On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

Josephus’ First Reference to Jesus

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My previous post referenced the fact that Josephus wrote about Christ. The last post cited his second reference and indicated that I posted the first one previously. I looked and realized that I posted t in my “Defending the Resurrection Part 4” post. So, here is the quote:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.”

This quote has been questioned for authenticity. It is worth motif that there are no manuscripts of Josephus that omit this quote totally. There are variations, but it does appear in very existing copy. In addition, a recent discovery of Josephus’ work in Arabic is thought to be a very well preserved document textually. This is believed to be proof of Josephus’ reference in some form.

Josephus Mentions Jesus A Second Time

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Josephus mentions Jesus twice. I posted the primary reference to Jesus a few weeks ago. Here is the second.

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned;

Josephus

This is yet another example of an external proof of the existence of the historical Jesus.

Correctly Interpreting God’s Word: Part 3 Cultural, historical and geographical context

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Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”
Matthew 21:12-13

It’s easy to read is text and find yourself thinking “Jesus! What are you doing!?!” One of the most common questions I hear in association with this verse is: How on earth could he become so angry over the marketplace in the temple?

Well, answering this question requires that we understand a little something about the historic and cultural context. For Jewish people, the temple was an incredibly important thing. The priesthood was way up there, too. These were parts of their religion that were heavily associated with God. Every member of the priesthood was supposed to be from the line of Aaron, Moses’ brother, and from the family of Zadok. Zadok was a family that God blessed with the priesthood later because they opposed the pagan religions during Isaiah’s ministry. In the several hundred years previous to this story, this had ceased to be the case. The system had become corrupt. The high priesthood eventually became a position that was for sale. Over time, the Sadducees began to dominate the high priesthood because they were quite wealthy. They, in turn, allowed the courts of the temple to be used for commerce. The Mishnah (Jewish commentary on rabbinical debates in the ancient world) indicates that the folks running the market were from the family of the high priest. So, the high priest is a corrupt jerk who bribes the king to get his job. He then allows his family to run the special market in the courts. Sound kosher? It probably shouldn’t. It gets worse though. The high priests decided that the only money that could be could be used in the temple was a special temple currency, which you had to get from them at a modest exchange rate. So, they were skimming off the top of the offerings. This was a corrupt system and pretty much everyone knew it. What made it worse is that it was happening in the temple. The most holy place in the world. Christ became enraged and took action. He was passionate about God’s house.

Does the text take on different meaning for you now? Is it clearer? The next rule of Biblical interpretation is to pay attention to the historical and cultural context. This one requires a little work. Lots of what makes this happen is reading and studying. However, it’s quite do-able and many of the best books that fill in these sorts of blanks are available online for free. A little bit of research goes a long way toward understanding the meaning of a passage based on the context. Often times, a reader can turn to a good commentary to obtain information on the matter. The information is out there and ever more accessible with the Internet.

This is particularly important because it is very easy to force a 21st century value system onto a text. This is often seen in responses to the Bible that refer to it as evil, based on interpreting rules and events by our worldview rather than considering the ancient context. One obvious example is the tendency to look at the accounts of the year of jubilee and criticize the people for having slaves. The Jubilee regulations indicate that in the year of the jubilee all slaves were to freed and all debts washed away. This happened in Israel, but nowhere else in the ancient world. Other nations didn’t free their slaves. The Jews did. It’s easy to criticize and miss the fact that everyone had slaves in the ancient world. What makes the scriptures pretty unique is that they present a fairly progressive perspective. This is easily missed when considering them out of their cultural context.

Geographic understanding also helps with properly interpreting the scriptures, which is why Bibles come with the book of maps. Knowing the place things took place makes certain elements of the text more vivid. For example, the story of the good Samaritan involves a man being robbed and left for dead on the road. A priest and a scribe pass him while moving from Jerusalem to Jericho. They crossed to the other side of the road to avoid the man. Here we have a geographical joke built into the text. Both are mountain towns. This would have been a mountain road. These roads were not superhighways wide enough to give a big berth. Rather they were fairly narrow and so crossing to the other side was not a huge step. In fact, in some spots it may have been step.

So, where do we learn this stuff? Well, a good study Bible will cover most of these bases. After that, we have a glut of resources at our disposal if we merely spend some time to ask the right questions to get us going in the right direction. Here are a few decent sites for research and reading to check cultural, historical and geographical context:

biblestudytools.com also available as an AppStore app.
biblegateway.com
ccel.com this one is a little more advanced and much tougher to use
For iPad, iPhone and android users the logos app is really good, but better if you have a logos package purchased.
For a good cultural overview of the New Testament era I would recommend the New Testament Milieu by A. B. Du Toit. It offers an overview of the history building up to the coming of Christ and the social setting. Reading this one will give you most of the contextual information you will ever need.
Alfred Edersheim wrote several excellent books on the New Testament setting. I use his book on the temple and the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.

Proving that John wrote the Gospel of John

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Identifying and defending the authorship of the Gospel of John is important from the standpoint of defending the faith because John is a fairly early source of first hand information about the life of Jesus. Particularly in light of John’s close relationship with Christ. John is a powerful tool in responding to critics. If a Christian is to defend the author of the gospel, he/she needs to know what support exists for John’s authorship, as many unbelievers challenge apostolic authorship. In the case of John this is generally based on skepticism and no facts.

Though probably written last, the gospel was still likely written before 80 AD. I argue this position because of the treatment of the Temple in the text. The temple was likely still standing or recently destroyed when the book was written based on two factors.

  1. The gospel seems to treat the temple as a structure that still stood and doesn’t mention its having been destroyed. In addition, it demonstrates intimate knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, which suggests that the author had been there recently or lived there for some time. This would require a pre-70 AD authorship.
  2.  There are those that argue that Jesus is juxtaposed to the temple in such a way as to hint that the author may be suggesting to Jewish readers that Jesus is the replacement for the recently destroyed temple. This would require that the temple be gone, which would place the date after 70. However, if John is referring to the temple, he does so without words. This gentle discussion of the matter lends to a relatively close date to the destruction of the temple, which would require increased delicacy. However, enough time would have had to pass for word to get around. This points to 80 AD as late date for authorship.

John is also important because it is generally accepted that it was written in aramaic, which was probably Jesus’ native language. The fact that it was written in aramaic closely associates the book with Israel and bolsters the case for its accuracy as an eye witness account.

Determining the authorship of John’s Gospel requires consideration of both internal and external evidence.

Internally, we see that the narrator identifies himself as an apostle. In both 1:14 and 2:11 John identifies himself amongst the disciples by using the pronoun “we.” This suggests that the author was one of the disciples present. 21:20 indicates that “the disciple who Jesus loved” is the author as well, because he refers to the anonymous disciple and then indicates that he is the writer of the book in verse 24.

The last supper offers further evidence for the elimination of several names from the list of candidates. The disciple identifies himself as present and reclining on Christ’s breast during the meal. He also mentions: Peter, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot and Judas the son of James. These men could not be the author because he would scarcely have mentioned them by name and himself anonymously. In addition, we can eliminate several additional names through the account of the 7 disciples fishing in 21:2. This includes: Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanial. In addition, 21:2 mentions the sons of Zebedee and two other disciples, which are acceptable candidates because of their lack of specific naming. James the son of Zebedee cannot be a potential candidate because of his early martyrdom (42 AD).

The remaining disciples are: Matthew, Simon the Zealot, James son of Alphaeus and John son of Zebedee. Matthew is unlikely because he is credited with writing another gospel. Simon the Zealot and James son of Alphaeus are both obscure figures and have never been suggested as authors. This leaves John the son of Zebedee.

John is a strong candidate because of his close proximity to Peter in several accounts in the synoptic gospels, which coincides with the frequent close proximity of Peter to the Disciple that Jesus loved. Ultimately, John the son of Zebedee is the only disciple that has such close proximity to Peter (other than James who is not appropriate because of his early death).

Interestingly, John’s gospel is silent on the inner circle of Christ’s followers. This supports Johannine authorship because of the anonymous nature of the text. John could scarcely have mentioned it without tipping his hand as to his identity. In addition, it accounts for the author’s prominent role within the text of John.

It is important to note that John’s familiarity with Jesus and its anonymity offering interesting hints as to authorship. If the book was not written by John, then the author would likely have not hidden his identity only to leave enough clues in the text for the reader to figure out that John was the author. If the author was to forge a text in John’s name, wouldn’t it be more reasonable to use John’s name. The purpose of usurping an apostle’s name is notoriety. This is defeated in hiding the identity of the author.

External evidence comes from the church father Irenaeus, who used the gospel in his refutation of the early gnostic heresies. Irenaeus claims to have learned from Polycarp, who was himself a disciple of John. Irenaeus goes further and identifies John as the disciple who reclined on Christ during the last supper.

Church father Clement of Alexandria also identifies the apostle John as the author of the gospel as well. After the end of the second century church tradition is unanimous on the matter of authorship.

Clement on the Martyrdom of Peter and Paul

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20110822-030209.jpgClement of Rome was a leader of the early church, who was appointed by the apostle Peter (according to Tertullian and every writer of church history thereafter). His surviving epistle is the letter of First Clement, which was written to the church in Corinth to address division an conflict within the church. The letter itself was written in 96 AD. The following excerpt addresses the matter of the execution of Peter and Paul. Because Clement knew Peter and lived in Rome, which makes it likely that he had first hand knowledge of the deaths of the two. This excerpt is important because, though lacking details, it acknowledges first hand awareness of the apostles’ fate and offers support for later accounts of Peter’s crucifixion and Paul’s beheading. Confirmation of the accounts of their deaths is important because their willing martyrdom indicates conviction in their eye witness accounts.

“But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours; and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and wentinto the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.”
Clement of Rome

Clement was later executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown in the sea. This was after he ran the church from prison for several years.

Polycarp: Student of the Apostles and Witness of the Earliest Days of Christianity

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Irenaeus was one of the early church fathers, whose writings have been preserved and give us pieces of the history of the early church. This text demonstrates a line of teachers and witnesses that begins with the Apostles and continues through the 2nd century church. In addition, it stands as a good piece of evidence to respond to claims that Christ didn’t exist or that there’s no evidence of him outside the scriptures. Irenaeus knew Polycarp, who the passage describes. Elsewhere Polycarp is connected to the Apostle John. Several epistles from Polycarp still exist.

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But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church.

Irenaeus- Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1 Chapter 3:6-7

This text was written in the second century. Polycarp was eventually burned at the stake in the colosseum.

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