Tag Archives: Constantine

What about all those other books that the Church left out the Bible?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are going to take a look at the data

You may sometimes hear the objection that there were lots of other gospels and books floating around at the time when the 27 books of the New Testament were standardized. The right way to answer this problem is to ask for a particular book that the challenger would like included and then to take a look at factors like the date it was written, who wrote it, and where it was written. When you look at these factors, it becomes obvious why the other books were left out.

Consider an article by Dr. Charles Quarles, who has written against an early dating of a “left out” book called the “Gospel of Peter”. Why was it left out? Because Christian are mean? Maybe there’s a historical reason why these books are not included.


An impressive number of clues suggest that this gospel [Peter] postdates even the latest New Testament book and belongs to the mid-second century. First, a close analysis of verbal parallels shared by the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Matthew suggests that the Gospel of Peter postdates Matthew and utilized that Gospel as a source… an examination of the vocabulary, grammar, and style of the two documents strongly favors the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew. Robert Gundry, one of the most respected experts on issues related to Matthew’s style, called the phrase a “series of Mattheanisms” (Gundry, Matthew [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 584). Similarly, John Meier noted “when it comes to who is dependent on whom, all the signs point to Matthews priority. . . . The clause is a tissue of Matthean vocabulary and style, a vocabulary and style almost totally absent from the rest of the Gospel of Peter” (Meier, Marginal Jews, 1:117). This is consistent with a number of other Matthean features appear in the Gospel of Peter that all point to the dependence of the Gospel of Peter on Matthew.

Second, other features of the Gospel of Peter suggest that the gospel not only postdates Matthew, but even postdates the latest book of the NT canon, the Book of Revelation. For example, although Matthew indicates that the Roman guard sealed the tomb of Jesus, Gospel of Peter 8:33 adds that it was sealed with seven seals. The reference to the seven seals conflicts with the immediate context. Gospel of Peter 8:32-33 states that all the witnesses present sealed the tomb. However, a minimum of nine witnesses were present leading readers to expect at least nine seals. The best explanation for the awkward reference to the seven seals is that the detail was drawn from Revelation 5:1. This allusion to Revelation fits well with the Gospel of Peter 9:35 and 12:50 reference to the day of Jesus’ resurrection as the “Lord’s Day” since this terminology only appears in Revelation in the NT and first in Revelation out of all ancient Christian literature. The reference to the “Lord’s Day” in the Gospel of Peter is a shortened form that appears to be a later development from the original form appearing in Revelation.

Still other features of the Gospel of Peter fit best with the historical data if the Gospel of Peter was produced in the mid-second century. The Gospel of Peter assumes the doctrine of Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to the dead. However, this doctrine first appears in the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150. The talking cross is a feature of other second-century literature. The Epistula Apostolorum 16 states that during the second coming Jesus will be carried on the wings of the clouds with his cross going on before him. Similarly, the Ethiopic Apocalypse of Peter 1 describes the returning Christ as coming in a glory seven times as bright as the sun and with his cross going before his face. In a similar fashion, beginning in the late first century, Christian texts describe Christ as possessing gigantic stature. In an allegorical depiction of Jesus’ supremacy and authority over the church, Shepherd of Hermas 83:1 described Christ as of such lofty stature that he stood taller than a tower. 4 Ezra 2:43, a portion of 4 Ezra dating to the middle or late third century, referred to the unusual height of the Son of God. These shared compositional strategies and features make the most sense if these documents and the Gospel of Peter were composed in the same milieu.

It turns out that Quarles has actually debated the views he presents in this article against John Dominic Crossan, the main proponent of the view that the Gospel of Peter is early. You can buy the audio on CDs here, or you can get the book. The CDs are highly recommended, but the book leaves out all the dialog, so I don’t recommend it.

And you can read about two more rejected books, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, as well. The authors of those two articles are Craig Blomberg and Craig A. Evans, respectively. Craig Evans is also involved in the debate I mentioned with Crossan. He was able to debunk another “lost book of the Bible” called “Secret Mark”, which turned out to be a hoax.

Richard Bauckham defends the divinity of Jesus against James Crossley

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

Richard is very thorough and works only with minimal facts that skeptical scholars will agree with. James Crossley is an excellent atheist, knowledgeable and respectful.

The debate goes for 80 minutes. I wrote a summary so you can follow along as you listen. This summary is rated “N” for Not Snarky.


Main topic:
– was belief in Jesus’ divinity develop late, or was it there from the beginning?
– how did the early Jewish community reconcile the idea of Jesus’ divinity with monotheism?

– was the the worship of Jesus as God a late development in history
– was it accepted by converts from the Jewish community

– high Christology was not a result of pagan influences
– Jews reconciled Jesus’ divinity with their Jewish monotheism

– is the degree of Christology a historian is willing to accept just the result of bias?

– bias is always a factor in what individual people think
– but in a public discussion, what matters is the evidence

– High-Christology is used by Christians as an argument for the resurrection
– Christians ask: what cause could account for the effect of early high Christology?

– we agree that the first Christians witnessed something after Jesus’ death
– what they witnessed had a role in their forming their high opinion of Jesus
– the high opinion was because they believed he had been resurrected (1 Cor 15)
– whether he was or not is a separate question

– is a high Christology a good argument for inferring the resurrection?

– the resurrection makes people think Jesus is unique, but not necessarily divine
– it was really the belief in the exaltation of Jesus to God’s right hand that did it
– what God does in Judaism is to create the universe and rule over the universe
– if Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, then is participating in ruling creation
– so Jesus is being identified with God very early
– the exaltation might have been caused by post-mortem visions of Jesus, e.g. – Stephen

– how were early monotheistic Jews able to reconcile the divinity of Jesus with monotheism?

– the high Christology may not be early because disputes about it are going on in John
– there were other figures in Judaism like the Word of God and Wisdom that were very high
– maybe Paul’s Christology is not as high and he is thinking something high but not deity
– and in John the Christology is being pushed higher to deity, and then there are disputes

– Phillipians and 1 Corinthians are the first evidences of what people thought about Jesus
– John is actually much later

– it may be that Paul’s Christology is high and that he just never got into any disputes

– in Phillipians, Paul incorporates Jesus into the shema, the core of Jewish monotheism
– in 1 Corinthians, he does the same thing

– is this evidence consistent with the idea that Jesus is more like Wisdom or the Word of God

– in Paul’s letters, there are no conflicts about Jesus’ divinity, they appear later in John
– if Paul’s letters taught a divine Jesus, there would be conflicts in the letters
– so there is possibly an evolving Christology from very high to divine

– the Word and Wisdom of God are different from exalted figures – they are separate
– the Word and Wisdom of God are intrinsic to God’s own identity
– and so Word and Wisdom are divine in the sense that they below to God’s identity

– is Jesus an exalted human figure or someone identified with God?
– is the identification of Jesus with divinity compatible with Jewish monotheism?
– or was this concept developed later in a pagan context where one more God would not matter?

– NT scholars typically separate functional Christology and ontic Christology
– but I say that there is no such disctinction
– if Jesus does the functions of God (like ruling), then it means he is identified with God
– there is a distinction between who God is (identity) and what God is (nature)
– Jews were not as concerned with the identification of a man with the God
– Jews were disturbed by the idea that THIS shamed and crucified man would be identified with God

– is this high Christology too much of a sharp break with Jewish monotheism to have been early?

– the Phillipians passage is a strong early passage for Richard’s view
– definitely the crucifixion is a major problem for the early Jewish monotheists
– but the deification of a human being is also a strong problem in spite of what Richard says
– both Jews and Muslims will have objections to identifying Jesus with the divine

– How can Paul write something like this when he was such a high-ranking Jew?

– Jewish monotheism could accomodate something surprising like this without surrendering anything
– John starts his gospel at the creation of the universe to say Jesus was there as “the Word”

– was the early church thinking of Jesus the same way that the church today does?

– it’s hard to say because the language today reflects a lot of development
– in the early church people were still thinking about what to make of Jesus

– what about in the other gospels, do they indicate a strong notion of Jesus as divine?

– nothing as strong as Paul’s letters and John, especiall the disputes with the Jews

– so did the writers of the other gospels have different views of Jesus’ divinity than Paul and John?

– well the same claims are not there in the text, the claims are not as grand as in Paul and John

– but in Mark, the earliest gospel, Jesus forgives sins and calms storm – acting as God acts
– Jesus also asks “why do call me good, only God is good”
– the “seated at the right hand of God” and “coming on the clouds” passages

– I don’t think those claims are as high as John, because Moses controls nature as well
– the other actions may be more that Jesus has authority to do these things

– but the author of Mark writes that the disciples are catching on that Jesus was more than a man

– Jews were not as concerned with the unitary nature of God, but there is only one God (being)
– there can’t really be any evolution from Jesus as a created being to Jesus as divine
– in paganism, there are lower divinities, but that is not the case in Jewish monotheism

– the fact that Jesus was worshiped by Jews means he was already viewed as divine

– that point is debatable, but can be sustained with a careful exegesis like Richard does
– there is some room there for an evolving Christology – the gap may not be as big as Richard says

– do you think that the worship of Jesus was the result of increasing Christology over time?

– it may not have been conscious, but John is the clearest statement and it is the latest gospel
– it may be that a dispute with Jews was required to spell it out even if it was present before

– what about idea that the early church worshiped him because they just though it was a new revelation?

– the early Christians worshiped as Jews and then met separately afterward to worship Jesus
– worship is about distinguishing God from the created world
– you wouldn’t worship Jesus without some idea of what you were doing

– other things that set Jesus apart were the exorcisms and the vision to Paul that converted him

Richard Bauckham and James Crossley debate the reliability of the gospels

A leading New Testament scholar from Cambridge, Dr. Richard Bauckham, was recently on the radio program ‘Unbelievable?’ which is on the Premier Christian Radio network.

Bauckham was arguing that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts and therefore should be regarded as fundamentally trustworthy.

Joining him was New Testament historian Dr. James Crossley, discussing the implications of Bauckham’s work and whether the Gospel of John was written by the disciple John himself, as Bauckham claims. Dr. Crossley is one of my favorite atheist debaters. He is a professor at the University of Sheffield.

It is well worth the listen.

Part 1 – (1 hr 20 mins)
Part 2 – (1 hr 20 mins)

Crossley debated against William Lane Craig before here and he debated against Michael Bird as well (part 1, part 2).