Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Jesus And The Eyewitnesses: The Gospel As Eyewitness Testimony" by Richard Baukham


In a perfect world, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" by Professor Richard Baukham, Professor of New Testament Studies at St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, would be the stake that would finally kill Form Criticism's century plus long view of New Testament origins and authorship. It has been the contention of Form Criticism that the Gospels are not the accounts of eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, or accounts by those who heard directly from such witnesses. Form Criticism has maintained that the Gospels are nothing more than folklore and the process by which they became what we now possess is no different from the development of mythology or folk tales. Form Critics envision a process of the original Gospels being reshaped by each generation for its own needs. The changes were the result of communities retelling the Gospels with no controlling authority making sure each retelling remained true to the original. Form Critics believe that the Gospels we now have resulted from several centuries of retelling and that if one can remove layer after successive layer of Gospel retelling that occurred over the centuries, one can discover the true Gospel, as it was first told. The Gospels, according to Form Critics, were the product of Oral Tradition and were not written down during the lifetimes of the original witnesses to Jesus' ministry. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" demonstrates that the overwhelming evidence indicates that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses to Jesus miracles and teachings. The Synoptics were the result of the witness of the original twelve disciples, John was written by an eyewitness, and those accounts of personal encounters with Jesus by named individuals originated from those named in those accounts. Baukham fashions his argument from a wide array of sources and disciplines. The Scripture references to the Gospels being written in the lifetime of the disciples is overwhelming. The list of names that appear in the New Testament, when compared to the list of all known names of Jews living in Israel before and centuries after Jesus lived on Earth, makes it plain that the Gospels were not folk tales retold over time. Baukham provides the reader with studies in Folklore which demonstrate that the model of Folklore's development over time does not conform to what the original Form Critics, such as Bultman, envisioned. Folk lore did not by in large develop through uncontrolled community involvement. There were processes by which the message of Folk Tales and Myths remained true to the original form. Baukham also demonstrates that the original Church drew on the tradition of Jewish and Hellenistic Schools, adopting their methods to preserve knowledge of history, secular and religious. Such methods included teachers certified to pass on the knowledge, students whom teachers deemed worthy to be entrusted with such knowledge and who could memorize vast amounts of information. Paul received just such an education; as Baukham points out. Even so, Scripture makes it clear that even Paul had to learn from Peter and other Apostles in Jerusalem. Baukham also points out that the Form Critics ignore the role of Jerusalem in guarding the purity of the Gospel message. While most of Baukhams evidence is irrefutable, some of his evidence is not as strong. Baukham points to a literary device he calls an "inclusio" to prove the authorship of Mark and John. In Mark, Peter's name is the first of the disciples to appear, and the last to be mentioned. This phenomenon, which Baukham calls an inclusio, shows that Peter is the source Mark used when compiling the Gospel. While this is an intelligent theory, even Baukham admits that it is speculation on his part. There are no examples of this literary device in other documents of the same time period, though a few appear later. In John, the Beloved Disciple, named John, appears before Peter and after Peters last appearance, indicating that this disciple has greater credentials to expound the message of John's Gospel than Peter does. Baukham believes that the author of John, John's Epistles, and Revelation, were not written by John Son of Zebedee, but by another John, the Beloved Disciple. I found the language of his case quite speculative. Yet dispite my disagreements with some of Baukham's arguments, I can do nothing but heartily endorse this book, which is one of the most important works in New Testament study to appear in many a year. It is amazing that while the methods and conclusions of the Form Critics have been refuted convincingly by Baukham and earlier scholars, many New Testament scholars still cling to Form Criticism. Why? Some think that if it could be demonstrated that the Gospels changed over the centuries before they reached their final form, the commands in the Gospels we now have can be disregarded. Others seem to be addicted to the idea of the Gospels developing in the same manner as folklore. Others are simply brain dead.

Professor Baukham is a Fellow of the British Acadamy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the Doctrine Commission of the church of England.

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" was originally published by Eerdmans.

To read my reviews of "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" on my study blog, click here and scroll down.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does God Hear The Prayers Of Non-Christians?

Last week I posted a comment on the Christianity Today Politics Blog.  It was in response to a question from someone asking whether God hears the prayers of everyone, whether they are Christian or not.  Here is an expanded version of that answer:

"Does God hear all the prayers of all people?" As a Christian I cannot speak for God on this issue. In Acts 10, God tells us that he heard the prayers of Cornelius, a man who feared God. In response, God sent Peter to preach to him of Jesus Christ, who Cornelius accepted as his savior after hearing Peter. There are those who have cried out to God promising to follow God if God would deliver them out of some personal calamity and God hears them. The question I would ask is, "Do all religions even teach that God even hears anyone?" Buddhism and Hinduism do not. Buddhists do not believe in a personal diety. Hindus believe that to interact with the divine, one's mind, ones' consciousness, one's body, one's very soul must be annihilated so that one can become one with impersonal spiritual forces. The highest state of this interaction Hindus call nirvana. The Christian interacts in a personal relationship with God here on earth and in heaven as a distinct being with mind and body intact. Many third world religions believe that God and creation are one and one must use ritual and magic spells to manipulate God/creation into doing what one wants. The Christian God is totally seperate from His creation and thus cannot be so manipulated. Many such religions believe that good and evil are seperate but equal in strength; the God Christians worship is all powerful. Christians believe Jesus' words that the only way to God the Father is through His Son, Jesus Christ. Most Jewish people belive that Jesus is not the Messiah spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures. Muslims believe that to say that God has a Son is blasphemous; they believe that Jesus was a prophet but that Mohammed was the final prophet. The Muslims I have talked to tell me Muslims have no assurance of heaven. One can obey all the Koran's commandments but if Allah wants to send you to hell, that is Allah's business. That is not the God I pray to. As people of different religions pray to different dieties, "Does God hear the prayers not personally addressed to Him?" I would answer in the negative.

However, God is speaking to everyone, whether they believe on the Triune God or not.  God speaks to everyone through creation:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  (Rom. 1:18-20, NIV)

For those who have discerned God's call through creation and have sought Him, God has spoken again, through the life, death, resurrection and ascention of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Those who believe in Jesus Christ have the priviledge of fellowship with God the Father and God the Son through God the Holy Spirit who resides in all who follow Jesus.  So the real question is, "Since God speaks to all, seeking fellowship with them, will you be one of the few who choose to obey?"

Here is a link to the original article containing my comment where you can see the context from which it arose.  The verse from Romans was copied from .

Monday, April 19, 2010

About A Shameful Past, Repentance And An Unprecedented Revival

As two Sundays ago marked the annual  Holocaust Memorial Day,  I decided to reread a book I read many years ago: "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood: The Tragic Story of the 'Church' and the Jewish People" by Dr. Michael L. Brown, a Jewish believer in Jesus.  There are three main topics Brown guides the reader through to convince his readers that the accepting of Jesus as the Messiah by Jews will mark an unparalelled spiritual revival in God's Church.  However, this unprecedented revival will never happen until Christians repent of its sins against the Jewish people.  Brown states: "I am convinced that international Christian repentance for the Church's past (and present) sins against the Jews will lead to international Jewish repentance for Israel's past (and present) sins against Jesus.  It is the Church's tears of repentance that will wash away the stain of blood." (p. xv)

The first topic, one many Christians are unaware of and one many Christians would rather avoid, is the history of Christian anti-Semitism.  Here is a quote concerning synagogues from one of the Church's most revered Church Fathers, John Chrysostom: "...[It is] a criminal assembly of Jews...a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ...a house worse than a drinking shop...a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and abyss of perdition." (Brown, p.10)  Chrysostom goes on to comment on the Jewish people themselves: "I would say the same thing about their souls...As for me, I hate the synagogue...I hate the Jews for the same reason." (Brown, p. 10-11)  That anyone would make such a public pronouncement is disturbing enough, but what should make any genuine Christian lament is that these words came from one who was not a Christian in name only.  By all accounts, Chrysostum was a mighty disciple of Jesus Christ who endured much persecution from the enemies of the true Gospel. 

How did the spirit of anti-Semitism infiltrate the Church? Brown examines the main reasons most commonly given to explain anti-Semitism throughout history in and outside the Church.  He demontrates why each of these explanations are inadequate to account for anti-Semitism in general and the Holocaust in particular.  Then Brown identifies the real culprit, Satan, whose hatred of the Jews reflects his hatred of God and seeks to annihilate them to discredit God who has promised multiple times to preserve them as a distinct people.  So how did the Church allow this hatred to inflame the hearts of believers in Jesus?  Brown quotes Old Testament scholar Reinhold Mayer to explain the beginning of this tragic history: "The path of Gentile Christianity turned from Judaism and led to Gentile anti-Semitism, which was on the increase after the [destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E..]  The prophets' criticism of Israel was misunderstood as anti-Jewish and repeated irresponsibly.  Even when the words were kept their meaning was distorted to imply the opposite, and this served to sharpen the Gentile hatred of the Jews." (Brown, p. 134)  Brown chronicles the lies about the Jewish people propogated by and believed by the Church.  His depiction of the Spanish Inquisition is just as disturbing as his account of the Holocaust.  Protestants can't smugly contend that this aspect of Church history is just a Catholic phenomomen.  Luther initially had high hopes for the Jews' accepting Christ as their Messiah.  But that unfulfilled hope led to hatred toward them in his old age: "First their synogogues should be set on fire...Secondly, their homes should be likewise broken down and distroyed...Thirdly, they should be denied of their prayer-books and Talmuds...Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach anymore...Seventhly, let the young strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff,and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses...We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system...Therefore away with them..." (Brown, p. 14-15)  Both Catholics and Protestants are equally quilty of crimes against the Jewish people.  Brown points out that Germany, where the Holocaust was planned, was equally divided between Catholics and Protestants.

Christians may protest the linkage between the Church and the Holocaust.  After all, the roots of Nazi ideology are in pagan thought, not Christian.  That is true.  Yet the anti-Semitism of the Church rooted in the Middle Ages provided a climate that made the melding of Christian anti-Semitism and German pagan Romantic Nationalism possible. Brown quotes noted Holocaust scholar, Raul Hillberg, to explain this historical process: "Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: [forced] conversion, expulsion, annihilation.  The second appeared as an alternative to the first, and the third appeared as an alternative to the second...The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews.  The secular rulers who followed proclaimed: you have no right to live among us.  The Nazis at last decreed: you have no right to live...The German Nazis, then, did not discard the past; they built upon it.  They did not begin a development; they completed it." (Brown, p. 8)

A Gentile Christian may ask, "This is ancient history; what does this have to do with me?  After all, I committed none of these sins against the Jewish people, nor am I related to anyone who did.  What can I do about it?"  First Christians have to recognize how the Church's anti-Semitic behavior has become a major stumbling block to the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah by the Jewish people.  Brown quotes Israeli writer Benjamin Shlomo Hamburger: "Instead of bringing redemption to the Jews, the false Christian messiah has brought down on us base libels and expulsions, oppressive restrictions and burning of [our] holy books, devastations and destructions.  Christianity, which professes to infuse the sick world with compassion, has fixed a course directly opposed to this lofty rhetoric.  The voice of the blood of millions of our brothers cries out to us from the ground: 'No! Christianity is not a religion of love but a religion of unfathomable hate!  All history, from ancient times to our own day, is one continuous proof of the total bankruptcy of this religion in all its segments." (Brown, p. 89-90)   Yes, Jewish religious leaders oppressed Christ's followers when they were a small minority.  Yes, the Jewish people by and large have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  But the sentiments expressed by Benjamin Shlomo Hamburger are rooted in the oppression of Jews by the "Church" over the centuries.  The persecution of the Jews done in the name of Christ has been the only brand of Christianity most Jews have ever been exposed to.  According to Nicolai Berdyaev, "Christians set themselves between the Messiah and the Jews, hiding from the latter the authentic image of the Savior." (Brown, p. 92)

 You may not have persecuted the Jewish people, or are related to anyone who has, but as Christians, we claim all the glories of Church history as our inheritance.  If we claim these as our own, we must be willing to atone for actions perpetrated against others in the name of Christ throughout history.  While many Jews today are discovering that Jesus is their Messiah, the Church must engage in a sincere collective repentance for what has been done to the Jewish people in Christ's name before most Jews will be prepared to follow Jesus. Until this happens, the Church will never be complete, as it is the Father's will that the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile be broken down and the two be made one (Eph. 2) As past history becomes less of a stumbling block to the ingathering of Jews into the Church, the Church will experience a revival greater than it has ever known before.  Bishop H.C.G. Moule expressed this hope this way: "The great event of Israel's return to God in Christ, and His to Israel, will be the signal and the means of a vast rise of spiritual life in the universal church, and of an unexampled ingathering of regenerate souls from the world." (Brown, p. 25)

The two other main topics Brown addresses is the scriptural case for Israel's right to the land God promised to the Jewish people and an an irrefutable rejection of Replacement Theology, that the Gentile Church is now the new Israel.  To examine both of these topics here would make this post too long.  Perhaps these points can be examined at a later time. "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood" can be purchased at Amazon or at Dr. Brown's website, both of which are linked to above.