistine Salon
The understanding that Jesus was Lord of the Old Testament that exists in the New Testament was carried on through much of the second century. Justin Martyr explains the Lord who appears throughout the Old Testament as none other than Jesus. Appropriate to the title of this newsletter, Ireneaus has Jesus giving instructions to Noah on how to build the Ark. Tertullian explained him much the same way. Unfortunately, these church fathers also began the attempt to explain Jesus philosophically. Disagreeing with those like Philo who explained the relationship of the logos to God as being like he light from the sun, Justin Martyr compared the relationship of Father to Son as the lighting of one lamp by another. It is not a bad example if one sees the first lamp as the ever present source of the second, but they can perhaps be seen as two independent lamps.
Justin's explanation of Jesus in clear distinction from the Father created a reaction among certain Christians concerned that it might be seen as belief in two Gods. There arose as a result the monarchical controversies that would begin the disputes over the Godhead that would continue through the next few centuries of church history. The monarchical controversies took two forms. The first was to proclaim that Jesus was a man adopted to his Messianic position at the time of his baptism in the River Jordan. Adoptionists views of Jesus tend to eliminate the preexistence of Jesus. Professors Erhman and Tabor have separately suggested that the original theology pertaining to Jesus was Adoptionist, but that is to ignore the known history of Adoptionism for one that is merely imagined. It is not surprising that some Ebionite Christians who believed the Law of Moses still a requirement would favor if they did not also invent this interpretation of Jesus that appears for the first time near the end of the Second Century.
The second reaction was to see Jesus as but a manifestation of the Father, a view sometimes described as patripassianism, meaning that the Father suffers. It is also known as modalism, essentially the same belief as reappears among modern Oneness Pentecostals. This lack of recognizing the Father and Son as distinct persons led Origen to reassert the separateness of the Father and Jesus using the term hypostasis, which would find its way into the Nicene Creed. The Council called by the Emperor Constantine was to settle the dispute between Arius and Athanasius, which Bart Erhman suggests as actually responsible for creating Jesus' divinity.
Contrary to both Professors Tabor and Erhman, the high view of Jesus that is found in the New Testament is actually diminished by the philosophical based theologies that sought to settle these controversies, even if these theologically (that is, theoretically) preserved both the divinity of Jesus and his separateness from the Father. We see this in the virtual disappearance of Jesus from the Old Testament, resulting in diminishing the status of Jesus.
The problem with any philosophical formulation of the Godhead is the loss of the primacy of revelatory history (Scripture) in understanding the Lord God of Israel whose status in fact changed following his incarnation when he was then given authority over all nations and to whom every knee must one day bow. A philosophically-defined Jesus exists in a timeless relationship, which cannot recognize this historical change in Jesus' authority. If few assert these formulations to be inspired by God as in the case of the Scriptures, they nonetheless reduce resistance to expunging the Old Testament Scriptures from Christianity and separating Christianity from its Jewish roots, as I explain in the article at right.
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|Why liberal Christianity frowns on the God of the Old Testament
One has to look to its roots in German nationalism
Michelango's Sistine Chapel
The first attack on the character of the God of the Old Testament came in the second century from the Gnostics who sought to distinguish the Christ of the New Testament from the Creator Jehovah. Believers stood firmly for the entire canon of Scriptures, the faith believed everywhere by all. More attacks have appeared in modern times. The first came during the Enlightenment from those such as John Locke who wished to reduce the requirements of faith to the minimum fundamentals. As conveyed by Alexander Campbell, Locke's thought influenced the American Churches of Christ. Their opposition was not so much hostility as obsolescence: due to confusing the Old Testament Scriptures with the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses.
Far different is the hostility to the Old Testament that appeared in nineteenth century liberal Christianity, which was more like that of the Gnostics in contrasting the God of the Old Testament with the God of Jesus though with darker purposes and results. American liberals are familiar with the positive part of this theology: its focus on Jesus, though actually on what was described as the religion of Jesus. The 'red letter' words of Jesus have been neglected by many evangelicals. But liberal Christianity, which arose in nineteenth century Germany, in fact used that as a way of extracting their Christianity from its Old Testament and Jewish past.
That was due to German nationalism, including the attempt first proposed by the philosopher J.G. Fichte (1762-1814) during the Napoleonic Wars to created a new nation based on the German language. Advocates of German nationalism sought a glorious pagan past for Germany that did not depend on the Old Testament, specifically the obscure Gomer, grandson of Noah. Linguists such as the Brothers Grimm searched for a German past in oral folk tales and oral traditions supposed to have originated in German's pagan past. They also searched for a German past in the history of languages. What they imagined as the IndoGerman, later to be called the Aryan language of Germany was believed superior to the Semitic language of the Old Testament. Antisemitism arising for the first time during the Napoleonic Wars was due to the fact that the very existence of Jews was mute testimony to the historicity of the Bible and the imagined roots of Germany's supposed pagan past.
Thwarting this was the fact that Christianity was a significant part of German history, the German language depending on Luther's Bible. The only way to solve this problem was to somehow extract Christianity from the Old Testament. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), father of liberal Christianity, solved what he called the problem of 'religion's culture despisers' by grounding Christianity on religious feeling instead of the Scriptures. It was the same Romantic guide by which Fichte had grounded German nationalism, declaring on the basis of feeling that being German was the same thing as being virtuous and Germany: the new suffering Savior of the world.
Schleiermacher freed liberal Christians to attack the Old Testament and accommodate a revisionist history of the composition of the Scriptures. As Karl Barth famously noted, Germany's liberal churches had little difficulty embracing Hitler. Though Bart Erhman is not alone in claiming to see antisemitism in the New Testament, it is not in fact his old faith but his new one that is deeply rooted in antisemitism. If liberal Christians in America seem unaware of the dark and ridiculous roots from which their version of Christianity springs, neither are biblical scholars aware of how much German nationalism informs their supposed historical and objective discipline.
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Christian Leaders & Scholars is the newsletter and publication site of Philip Ernest Williams, author of The Archaeological Evidence of Noah's Flood (2011). The site is also a ministry not only to Christian leaders and scholars but all who are interested in the more difficult issues pertaining to the Bible and its implications for science and history. (Read more)