On SJ Thomason’s Argument for Dating the Gospels Early

By and large the New Testament was written in the decades following the death of Jesus of Nazareth in 30 CE. The earliest writings came from a man by the name of Paul, a Pharisee turned Christian who traveled the Mediterranean spreading his message concerning Jesus Christ, the one who “was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3). Paul was a contemporary of Jesus but there is no evidence that the two ever met. If they had, surely Paul would have been the first to let his readers know. Rather, Paul is adamant that the source of his knowledge of the true gospel came via revelation:

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12, NRSV).

Such rhetoric is part of Paul’s apostolic persona. Whereas others like Peter and James knew Jesus and spent time with him prior to the crucifixion, Paul was not afforded that opportunity. Instead, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him “[l]ast of all, as to one untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8; cf. 9:1). But there is no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was chosen by the risen Jesus to preach the gospel: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17a).

Canonical Listings of Pauline Epistles 

Everything we know about Paul is derived from two sources: his letters and the Acts of the Apostles. The former are primary sources, that is to say that they are from Paul himself. The latter is secondary, that is to say that it is not from Paul himself. In the canonical New Testament there are thirteen letters that are attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Their order in the New Testament reflects not the order in which they were composed but their category and length. The first nine letters are letters to communities of believers (i.e. Christians in Rome, Christians in Corinth, etc.) while the final four are letters to specific individuals (i.e. Timothy, Titus, and Philemon). Within each category the letters are arranged according to length, from longest to shortest.

Pauline Epistles in the  Modern New Testament

To Communities

To Individuals

Romans (longest) 1 Timothy (longest)
1 Corinthians 2 Timothy
2 Corinthians Titus
Galatians Philemon (shortest)
Ephesians *longer than Galatians
Philippians
Colossians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians (shortest)

The ordering that we have today was, of course, not the only ordering known from Christian history. In some iterations, Galatians appears first while in others it is 1 Corinthians.

The Order of the Pauline Epistles in Canonical Lists1

Marcion

(2nd century)

Muratorian Fragment (2nd century)

Papyrus 46

(2nd century)

Galatians 1 Corinthians Romans
1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Hebrews
2 Corinthians Ephesians 1 Corinthians
Romans Philippians 2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians Colossians Ephesians
2 Thessalonians Galatians Galatians
Ephesians 1 Thessalonians Philippians
Colossians 2 Thessalonians Colossians
Philippians Romans 1 Thessalonians
Philemon Philemon
Titus
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

Noticeably absent from Marcion’s listing are the Pastoral Epistles, i.e. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. The same is true of the Pauline codex P46 where seven missing folios at the end likely contained 2 Thessalonians and perhaps Philemon but not the Pastoral Epistles.2  This has led to some speculation that certain communities did not utilize the Pastoral Epistles or consider them canonical. Yet even supposing that to be the case, it is clear that many communities did utilize the Pastoral Epistles and they are included in one of our most significant early witnesses to the New Testament: Codex Sinaiticus (א). The order of the Pauline epistles in א is what we find in our modern New Testaments.3

Pauline Authorship 

Canonical lists are useful for telling us what books were frequently in use by Christian communities and were therefore considered sacred to some degree. But this doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of the epistles themselves. What was believed about them is not indicative of the truth about them.

Without exception, each of the so-called Pauline epistles in the New Testament are attributed to the work of the apostle Paul. But we cannot take it for granted that because Paul’s name is attached to those letters that he must have written them. After all, the practice of pseudepigraphy was not uncommon even among Jewish and Christian authors. For example, the book of Daniel was almost certainly not written by a sixth century Jewish exile by that name and likely originated in the second century BCE.4 The same is true of works like the Epistle of Barnabas, a second century CE letter purportedly written by Paul’s missionary companion Barnabas. The Pauline epistles are no exception to this and scholars have divided the thirteen letters into two general categories: undisputed epistles and disputed epistles. The disputed epistles can be further divided into the Deutero-Pauline epistles and Pastoral Epistles.

The Pauline Epistles

Undisputed Epistles

Deutero-Pauline Epistles

Pastoral Epistles

Romans Ephesians 1 Timothy
1 Corinthians Colossians 2 Timothy
2 Corinthians 2 Thessalonians Titus
Galatians
Philippians
1 Thessalonians
Philemon

The undisputed epistles are generally regarded as authentic by New Testament scholars. Paul almost certainly wrote them. There is less certainty about the Deutero-Pauline Epistles since internal evidence suggests they were likely written after the death of Paul.5 The Pastoral Epistles were almost certainly not composed by Paul.6 

But if the Pastoral Epistles were not written by Paul, then who wrote them and when?

The Origin of the Pastoral Epistles

That the Pastoral Epistles depended on some kind of Pauline corpus seems certain. The author(s) of the Pastoral Epistles seems to have some level of acquaintance with the epistles of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians.7 The author(s) wanted to sound like Paul but internal evidence makes it relatively clear that they weren’t Paul.8

  • Roughly thirty percent of the vocabulary in the Pastoral Epistles does not appear anywhere else in Paul’s undisputed letters.9 For example, the only place in the entire Pauline corpus where we find the word eusebeia (i.e. “godliness”) is in the Pastoral Epistles.10
  • Vocabulary that is featured in the undisputed letters is either omitted or appears with less frequency or with a different theological meaning in the Pastoral Epistles. For example, nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles do we find any usage of euangelizō  (“to proclaim the gospel”), a verb Paul uses nineteen times in the undisputed letters.
  • In the undisputed letters, Paul seems to look favorably upon women in ministerial roles (Romans 16:1, 3, 6, 7) and affirms that in Christ “there is no longer male and female” (Galatians 3:28). However, in the Pastoral Epistles the structure of the church is almost exclusively male and women are instructed to “learn in silence” and are not permitted to teach men (1 Timothy 2:11).

But if not Paul, then who? The answer to that question may forever be out of our reach as we have virtually no clue as to who the author could have been. Undoubtedly, the author was part of a community that was favorable toward Paul and his ministry or else they would not have tried to imitate him in their writings. Beyond that we cannot be certain.

Determining when the Pastoral Epistles were written fairs a little better. When we read Paul’s undisputed letters we see virtually nothing about how churches were to be structured. It seems that those communities were far more egalitarian and that there was no set authority structure. But this is not the situation we find in the Pastoral Epistles. In fact, it is assumed that authority structures exist and “Paul” writes to address the qualifications for those who are seated in positions of power. What does this tell us? It tells us that while the undisputed letters derive from an early era of Christianity, the Pastoral Epistles are probably from a time closer to the second century.11 And since Paul died sometime in the 60s CE, he could not possibly have been their author.

Enter Pop-Apologetics

Such views are not in line with many of the standard takes in evangelical circles. This is especially true among pop-apologists for whom early dating is essential to their views on inerrancy and inspiration. For example, I was recently alerted to a tweet put out by pop-apologist SJ Thomason concerning Paul and the dating of the Gospels. She wrote,

The consensus in dating the Pauline NT books is they pre-dated his beheading in 64. Paul referenced Luke’s books in Tim. & Cor. (& Luke omitted the martyrdoms of Peter, James & Paul & the fall of the temple), so Luke pre-dated Paul. Luke referenced Mark’s book, so Mark is earlier.12

It should go without saying that people who have been beheaded cannot compose literature of any kind and so the “consensus” is simply common sense. But there is a hidden assumption in what Thomason has written, namely that all of the canonical Pauline epistles were written by Paul. As I briefly discussed above, this is not the consensus view and of the two Pauline epistles Thomason mentions only 1 Corinthians is deemed authentic by virtually all New Testament scholars.

So to what is Thomason referring when she claims that “Paul referenced Luke’s books in Tim. & Cor.”? Paul refers to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, a passage that shares many similarities with the Lukan version of the event (Luke 22:14-23). It is possible that Paul was using Luke’s Gospel as his source for his words but he asserts that he received the instructions “from the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:23) and not from a written source. Furthermore, it appears that Paul had already handed these instructions down to the Corinthians and was simply reiterating them in his epistle. It is more likely that the Lukan text was influenced by Paul rather than vice versa.

But what about her reference to Timothy? Well, in 1 Timothy 5:18 we read of two sayings. The first is from the Torah: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (cf. Deuteronomy 25:4). The second is found nowhere else but the Gospel of Luke: “The laborer deserves his to be paid” (cf. Luke 10:7). This tells us that whoever wrote 1 Timothy had the Gospel of Luke in his mind. And since Thomason’s assumption is that 1 Timothy was written by Paul then it must be the case that Luke’s Gospel was written before Paul wrote 1 Timothy. And since Luke’s Gospel was dependent upon Mark’s Gospel then Mark’s Gospel was written before that. And since Thomason believes in Matthean priority,13 then Matthew’s Gospel would have come before Mark’s Gospel. Therefore, these writings are all attested to be very early.

However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, the saying of Deuteronomy 25:4 that we find in 1 Timothy 5:18 is not the only place where Paul cites that specific saying. In 1 Corinthians 9:9 we find it as well: “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” In context, Paul is explaining that he and his fellow laborers like Barnabas have the right to expect compensation for their work for the gospel. Paul wrote,

Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?

Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law of Moses say the same. For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more? (1 Corinthians 9:7-12a)

Of course, Paul refuses such compensation on the grounds that he does not want to “put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12b). Regardless, it is odd that Paul, having employed the passage of Deuteronomy both here and in 1 Timothy 5:18, fails to employ the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke. The rhetorical effect of adding the Lukan Jesus’ saying here in the context of 1 Corinthians would have served to emphasize all the more Paul’s desire to keep obstacles out of the way of the gospel. For if even Jesus himself stated that those who labor deserve to be paid then Paul would be demonstrating how much he cares for his integrity of his gospel ministry that he would be willing to not enjoy such compensation.

Second, Thomason speaks of the “consensus” view of the dating of the Pauline epistles but flatly ignores the consensus view concerning the origin of the Gospels themselves. Far-and-away the consensus position is that of Markan priority: Mark composed his Gospel first and both Matthew and Luke relied on Mark’s Gospel when composing their own.

Slide1

And the consensus view of New Testament scholars concerning when the Gospel of Mark was written is sometime during the Jewish War (66-73 CE), likely after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This means that both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written after 70 CE, perhaps in the 80s or as late the early second century.14

But what about the lack of any mention of the death of Peter or Paul or of the destruction of the Temple? Aren’t these indicative of a date before 70 CE? In reality, this is a red herring as we would not expect an author, writing about a specific period, to write explicitly about events not in his purview. Thomason has indicated in another tweet that she accepts a date of 90 CE for the writing of the Gospel of John yet it never mentions Peter’s or Paul’s death or the destruction of the temple in explicit terms.15 If the lack of such elements is a sign of pre-70 authorship, then surely the Gospel of John was written before 70 CE. Yet few New Testament scholars – evangelical or otherwise – accept such reasoning. Apparently, neither does Thomason.

Conclusion

It seems Thomason’s attempt at dating the Gospels early based upon Pauline literature fails. The epistle of 1 Timothy was likely composed after Paul had already been killed and thus cannot be used as evidence that Paul knew of the Gospel of Luke. Nor is the reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 evidence of dependence upon Luke as it is more likely that the Lukan text knew of the Pauline rather than vice versa. The consensus view among New Testament scholars is that of Markan priority and the consensus view of the date of the Markan Gospel is that it was likely composed sometime just before or just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Acknowledgment: Twitter user @towerofbabull first alerted me to Thomason’s tweet and requested I write an article in response. That they would ask me to do so is very humbling and I appreciate the confidence that they place in my work.

NOTES

1 Adapted from Arthur G. Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon, second edition (IVP Academic, 2011), 251.

2 Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (OUP, 1981), 64.

3 With the exception of the epistle to the Hebrews which in א appears after Romans and before 1 Corinthians. This was due to an early belief that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, despite its anonymous nature. In modern New Testaments it appears at the end of the Pauline collection as the first of the Catholic Epistles.

4 See Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1” (12.2.18),  amateurexegete.com.

5 See Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 438-448.

6 See Ehrman, 449-452.

7 Gerd Theissen, The New Testament: A Literary History (Fortress Press, 2012), 96-97.

8 Calvin J. Roetzel, The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context, fifth edition (WJK, 2009), 159-162.

9 Roetzel, 160.

10 See Amateur Exegete, “The Mystery τῆς εὐσεβείας” (4.8.18), amateurexegete.com

11 Ehrman writes, “The clerical structure of [the Pastoral Epistles] appears far removed from what we find in the letters of Paul, but it is closely aligned with what we find in proto-orthodox authors [i.e. Ignatius, Irenaeus, etc.] of the second century.” Ehrman, 456.

12

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 6.06.31 AM

14 SJ Thomason, “Was Mark or Matthew the First to Write the Gospel?” (3.3.18), christian-apologist.com. Accessed 28 December 2018.

15 See Marcus J. Borg, Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written (HarperOne, 2012), 424-426.

16

Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 2.18.05 PM

It should be noted that it is not the case that “[m]ost Bible experts agree apostle John” wrote the Gospel that bears his name. Scholars aren’t sure who wrote it but it seems very unlikely that it was a disciple of Jesus.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 12.21.18

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to my readers. I’ll see you in 2019!

  • On December 31st I will have completed reading the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha in the NRSV. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read through the Bible cover-to-cover but I can now say I’ve read through the entire NRSV! In 2019 I plan to read through the Torah and with it the study notes in the HarperCollins Study Bible. To that end, I created a plan which you can download and use if you want to read through the first five books of the Hebrew Bible too. It ends up being about half a chapter per day, a very manageable amount. Or if you want to read through the whole Bible in a year, here’s the plan I used in 2018.
  • Over at his blog The Dishonesty of Apologetics, Twitter user and blogger @Elishabenabuya has written a post on the so-called messianic prophecy found in Micah 5:2. What he shows in his blog is that the words of Micah weren’t referring to Bethlehem but to one whose lineage could be traced to Bethlehem. So then the Gospel of Matthew’s use of it as a prooftext for the messianic birthplace of Jesus is nothing more than a misreading of the text, at least as far as the MT goes. The LXX of Micah 5:2 is similar to what we find in Matthew 2:6 but even then it has its differences.
  • I am in my Greek New Testament regularly but I’m always on the lookout for reading aids and good resources to keep my knowledge of Koine Greek alive and well. One resource I found recently is the Daily Dose of Greek app which goes through a verse of the New Testament in just a couple of minutes. The app features the work of Rob Plummer, a professor New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has gone through many verses but most crucial to me is his series on Mark’s Gospel which I plan on going through in 2019.
  • Six years ago Matthew Ferguson, a PhD student in Classics at UC Irvine, posted a piece onto his blog that briefly explains why the oft-cited claim that the New Testament has a mountain of manuscripts supporting its authenticity is not all that impressive. As he shows, it has to do with context, a word that creates a sense of horror in a pop-apologist.
  • Scott Noegel, professor of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, wrote a short piece for the website Bible Odyssey on Pharaoh. When we read biblical texts we frequently see that the Egyptian king is often unnamed (i.e. in Genesis and Exodus). Since these texts were written long after the events they describe, the biblical authors may not have known the Pharaoh’s name and therefore could not supply it. And as Noegel points out, it is also apparent that in Genesis and Exodus the authors were less interested in precise historical detail than they were in “casting [Pharaoh] as a literary type,” particularly in his godlike role in Egyptian politics and religion. He thus functions as “the antithesis to Israelite religion and the quintessential enemy of Israel.” Noegel’s is a short but excellent summary of Pharoah.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: Will a Sign Be Given?

Following the feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10), the Pharisees confront Jesus and begin “asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him” (8:11). The sign would serve as divine verification of his messianic ministry. Yet Jesus is a bit flustered. We are told that “he sighed deeply in his spirit,” a phrase that suggests a deep emotional response to their demands.1 Jesus then replies, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign with be given to this generation” (8:12). He then gets into his boat and leaves for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

There are a number of questions to be asked. First and foremost in my mind is, Why was Jesus not willing to give “this generation” a sign? Some of it may have to do with the types of signs (Greek, sēmeion) mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. In chapter thirteen there are two types of signs: those signs meant to vindicate messianic pretenders (13:22) and apocalyptic signs from God (13:2-4).2 The Pharisees wanted Jesus to produce “a sign from heaven,” that is, a sign from God. But Jesus isn’t God in Mark and so he cannot produce such a sign. That is wholly up to God. So Jesus tells them that “no sign will be given,” at least not from him.

Matthew’s Version

In Matthew’s version of this encounter things are a bit different. Instead of just the Pharisees coming to Jesus, it is both the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:1) who ask Jesus for a sign from heaven. And Matthew never mentions Jesus’ emotional response like what we say in Mark 8:12 (i.e. “he sighed deeply in his spirit”). Plus, the Matthean Jesus inserts a proverb with which many of us are familiar (16:2-3):

Red sky at night, sailors delight!
Red sky at morn’, sailors be warned!

You don’t find that in Mark’s version.

But most interesting is what Jesus says in 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Recall that in Mark Jesus tells the Pharisees that “no sign will be given,” period. But Matthew’s version has Jesus telling them that the only sign that will be given is “the sign of Jonah.” To what is that referring?

In Matthew 12:38-42 Jesus is approached by the scribes and Pharisees who ask him for a sign (12:38). Jesus tells them there that “no sign will be given…except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (12:39). Jesus goes on to explain that sign: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (12:40). So “the sign of Jonah” is essentially that Jesus would die and be resurrected after three days. And since it is God who is doing the action, it is indeed a “sign from heaven” (16:1).

It should go without saying that “the sign of Jonah” appears nowhere in the Gospel of Mark. The first time Jesus mentions his earthly fate doesn’t come until Mark 8:31 after the Pharisees come and demand Jesus produce a sign as well as the confession of Jesus’ messiahship in 8:27-30. Up to that point in Mark, Jesus’ death and resurrection were known only to the readers of the Gospel. But not so in Matthew’s Gospel. Before the important confession of Jesus’ messiaship in Matthew 16:13:20, Jesus had already made known his fate when the scribes and Pharisees first asked him to produce a sign in 12:38. What was unknown to the characters in Mark has been known for some time in Matthew.

But why? Why is Matthew intent on changing Mark in this way? That is perhaps a more difficult question to answer. It may have something to do with who Jesus is in Matthew versus who he is in Mark. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a veritable nobody from nowhere. He has no impressive lineage or back story. He doesn’t even become the Messiah until his baptism! But not so in Matthew. In Matthew, Jesus is born in Bethlehem, David’s hometown. He is visited by wise men who give him costly gifts. Thus long before his baptism, Jesus is obviously different. In Matthew, Jesus’ messianic sonship is declared to all who are witnessing his baptism whereas in Mark it is directed at Jesus specifically.

So then maybe Matthew alters Mark because he wants to make it clear that Jesus’ death and resurrection was a sign to the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Perhaps Matthew’s historical circumstances made it so he didn’t want to give the religious authorities an “out” in their treatment of Jesus. They knew all along and therefore are accountable for their actions in condemning their messiah to death. Whatever the reason, there is a stark difference between the Markan and Matthean versions of this pericope. In the former, no sign was going to be given; in the latter, only the sign of Jonah would be.

Interesting to say the least.

NOTES

1 The Greek participle anastenaxas is from anastenazō, a word that implies groaning. This is the only appearance of anastenazō in the entire New Testament. However, stenazō appears in Mark 7:34.

2 Mary Anne Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2011), 129.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 3

“God wants us to stop obsessing about the future and trust that He holds the future. We should put aside the passivity and the perfectionism and the question for perfect fulfillment and get on with our lives. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”

– Kevin DeYoung1


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

In part two of the introduction to the series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed my adolescence and my budding interest in topics related to Christian apologetics. I also mentioned that after reading various apologetic literature I had reached a point where I needed to decide what I was to make of Jesus. Was he a mere man or was there something more to him?

Under Attack

The nail in the coffin was the resurrection of Jesus. I could not shake the feeling that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried was empty. And I did not think it was empty because the disciples stole the body or because Jesus had not really died or that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb. The only other option was that God had raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating Jesus’ ministry and his redeeming death. And if Jesus was alive then all that was said about him in the Bible must be true. I had no other choice than to rededicate my life to Jesus and spend more time in my King James Bible.

But something happened not long after I made this decision that confirmed to me that I made the right choice. Though the details are fuzzy and my memory of this event has been colored by the intervening years, during the late spring or early summer of my seventeenth year something very weird happened. It was early in the morning, before sunrise, when I started to awake from a dream. I opened my eyes but immediately perceived that I could not move. I could use my peripheral vision to see my desk to the right of me but beyond that I was entirely paralyzed. And then I heard screaming from what sounded like a woman. But it wasn’t far off, perhaps down the street or even in another room of the house. Rather, it seemed like it was right in my ear.

I could feel my heart racing, terrified because I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. As the screaming continued and I struggled to move, I began to pray and recite the many Bible verses I had memorized since I was a young child. Then the screaming faded away and I was able to move. As I reflected on the experience I came to the conclusion that this must have been a demonic attack, no doubt the consequence of my newfound committment to Jesus. This was confirmation that I was on the right track and that the forces of evil were trying to dissuade me.

A Call to Ministry

I began to spend more and more time with the teenagers of my church and gradually emerged as their leader. Though many of us continued to play basketball together regularly, our focus began to shift to more spiritual things. We began talking about forming a youth group that could meet weekly for fun and fellowship. Since I had become the de facto leader of our group, it was my burden to present the idea to our church’s pastor. But I was reluctant to do so for reasons that still are not entirely clear to me. So I spoke with my dad about the issue and the reason that I and my friends believed our church needed to form a youth group. He urged me to speak to our pastor and told me something that has stuck with me for the past two decades: “If you see a problem that needs to be fixed then you are the one that has been called to fix it.” With that a couple of my friends, my dad, and I met with the pastor and we discussed the formation of a youth group for our church. Within a month, we had our first meeting.

But there was a problem: we had no youth pastor to lead us. While our pastor volunteered his time to help us, we knew that he had too many obligations to commit to us like we needed. A couple of adults, including my dad, volunteered to help oversee the group but few of them were teachers that could devote time and energy to minister to us. We needed structure and clear leadership. So the teenagers decided that we would choose our own leaders. There would be a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary for the group. These leaders would be elected by the teenagers every year.

Our first election was held and I was elected president. I began to teach regularly in our meetings and still have some of the manuscripts of my talks/sermons which included titles like “What Ever Happened to Hell?” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “What Manner of Man is This?” and more. I soon came to realize that preaching was my passion and that I loved talking about and explaining the Bible to my friends. And after hearing from evangelists who had come through our church for their annual week-long meetings, I felt the call to become an itinerant preacher.

Street Preaching 

One of the ways in which I tested that calling was participating in street preaching that our church conducted in the nearby town of Oswego on Saturday mornings. Just down the street from local Roman Catholic Church, I and some of the men in our church would go and preach from the Bible to the cars and people passing by. We handed out Gospel tracts, including the comic book style Chick tracts. And periodically we would “lead someone to the Lord,” to use the vernacular.

Street preaching was not without its difficulties. We were cursed at frequently and on at least one occasion one of the men in our group was arrested. But nevertheless, we continued to appear at the corner every Saturday that we could to do what we thought was the right thing to do: warn people of the danger of not believing in Jesus.

Visiting Pensacola

At this time I was in my senior year of high school and I was starting to think about what I would do with my life following graduation. I had a deep interest in United States history and had considered becoming a history major at a local SUNY school. But I also felt a calling to become an evangelist and preach the gospel around the country. I had thought about attending school at Peter Ruckman’s Pensacola Bible Institute but needed to visit. Some of my friends were also considering PBI for ministry training. So in January of 2001, my pastor and his wife volunteered to take a few of us to Pensacola, FL to participate in Ruckman’s “Bad Attitude Baptist Blowout” and to visit the night classes he and his staff conducted at PBI.

Scan

Me taking a picture of a friend while hanging outside a motel in Pensacola (Jan 2001).

The trip down to Pensacola took a few days since we drove in the pastor’s van.  When we got there we saw some of the sites like the aviation museum and spent some time near the beach. Before the Blowout began we sat in on some of Ruckman’s classes at PBI and visited with our own church members who had begun attending PBI recently to see how they liked it. We also visited Ruckman’s bookstore which housed a variety of resources in defense of KJV-Onlyism. My parents had also purchased for me a wide-margin, leatherbound edition of the Scofield Reference Bible which was then signed by Ruckman himself. I picked it up to take it back home while I was there.

Since the Blowout meetings took place during the evening, we had our days free to do whatever we wanted. On one day the pastor’s wife had arranged for us to tour the campus of Pensacola Christian College, a conservative, dispensational TR/KJV-Only school that was not affiliated with Ruckman or PBI. I can remember thinking just how impressive the campus was. They had large cafeterias, a bowling alley, huge dorms, and more. I also found out that one of the majors available was Evangelism. While I didn’t prefer their brand of TR/KJV-Onlyism (who needs the Greek when you have the English?), I decided that PCC was where God wanted me to attend school after graduation. When I returned home I told my parents I wanted to apply to get into PCC. So I did, was accepted, and began planning to make my way back to Pensacola for the 2001 Fall semester.

Next Time

In the next post I’ll get into my experiences at Pensacola Christian College as well as my own growing understanding of God and of the Bible.

NOTES

1 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Moody Publishers, 2009), 63.

The Weekly Roundup – 12.14.18

“I think we have to allow that John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels in this fundamental respect: it is not an attempt to remember the historical Jesus; it is an attempt to restate the significance of the historical Jesus from a later theological vantage point, shaped in particular by a bitter controversy with the Jews.”
– Andrew Perriman.


  • While cooking dinner the other night I was able to get caught up on @StudyofChrist’s series on the Lukan genealogy. In three videos he covered the issue of Arni and Admin (Luke 3:33), the problem of patriarchal names (i.e. Simeon, Judah, Joseph; 3:29-30), and the identification of Neri and Rhesa (3:27). I love the fact that @StudyofChrist is more than willing to buck the scholarly trend if he finds their arguments lacking. This tells me he is thinking through what he’s talking about rather than just parroting what he’s read. Follow him on Twitter and subscribe to his channel!
  • Over at The Daily Beast, biblical scholar Candida Moss has written a short piece asking the question, “Did Christian Historians Exaggerate Persecution by the Romans?” In it she examines the claim by Eusebius that Christians were sent to mine in Phaeno, a city in the southern Levant, and that while there many were killed for their faith. Recent archaeological evidence done by anthropologist Megan Perry suggests that this probably wasn’t the case. In all likelihood, this is yet another example of Christians exaggerating the ways in which Rome persecuted the faithful.
  • I don’t post to it at all and I really should because the Biblical Studies Carnival is a fantastic monthly resource that offers links to a variety of material from many different biblical scholars covering topics related to the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and more. The November 2018 Carnival was put together by Bob MacDonald, a software engineer with a passion for biblical studies, particularly the Hebrew scriptures. There are some really great links in MacDonald’s Carnival but two stood out to me: Andrew Perriman’s “Why did the Jews accuse Jesus of making himself equal to God?” and a new translation of the books of 1-2 Samuel by William Whitt (which you can download as a PDF).
  • In searching for free resources related to biblical studies for my iPad I came across some that are pretty darn useful. One of them is an app called “Greek Kit” that can create a list of all the Greek words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. – that appear in a section of the Greek New Testament and give you a complete run down of each with their meaning. And if you’d rather not have all the words, you can select by type (i.e. 1st declension nouns or contract verbs or particles) and by frequency (ranging from all words to those that appear only two times). Some features of the app are locked and are only available by purchase but this basic feature is helpful because you can take the list of words and then select “Review” and it will go through each word in a slideshow. Beginning students of New Testament Greek can benefit from this tool as would seasoned veterans.
  • (Print-Only): The December 2018 issue of American History featured a fantastic article on George Washington entitled “Don’t Print the Legend” by Peter Henriques of George Mason University. We are all familiar with the myths that have developed around Washington: the chopping down of the cherry tree, the prayer at Valley Forge, and so on. But these are myths about Washington that have no basis in solid evidence.For example, the story of a young Washington chopping down the cherry tree and fessing up to his inquiring father was first told by Parson Mason Locke Weems in his sixth edition of The Life of Washington. Evangelical historian Peter Lillback, in a bid to rescue the story from the claims of skeptical historians, wrote in his biography of Washington entitled Sacred Fire that a German-made vase which appeared at some point during the American Revolution showed Washington as a young boy holding a hatchet next to a tree with the initials “GW” nearby. However, Henriques followed up and found the vase and it doesn’t say “GW” but “CW.” And the individual painted on the vase is a man, not a boy, and the tree isn’t even a cherry tree! Henriques writes, “In short, this container has absolutely nothing to do with George Washington.”As a side note, I met Lillback in 2010 or 2011 when he was at a Presbytery meeting in Mississippi for the Presbyterian domination wherein I served as a youth pastor. His book on Washington was on sale at the meeting but I never had any desire to pick it up. By that time I had long been disabused of my David Barton informed beliefs about the Founding Fathers. If memory serves, he gave a brief talk at the meeting but I wasn’t all that impressed.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Shaily Patel: Queer Criticism

Shaily Patel, “Excursus: Methods of Ideological Criticism,” in Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 193.

Like feminist criticism, queer criticism is a way of reading the New Testament that contests certain norms depicted in the text, especially those that privilege heterosexuality and fixed gender roles. Queer criticism analyzes how these norms are established and maintained both in the biblical text and in modern scholarship. Those who use queer criticism question the use of the biblical text to privilege heteronormativity (i.e., the position that only heterosexuality is normal and valid.