Showing posts from August, 2010

JRP vs Pervo vs Luke vs Josephus vs Theudas and Judas the Galilean (1 of 7)

Part 1 -- The Data, The Problem, and The Thesis My friend Victor Reppert, over at Dangerous Idea , has been recently engaged in a series of posts on historical analysis of the accuracy of the New Testament; and the thorny topic of Theudas came up again a week or two ago, this time in context of Richard I. Pervo’s thesis that the author of Acts of the Apostles knew about Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and so must have composed Acts sometime substantially after Ant.’s publication. I am a bit handicapped here in analyzing Dr. Pervo’s thesis, since I don’t have access to a university library; I have only found access to (a very large) part of the relevant chapter in Dating Acts (thanks to Amazon’s Search Inside feature), and no access at all yet to his later Acts: A Commentary (part of Hermeneia’s Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible )--nor do I much fancy buying one or both books merely to assess this one thesis. Hopefully some of our readers will have one or both books

Welcome to the Blogosphere, David Marshall!

(...wait, did I spell that right? Should it be 'blogsphere'?) My friend David Marshall has finally started a web journal at the above address. David is a Christian apologist who usually (although not always) works along the line of cultural apologetics. (The title of his journal, as well as of his main site, goes back to his first book on convergences and contrasts between Christianity and Chinese religious culture.) His first set of posts out of the gate (aside from some photos from his family trip into the Pacific Northwest countryside near Seattle), involve a running debate with Dr. Hector Avalos on connections (of various sorts) between Christianity and slavery. Interviews with him on his latest two books, can be found here on the Cadre Journal at: and Links, with so

By his wounds we are healed: vicarious atonement in the Church Fathers

A recent defense of penal substitutionary atonement (hence PSA), Pierced for our Transgressions , attempts to establish that PSA was the dominant understanding of the atonement among the early Church Fathers, and was not just an innovation of the Reformation. However, a recent article by Derek Flood shows that the authors of PFOT use an overly broad criterion for detecting PSA in the early Fathers and lift quotations that seem to support PSA out of the broader context of the individual Fathers' soteriology. Since a commentator on Triablogue recently asserted that Athanasius actually affirms PSA when I suggested that he was a counter-example, I will reproduce some of Flood's remarks on Athanasius and Augustine. Flood first distinguishes, as I have done, between the general idea of substitutionary atonement and the more specific idea of penal substitution: Substitutionary atonement broadly speaks of Christ's death being vicarious: Christ bearing our sin, suffering, sickness,

Evil: modernity's uninvited guest

I've been posting a lot recently on different models of the atonement (and there's more to come!) but recently I came across a potent reminder of why we need it in the first place. Usually affirmations of human depravity come from theologians, and we are tempted to think they make such affirmations only because their job depends on it! But recently I have come across quite a few unabashedly secular authors saying surprisingly religious things about the human condition. A recent, eloquent and persuasive example is an essay by Theodore Dalrymple (by the way, if you have not read absolutely everything written by him, you have your homework assignment; he's that good). It is titled 'Modernity's Uninvited Guest', a very appropriate title, given Dalrymple's thesis: put very simply, we weren't supposed to be worrying about evil anymore. It was a basic tenet of Enlightenment thinking that people are basically good, and only become evil through exposure to bad

Some clarifications on 'The Biblical Revelation of the Cross, Part 1'

1. It is important to note that, while the New Testament does say that the death of Jesus was unjust, nevertheless God did act to deliberately bring it about, which is to say that men's motives for bringing about the death of Jesus were not the same as God's: “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23) "Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief" (Isa 53:10) And yes, it is clear that the suffering and death of Jesus was something God wanted to happen, and made sure that it did happen. It is also true that God is not (necessarily) unjust in allowing or ordaining something evil to happen in order to bring about a greater good. However, what's at issue here is not whether God ordained something to happen for a greater good, but what his intentions were. Advocates of PSA assume that the purpose for which God ordained Jesus' death was to sh

The Biblical Revelation of the Cross, Part 1

Since it is crucial that one's view of the atonement be based on Scripture and not just abstract philosophical considerations, I've decided to blog through Norman McIlwain's book in which he lays out a substitutionary, but non-penal, model of the atonement. The heart of McIlwain's thesis is that the debt we owe to God is not death, but righteousness: we all owe God a perfectly righteous life, which debt however we cannot pay because of our sinful condition. So the debt that Jesus paid in our stead was the debt of righteousness: a life offered up to God in perfect obedience, even unto death. In this post I will summarize the Scriptural evidence discussed in Chapter 1 of his online book, The Biblical Revelation of the Cross, while adding some comments and additional evidence of my own. McIlwain begins by pointing out how odd it is that while theologians have tended to see the cross as revealing the justice of God, in that Jesus bore the penalty for our sin, the New Testa

Christ the Antidote

I have a longer post in preparation with some thoughts on the theory of retributive punishment, but I wanted to share what I think is a helpful word picture (pun intended!) derived from St. Athanasius' classic On the Incarnation of the Word that can help understand why it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die, without that suffering and death being penal, i.e. a punishment inflicted upon him. According to Athanasius, the ultimate goal of the incarnation of the Word was to purge human nature of the corruption of sin and revive it. But human nature could not be cleansed of corruption from the outside: renewal had to take place from within. The only being with the kind of life which could renew the life of the human creature was the Word. Thus the Word took on a body and allowed that body to suffer all the consequences of sin, including death, so that the Life of the Word could then neutralize and destroy them entirely. A helpful way to think about Athanasius' argument is in

On the meaning of Old Testament sacrifice

"I do not need to take a bull from your household or goats from your sheepfolds. For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me, as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills. I keep track of every bird in the hills, and the insects of the field are mine. Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all it contains belong to me. Do I eat the flesh of bulls? Do I drink the blood of goats? Present to God a thank-offering! Repay your vows to the sovereign One! Pray to me when you are in trouble! I will deliver you, and you will honor me!” (Psalm 50:9-15 NET) "The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God." (Psalm 51:17 NLT) I have two main reservations about the traditional penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. The first is that it seems to clearly contradict a fundamental principle of biblical justice, that the only one who can be justly punished for wrongdoing is the wrongdoer h