Tag Archives: New Testament

Should the Gospel of Thomas be included in the New Testament?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

I was on a long distance drive Monday night. I finished listening to “God’s Crime Scene”, and started “The Case for the Real Jesus”. Craig Evans’ discussion about the Gospel of Thomas stuck in my mind, so I’m turning it into a post.

Should the Gospel of Thomas be included with the four canonical gospels? Is it early? Is it the same historical genre as the four gospels? Does it give us eyewitness evidence of the life and teachings of Jesus?

Here’s an article about it that references the chapter from “The Case for the Real Jesus” that I was listening to.

First reason, Thomas has literary dependence on TONS of other New Testament books, which favors a date for Thomas AFTER the books it quotes:

The Gospel of Thomas Cites Too Much Of The New Testament. Publishing writings in the first century was nothing like it is today. If you want a copy of something, you take a quill and some papyrus and you just copy it. That is how the books of the New Testament circulated. It was a very slow process. By the early second century, only a few of the books of the New Testament were in full circulation. Christians of that time only had a few of the books of the New Testament to reference. The epistles of Ignatious, written in AD 110, does not even quote half of the New Testament.

But the gospel of Thomas shows familiarity with 15 of the 27 books of the New Testament! Doctor Craig Evans pointed out that he was not aware of any Christian writing which referenced this much of the New Testament prior to AD 150. The Gospel of Thomas simply references far too many books to be dated early. But despite that, the Jesus Seminar attempts to date Thomas between AD 60 and 70.

Further, this gospel not only cites too much New Testament material. It cites the later New Testament material. Mark was not very strong in Greek grammar and etiquette, so when Matthew and Luke quoted Mark, they polished his wording. The gospel of Thomas quotes the polished wording, the later version. In fact, Thomas even has material from the gospel of John – penned in about AD 90. How can a book from AD 60 or 70 quote a book from AD 90? Thomas is not independent of the other gospels, it quotes the later ones and it is not early, it quotes too much of the New Testament to be considered early.

Second reason, Thomas shows signs of being based on a Syriac translation:

The Gospel of Thomas Shows Syrian Development. The gospels are published in the Koine Greek language, which was the most conventiant language of that time if the goal was to spread them far and wide. But when Christianity began to spread eastward, the gospels were translated into Syriac. But this did not happen immediately.

A student of Justin Martyr named Tatian compiled a Syriac translation of the four gospels in AD 175, which was named the Diatessaron (meaning ‘through the four’). He made the four gospels available to those who spoke Syriac. What makes this significant is that the gospel of Thomas shows traces of the Syrian language forms! Indeed, the gospel of Thomas adopts concepts that were only found in the Syrian church. It refers to Thomas as Judas Thomas, which was a concept that began with the Syrian church. The Syrians did not like ascetics, wealth, businessmen, commercialism, and were interested in elitism and mysticism. Precisely everything that the Syrians were not interested in, the gospel of Thomas was not interested in, and that which they were interested in, the gospel of Thomas was interested in.

Further, and critically, if we read the gospel of Thomas in English, it sort of looks like a non-contextual group of proverbs and sayings. It is just randomly assorted. It appears randomly assorted in Koine Greek as well. But if you translate it to Syrian, it is not random at all. There are literally hundreds of catchwords in Syrian that are meant to help people memorize the gospel. There are memory aids written in Syrian. The gospel of Thomas was written in Syrian.

Two other reasons would be:

  • it contains gnostic overtones, and that movement started in the 2nd century
  • none of the early Church Fathers quote it, but they quote the four gospels and the letters of Paul, etc.

Not sure why people get so interested in this Dan Brown hypothetical stuff, but my job is to share with you the things I’m reading that are relevant. By the way, the audio versions of the unabridged “Case For” books are read by Lee Strobel himself – HIGHLY recommended. You will not lose interest.

How do you explain the gospel to a non-Christian in two minutes?

Bible study that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

Here’s my attempt, then we’ll see an expert do it.

I hope that everyone who reads my blog is passionate about the gospel and understands it enough to explain it to others. It is so practical, you can see the need for it immediately when you talk to people in any detail. People are in rebellion against God. We want to seek our own happiness from rational constraints, moral constraints, judgments and feelings of shame. We want to not have to care what other people think of us (unless they agree), and this goes double for the God of the universe. This is literally infuriating to God, since he is the one who gives us so many blessings. It is proper for us to to recognize and respect him in our decision making – even if we find his greatness offensive to our pride. Instead of respecting God, we attribute the blessings to blind luck. We refuse to acknowledge God in our decision-making, and not just in moral issues but in everything we do. This is just astonishing ingratitude, and for this we deserve to be punished. However, God has given us a way to be reconciled with him, by allowing his own Son to be punished in our place. This punishment of Jesus pays the debt that we owe to God for our rebellion against him. If we acknowledge this sacrifice by Jesus, and put him in place as our leader and mentor, then God will forgive us and we will be reconciled with Him. And so, a relationship with God can begin, and it lasts forever. That is the gospel.

Here is famous evangelist Ravi Zacharias explaining the gospel in two minutes:

For those who don’t want to watch the video, here’s a good thought about the gospel from J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me.

Excerpt:

A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.

But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.

The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.

I think it’s very important to get all of this clear, and nothing makes it clearer than when you get to know a non-Christian and really hear their reasons for not looking into whether God exists. Ask them what they think life is really about, and what motivates them, and see where God is in it. I think we get confused by non-Christians because they can sometimes be very nice to other people. But the real standard is whether people recognize and acknowledge God as he really is, and respond to him in a relationship.

Walter Bradley asks: what is religion really supposed to be about?

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is based on the book “Truth in Religion” by famous philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. At the time of writing the book, he was not a Christian, but there is still a lot of value in the book for Christians who are trying to understand what religion should really be about.

About the speaker

The speaker is one of my top 3 favorite speakers of all time in Christian apologetics, Dr. Walter Bradley. (The other two are Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Michael Strauss)

Here’s a biography:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

You can read more about his recent research on how to use coconuts to make car parts in this article from Science Daily.

The MP3 file is here. (31 minutes + Q&A)

Topics:

  • what is pluralism?
  • what is multiculturalism?
  • what is relativism?
  • some propositions are true culturally – just for certain groups in certain times (cultures)
  • some proposition are true trans-culturally – true independently of what anyone wants or feels
  • Mathematical truth is trans-cultural – it is true regardless of cultural fashions
  • Scientific truth is trans-cultural – it is true regardless of cultural fashions
  • Some truths are not like this – cooking traditions, clothing traditions and greeting traditions
  • These kinds of truths are NOT trans-cultural, they vary by culture
  • The question is – is religion true like math and science, or true depending on the culture
  • Some people think that your religion depends on where you were born or what your family believes
  • Religions make conflicting claims about the way the world really is, so they can’t all be true
  • And these conflicts are at the core of the religions – who God is, how can we be related to him, etc.
  • So if religions convey trans-cultural truth, then either one is true or none are true
  • If they are not trying to convey trans-cultural truth, then they are not like math and science
  • Let’s assume that religion is the same as trans-cultural truth
  • How can we know which religion is true? 1) the laws of logic, 2) empirical testing against reality
  • Logical consistency is needed to make the first cut – self-contradictory claims cannot be true
  • To be true trans-culturally, a proposition must at least NOT break the law of non-contradiction
  • According to Mortimer Adler’s book, only Christianity, Judaism and Islam are not self-contradictory
  • All the others can be excluded on the basis of overt internal contradictions on fundamental questions
  • The others that are self-contradictory can be true culturally, but not trans-culturally
  • The way to proceed forward is to test the three non-contradictory religions against science and history
  • One of these three may be true, or they could all be false
  • We can test the three by evaluating their conflicting truth claims about the historical Jesus
  • Famous skeptics have undertaken studies to undermine the historical Jesus presented in the Bible
  • Lew Wallace, Simon Greenleaf and Frank Morrison assessed the evidence as atheists and became Christians
  • There is a lot of opposition in culture to the idea that one religion might be true
  • But if you take the claims of Jesus at face value, he claims to be the unique revelation of God to mankind
  • Either he was telling the truth about that, or he was lying, or he was crazy
  • So which is it?

Why don’t religious people ask if their religion is true?

People seem to be chicken these days about claiming that their religion is true. It’s easier to say that my religion is true for me, and your religion is true for you – reduce it to personal preferences. So long as everyone is sincere about what they believe, then that’s the most important thing, right?

But it is NOT TRUE that you can believe whatever you want as long as you are sincere – sincerity doesn’t mean that you can’t be mistaken. I can jump off the top of the Sears Tower and be sincere in my belief that I will float down like a feather, but that doesn’t make my belief true. If you want to have a good relationship with God, you have to know things about him, not just have sincere beliefs. You have to know whether he exists and what he is like – really. It’s not enough to have sincere beliefs that are not actually true.

I think that God’s existence and character can be assessed and known based on logic and evidence. I think that God exists independently of whether I want him to or not, and I think that his character and desires are not the same as my character and desires. And I don’t really care what my neighbors think of my disagreeing with them, my goal is not to keep silent and to just get along with them and be happier in my community.

God’s first commandment to us is not to love our neighbor – that’s number two. Number one is to love him. And how can we love him, if we don’t want to know him. And how can we love him, if we don’t tell people the truth about him when they ask us?

That message is not going to win us a lot of friends, but our job as Christians is to tell how and why God stepped into history. Jesus expects us to be his ambassadors and to carry out the task of evangelism faithfully, and to suffer with him and – if necessary – to be rejected like he was rejected.

Where to get help if you have a selfish, absent or abusive mother or father

Practice that makes perfect
Theology that hits the spot

Normally in my 6 PM post I like to write about something related to apologetics, because that’s when people are done with their work and have time to think about the big questions. Today, I want to say something this article about lambs in Scotland, written by Sheila Walsh in the The Stream.

She writes:

I am very fond of sheep. I grew up on the west coast of Scotland with sheep all around me, field after field of white wool and incessant crying when things seemed a little off.

[…]Of all the lessons I have learned from these defenseless, gentle animals, the most profound is the most painful. Every now and then, a ewe will give birth to a lamb and immediately reject it. Sometimes the lamb is rejected because they are one of twins and the mother doesn’t have enough milk or she is old and frankly quite tired of the whole business. They call those lambs, bummer lambs.

Unless the shepherd intervenes, that lamb will die. So the shepherd will take that little lost one into his home and hand feed it from a bottle and keep it warm by the fire. He will wrap it up warm and hold it close enough to hear a heartbeat. When the lamb is strong the shepherd will place it back in the field with the rest of the flock.

“Off you go now, you can do this, I’m right here.”

The most beautiful sight to see is when the shepherd approaches his flock in the morning and calls them out, “Sheep, sheep, sheep!”

The first to run to him are the bummer lambs because they know his voice. It’s not that they are more loved — it’s just that they believe it.

I am so grateful that Christ calls himself the Good Shepherd.

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4 NLT)

My older brother and I grew up with a mother who was very much focused on her career and earning and saving money for her retirement. We were both stuck in daycare very early after being born, so that she could go back to work right away. My older brother has shown the ill effects of our parents (especially our mother) not having any plan for us, especially morally and spiritually. He dropped out of college after failing his first year, never had a career. Although he has normal intelligence and mental health, he never could stick in any real job.

Although there were early warning signs when his grades started to drop in Grade 5, my parents never took responsibility to make a plan to solve it. Oh, they would yell and scream at him at report card time, but just for a day or two, and after that, nothing constructive. My brother decided that he could just ride out the flak my parents gave him on report card night, and keep going with his plan of having fun and being popular. My parents just forgot about it until the next report card day, because they did not want to be distracted from their careers, hobbies and retirement planning.

I had the exact same upbringing as my older brother. He actually did pretty well until Grade 5 just like me, but then our paths diverged. From Grade 5 on, his grades deterioriated. He got tired of having to study and he was more interested in the opinions of his peers and conforming to pop culture. In my case, from Grade 5 on, my grades were always high-90s. I remember taking the same classes as he did, in the same high school, with the same teachers. He got a 44 in data processing, I got a 96 with the same teacher and won the award for the entire grade. Every class I went to, the teachers would speak fondly of my older brother – he was a nice guy, very popular with his peers, good at sports, but not a very good student. How was it that I was winning awards when he had scored so poorly. Was I really his brother? How could we be so different?

The difference is that in Grade 5, he got a Gideon’s New Testament and he read it and he didn’t put it into practice, and in Grade 5, I got a Gideon’s New Testament and I read it twice and I did put it into practice. That was the difference. I had the awareness of the moral law (i.e.- wisdom) that allowed me to judge my parents and judge my peers and judge my teachers and stand alone. When you cannot rely on anyone to lead you, judging others is critical. That is what allows you to maintain appropriate boundaries and minimize the influence of friends and family who do not have any plan to grow you. Awareness of the moral law is what allows you to stop trying to please people who do not want what is best for you. On the other hand, God is always willing to give you wisdom, and you can find out all about him because he has left plenty of evidence concerning his existence and character for you to find. It is in knowing God as he really is that you can find your sense of value, purpose and meaning.

For me, Christianity was a simple matter of being willing to go along with what was true, and not insisting having fun or conforming to peer expectations. The essential characteristic of my faith, in contrast to my older brother’s lack of faith, was this – I did not mind being different, so long as I never lost a debate about what was true. My obedience to Christ has never been conditional on things going my way, on being liked, or anything like that. The only thing that mattered was being factually correct. It never bothered me what other people were doing, or what other people expected me to do, so long as as I was acting on what I knew to be true. And God helped me to find out what was true my motivating me to study, and leading me to him with good evidence, and good mentors.

How has this affected me? Well, this is the second thing I wanted to say about the bummer lamb analogy. Since I was a victim of this hands-off, me-first style of parenting, it’s caused me to be extra sensitive about being a good spiritual leader to others in the same predicament.The people I mentor can see it in the way that I treat them the exact opposite of the way that my older brother and I were treated. I care what people read. I care what courses they choose. I care what they eat. I care how they feel. I care about their finances. I care about their plans to serve God. I care about their romantic relationships. I care whether they get recognition for doing good. I care whether their life is going in the right direction. One person I mentored who once considered taking her own life wrote to me when she graduated from a STEM program, and she said this: “I wish you could have been here at my graduation. My parents only paid for this degree. You were the one who got me through it”. We have never met in person, but she is going to continue to make a huge difference for Christ and His Kingdom going forward.

I think when you have been a bummer lamb, you are extra careful to make decisions that will enable you to be a good shepherd to other lambs. Being a good shepherd does not mean being pious, spiritual, mystical, etc. Being a good shepherd does not mean making the lambs feel good about making bad decisions. Being a good shepherd means understanding what God has done to lead you, and then reflecting that love back to others in practical, self-sacrificial actions that solve actual real-world problems for other people who want to know and serve God. If you are about to jump off a cliff, the last thing you need is someone with no wisdom or experience telling you that God is OK with you doing whatever feels good to you. What you need is someone practical and competent to give you good advice, however much that advice may make you feel bad, or block your pursuit of fun.

One of my friends proof-read the draft of this post told me that it made her think of 2 Cor 1:3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Nothing else I do in life matters to me as much as taking care of the people I mentor, especially the ones who are lost and lacking guidance and care. I have good health, good education, good career, and great finances. But by far the most important thing I do is following the example of the Shepherd by caring for other lambs.

What historical evidence is there to support the post-mortem appearances of Jesus?

Eric Chabot of Ratio Christi Ohio State University has a great post up about the post-mortem appearances of Jesus.

The post contains:

  • a list of the post-mortem resurrection appearances
  • quotations by skeptical historians about those appearances
  • alternative naturalistic explanations of the appearances
  • responses to those naturalistic explanations

Although there is a lot of research that went into the post, it’s not very long to read. The majority of scholars accept the appearances, because they appear in so many different sources and because some of those sources are very early, especially Paul’s statement of the early Christian creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, which is from about 1-3 years after Jesus was executed by the Romans. Eric’s post lists out some of the skeptical scholars who the appearances, and you can see how they allude to the historical criteria that they are using. (If you want to sort of double-check the details, I blogged about how historians investigate ancient sources before)

Let’s take a look at some of the names you might recognize:

E.P. Sanders:

That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it.”[1]

Bart Ehrman:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection.[2]

Ehrman also says:

We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.[3]

 Ehrman also goes onto say:  

Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record.[4]

Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).[5]

Marcus Borg

The historical ground of Easter is very simple: the followers of Jesus, both then and now, continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death. In the early Christian community, these experiences included visions or apparitions of Jesus. [8]

The references to Paul are because of the early creed he records in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, and his conversations with the other eyewitnesses in Galatians. Eric has another post where he goes over that early creed, and it is something that every Christian should know about. It’s really kind of surprising that you never hear a sermon on that early creed in church, where they generally sort of assume that you believe everything in the Bible on faith. But skeptical historians don’t believe in the post-mortem appearances by faith – they believe it (in part) because of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

If you want to see a Christian scholar make the case for the resurrection appearances in a debate, then here is a post I wrote with the video, audio and summary of the William Lane Craig vs James Crossley debate on the resurrection.