February 2009

I just finished reviewing a really fantastic collection of studies edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica called, Who Do My Opponents Say that I am: An Investigation of the Accusations Against the Historical Jesus. The idea was to study all of the things that Jesus was accused of by his opponents to ascertain what we can learn about the historical Jesus from said accusations. It was a fascinating book and made me think about the perception of one’s enemies as very revealing about oneself. Here are some of the highlights of the book:

  1. Jesus was accused of being a ‘law breaker.’ Though Jesus as a good Jew, was certainly Torah observant, Michael Bird, who studied this accusation concludes that such was Jesus’ view of the importance of the Kingdom that “where the mission of the kingdom and Torah conflicted the Torah had to give way” (p. 25).
  2. Jesus was accused of being ‘demon possessed.’ The fact that Jesus’ miracles were never denied but were instead accused to stem from a malevolent power rather than a divine one, says a lot about the historicity of Jesus as a miracle worker.
  3. Jesus was accused of being a ‘glutton and a drunkard.’ This is more serious than perhaps it seems. Joseph B. Modica, who studied this accusation, shows how this accusation is really accusing Jesus of being a ‘stubborn and rebellious son’ from Deueronomy 21. The punishment of which is death! This means Jesus was seen as hanging out with the wrong sort and doing the wrong sort of things that a good Jewish boy would not be doing.
  4. Jesus was probably accused of being mamzer (illegitemate child).  What this means is that there was sufficient ‘fishiness’ and lowliness concerning Jesus’ birth that his legitemacy was probably called into question.

All this leads me to reflect on the fact that everything that Jesus was accused of was directly related to his mission. He was accused of being a law breaker because he saw that righteousness needed to go in a new direction than it was in his contemporary setting. He was accused of being demon-possessed because he performed great miracles of power. He was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton because he went to parties and hung out with an unsavory crowd. He was accused of being illegitemate because his origens were lowly and his birth was questionable.

This begs the question, what are we, as Christians accused of? One of my professors in college used to tell the story of a time he was teaching an intro course on religion at a secular university. When it got time to teach the segment on Christianity he asked the class to shout out words that they associated with Christianity. The overwhelming response were words that related to ‘judgmental.’ We are most often accused of being judgmental. 

Nowhere is Jesus anywhere close to being accused of being judgmental. In fact, as Bird has pointed out (point 1 above), where Jesus’ all inclusive message of the Kingdom (including forgiveness) conflicted to the current understanding of the Law, the Law had to give way! Could we apply that to our current understanding of morality? I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch. But I digress, my main point is this: Christians today (myself included) are accused of things that Jesus would never be accused of. That says something about us. 

I ask myself this question, when was the last time I was so Kingdom focused, so forgiving that I was accused of not being concerned with the Law (or morality)? What your enemies think about you says something about who you are. I’m afraid that we have not followed Jesus in this matter. It bears some thought.


St. Andrews Arms

Some of you may or may not know that I have been applying to Ph.D. programs the last month or so. I haven’t really talked about it a ton because it’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to tell all your friends about only to find out that you’re not going because you can’t get in. At least that’s the way I have viewed it. However, I received this email today from the postgraduate secretary of the University of St. Andrews:



Dear Ben

I am happy, unofficially, to let you know that your application for postgraduate study has been successful.  The Postgraduate Committee is recommending to the University that you be accepted into the Ph.D programme ….  You will receive a letter from the University within the next two to three weeks.

Whoohoo! Now, we are still waiting to hear from several other schools, so we haven’t made any final decisions as to where we’re going yet (but St. Andrews is definitely one of my top choices), but it looks like, barring any unforeseen circumstances that we are going to the UK in the fall.

(The image above is the University of St. Andrews Coat of Arms)

This is a little bit of old news. I found this out a few weeks ago, but I just got the schedule for the NW Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society and was reminded that my paper on Judges 13 was accepted. Below is the title and abstract:

Paper Title: What do Jacob, Joseph, Jesus and Samson Have in Common? A Study of Judges 13 as a Biblical Type-Scene


Jacob, Joseph, Jesus and Samson, and also Isaac, Samuel, John the Baptist, and possibly an unnamed boy in Kings are very different characters, and are appraised very differently by the biblical authors. However, their births are very and perhaps troublingly similar. Is Luke trying to tell us that John the Baptist is the new Samson? I hope not. This paper seeks to show that if we understand the biblical convention of literary type-scenes then not only are we in a better place to understand why these similarities or repetitions occur but we are also in a better place to understand how the biblical authors are portraying each character. This paper will focus on Samson’s birth story in Judges 13 as an example of how this type-scene analysis can illumine the meaning of a text.

Obviously, for the Christian, the gospels are the primary source for information about Jesus. However, critical scholars and skeptics have called into question the reliability of the gospels. By even the most conservative reckoning the earliest gospel (usually understood to be Mark) cannot have been written before the mid 50’s CE (Carson, Moo and Morris, An Introduction, 21.). Therefore, at the very earliest, the first gospel must have been written at least twenty years after the events of Jesus’ life. We must, then, come to grips with the gap from the events to the writing of the events. Does this mean that the outlook for seeing any historically accurate information about Jesus is, as one scholar has commented ‘bleak’? I do not think so. But, we have to accept that behind the literary texts we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there is an oral tradition spanning at least 20 and possibly 40 years. For us to have any faith in the historical accuracy of the gospels we must have an understanding of this oral transmission.

Bultmann: Informal Uncontrolled Tradition

In order to understand how important a proper view of the oral tradition is for historical Jesus study, we must at least have a passing understanding of the view that has dominated much of New Testament study in the last century. The person most credited with this view is Rudolph Bultmann. He argues that “we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist” (Bultmann, Jesus, 8). His view was that the sources (i.e., the gospels) do not tell us anything about Jesus but about the early Christian community. He writes that “What the sources offer us is first of all, the message of the early Christian community, which for the most part the Church freely attributed to Jesus” (Bultmann, Jesus, 12). In other words, when we read the words of Jesus in the gospels, what we are really reading are the words of the early church which they attributed to Jesus. So, according to this view, we cannot know anything about Jesus, the best we can do is to know something about the early church which created much of the tradition we find in the gospels. Obviously, if this view is accurate it has massive implications for our faith in the historical viability of the gospels. 

Informal Controlled Tradition

In 1991 Kenneth Bailey wrote a really fantastic essay in which he proposed another way to view the oral tradition behind the gospels, a view he called informal controlled tradition (more…)

I didn’t really have a dog in this fight, so I was just rooting for a good game. Well, I got what I wanted out of the deal. That was one Superb Owl!!