Tag Archives: Michael F. Bird

Fred Sanders reviews a book that makes the case for the deity of Christ

Putting Jesus in His Place
Putting Jesus in His Place

From Touchstone magazine, a review of “Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ” by Biola University professor Fred Sanders.

Excerpt:

The case as perceived by scholars for the deity of Christ is stronger now than it has been for a long time, and those who went through seminary more than a decade ago should take a moment to update their notes. Though the New Testament is clear about the deity of Christ, generations of modern critical scholars have picked away at the standard proofs. Here a verse, there a verse, the arguments that Christians have always relied on to demonstrate that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is God have been rendered dubious.

Putting Jesus in His Place does not simply reclaim those lost passages, revisit the standard debates, and bolster the old arguments (though in many cases it does that, and persuasively); it publicizes new arguments for demonstrating the deity of Christ, which have previously been available only to scholars.

The authors are ideal popularizers, each with one foot in the library and one in the local church. Robert Bowman is manager of apologetics and interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, while Ed Komoszewski is the founder of the educational ministry Christus Nexus and a director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

To help readers remember the arguments, they organize the book around the acronym “HANDS,” arguing that Jesus shares God’s Honor, Attributes, Names, Deeds, and Seat. The text breezes along in straightforward, popular prose—it paraphrases the Nicene homoousios as “Jesus: The Right Stuff,” for example, and explains pre-existence as being “Older Than Dirt—Literally!”—with more technical matters referred to the endnotes.

If you are looking to make a case for the divinity of Jesus, you should go to the earliest sources, and try to see if Jesus has a divine self-understanding, whether he is acting in the place of God.

The book is basically one-stop shopping at a popular level for the best scholarly arguments:

Jesus didn’t so much verbalize his claim to deity, for example; he enacted it. The people of God were waiting for the Lord to show up in person to bring reconciliation; Jesus walked among men, healing, forgiving, and doing everything that God was supposed to do. When, on occasion, he also claimed to be more than a prophet, his claim made sense because it put into words what he was doing in the flesh.

Jesus does what God does. This is the foundation for his claim to deity. N. T. Wright has recently helped his readers see this with his massive narrative arguments, and Bowman and Komoszewski boil a lot of Wright down to a manageable size.

[…]Readers alert to the scholarly scene will recognize that the authors reproduce at an accessible level the arguments of Richard Bauckham (particularly in God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament) and Larry Hurtado (in Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity), among others. (Bauckham and Hurtado are among the book’s many endorsers.)

Wright, Bauckham and Hurtado are three of the leading historical Jesus scholars in the world. I got the book because I wanted to know about the latest research from these experts – but without having to comb through an academic book!

I have some good news, too. The book is on sale in the Kindle edition for under $2 for a limited time. If you don’t have a single book on the divinity of Jesus, you cannot go wrong with this book. It’s good to have one book on this issue, because it comes up a lot in conversations with skeptics. You see annoying documentaries all the time claiming that Jesus was initially viewed as just a man, and then was embellished into a divine figure later. This book helps you to answer that objection.

Rob Bowman reviews new book that refutes Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”

A very good, but very long, review of skeptical historian Bart Ehrman’s new book. It’s written by Rob Bowman, co-author of “Putting Jesus in his Place“.

Here are some of the really bad mistakes made by Bart Ehrman, according to the review.

#2: Ehrman thinks that Jesus didn’t think he was the “Son of Man” figure from Daniel:

A second notable weakness in Ehrman’s theory is his claim that Jesus expected to fill the role of the Messiah but not of the Son of Man. This interpretation gets its initial plausibility from the fact that Jesus routinely referred to the Son of Man in the third person. However, even in most of the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, it is quite clear in the immediate context that Jesus is referring to himself (Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8; 16:13; 17:22-23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2, 24, 45; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41; Luke 5:24; 7:34; 9:22, 44, 58; 19:10; 22:22, 48). The Messiah and the Son of Man are both understood as eschatological figures that receive an eternal kingdom on behalf of God’s people; it is simply not plausible that Jesus, who used the title Son of Man incessantly and rarely used the title Messiah or Christ, claimed to be the latter but not the former.

#3: Ehrman can’t explain the early church’s proclamation that Jesus was divine:

Ehrman’s main thesis on its face appears completely lacking in credibility. According to Ehrman, whereas Jesus did not view himself as anything more than a man and did not expect to become anything more than a glorious earthly king, within a few weeks or months of Jesus’ death his original followers were sincerely proclaiming that Jesus was a divine figure ruling over all creation at God’s right hand in heaven. Keep in mind that in Ehrman’s mind, Jesus did not rise from the dead and did not actually speak to his disciples after his death. Nor does Ehrman suggest that the disciples thought Jesus had made these stupendous claims about himself during his appearances to them. Rather, Ehrman credits the disciples with inferring these things about Jesus by interpreting their visionary experiences in the light of the apocalyptic worldview he had taught them before his death (205-206). What all this means is that Ehrman’s view requires that Jesus’ original disciples, who had walked all over Galilee and Judea with him and listened to him teach for hours on end, simply discounted Jesus’ own self-image as nothing more than the future human Messiah.

#4: Ehrman denies the burial of Jesus, which makes him one of a handful of ancient historians who do:

To make his theory work, Ehrman has abandoned his earlier view that the burial of Jesus in a tomb just outside Jerusalem was historically likely. He now accepts something like John Dominic Crossan’s view that Jesus received no decent burial at all. In a way, denying the tomb is a smart move on Ehrman’s part. As long as he acknowledged both the tomb and the appearances, he remained vulnerable to the vise grip of the historical argument for the Resurrection. Accept the empty tomb and discount the appearances, and you can postulate that the body was moved or stolen or lost. Accept the appearances and reject the empty tomb, and you can speculate that the disciples had hallucinations or “bereavement visions.” Accept both the empty tomb and the appearances and you have to come up with a blatantly ad hoc explanation like Greg Cavin’s identical-twin theory (what William Lane Craig mischievously labeled “the Dave theory”) or strain credulity by accepting two unrelated explanations for the evidence (e.g., the body was stolen and the disciples had hallucinations). So Ehrman, who knows he cannot deny that at least some of the disciples had experiences in which they thought they saw Jesus alive from the dead, has gone the more sensible skeptical route and questioned the burial in the tomb. But this move, while sensible enough from his agnostic perspective, lands him in evidential hot water, because the evidence that the Gospels are telling the truth about the empty tomb is very good.

#5: Ehrman discounts Paul’s resurrection appearance, which he speaks about in 1 Cor 15:

Ehrman’s attempts to explain the appearances of Jesus naturalistically ignore entirely the testimony of the apostle Paul that Jesus had appeared to him when Paul was still a persecutor of Christians. Ehrman quietly omits any mention of Paul’s experience throughout his treatment of the resurrection appearances in the fifth chapter of his book. Then, having finished with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, at the beginning of chapter 6 Ehrman says only that Paul, after converting to faith in Jesus, “later claimed that this was because he had had a vision of Jesus alive, long after his death” (214, emphasis added). That is all he says—and it is difficult even to take his statement seriously. That Paul sincerely thought he had a vision of the risen Christ is really beyond debate. That fact is a stubborn datum that Ehrman failed to incorporate into his account of the origins of the Christian movement.

The post mentions a new book out that challenges Ehrman’s book, and describes all of the responses to Ehrman’s views. It is edited by well-known Australian scholar Michael F. Bird, whom I have blogged about before.

Here’s one snippet:

Craig Evans’s treatment on the burial of Jesus is the stand-out chapter of the book. Evans rightly criticizes Ehrman’s argument from silence regarding the omission of the name of Joseph of Arimathea from the pre-Pauline confession of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (90-91). Evans shows, against Ehrman, that rabbinical and Qumran texts attest to the Sanhedrin taking responsibility for the burial of executed criminals (80-81, 88-89). This means that the supposed discrepancy between Acts 13:29 and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial (even Luke’s account!) evaporates. Evans is especially in his element when he documents painstakingly from both literary and archaeological evidence that burial in a tomb was not, as Ehrman had argued at length, inconsistent with Roman policies and practices regarding criminals who were crucified (73-80, 83-86). This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

You really can’t deny the burial – it’s in 1 Cor 15:3-7, and that’s early eyewitness testimony. I really am not sure what has gone wrong with Bart. You can’t say the things he says in this book and maintain your respect as a historian, in my opinion. His views are fringe, and worse, they are in conflict with evidence that is undeniable, historically speaking. He’s reaching, because something other than history is making him reach.

Here’s a video about the new book, featuring Craig Evans:

He talks about the evidence for the burial. That video is 20 minutes, but worth watching. If you want to get a full treatment of the divinity of Jesus, then click here and buy Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), for $1.99 (Kindle edition).

You can also view a debate on Youtube between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman here. (Transcript here)

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).

Historian Michael F. Bird assesses the historicity of Matthew 27

Australian historian Michael F. Bird responds to the Geisler/Licona dust-up on the Euangelion blog, a blog that “exists for the purpose of promoting the gospel by commenting on issues relating to the Christian Scriptures and evangelical faith in contexts of the academy and the church”. (H/T Near Emmaus)

Excerpt:

But people need to evaluate the debate for themselves. Here is the text in question, Matt. 27.51-53:

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split
52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
(NIV)

What is the fuss? Well, Lincona calls Matt. 27.52-53 a “strange little text” (p. 548). Many strange phenomena like earthquakes and cosmic portents were said to accompany the death of great leaders in ancient sources. Licona writes: “[I]t seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ’special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible. There is further support for this interpretation. If the tombs were opened and the saints being raised upon Jesus’ death was not strange enough, Matthew adds that they did not come out of their tombs until after Jesus’ resurrection. What were they doing between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning? Were they standing in the now open doorways of their tombs and waiting?” Lincona then regards “this difficult text in Mathew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that the impending judgment awaited Israel” (pp. 552-53).

In my chapter about the resurrection in How Did Christianity Begin: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence, co-authored with James Crossley (London: SPCK, 2008/ Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010), I said in a footnote about Matt. 27.51-53: “My understanding of this text is that it is not historical and it blends the present and the future together so that Matthew provides a cameo of the future resurrection at the point of Jesus’ death to underscore its living-giving power” (p. 69, n. 30). That was my off-the-cuff thought, but I stand by it, since Matt. 27.51-53 is a strange story that is reported nowhere else in Christian or non-Christian literature.

I don’t see any reason why Licona’s or my interpretation of Matt. 27.51-53 does not conform to a view of scripture as infallible, inspired, and authoritative. I think it explains the text and it explains why you don’t hear Josephus or Tacitus talking about the day that many Jewish holy men came back to life.

But I see further problems with Licona’s critics. If I can give another example, is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31 a “true” story or a “parable”? Now the word parable does not occur! What if I said that it was a true, literal, and factual story about the afterlife in Hades and everyone who called it a parable about riches and possessions was using ancient genres to dehistoricize the Bible and deny the existence of the intermediate state? Does believing that Luke 16 is a parable violate inerrancy? To employ the logic of Geisler and Mohler, I’d have to say, “yes”. But is it hermeneutically responsible to rule certain literary genres out of bounds based on theological prolegomena, rather than discern them based on the phenomenon of the text and its relationship to extant biblical and non-biblical literature? Moreover, Geisler and Mohler are systematicians, not New Testament scholars, and most of those who came to Licona’s aid in his open letter are New Testament scholars. I think there’s a big lesson to be learned in that!

About Michael F. Bird:

Biography:

Dr. Michael Bird (Ph.D University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology and New Testament at Crossway College in Brisbane, Australia. He is the author of several books including Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission (2006), The Saving Righteousness of God (2007), A Bird’s-Eye View of Paul (2008), Colossians and Philemon (2009), Crossing Over Sea and Land: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (2009), and Are You the One Who is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (2009). He attends Acacia Ridge Presbyterian Church where he preaches regularly. He is married to Naomi and has four children.

Michael F. Bird is an evangelical historian, and has debated atheist James Crossley on the Unbelievable show (part 1, part 2). I have the book he mentions, which is a debate with Crossley, but haven’t had a chance to dig into it, yet. I really enjoyed the Bird/Crossley debates though. Sometimes, Unbelievable picks a bad defender of the Christian side, but Bird was solid. If I recall correctly, the Matthew 27 passage came up in that debate, and it came up in Crossley’s debate with William Lane Craig as well.

By the way, the other passage that is disputed a lot in the New Testament is the guard at the tomb in Matthew. I wrote a post about it before, featuring a clip from William Lane Craig. William Lane Craig wrote an essay about the guard at the tomb story. My take on that one is that the guard is historical, although I would not want to defend that tradition as a minimal fact in a debate, because it fails all the tests. However, the genre there is clearly historical, not apocalyptic imagery. I do understand the case against the guard story being an apologetics response to the Jewish accusation that the disciples stole the body.

New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has debated Crossley as well, and you can find the shows here.

 

Two debates on Christianity and history featuring Richard Bauckham

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.

Debate 1: The reliability of the gospels

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.

It is well worth the listen.

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

This is a great debate between two great New Testament scholars.

Debate 2: The divinity of Jesus

The second debate concerns whether the belief in Jesus’ divinity was early and authentic, or whether it developed slowly over time. Richard is very thorough and works only with minimal facts that skeptical scholars will agree with. James Crossley is an excellent atheist and argues his side as well as any atheist I have ever heard in a debate on historical questions.

Here is the MP3 file. (Just over an hour)

Below there are speaker bios.

Richard Bauckham

You can find out more about Bauckham in this Christianity Today profile.

Summary:

The author of CT’s 2007 Book Award winner in biblical studies, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham proposes a new (or, rather, an ancient) paradigm through which to view the Gospels: as the eyewitness testimony of trustworthy insiders. Wheaton professor Gary Burge asked the St. Andrews scholar how his approach diverges from mainstream New Testament scholarship—and what it means for our understanding of Jesus.

I’m really excited by the respect he is getting in the academy. This is a completely NEW perspective on the gospels that is getting a lot of attention.

James Crossley

Crossley specializes in Mark, the earliest and most reliable gospel. Mark’s source for the Passion narrative of Jesus is dated to the 40s, about 10-20 years after the death of Jesus. Mark’s gospel is based on the eyewitness testimony of his companion Peter. So it is fun to hear them debate Mark in the first show. And they get into 1 Corinthians 15 as well, which is dated to 1-3 years after Jesus died.

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