The Christian Defenders’ 5 Reasons: Archaelogy and the Bible

In my experience, Christian apologetics is geared towards reinforcing the faithful, not convincing the skeptic. As I wrote last October, “It seems that pop-apologetics is nothing more than preaching to the choir.”1 This in spite of the oft-repeated claim that apologetics is biblically mandated: “Always be ready to make your defense [apologian] to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV).Presumably “anyone [panti; literally, “all”]” would include unbelievers yet the quality of the material produced by pop-apologists betrays any such notion. It is often written in either very simplistic ways that ignore the complexities of the relevant historical, scientific, textual, and philosophical issues or it grossly misrepresents both the evidence and scholarship which examines it. As such it is ill-suited as an apologetic for anything beside serving as an example of how not to defend one’s beliefs.

This should not be taken to mean that pop-apologists are insincere. On the contrary, the vast majority of those I’ve interacted with genuinely think they are contributing to the world of Christian apologetics in positive ways. And often they run Twitter accounts, record podcasts, write blog posts, and produce YouTube videos that are intended to stem the tide of skepticism that is rampant online. Few are professionals; most are amateurs like myself. This I can appreciate.

Last year a group of sincere amateurs posted to their website a piece entitled “5 Reasons How We Know the Bible is True.”3 In response to the claim that Christians accept the Bible as true on “blind faith,” the Christian Defenders offer “the 5 best reasons why we know that the Bible is true.” The post itself is not very long – it is only around thirteen hundred words – but it does raise some interesting issues surrounding such topics like archaeology and the Bible, the nature of the Gospels, and the resurrection of Jesus. However, as we will, see their case isn’t as sure as they think it is.

Readers are encouraged to read the piece by the Christian Defenders to get both sides of the issue. It would be a shame to do as so many Christians apologists do and just read from authors who confirm our beliefs. Furthermore, reading those to whom I am responding creates accountability since the reader is able to see if I am accurately representing what the other side is trying to say. With that said, let’s dive into the first of the five.

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE

The first of the five reasons the Christian Defenders present that show the Bible is true comes from the field of archaeology. Under the subheading “Archaeology Has Confirmed the Bible” they write, “One of the most powerful tools we use to check to see if the biblical account is true is through archaeology.” As evidence for this claim they mention 1) archaeological work at Shiloh, 2) the Dead Sea Scrolls, and 3) confirmation of details in the book of Acts. Let’s consider each in turn.

Archaeological Work at Shiloh

According to the Deuteronomistic Historian (DH), Shiloh was the site where Israel permanently erected the tent of meeting (Joshua 18:1). It was still where the tent stood during the days of Eli when conflict broke out with the Philistines resulting in the capture of the ark of the covenant and the death of Eli (1 Samuel 4:12-22). Though the DH does not tell us that Shiloh was destroyed, the prophet Jeremiah records a tradition that it was destroyed on account of Israel’s wickedness (Jeremiah 7:12-14). Excavations of Shiloh have revealed that during the mid-eleventh century BCE (i.e. Iron Age I) that the site was met with a violent end that included a fierce fire, a sign to some that this was the destruction described by Jeremiah and hinted at by the DH.4 However, others have urged caution in speaking where the evidence is in fact silent.5 Whatever happened, the site was largely abandoned for a short time in the first part of Iron Age II (i.e. 1000 BCE to 586 BCE).6 

While we know that during the Late Bronze Age (i.e. 1550 to 1200 BCE) Shiloh featured a cult site,7 we have no evidence for the tent of meeting that could be found in Iron Age I. This of course is neither evidence against the existence of a tent of meeting or that it was erected at Shiloh. But the absence of evidence does detract from the claim made by the Christian Defenders that archaeologists at Shiloh “have found several important artifacts” that “verify biblical events and places.” Given how important Shiloh was to the Israelite cult according to the biblical texts, one might expect to find more evidence of it. However, the findings there only substantiate the most basic of claims the biblical texts make: there were people there.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Christian Defenders move on to the Dead Sea Scrolls, writing,

Among the most popular discoveries are The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, Israel. They provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate. The scrolls were written by the Essenes and are referred to by the Roman historian, Josephus.

The DSS were written by the Essenes, a tiny8 apocalyptic group that lived in Qumran.9  The documents discovered fall into four general categories.

  • manuscripts of every book of the Hebrew Bible (excluding the book of Esther);
  • books included in the Apocrypha (i.e. Book of Tobit);
  • pseudepigraphic works (i.e. Book of Enoch)
  • sectarian literature (i.e. calendars and liturgical texts).10

This fact alone complicates any claim that the DSS “provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate.” For example, most Christians reject 1 Enoch (i.e. Book of Enoch) as canonical despite the fact that it is quoted directly by the author of the epistle of Jude (Jude 1:14-15).11 Does this mean that the author of Jude considered 1 Enoch to be sacred scripture? And if so, what are the implications for the Christian canon?

The variety of literature is not the only problem for the Christian Defenders’ claim. The manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible that have been discovered demonstrate that particular books of the Bible have complex textual histories. For example, in cave 4 at Qumran a number of fragments of the book of Jeremiah were discovered.12 Most of these reflect the Masoretic Text but one, 4QJerb, is in line with readings found in the LXX, a sign that it more closely reflects the Hebrew Vorlage underlying the LXX than it does the MT.13 Emmanuel Tov has suggested that the version of Jeremiah found in the LXX and 4QJeris probably closer to the original than what is found in the MT14 which would mean that the longer version of Jeremiah is an expansion. And it is not just the book of Jeremiah that has a complicated textual history!15 

Given what I’ve presented above, in what sense do the DSS “provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate“? Surely qualification is needed.

Historicity of the Book of Acts

The Acts of the Apostles is the second book of a two-volume work by an anonymous author identified traditionally as Luke, a companion of Paul (Philemon 1:24; cf. Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11). It traces the development of the early Christians beginning with Jesus’ ascension and ending with Paul in Rome just prior to his execution. Consequently, it has been considered by many to be straightforward history, rendering with precision the activities of the most important figures in early Christianity. To bolster that view, some have noticed that the author throws in details that seem to lend credibility to the narrative. The Christian Defenders write,

Scholar and historian Colin Hemer who wrote The Books of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History describes 84 facts in Acts that have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research. The Bible is clear and full of specific details so that we can discover it’s validity.

I do not have access to Hemer’s work and so I have not had a chance to read and review it. However, Hemer’s work is mentioned by other apologists including Lee Strobel,16  William Lane Craig,17 and, in parallel to the words of the Christian Defenders, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.

Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse. With painstaking detail, Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research.18

Geisler and Turek then list all eighty-four facts from Hemer’s book which include things like

  • the proper location of Lycaonia (Acts 14:6),
  • the depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora (17:17),
  • employment of the ethnic term Asianos (20:4),
  • the proper term of the time for the Adriatic (27:27),

and more. It is an impressive list from which Geisler and Turek conclude,

Is there any doubt that Luke was an eyewitness to these events or at least had access to reliable eyewitness testimony? What more could he have done to prove his authenticity as a historian?19

Luke’s bona fides are seemingly confirmed.

But can we conclude that because the author of Acts gets these details correctly that then everything he records actually happened? Of course not. The fact that Luke knows Zeus and Hermes were often associated (14:12) cannot mean that Jesus was taken up by a cloud into heaven (1:10). Simply because he knew that Roman citizens had the right of appeal (25:11) doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit came down and caused the gathered Christians to speak in other languages (2:1-4). To conclude that the supernatural elements described in the book of Acts must have happened because the author gets a number of details correct is a non sequitur.

The nature of the book of Acts is fiercely debated in the world of New Testament scholarship. Scholars have long recognized that in many ways it is a complicated piece of literature that fails to fit into any one category. Is it history? Is it biography? Is it a novel? Is it an apologetic? Is it a combination of all these things? This is a topic for another time but it should go without saying that the issues are complex and will likely never be decided and so the reader is encouraged to read scholarship on the issue.20

When History Contradicts the Bible 

To close out their section on archaeology and the Bible the Christian Defenders quote Clifford Wilson:

I know of no finding in archaeology that’s properly confirmed which is in opposition to the Scriptures. The Bible is the most accurate history textbook the world has ever seen.

I could not find a primary source for this claim but it hardly matters. The point of the quote is to say that the Bible has never been proven wrong. But is this true? Not at all.

For example, the book of Joshua makes a rather big deal out of the conquest of Canaan. But the evidence for such a conquest is virtually non-existent as my friend @bibhistctxt has made clear on his blog in a series covering chapters ten and eleven of Joshua.21 The same can be said for the attack on Jericho, a city in which there was “little or no occupation…in the thirteenth century.”22 The use of archaeology to prove the “truth” of the Bible is a task fraught with problems:

By the end of the twentieth century, archaeology had shown that there were simply too many material correspondences between the finds in Israel and in the entire Near East and the world described in the Bible to suggest that the Bible was late and fanciful priestly literature, written with no historical basis at all. But at the same time, there were too many contradictions between archaeological finds and the biblical narratives to suggest that the Bible provided a precise description of what actually occurred.23

Sometimes details in the archaeological record fit the biblical narrative but quite often they simply contradict it.

The same is true for the general historical record. Consider the book of Daniel, a text that is about persons and events in the sixth century BCE but which was clearly composed long after that period. Consequently, the author of Daniel gets a number of things wrong including the timing of the siege of Jerusalem, the relationship of Belshazzar to Nebudchadrezzar, and the existence of a “Darius the Mede.”24 And not only does it contradict the non-biblical historical record, it even contradicts the biblical one.

Conclusion

Far more could be said about the relationship of archaeology and the Bible but one thing should be abundantly clear: it is complicated. On the one hand, many of the minor details found in the biblical texts are rooted in real history and can be confirmed by the archaeological record. But the larger narrative points, especially those of a supernatural kind, are not and simply cannot be confirmed. And there are other areas in which the archaelogical record does not confirm the biblical record but rather disconfirms it.

NOTES

1 Amateur Exegete, “Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft” (10.28.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 16 March 2019.

2 For example, Josh and Sean McDowell write in the most recent edition of the massive Evidence That Demands a Verdict,

Our motivation in using this research is to glorify and magnify Jesus Christ, not to win an argument. Evidence is not for proving the Word of God, but rather for providing a reasoned base for faith. One should have a gentle and reverent spirit when using apologetics or evidences: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15, NASB, emphasis mine).

See Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Thomas Nelson, 2017), xviii.

3 5 Reasons How We Know the Bible is True” (12.7.18), christiandefenders.org. Accessed 16 March 2019.

4 Israel Finkelstein, “Shiloh,” in Ephraim Stern (editor), The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (The Israel Exploration Society & Carta, 1993), 4:1368. See also Lawrence E. Stager, “Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel,” in Michael D. Coogan (editor), The Oxford History of the Biblical World (Oxford University Press, 1998), 127.

5 For example, Richard Nelson cautions that we should not accept the tradition from Jeremiah unreservedly, writing that

[i]t is commonly asserted by biblical historians that the sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines. This unconfirmed notion is based on traditions of Philistine victories over Israel near Aphek and the witness of Jeremiah (Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6; cf. Ps 78:60). The site…was indeed destroyed in the mid-eleventh century, but by whom cannot be known.

See Richard D. Nelson, Historical Roots of the Old Testament (1200-63 BCE) (SBL Press, 2014), 37.

6 Finkelstein, 4:1369.

7 Jonathan M. Golden, Ancient Canaan & Israel: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004), 188; Finkelstein, 4:1367.

8 Geza Vermes writes that

[i]t is not irrelevant…to note that the archaeologists have deduced from the fact that the cemetery contained 1,100 graves, dug over the course of roughly 200 years, that the population of Qumran, an establishment of undoubted importance, can never have numbered more than 150 to 200 souls at a time. Also, it should be borne in mind that the total membership of the Essene sect in the first century CE only slightly exceeded ‘four thousand’ (Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, 21).

See Geza Vermes (translator), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Books, 2004), 27.

9 See John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, second edition (Eerdmans, 1998), 145-176.

10 Ibid., 10-12.

11 For an overview, see Biblical Historical Context, “Does Jude Quote Enoch?” (1.5.19), biblicalhistoricalcontext.com. Accessed 17 March 2019.

12 For an overview, see Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar (editors), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill, 1999),  270-272.

13 Karen H. Jobes and Moíses Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic, 2000), 175; Peter C. Craigies, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Jeremiah 1-25, WBC vol. 26 (Thomas Nelson, 1991), xlii-xliii.

14 Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, second revised edition (Fortress Press, 2001), 319-321.

15 For example, see the essays by John Elwolde, Russell Fuller, and Alexander Rofé in Armin Lange, Emmanuel Tov, and Matthias Weigold (editors), The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context: Integrating the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Study of Ancient Texts, Languages, and Cultures (Brill, 2011), 1:79-123.

16 Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (HarperCollins, 2000), 129-130.

17 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Crossway, 2008), 294 note 14.

18 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Crossway Books, 2004), 256.

19 Ibid., 259.

20 For example, see Loveday Alexander, “Fact, Fiction and the Genre of Acts,” New Testament Studies, vol. 44 issue 3 (July 1998), 380-399 ;Richard I. Pervo, The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story (Polebridge, Press); Luke Timothy Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book Of” in David N. Freeman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Double Day, 1992) 4:403-420; James M. Robinson, “Acts,” in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (editors), The Literary Guide to the Bible (The Belknap Press, 1987), 467-478; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (Oxford University Press, 2016), 312-333.

21 In his first post, @bibhistctxt writes,

As more and more digging took place it became abundantly clear that, archaeologically speaking, the conquest described in Joshua 10 and 11 never happened.

See Biblical Historical Context, “Joshua 10 and 11: The Problem” (11.6.17), biblicalhistoricalcontext.com. Accessed 18 March 2019.

22 Stager, “Forging an Identity,” 95.

23 Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Touchstone, 2002), 20, 21.

24 See Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1” (12.2.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 18 March 2019.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 3.1.19

“Israel did not ‘believe’ in dragons anymore than their neighbors did. When Israel says God defeated the dragon, they use this myth in two ways. Most of the time, as in Psalm 74; Isaiah 27:1, where the dragon is named Leviathan just as in the Canaanite myth; and Isaiah 51:9, they are saying, ‘Whatever you Canaanites mean when you say ‘Our god defeated the dragon’–it’s true of our God, not yours. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the one who defeated the dragon, whatever that means.’” – Robert Miller II


  • @StudyofChrist’s video on the identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7 is superb. He analyzes the text, draws from commentaries, and shows that at least in the context of Isaiah the reference is to a child born in the 8th century BCE and not Jesus. The video is longer than usual but it is well worth the twenty minutes it would take to watch it.
  • Back in October of 2018 Robert Miller II wrote a short piece for ANE Today on “Dragons in the Bible and Beyond.” He notes that dragon myths typically involve a conflict between the dragon and a storm deity. In the Baal Cycle the Litan is the creature Baal defeats, a beast who is depicted as a “fleeing serpent” (cf. Isaiah 27:1). Considering how often dragons appear in some form or fashion in prophetic literature, this is an excellent introductory article. Miller has also written a book on the topic entitled The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives
  • New Testament scholar Michael Bird has a brief review of Donald Hagner’s latest book How New is the New Testament: First Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity. I have benefited from Hagner’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and will hopefully get my hands on this volume in the near future. Bird notes that this volume is based on lectures Hagner gave in the Philippines and that in their written form the author suggests that Christianity is not something other than Judaism but is rather “the fulfillment of Judaism.” Perhaps, but I would be interested in seeing how my Jewish friends might view such a position.
  • Phil Long over at Reading Acts posted a short piece on whether Saul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 constitutes a call or a conversion. He writes, “Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history.” He also notes that while some have tried to place Paul’s theology within the spectrum of Judaism, this misses the radical nature of some of Paul’s teachings.
  • A couple of years ago Pete Enns wrote a brief post over on his website on how the biblical genealogies were not intended to convey “history” but rather something else. He writes, “The biblical writers were not ‘historians’ writing ‘accounts’ of the past. They were storytellers accessing past tradition to say something about their present. That includes genealogies.” Amen.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Mark 4 and Psalm 107

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 160-161.

Especially significant [to Mark 4:35-41] is Ps 107:23-32 (LXX 106:23-32), which Mark’s narrative virtually paraphrases. According to that psalm people “went down to the sea in ships” and “saw the deeds of the Lord” (v. 23). When God raises a strong wind that lifts up the waves (v. 25, kymata; see Mark 4:37) the mariners cry out to the Lord (v. 28; see Mark 4:38), and the Lord “made the storm be still [see Mark 4:39, “be still”], and the waves of the sea were hushed.” The psalm draws on the ancient portrayal of the sea as chaotic power, often the habitation of monsters, a motif that is deeply rooted in earlier Canaanite myths of creation where a storm god defeats the sea. While in the psalm it is YHWH who both stirs up the waves and calms them in response to the prayer, in Mark Jesus sleeps at the onset of the storm but afterward calms the waves as YHWH does.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.22.19

“The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters.” – John McDermott

  • Bart Ehrman asks and answers the question “Why does it matter if Mark’s Gospel was written first?” What it boils down to is that once we realize Mark’s Gospel was in all likelihood the first of the Synoptics to have been written we then have a framework with which to interpret Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. They must have edited Mark’s Gospel for some reason. If we can deduce what those reasons were then we “have some purchase on the question of what [their] ultimate concerns and objectives were.”
  • Related to Ehrman’s piece, a post over at Broken Oracles discusses the redaction of Mark 14:47 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both try to resolve Markan ambiguity about the moral nature of the violent action undertaken by the anonymous disciple with particular additions. It is an interesting example of Markan priority at work.
  • Over a decade and a half ago John McDermott’s Reading the Pentateuch was published and its first chapter laid out the case for why it cannot be read as “strict history.” Some of that first chapter is available online. McDermott discusses the historical Abraham, the Exodus, and more.
  • Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost wrote an introduction to a series making the case for atheism. In that post he briefly discusses strong vs. weak theism as well as type 1 atheism vs. type 2. As he defines it, atheism is at its core a rejection of theism and there may be a variety of reasons for which a person rejects theism.
  • Scholars have long observed that the Gospel of John appears to have gone through different stages of redaction. Back in 2015, Paul D. on his blog Is That in the Biblepublished a post examining the reasons why scholars think this. His discussion centers on two kinds of aporia or contradictory texts: geographical and chronological. This piece provides an excellent summary for the evidence of Johannine redaction.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Mark 1, AEV

Below is my full translation of the first chapter in Mark’s Gospel. It is still in some ways a very raw translation but it will serve as the launching pad for work on my commentary on Mark. I plan on doing more revisions to the text as time goes on, especially since my preference to translate historic presents in the past rather than present tense has changed (i.e. compare 1:12 [“the Spirit casts“] with 1:40 [“there came“]). Overall, I’m pleased with the translation and hope some can find the textual notes useful.


MARK 1

1 The beginninga of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God.b

2 As it stands writtenc in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
the one who prepares your way:
3A voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”

4 John appeared,d the one who was baptizing in the wilderness and  preachinge a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And going out to him was the entire region of Judea and all of Jerusalem, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with the hair of a camel and a belt of leather around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching,f “One stronger than me is coming after me, of whom I am not worthy to bend down to loose the strap of his sandles. I baptized you in water,g but he will baptize you in the holy Spirit.”h

9 It happenedi in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 And immediately, as he was coming out of the water, he saw the sky splitting open and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him. 11 Then a voice appearedj from the sky, “You are my Son, the beloved; in you I am pleased.

12 Then immediately the Spirit casts him outk into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan, and he was with the wild animals, and the angels ministered to him.

14 Following the arrest of John, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God 15 saying, “The time has been fulfilledl and the reign of Godm has come near: repent and believe in the gospel.”

16And walking alongn the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting nets in the Sea, for they were fishers. 17And Jesus said to them, “Come follow me,o and I will make you to become fishers of people.” 18Then immediately, leaving the nets, they followed him. 19Then after going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, and they were in the boat mending nets. 20And right away he called to them. Then they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers and went after him.

21 They came to Capernaum; and then on the sabbath, having entered the synagogue, he was teaching.p 22 And they were amazed at his teaching, for he was teaching themq as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 Then suddenlyr there was in their  synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out 24 saying, “What do we have in common, Jesus of Nazareth?s Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, the holy one of God!” 25 Then Jesus rebukedt him saying, “Shut upu and come out of him!” 26 Then the unclean spirit, having convulsed him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they all were astounded such that they discussed among themselves saying, “What is this? New teaching with authority: he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Then the news about him immediately spread out everywhere into all the surrounding region of Galilee.

29 Immediately, having left the synagogue, they went to the home of Simon and Andrew with James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down sick with fever, and so they were speaking to Jesusv concerning her. 31 Going to her he raisedw her, having taken her by the hand. The fever left her and she served them. 32 When evening came, at the setting of the sun,x they brought to him the sick and the demon-possessed; 33 and the entire city had gathered at the door. 34 He healed many sick – those who had various diseases – and he cast out many demons, and did not permit the demons to speak because they knewy him.

35 Having risen early in the morning while it was dark,z he went out and came to a deserted placeaa and there he prayed. 36 Simon and those with him searched diligently for him 37 and found him and said to him, “Everyoneab is lookingac for you!” 38 He said to them, “Let us go elsewhere – into the towns nearby – so that even there I may preach, for this is why I came.” 39 And he went preaching in the synagogues of all of Galilee and casting out demons.ad

40 There cameae to him a leperaf begging him [and kneeling]ag and saying, “If you will it, you are able to make me clean.”  41 Moved with compassionah and having stretched out his hand, he touched him and said to him, “I will it. You are clean.” 42 And suddenly the leprosy left him and he was clean. 43 Strictly warning him,ai he immediately sent him awayaj 44 and said to him, “Be sureak to not say anything to anyone, but go show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing that which Moses commanded as evidence to them.”al 45 But having gone out he began to proclaim freely and spread the word, so that Jesusam was unable to go into a city, but remained in deserted places. And there came to him people from all over.


TEXTUAL NOTES

a The word archē lacks the definite article here. However, translating archē as indefinite makes for awkward English and in Mark’s Gospel the word is never paired with the definite article despite its being used in an articular sense. See Mark 10:6, 13:8, and 13:19.

b The phrase huiou theou lacks the definite article and is supplied by many translations (i.e. NRSV) as a way to distinguish Jesus as the Son of God. But sometimes the lack of the definite article is intended to emphasize the essence of a noun rather than its identity. In this case, I see the anarthrous huiou theou as telling the reader something about Jesus and his messianic role: his character is one of God’s sons and, therefore, kingly.

c The verb gegraptai is in the perfect tense and implies what was written before continues to the present moment. Hence the translation “it stands written.”

d The use of the aorist egeneto implies both the fulfillment of the prophetic words of 1:2-3 as well as John’s sudden and abrupt appearance in both Mark’s Gospel and the stage of salvific history.

e John’s activities are summed by two participles: ho baptizōn (“the one who was baptizing) and kēryssōn (“preaching”).

f The phrase translated as “he was preaching” renders an imperfect verb with a present participle: ekēryssen legōn. Rendered literally, ekēryssen legōn would read, “He was preaching saying,” but as the participial legōn is redundant I have chosen to leave it untranslated.

There is no preposition before “water.” However, based upon the parallel construction in the second half of John’s statement where John says that Jesus will baptize them en pneumati hagiō (“in the holy spirit”), the idea must be that John was baptizing them in water.

h The phrase translated “in the holy spirit” is interesting. The phrase pneumati hagiō lacks the definite article. But it makes for awkward English to render it “in holy spirit.” Furthermore, in 1:9-10 John baptizes Jesus in water and then “the spirit” comes down upon Jesus, a baptism in the spirit if you will.

i The Greek phrase I have translated as “it happened in those days” is kai egeneto en ekeinais tais hēmerais. The lead verb, egeneto, also appeared in 1:4 where we read, “John appeared [egeneto Iōannēs].” But whereas egeneto in 1:4 was intended to create a dramatic and sudden appearance of John both in the Markan narrative as well as in the scene itself, here egento is coupled with the Greek conjunction kai which with the temporal expression en ekeinais tais hēmerais is intended to indicate a new event in the narrative flow.

j Here too we also read egeneto and I have chosen to translate it as “appeared,” though voices don’t appear. But I think the Markan author is deliberately using egeneto rather than a verb like legó (“I say”) and harkening back to 1:4 where we read “John appeared [egeneto Iōannēs].

k The phrase “casts him out” is a single word in the Greek text: ekballei, a compound of the preposition ek (“out”) and ballo (“I throw” or “I cast”). It is frequently used in Mark to refer to exorcism (see Mark 1:34, 1:39, 3:15, 3:22-23, 6:13, 7:26, 9:18, 9:28, and 9:38).

l The verb I have translated as “has been fulfilled” is peplērōtai, a perfect tense verb in the passive voice. The root verb, pléroó, is only used three times in Mark: 1:15, 14:49, and 15:28. However, that final instance in 15:28 is a later addition to the text of Mark.

m I have chosen to translate  basileia tou theou as “the reign of God” as opposed to “the kingdom of God” (NRSV). Here I have followed the work of Mary Ann Beavis who writes in her commentary,

The phrase translated here as the reign of God (hēbasileia tou theou) – often translated as “kingdom of God” – announces one of the main themes of the Gospel (4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14, 15, 23, 24; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43). In English, reign captures the meaning of basileia better than “kingdom….” (Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament [Baker Academic, 2011], 43)

Beavis herself quotes from John Donahue and Daniel Harrington’s commentary on Mark. They write,

Translation is a problem here, and not simply because of the androcentric overtones of “king.” The word “kingdom” is static and evokes a place where a king (or queen) rules. Greek basileia is more active and dynamic, with the nuance of “reigning” of God as well as a setting for that reign. (Donahue and Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina [The Liturgical Press, 2002], 71.)

The Greek text has paragōn para, a rather redundant expression since paragōn is a compound word from the preposition para (“along side”) and the verb agó (“to lead/to go”). The Matthean author avoids this redundancy by changing paragōn para to  peripatōn…para(Matthew 4:18). Some mss of Mark also change the reading to fall in line with the text of Matthew.

o The Markan text reads, Deute opisō mou – literally, “Come after me.” When opisō is followed by the genitive then the sense is “to follow” and so my translation of “Come follow me.” This happens again in 1:20 where we read that James and John leave their father and “went after him [apēlthon opisō autou].”

p The verb edidasken is sometimes translated as “he began teaching” or “he began to teach” (NIV, NLT, NASB, etc.). But there is no reason to consider the imperfect form here as an inceptive imperfect. As Rodney Decker points out (Mark 1-8: A Handbook on the Greek Text[Baylor University, Press, 2014] 24-25), Mark normally uses the verb archomai when he intends to communicate that something “began” to happen (see 1:45, 4:1, 5:17, etc). Thus translations like the NRSV, ESV, and others translate edidasken as “[he] taught” or “[he] was teaching.”

q “[F]or he was teaching them” is ēn gar didaskōn autous and is an example of the Markan use of periphrastic constructions. Simply stated, periphrasis occurs when an author combines an anathrous participle (i.e. a participle lacking the definite article) and a verb of being like eimi (“I am/I exist”) to express an idea. Mark uses periphrasis over two dozen times, about eight times more than the Gospel of Matthew.

r The word I have translated as “suddenly” is the frequently appearing euthus. Here the sense is that the appearance of this man with an unclean spirit has abruptly shifted the focus away from Jesus’ teaching and onto the demon-possessed man.

s “What do we have in common…?” is ti hēmin kai soi, quite literally, “What to us and to you?” R.T. France notes that the force of the expression is to say, “Go away and leave me alone” (The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC [Eerdmans, 2002], 103). A similar formulation is found in the LXX of 2 Samuel 16:10 where David says to Abishai, “What do we have in common [ti emoi kai humin], sons of Zeruiah?”

t “[R]ebuked” is epetimēsen. At its core, the root verb epitimaó means “to rebuke” or “to warn.” Robert Guelich translates epetimēsen not as “rebuked” but as “subdued.” Drawing from the work of H.C. Kee, he notes that epitimaó is related to the Hebrew verb ga’ar which conveys the sense of a command intended to bring another into submission. For more see Guelich, Mark 1 – 8:26, WBC [Thomas Nelson, 1989], 57-58.

u “Shut up” is phimōthēti, an imperatival form of phimoó. The substantive phimos is the term used for a muzzle (though phimos does not appear in the New Testament).

v Literally, “him.”

w Greek, ēgeiren. 

x The Markan wording here is redundant, a feature common to Mark (see 1:35, 2:20, 4:35, 14:30, 15:42, and 16:2). The genitive absolute found at the beginning of the verse (Opsias…genomenēs; “When evening came”) implies that sunset has come. Therefore Matthew (8:16) drops the clause I have translated as “at the setting of the sun” and retains only the genitive absolute. This is a classic example of Matthean redaction of Mark whereby he seeks to smooth out Mark’s repetitiveness.

y Greek, ēdeisan. This is a very rare instance of a verb in the pluperfect tense. The pluperfect in the indicative mood appears in narrative material to supplement narrative elements. For more, see Constantine R. Campbell, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek (Zondervan, 2008), 105-106.

z Greek, prōi ennycha lian anastas. The awkwardness of this phrasing has been long noted and is smoothed out by the Lukan author (Luke 4:42) who chose to employ a genitive absolute: Genomenēs…hēmeras, “When day came” (NRSV, “At daybreak”). Translated literally, the Markan phrase would be something “having risen early at night very.”

aa Greek, erēmon topon. The idea is that Jesus wanted to get away from everyone. This could be translated alternatively as “a remote place.”

ab Greek, pantes. Markan exaggeration like what we find in 1:5. This is for dramatic effect, i.e. Jesus is so popular that when he goes missing everyone tries to find him.

ac Greek, zētousin. In the Markan Gospel, the verb zēteō always carries negative connotations (i.e. 3:32, 8:11, 8:12, 11:18, 12:12, 14:1, 14:11, 14:55, 16:6).

ad Jesus’ activity in Galilee is described using two present tense participles: kēryssōn (“preaching”) and ekballōn (“casting out”). In this verse, following the aorist verb ēlthen (“he went”) the construction begins with kēryssōn and ends with ekballōn, exhibiting some degree of symmetry. That is, it begins and ends with a present participle.

ae Greek, erchetai. The use of the present tense here is similar to how in English we use indentation to indicate a new paragraph.

 af Greek, lepros. The term used in the New Testament does not necessarily refer to leprosy as we understand it but rather is a generic term for one who had a skin disease, particularly one that would have made them ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to enter the temple (see Leviticus 13-14).

ag Greek, kai gonypetōn. Both NA28 and UBS5 place kai gonypetōn in brackets to indicate that it appears in some ancient manuscripts like Codices א (Sinaiticus), L (Regius), and Θ (Koridethi) but does not appear in others including Codices B (Vaticanus), D (Bezae), and W (Washingtonianus). For more, see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition (UBS, 1994), 65.

ah Greek, splanchnistheis. This is the reading of Codices א, A (Alexandrinus), B, and others. However, Codex D reads orgistheis, “he became angered.” This is a possible reading and one favored by some scholars including Bart Ehrman. See his essay “A Leper in the Hands of an Angry Jesus” in Amy M. Donaldson and Timothy B. Sailors (editors), New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne (Eerdmans, 2003), 77-98. See also Robert Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC vol. 34a (Thomas Nelson, 1989), 41.

ai Greek, embrimēsamenos. This emotionally charged participle is omitted by both Matthew (Matthew 8:4) and Luke (Luke 5:14).

aj Greek, exebalen. This is the same verb used throughout Mark to describe exorcism of those who had been possessed by demons. Here the sense is not as harsh as in those other places.

ak Greek, hora. Literally “See that” or “See to it that.”

al Greek, eis martyrion autois. Robert Guelich renders the phrase “as evidence against them,” noting that “the normal function of [martyrion] with the dative [i.e. autois] to connote incriminating evidence against a defendant…strongly supports that rendering here” (Guelich, 77). But against whom? In context, Jesus has told to the healed man to go to “the priest” and not “the priests.” Perhaps it is a reference to the context of the Markan community in which there were charges that Jesus ignored entirely the Mosaic law. Or perhaps it is a reference to the community of which the leper was a part so that his offering for his cleansing is a witness against those who had treated him as an outsider. The text just isn’t clear enough to offer a definitive answer. My translation is intended to convey that the offering for his cleansing was proof that he was indeed clean, not as evidence against his opponents.

am Literally, “he.”

 

Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 6

“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19, NRSV).


To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.

Strobel’s volume has taken us on a journey beginning with skepticism (a la Michael Shermer) all the way to a consideration of the fine-tuning of the universe (a la Michael Strauss). And now we come to what is perhaps the most important miracle in all of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To discuss such a pivotal event, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace, a homicide detective turned pop-apologist.

INTERVIEW #6 – J WARNER WALLACE

Wallace is no doubt familiar to many Christians and non-Christians due to his books which include Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. His work in law-enforcement has left him with the impression that he is qualified to rigorously examine the Gospels of the New Testament to check their validity. And his claim of a youthful atheism gives him a degree of “street cred” with the apologetic community. Beginning at age thirty-five, Wallace “subjected the gospels to months of painstaking analysis through various investigative techniques, including what detectives call ‘forensic statement analysis'” (190). His investigation led him to the conclusion that “Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt” (190).

Examining the Gospels

As Strobel begins his interview with Wallace he is given a Bible that Wallace had marked up during his investigation of Christianity. “I went to the gospel of Mark,” Strobel writes, “and saw that it was thoroughly annotated” (193). According to Wallace, he used forensic statement analysis to analyze the Gospels and with regard to Mark’s Gospel he “was looking for the influence of Peter” (193). The examination of the Gospel accounts took six months and at the end Wallace concluded that “the gospels recorded true events” (193).

“But that presented a problem for me.”

“Why?”

“Because they talk about the resurrection and other miracles,” he said. “I could believe the gospels if they said Jesus ate bread, but what if they said the loaf levitated? C’mon, I couldn’t believe that. I didn’t believe miracles could happen, so I rejected them out of hand.” (193)

But Wallace was able to do away with his anti-supernaturalism by simply considering the origin of the universe and the existence of absolute moral values. With that removed, it became far easier to believe that a dead man came back to life.

Wallace notes that he tested the Gospels “through the analysis of eyewitness testimony” (196) and asserts that each of the Gospels have eyewitness testimony standing behind them in one way or another.

“There’s good evidence that John and Matthew wrote their gospels based on their eyewitness testimony as disciples of Jesus. While Luke wasn’t a witness himself, he said he ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning,’ presumably by interviewing eyewitnesses. According to Papias, who was the bishop of Hierapolis, Mark was the scribe of the apostle Peter – and my forensic analysis of Mark’s gospel bears that out.” (196)

In addition, the Gospels were all written relatively early which means they are reliable. “I’ve seen witnesses in cold cases say their memories from thirty-five years ago are like it happened yesterday – why? Because not all memories are created the same,” Wallace tells Strobel (197). We may forget some dates but others stick out more than others and that is apparently what we find recorded in the Gospels.

Strobel asks Wallace what he thinks about the discrepancies between the Gospel accounts. “[D]on’t they cast doubt on the reliability of the eyewitness testimony?” he asks (198). Wallace doesn’t think so. Rather, if they were all in absolute agreement we would have grounds for suspicion. If the Gospels “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198).

“Think of this: the early believers could have destroyed all but one of the gospels in order to eliminate any differences between them. But they didn’t. Why? Because they knew the gospels were true and that they told the story from different perspectives, emphasizing different things.” (198)

Recalling the work of Michael Licona in his book Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels?1 Strobel notes that when it comes to the various discrepancies in the Easter stories it seems that the authors are using a technique known as “literary” spotlighting whereby

an author focuses attention on a person so that the person’s involvement in a scene is clearly described, whereas mention of others who were likewise involved is neglected, the author has shined his literary spotlight on that person….In literary spotlighting, the author only mentions one of the people present but knows of the others.2

And there is also the phenomenon of “undesigned coincidences” when independent eyewitnesses offer details that explain other independent eyewitnesses. Wallace offers the calling narratives in Matthew and Luke as evidence of such a coincidence with the latter answering the question as to why Peter, Andrew, James, and John so quickly abandoned their livelihoods in the former. “When the testimony is put together,” he tells Strobel, “we get a complete picture” (201).

Wallace comes to the conclusion that the Gospels are reliable and if they are reliable then it means that Jesus must have been raised from the dead. But there are two issues that must be addressed before coming to a sure conclusion on Jesus’ resurrection: the death of Jesus and the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples. Doing away with various hypotheses of Jesus not dying upon a Roman cross, Wallace concludes that the crucifixion of Jesus and his death upon the cross is “virtually unanimously accepted” by scholars (204). He also does away with any notion that Jesus was not buried in a tomb following his death, a claim made by some scholars including historian Bart Ehrman,3 or that there was some conspiracy among the disciples to steal Jesus’ corpse or lie about it. In fact, it is surprising to Wallace that the disciples were willing to die for their belief in a resurrected Jesus.

“[T]hey had no motive to be deceitful. In fact, we have at least seven ancient sources that tell us that the  disciples were willing to suffer and even die for their conviction that they encountered the risen Jesus.” (206)

Why would they die for something they knew to be false? Of course not. “They knew the truth about what occurred,” Wallace tells Strobel, “and my experience is that people aren’t willing to suffer or die for what they know is a lie” (206). Wallace also dispels the idea that the disciples hallucinated a risen Jesus, telling Strobel that “groups don’t have hallucinations, and the earliest report of the resurrection said five hundred people saw him” (207). Furthermore, the person who was the least likely to have a hallucination of Jesus was the apostle Paul yet he records that he was the recipient of just such a visit by the risen Jesus (207).

What does this add up to for Wallace? It is all evidence against philosophical naturalism and for supernaturalism. Since “the gospels passed all the tests we use to evaluate eyewitness accounts” it forced him to believe that Jesus had indeed been raised by God from the dead (208).

“The more I understood the true nature of Jesus, the more my true nature was exposed – and I didn’t like what I saw. Being a cop had led me to lose faith in people. My heart had shriveled. To me, everyone was a liar capable of depraved behavior. I saw myself as superior to everyone else. I was cynical, cocky, and distant.” (208)

But Wallace’s faith in Jesus changed him into something altogether different.

Before ending their time together, Strobel asks a question that Michael Shermer asked him during his interview: why don’t the Jewish people accept the idea of resurrection? Wallace offers Strobel three reasons. First, they feel they are too smart for it. Second, there are emotional issues having to do with conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Finally, they are proud of their following of the Torah (209). “Humans love works-based systems because they can measure their progress and compare themselves favorably with others,” Wallace said (209). But a true investigation into the claims of Christianity reveals that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave in Wallace’s estimation. And some Jews have discovered just that (210).

Wallace’s Assumptions

It should go without saying that Wallace’s take is devoid of any serious scholarship. Wallace himself is nothing more than a pop-apologist who seems to think his experience in law enforcement has made him something of an expert on the New Testament. Consider his claim that he used “forensic statement analysis” on the Gospel of Mark (193). Forensic statement analysis examines the language a person uses to determine their proximity to an event. One law-enforcement consultant agency describes it as

a process by which a person’s own written or spoken words are scientifically analyzed to determine truth and deception. Given the opportunity a person’s words WILL betray them, in spite of their prior training, education and best efforts to avoid detection.4

But this rests on the assumption that a person is an eyewitness to something. This is simply not what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Nowhere do we ever get the impression in Mark’s Gospel that his account is either that of an eyewitness or even based upon eyewitness testimony. As Luke Timothy Johnson observes,

The current favor accorded Mark began with pioneering literary-redactional studies. They showed that Mark’s peculiar emphasis on Galilee (esp. 14:28; 15:41; 16:7) was a theological symbol. Likewise, Mark’s anachronistic use of the term “gospel,” euangelion, revealed a self-conscious awareness of the multilayered theological nature of his narrative (see 1:1, 14, 15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9). As a result, Mark’s Gospel was seen less as a direct witness to the life of Jesus or to the period of oral transmission than as a witness to the Christian communities of Mark’s day.5

We must also note the literary artistry the Markan author used when composing his Gospel. For example, we find throughout Mark intercalations or “sandwich stories” wherein the author begins a story, interrupts it with another, and finishes the story that he had begun. Such a technique “serves to create suspense and also either to contrast one narrative with another…or to interpret one narrative by another.”6 We also find chiastic patterns, triads, and much more.7 In other words, Mark is trying to tell a story. No doubt, it is a story in which he finds meaning and even truth but it is a carefully constructed story nonetheless and it cannot be considered “historical” in any modern sense of the word.

A Test Case on Eyewitness Testimony

We can put his claim that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony to the test. Consider the Markan and Johannine Passion narratives. In the Gospel of Mark, heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that Jesus had been abandoned by his followers. Not only does he predict it will happen (Mark 14:27-31) but it becomes part of the narrative itself when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (14:50-52) so that when he is crucified he is utterly alone with only his female followers “looking on from a distance” (15:40). But not so in the Gospel of John. While Jesus does predict that the disciples will desert him (John 16:32), at the crucifixion “the disciple whom he loved” is there are the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother (19:26-27). If Mark’s account is based upon Peter and John’s account on John, how could they get this all so wrong? Was Jesus all alone as in Mark or was “the disciple whom he loved” present as in John?

And on what basis does Wallace make the assertion that in Mark’s Gospel “Mark’s first and last mention of a disciple is Peter, which is an ancient bookending technique where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness” (196). Why should that be the case? All such an inclusio would suggest is that Peter plays an important role in the narrative of the Gospel, which he does. To assert that this means Peter was behind the Markan narrative is a non sequitur. It may also show Petrine importance in the Markan community, i.e. that he was a known leader of great importance. Again, there is no need to assert then that Peter is behind it all.

Gospel Discrepancies

Wallace thinks that if the Gospels had “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198). That is ironic considering that over ninety percent of Mark’s Gospel is reproduced in Matthew’s. If that isn’t collusion I don’t know what it is. But the discrepancies between the Gospel of Mark and Matthew at times reveal their two differing agendas. For example, the Markan Jesus forbids divorce (Mark 10:1-12) despite the allowances made in the Torah. But in Matthew’s redaction of Mark, there is no total prohibition of divorce but rather an exception in keeping with the Torah (Matthew 19:1-19). This is because Matthew’s Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). But the Markan Jesus, though an observant Jew, feels to free to do away with some of the Torah’s demands (see Mark 7:19) so that Gentiles need not follow the law.

What About the Resurrection?

Yet none of this means that Jesus did not rise from the grave. It does mean that getting to whatever historical event that lies behind the resurrection narratives of the Gospels requires peeling back layers of tradition and literary elements. This is what Wallace fails to appreciate or even acknowledge. The Gospels are not impassioned retellings of what really happened but rather they are stories about what those events meant. Often they are based on nothing more than a block of tradition whose origin can hardly be traced. Were they based upon an actual resurrection? Or were they based upon visions of a risen Jesus? Or both? Or neither?

Whatever the case might be, if it did happen, the resurrection of Jesus would be undoubtedly a miracle that would cause even the most ardent skeptic to sit up and take notice. Or at least it would me. Yet nothing in Strobel’s interview of Wallace gave me pause to consider that Jesus is alive.

I suppose pop-apologetics just doesn’t do it for me.

NOTES

1 Michael R. Licona, Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017).

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), 157. Ehrman writes,

The point of crucifixion was to torture and humiliate a person as fully as possible, and to show any bystanders what happens to someone who is a troublemaker in the eyes of Rome. Part of the humiliation and degradation was the body being left on the cross after death to be subject to scavenging animals.

Ehrman doubts the burial story of Jesus for a couple of other reasons as well: criminals were generally tossed into common graves and Pontius Pilate wasn’t known to be all that accommodating a prefect. See pages 160-164.

4 Forensic Statement Analysis,” law-tech.net. Accessed 6 February 2019.

5 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Kindle), third edition (Fortress Press, 2010), loc 3334.

6 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 18.

7 See ibid., 16-19.