Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Part One: Introduction

Who wrote the Letter?

The opening of the letter gives us the author’s name—Paul, the Apostle (Gal 1:1 CSB). The ending of the letter also shows us that Paul wrote this letter with his own hands: “[l]ook at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting” (Gal 6:11 CSB).  However, since this is our first look at a letter of Paul’s, we are forced to ask just who he is?

Paul tells his audience, in this letter, that he “intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13 CSB). Paul was a Jew among Jews, if anyone was to enter heaven with their self-righteousness, it would have been Paul (Gal 1:14 CSB). Eventually, God called Paul out from his sinful life through the grace of Christ to become the Apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16a CSB). However, there is more to know of the Apostle Paul.

According to Gerd Theissen (2003, 50), in his New Testament introduction, Paul was a Diaspora Jew (a Jew who was not from Palestine or Jerusalem) from the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and had studied in Jerusalem which caused him to become “a Jewish fundamentalist.” However, according to Theissen (2003, 50-53), Paul is not the author of the Christian religion (of which I would agree), but that he was merely a liberal Jew who wanted to open up Judaism to encompass everyone—Jew and Gentile together. Another set of liberal scholars, Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011), in their introduction to the New Testament, state that:

Paul wove his devotion to Israel together with the Stoic philosophy of the Hellenistic world, a school of thought that searched for a single, rational principle underneath the world of nature as well as human society. On that basis, Paul framed a new perspective on the meaning of Jesus as the exemplar and the hope of all humanity…Paul made following Jesus into a radically new and powerful religious movementn (55).

Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was a wealthy one, of which some scholars hold that Paul came from a well-off family, this is due to his citizenship and being able to study Torah in Jerusalem (Chilton and Good 2011, 59). Against this argument, Raymond E. Brown (1997, 425), holds that Paul came from a lower-class family, though he was a step up from one who was still a slave because he was a citizen. It is held by some scholars that Paul was well educated in the city of Tarsus, before he went to Jerusalem, being able to read and write Greek, as well as quote extensively from the Septuagint (LXX), and exemplary skills in Hellenistic rhetoric (Brown 1997, 423-425). For most of these liberal scholars, though, this is all mostly just speculation. What can we really know of Paul?

We can know for sure that Paul was from the city of Tarsus, as we have already noted with the liberal scholarship, and that this city was, indeed, an extremely influential place of Roman imperialism and culture (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Even though Paul’s hometown was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman paganism, as Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough (1998, 254) state, in their New Testament survey, “his writings show little significant influence of pagan authors.” It was the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, that dominates Paul’s thinking (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Paul was, unlike how the liberal scholars hold, educated in Jerusalem, not in his hometown of Tarsus ( Acts 22:3* CSB; Ibid., 255). It was in Jerusalem that Paul studied under the greatest rabbi of his time, Gamaliel I (Acts 22:3 CSB). Paul was a strict and zealous Pharisee (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 217). All of this gives background to who Paul was when he wrote Galatians.

When was the Letter Written?

South or North Galatia

Map is taken from Encountering the New Testament (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297).

Dating Paul’s letters is a complicated matter. There are three arguments around the dating of the Epistle of Galatians. All of these arguments stand on the notion of where in Galatia the letter was written to, northern or southern. The Northern Galatia Theory holds to two arguments—due to the argument in Gal 1:6 (CSB) of teachers coming in and presenting a different gospel, it is believed that Paul wrote this around the mid-fifties, that is AD 54-55 (Brown 1997, 477). The second argument for the Northern Galatia Theory is that Paul was planning to gather a collection from his Galatian churches for the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 16:1 CSSB), and after hearing that his flock had accepted a different gospel, he changed his mind and sent a letter instead to correct the problem (Ibid.). Those in this argument for the Northern Galatia Theory hold to a late date, ca. AD 57 while Paul was in Macedonia, written between 2 Corinthians and Romans (Ibid.). The third argument comes from the Southern Galatia Theory, which states that Paul wrote Galatians after the Second Missionary Journey (Ibid., 476). For those within this theory date the letter between AD 48 and early 50s (Ibid.). For some scholars, such as Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 70), the letter is dated to ca. AD 53. For other scholars—ie., Gerd Theissen (2003, 56), holds that Galatians is too difficult to date and could either be dated early, ca. AD 52 at the beginning of his time in Ephesus, or later ca. AD 55 right before he writes Romans, while he is ending his time in Ephesus. Raymond E. Brown (1997, 477), holds to a date of the mid-fifties, which puts him in the first argument for the Northern Galatia Theory.

At the heart of these arguments is the number of times Paul actually visited Jerusalem. Within this argument circles the view that there are three visits in Acts and two in Galatians, as well as why wouldn’t Paul mention the famine in Acts 11, which is within in the South Galatia Theory, and the mentioning of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is part of the North Galatia Theory (McClelland 2012, 1329). On the North Galatia Theory, the argument is that either Luke added one extra visit, or that Paul left one out (Ibid.). This is the argument that most liberal scholars like, due to the simple fact that they do not trust the accuracy of the Luke in his telling of the story in Acts, however, they honor the truth from Paul, since he lived his life and Luke wrote everything much later. However, to hold this view, as I have mentioned in the author’s note, is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Basically, we are able to hold to a South Galatia Theory, which would date this letter to ca. AD 48-50 (Ibid.; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293-294). We are able to do this for various reasons. Paul’s explanation of his two visits to Jerusalem (of which Acts was written after Galatians, thus it has an extra visit different than Paul’s in Galatians) in Gal 1:17-24 (CSB) and 2:1-10 (CSB) with those in Acts 9:26 and 11:28-30 (CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Paul mentions nothing of the council in Jerusalem from Acts 15 (CBS; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Along the same line is Peter’s retreat from the table fellowship (Gal 2:11-21 CSB), showing that this was before the Council (Carson, Moo, Morris 1992, 293).

Who were the Original Recipients of the Letter?

As we have seen, the dating of the letter relies heavily on the notion of who the original recipients were. Again, the argument is based on two theories, the North Galatia and the South Galatia Theories. For those in favor of the North Galatia Theory, think that Paul visited the cities, and established churches, in the northern-central portion of the Roman province of Galatia, which would have been the possible towns of Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297). The only problem with this is that it was during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, as described in Acts 15:36-18:22 (CSB).

Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Image is taken from

Acts only report of the previous towns that Paul had gone to were from his first trip, traveling to Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. Then Luke states that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, which sounds like Luke stating that Paul did not actually stop anywhere in Galatia, but moved through the region to his next stop in Troas. Just who, then, were the Galatians?

To begin, Galatia was actually a province of the Roman Empire that was taken over in 287 BC (McClelland 2012, 1328). It is was in the area known as Anatolia in the Classical period, Asia Minor during the Second Temple period, and Turkey in our period. Caesar Augustus made it a province in 25 BC. Augustus wasted no time in this area, restructuring the province into a more progressive urbanization making cities, roads, and the creation of the imperial cult throughout the region (Egger 2016). The ethnic Gauls established the ancient cities of Ancyra (modern-day capital of Turkey, Ankara), Tavium, and Pessinus (McClelland 2012, 1328). These three cities were established in Northern Galatia. The Romans made Ancyra the capital of the province, bolstering some marvelous “baths, stadiums, theatre, temple to Augustus, and numerous other public buildings” (Egger 2016). Pisidian Antioch was made into a Roman colony in 6 BC, also known as Caesarea Antiocheia, and the capital city of the Southern portion of the Galatian province (Barry et al. 2016). Lystra was one of the southern cities of Galatia, made a Roman colony, of which Pisidian Antioch was a chief military colony, in 6 BC (Odor 2016). Lystra was a trade and market town (Ibid.). During the time of Paul’s journeys and this letter, Lystra did not have many inhabitants (Ibid.). Since this is more of a circular letter, then, the question is still asked of who the people of Galatia were? What we do know is that the area known as Galatia was colonized by the people of the ancient Gauls (Mclelland 2012, 1328).

Author’s Note(s)

* How you view the authority of scripture is going to determine how you interpret it. What I mean by that is if you find it inerrant and infallible then you are going to take the Bible, as a whole, as authoritative and divine in regards to your interpretation; if however, you take a more liberal, or moderate, view of the Bible (meaning that you do not hold it infallible or inerrant) then you decide what is factual in the Bible, instead of the Bible tell you what is factual or not. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defines inerrant as “the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguard the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions” (MacArthur 1980, 197). Further, the Statement defines infallible as “the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.” (Ibid.). If you are not holding to these truths in regards to interpreting the Scriptures, then you are misinterpreting it (Ibid.). Basically, we need to know that there were human authors, who wrote in the genres of their time, yet God was completely in control of the whole thing from start to finish (Ibid).

Reference List

Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. 2016. “Antioch of Pisidia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Brown, Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Egger, John A. 2016. “Galatia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

MacArthur, John F. 1980. Why Believe the Bible? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, 1327-1354. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Odor, Judith A. 2016. “Lystra.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: 1:1-10 No Other Gospel Part A—A Rough Greeting



Every letter in the New Testament fits into a genre known as an epistle. Paul used letters for several reasons. First, thanks to the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), travel between areas, cities, and territories of the Roman Empire was easy and safe. The Romans were one of the first to create, some would say engineer, roadways and then police them with their soldiers for safety. Because of this, mail carrying was easy, quick, and safe. Second, Christianity was fastly growing within the Roman Empire, especially within the cities (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 231). Due to the speed of her growth, Paul needed to be able to reach his churches, with instructions, with the utmost rapidity. Second, as D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris (1992, 232) state, in their New Testament introduction, “[p]eople in Paul’s day saw the letter as a means of establishing personal presence from a distance, and this perfectly served the needs of the apostles in pastoring their flocks from a distance.” The genre of letter writing, in the Second-Temple period of Paul’s day, was pretty generic. Basically, Greco-Roman authors ranged in their styles, the number of actual letters, and words. For example, Cicero (actually pronounced Keekaro) has 776 letters averaging between 22-2,530 words, Seneca has 124 letters averaging between 149-4,134 words, were as Paul has 13 letters (that we know of, some scholars believe that he had one written to Corinth before 1 Corinthians was written) averaging about 1,300 words, where Romans bolsters a significant 7,114 words (Ibid., 232). We can see that Paul was very verbose about instructing his churches. As amazing as this is, a look at the structure of the letter genre is vitally important.

In the Greco-Roman world, letters had an address and greeting (of which were very short), a body, and a conclusion; Paul’s letters followed this, only with a few minor changes (Ibid.). As we have mentioned in the Intro to Jude, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (2014, 59), in their book on how to read the Bible, state that there are six features common, mostly, between the secular and the New Testament letters format:  author, recipient, greeting, prayer/thanksgiving, body, and a farewell/final greeting. Paul takes some liberties with his formatting. Paul addresses the Galatians (by the way this is what we call an occasional letter, also known as an ad hoc epistle—see Fee 2002, 17), which is the author and recipients (Gal. 1:1-5 CSB).

Galatians 1:1-10 Word Cloud
The Word Cloud is taken from the Logos 7 Passage Guide.

Then, Paul changes the greeting, to fit his own personal style. In the Greco-Roman world, the greeting was the Greek word chairein. Paul uses the word charis, “grace” (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 232).  Typically, after the greeting portion, Paul would go into a prayer or thanksgiving. However, Paul is not so happy with his audience, so therefore he offers no prayer or thanksgiving. Instead of this, Paul moves right into the body of the letter (Gal. 1:11-6:10 CSB). Then, Paul ends his letter with a personal appeal, no doxology or benediction—again, Paul is not very happy with the Galatians (Gal. 6:11-18 CSB).


Greeting 1:1-5


Galatians 13–5 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide.

The main point of Paul’s greeting is, a, straight out of the box defense of where he received his Gospel from.  Paul comes out swinging, right from the corner. Paul already knows that he is under attack because his message is assaulted. For Paul, this is personal and very serious. In the Churches of Galatia, there are some serious issues of how someone is saved, which means that the wrong message or view of this will send you straight to hell.


The Role of an Apostle


Apostle Word Pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study.

First things first, a complete understanding of an apostle and his role in the Church. Even though the word cloud has the word “apostle” very small—meaning that it is not that important, it is significant for our understanding of who Paul claims to be. Granted, Paul only uses the word once, mainly in this passage, it’s highly influential for Paul’s authority and for his Gospel. Paul uses this word at least three times in this letter (Gal 1:1, 17, 19 CSB). This needs to be completely clear, Paul uses this word, a lot, in all of his letters. Paul is constantly defending himself as an apostle in every one of his letters. So, what is an apostle? The word, in Greek, is apostolos and loosely translates as apostle, messenger, or envoy.  At its simplest form, the word means “[s]omeone, or something, sent” (Nässelqvist 2016; Fitzmyer 2008, 231). However, there is history to the term, one that gives it its meaning. Outside of the Bible, it was used for maritime messages—Joseph Fitzmyer (2008, 231) claims it was used for naval expeditions—of certain colonies being sent, or trade-vessels, and even, as Herodotus used in his Histories “an envoy, messenger, ambassador” (History 1.21; 5.38 quoted in Fitzmyer 2008, 231; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.300 cited in Nässelqvist 2016). Within the Bible, it’s used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, also known as LXX); in 1 Kgs 14:6 (NASB) the Hebrew šālûaḥ is translated into the Greek apostellein, “send” (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Within the New Testament, the word takes on a different meaning, one that is more than a message or messenger, it becomes one with a message and authority. The best way to understand this shift in meaning for the New Testament period is in first century Judaism. Basically, the Jerusalem authorities (most likely the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin) would send out rabbis as “commissioned emissaries” with the authority of the Sanhedrin to settle matters of financial, calendar, and doctrinal issues that sprouted up within the Diaspora—disperssed Jews throughout the Roman Empire (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Jesus stated, “that something [Himself] greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6 CSB). For Paul, his authority, as one sent out (an apostle), came not from men unlike those rabbis from Jerusalem and the Temple where the Sanhedrin resided, but “by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1 CSB).


God as the Father



Greek Word Pie is taken from Logos 7


Paul moves quickly from stating his role as an apostle to his main point, within the greeting—where his real authority comes from. Before we talk about the role of Christ in Paul’s theology, we must first look at his view of who God is. Paul call’s God “the Father” (Gal 1:1 CSB).  Paul uses the word Father three times in his greeting (Gal 1:1, 3, 4 CSB). This signifies how Paul sees God, just as Jesus saw God as His and our Father, so does Paul. He uses the word some forty-three times in all of his epistles. Twice he quotes Jesus, “Abba Father” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15 CSB). In Greek, the word is pater and is literally translated as father. For Paul, God is the only Father—God is the Father of Jesus (Gal 1:1 CSB) and He is the Father of all Christians (Gal 1:3, 4 CSB)—which is shown as God giving life to both Jesus through his resurrection and then to all Christians by way of justification (Martyn 2008, 84). Because God is Father, Jesus was raised back to life from death, redeeming all who believe in Him, of which Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6 CSB). In other words, Jesus is Paul’s way to salvation, yet it was God who was the main source (McClelland 2012, 1332).


Jesus’ Death and Resurrection as an Atonement


John Huss on Jesus' Sacrifice as an Atonement

The Image is taken from Ritzema, Elliot, and Rebecca Brant, eds. 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church. Pastorum Series. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013.


To understand what Paul’s Gospel is, we need to carefully dissect Paul’s statement in verse 4: Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4 CSB). First is the understanding of the word sin. Paul uses this word some sixty-four times in his letters. Paul, however, only uses this word three times in his Epistle to the Galatians. In Greek, hamartion is the plural form of hamartia, which simply means sin. It can also be used as wrongdoer and guilt. In the Old Testament, sinning was defined as missing the mark, [k]hata. This word, for the ancient Israelites, was more than an individual missing the mark or failing; to be honest, this word meant a problem for the whole of the community. In other words, sinning was not merely an individual act, its consequences covered the whole kingdom of Israel ( Henderson 2016). In the overall understanding of the Jewish view of sin, it is this, as J. Henderson (Ibid.) states in his article on sin, its a “direct violation of His [God’s] will.”

Sin Word Pie
The Word Pie is taken from Logos 7. 

 During the Greco-Roman era or the Second Temple Period, sin (hamartia) was viewed as a deviation from justice (Ibid.). For Socrates, sin, as well as guilt, was rooted in ignorance (Ibid.). Plato, modifying Socrates’ understanding, says that sin is not only just stemming from ignorance, it also comes from a conquering of reason by passion and appetite (Ibid.). Again, Henderson (Ibid.), in his article on sin, states that Aristotle (expanding on both Socrates and Plato’s understanding) viewed sin as


“further distinguish[ed] between the various was the rational part of the soul can know right from wrong: There is in fact a type of knowledge of right and wrong that cannot be overcome by passion or appetite, while there is a weaker type of knowledge seen in those under the influence of the passions that is similar to one who is dreaming, mad, or drunk.”

To the early Church, the Jewish notion of sin was kept, but modified around the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ibid.). Henderson (Ibid.), states in his article on sin that Jesus’ death and resurrection was seen by the early Church as an

“inaugurat[ion] [of] the new age, though they did not maintain that the old age had fully passed away. Thus, the early early Christians find themselves still living in the world surrounded by sin until the second coming of Christ and the new creation.”

Therefore, sin is not simply missing the mark, nor thinking incorrectly, it is, as Henderson (Ibid.) states, ” an internal, impersonal force within each person and within the church, closely connected with the very personal force of Satan, who seeks to turn people away from God.” Therefore, it is a complete struggle for power over people, sin is seen as a powerful force (Ibid).


Ther is only one thing that can save us from the struggle of sin—Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Greek word, exaireo, means rescue, deliver.

Rescue Word Pie
Rescue Word Pie image is taken from Logos 7.

It can also mean to take out, tear out, or remove. Paul’s use of this word is actually difficult, the Greek word is actually exeletai. In Greek, there is a form of language that we Americans do not have—the aorist tense. This tense is mostly past, however, it also indicates present and future at the same time. Paul uses the word rescue, which is tied to Jesus’ action of atonement, as a fixed moment in time, that was done in the past, however, continues to be used into the future (Morwood 2001, 61). This word is difficult to translate, however. The lexical form of the word is exaireo, as mentioned earlier, which means to deliver, take out, rescue. Strangely, the root of the word is aireo, which means to destroy; execute. To help matters, the word is not translated the same in all Bible versions. In the ESV, the word is “deliver.” However, in the CSB, NIV, NABRE, NET, and LEB* it’s “rescue.” The GNB has it as “set free,” and in the NJB it’s “liberate.” In all cases, what Paul is referring to is the theological understanding of the atonement.


Romans 323–24 [widescreen]

The image is taken from the Logos 7 Passage Guide.

J. I. Packer (1993, 134), in his Concise Theology, defines atonement as the “means [of] making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.” To be completely clear, this entire epistle is about salvation—soteriology—or the work of the person of Christ. Though Paul does not use the word, atonement, in this letter, he does use it in thought for Jesus’ actions, ” who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal 1:4 CSB). However, to completely understand the atonement of Christ, we need to look closer at the context of it. After God saved Israel from the Egyptians, He had to set up ways that He could commune with His people. For that to happen the people needed to be cleansed of their sins because God is holy and incorruptible. God despises sins (Jer 44:4; Hab 1:13 CSB). Because this is who God is, He must punish those who are sinful (Ps 5:4-6; Rom 1:18; 2:5-9 CSB). That being said, God had to make ways for the people to be atoned for. Leviticus tells us all about how the priests were to make atoning sacrifices for the people (Lev 17:11 CSB; Packer 1993, 134-135). By the time of the early Church, the understanding of atonement, established by the ancient Israelites, revolves around the work of Christ—Jesus’ death was a once-and-for-all, fixed moment in history, atoning event, one that surpassed what the Law required (Brockway 2016). Paul cashes in on this notion when, in Romans, he speaks of the atonement of Jesus. It’s in Romans 3:25 that Paul says, “God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (CSB). It’s here, in Romans, that the word hilasterion is used. This word can mean propitiation or mercy seat. Propitiation means that God demanded a righteous sacrifice to wipe away our sins, that we may be reconciled to Him(Lightner 1995, 195). As we have seen in the meaning of the use of exeletai, “rescue,” Paul was thinking of this notion, long before he wrote Romans. Paul understood the work of Christ, how his death and resurrection was done for us, to bring glory to God. This notion of salvation is all throughout the entirety of the epistle and we will look at it every time we come to it.


Author’s Note(s)

*These translations are: English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, New International Version, New American Bible Revised Edition (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible), New English Translation, Lexham English Bible, Good News Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. The NABRE and NJB are two different Catholic translations, both of which are good for Protestants to use, due to seeing what Catholics view as Christianity.

Reference List


Brockway, D. 2016. “Atonement.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fee, Gordon D. 2002. New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. 2014. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 2008. Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

Henderson, J. Jordan. 2016. “Sin.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Lightner, Robert P. 1995. Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Martyn, J. Louis. 2008. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33A. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Morwood, James. 2001. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nässelqvist, Dan. 2016. “Apostle.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Packer, J. I. 1993. “Sacrifice: Jesus Christ Made Atonement for Sin.” In Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Part Two: Introduction

The Importance of Galatians for Us Today

Galatians 220 [widescreen]

Galatians has had a very large impact on the Church throughout her history. Merrill C. Tenney (1973, 15-16), in his commentary on Galatians, states the letter to be the manifesto of Martin Luther in his “revolt against the Roman ritual and hierarchy.” It has been known as the “Magna Charta of spiritual emancipation,” especially with its teachings of faith and liberty for the whole Church (Tenney 1973, 16).  Almost from the beginning of the writings of Paul, Galatians has been used throughout the whole of the Church (Ibid., 19-21). It’s thought that Paul used, or even expounded upon, it when he wrote Romans (Ibid., 19). It’s believed that Polycarp alluded to Galatians twice in his Epistle to the Philippians (Ibid.). Polycarp says, “God is not mocked” (5.1 connected with Gal 6:7 CSB; Tenney 1973, 19). He also states, “”Father who raised him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (XII. ii connected to Gal 1:1 CSB; Tenney 1973, 19). Irenaeus mentions the Epistle by name (Against Heresies 5.11.1) and Origen (ca.  AD 200) talks about it in his various commentaries, and finally, Jerome and Pelagius (fourth-century scholars) both focused on the Epistle to the Galatians in their works (Tenney 1973, 20). At the start of the Reformation, this Epistle was vastly important. Luther said, “[t]he Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it [sic] I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine [his actual wife]” (Luther 1535, Kindle Edition). If this letter can leave such a powerful experience on Luther, then we, who follow, should also be left with such an experience.

Why was this Letter Written?

Galatians Word Cloud

In this graph, the larger the word the more often it is used in the text. Also, Galatians appears in black because it is shown to be the portion of Scripture where these words come from for the graph. Word cloud taken from

Paul writes his epistle with a very specific tone of voice toward his various churches in Galatia (Gal 4:20 CSB). Paul has to speak, rather harshly it seems, due to a very important issue that has happened in churches. It is even noticeable that out of all of his letters, this one does not even have a thanksgiving or praise part to it, which was vitally important in this genre during Paul’s day (there are only two other letters, 2 Cor., 1 Tim., and Titus that did not have the thanksgiving portion in it). Paul uses very harsh words, things like curse and mutilation. In English, these words do not hold a very harsh or scary tone to them, but in the original Greek, they hold a very different meaning. When Paul says, twice, that anyone who teaches a different gospel is to be cursed, the Greek word is anathema, which is Paul saying that they are to be damned, to go to hell (Gal 1:8-9 CSB). Also, when Paul wishes that false teachers would be mutilated he is talking of not just circumcising themselves, he wants them to cut their whole manhood off—if you get what I mean—which is what is found in the meaning of the Greek word apokopsontai (Gal 5:12 CSB). The Greek word does mean to cut off, however, Paul means the whole thing, take it all the way he is telling his agitators. That is some harsh wording for his audience, even for his enemies. 

It must be understood, the Churches themselves are not the problem and therefore Paul says, “[y]ou have not wronged me; you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a weakness of the flesh. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself” (Gal 4:12b-14 CSB). If Paul is not blaming his churches for the problem, then what is it that he is so harshly reprimanding them for? Paul even has to ask them this: “[y]ou were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth” (Gal 5:7 CSB)? What has happened, then, is something like this. Some Jewish-Christians, those who have been named Judaizers (Gal 2:14 CSB), came into Paul’s churches in Galatia and began teaching that Jesus was not the only answer to salvation, that their faith was not enough, they needed to follow the Law in order to be fully saved. Now, technically, there is no translation that uses the word Judaizer, most say “live like Jews” (Gal 2:14 CSB, ESV, NABRE, NET, and NRSV). However, the meaning is still the same, to make someone who is not Jewish, live like one who is. This is the straight problem that fills all of the epistle. 

There are many schools of thought on what this letter, then, means. The first argument comes from Gerd Theissen (2003, 63) who believes that Paul was exaggerating in his remarks of the so-called proponents in his letter. He then states the actual truth was more in the fact that the Judaizers came in to fully complete Paul’s work by introducing circumcision (Ibid.). Theissen then completes his interpretation of the so-called proponents as holding to a more Jewish understanding of conversion in a two-stage process. First the Gentiles become God-fearers by attending services at the local synagogue; second, themselves or their children become fully Jewish by becoming circumcised (Ibid.). Thus, Paul’s argument (as Theissen believes) is that circumcision is not necessary to complete their faith but that faith itself finishes this work (Ibid., 64-65). Theissen plays down the seriousness of Paul’s letter. For him, the so-called proponents are just simply misunderstood.

Conversion of St. Paul

The image is taken from

Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 66-69), interpret Galatians with the background of the events in Acts 15 (CSB) and James’ letter to the Gentile believers. For Chilton and Good, Paul and James do not get along, James believes that the Gentiles are nothing more than a mere support to the true Israelites and for Paul, everything in the Torah and its rituals is not spiritual but merely idol worshipping (Ibid.). Because of the issue in Antioch, with Peter and Barnabas siding with the Judaizers, switching dinner fellowship from the Gentiles to the Jews, causes Paul to be excommunicated from Antioch (Ibid.). Therefore, Paul sets up shop in Ephesus and shows his fierce anger at the Galatians when the same thing begins to happen in their churches (Ibid.). For Chilton and Good, Paul is nothing more than an excommunicated, angry, free-spirited, radical Jew who will not have anything Jewish in his churches. If Theissen sees the anger of Paul as over exaggerated, then Chilton and Good view Paul as right to be so angry, maybe not even mad enough.

There is a field of research in New Testament studies known as Social-Science Criticism. Basically, these are sociologists and social historians (historians who focus on the social aspect of history) who apply sociology and social-science methodology in their understanding of the New Testament. One group of scholars in this field, Bruce Malina and John Pilch (2006, 178-180), have written a commentary on the so-called authentic letters of Paul (most liberal scholars do not think that all thirteen letters were written by Paul). They believe that Galatians is written by Paul on the defense of Greek Jews living outside of Judea not needing to live as those in Judea (Ibid.). Basically, in Malina and Pilch’s understanding, Paul did not convert anyone outside of Judaism to Christ. What this means, in their field, is that for the Jew there were Judean Jews (Greeks thought of them as barbarians) and Greek Jews (Greeks were the civilized ones); essentially, Greek Jews did not practice all of the strict rituals that the Judeans did (Ibid.). Paul went to the Greek Jews in Galatia, taught them of Christ, saw that the Greek view of Judaism was compatible with his message of Christ and did not require them to become Judean in their practice of Judaism. This is a tough pill to swallow, mainly because Acts records that Paul went to the Jew first in the synagogues, and then when he was rejected he moved on to the Gentiles, not Jewish Greeks but Greco-Romans, pagans (Acts 18:6 CSB).

Let’s look at these arguments from a different view. First, we know that Paul and Barnabas (thanks to Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys in Acts 13-14, CSB) went throughout the southern region of Galatia preaching and teaching first in the synagogues, then when other Jews began to stir up trouble they moved to the Gentiles (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295).

Paul and Barnabas are called gods
The image is taken from

Therefore, the churches of Galatia are going to be mostly Gentile (Ibid.). Second, the local issue of the Jewish-Christians is not that they are simply Jewish, mostly because the Jews did not bother trying to correct Christian understanding, they just came against them (Ibid.). What this means, then, is that these Jewish-Christians are false teachers (Ibid.). Next, Paul’s Gospel was brought into question, which means that the true Gospel of God was under fire (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 298-299). Because his Gospel is called into question, Paul is thus doubted as a true apostle (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). This is why Paul opens his letter, “an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1 CSB). It’s also why Paul states at the end of his letter, “let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17 CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). The false gospel, being taught by the false teachers, was that Jesus was not the only way to be saved, you still had to follow the Law—mainly, circumcision and dietary (Gal 2:15-16; 3:10, 23; 5:2-6, 12; 6:12 CSB). Paul’s rhetoric, which is valid and strong, states that if one is to take on circumcision, then one is to practice the whole Law and therefore negating the freedom one has under Christ (Carlson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). What is Paul’s answer to the false teachers? It’s not a simple one, though it seems that way to others. Paul’s answer is that we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law…[we] have been crucified with Christ…[we] live by faith in the Son of God [Jesus]…for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Gal 2:16, 20, 21 CSB). 

What is the Doctrine of Justification and Why is it so Important?

Galatians' Word Cloud from Logos

The word cloud is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide

When you read the epistle of Galatians, certain things begin to pop out at you. One of the first things to be seen is best illustrated with the two word clouds on the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, the first one taken from Blue Letter Bible (BLB) and the one, directly above, is from Logos 7.  You can see that one of the major words in the cloud is “justify” and one other word, that stems from the same Greek word, which is slightly smaller in the Logos 7 word cloud is “righteous.” When we look at the key verse for this in Galatians (2:15-21 CSB), we can see that the word justified is even bigger, while righteousness is smaller.

Galatians 2:15-21 Word Cloud
The word cloud is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide

Next, we can see that there are several large words, other than justified, within this word cloud. First, it must be noted that the word sinners is fairly large, as well as Christ and died. What is happening in this portion of the text is something crazy, which gets carried out throughout the whole portion of the letter—the dualism between sinners (under the Law) and those who are justified (the ones that have faith in Christ). To understand this, we need to grasp the word dikaioutai, which the lexical form dikaioo, in English, means to justify, vindicate, or be free. The word pie below, taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study Guide, shows that the lexical form of dikaioo, justify, has its root in the word dike, which means punishment; or penalty; or justice. Basically, this is a legal term, which shows that justified means that we are made right with God, through our faith in the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.

Justified Greek Word Pie
The Word Pie, on the Greek word for Justified, taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study Guide

The Council of Trent (1531) states “[f]or faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.” What this means, is that for modern Roman Catholics, one is only justified if they meet it with charity—fides caritate formata (Dulles 2011, 98).  However, this was not how the reformers saw it. According to scripture (Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.), we are justified by faith alone (sola fide). R. C. Sproul (2014, 233), states “justification is a legal pronouncement made by God. In other words, justification can occur only when God, who is Himself just, becomes the Justifier by decreeing someone to be just in His sight.” This is why the words justified and sinner are bigger words in the word cloud than any other. As sinners, we deserve the full wrath and judgment of God, however, Jesus Christ came, as a human, lived righteously, because we could not. When He was placed on the cross, he took our sins, in exchange we received His righteousness upon His resurrection from the dead. This is how our faith, in Christ, makes us right with God. Thus, this is the message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Reference List

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. 289-303. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. 66-69. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Dulles, Avery. “Faith and Revelation.” In Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Edited by Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin. 79-108. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Elwell, Walter and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. 296-303. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535). Translated by Theodore Graebner. Kindle edition.

Malina, Bruce J. and John J. Pilch. 2006. Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul. 177-218. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Sproul, R. C. (2014). Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 233-236. Orlando: Reformation Trust.

Tenney, Merrill C.  1973. Galatians: The Charter of Christian Liberty. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. 62-66. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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Epistle of Jude 17-25: Keep Yourself in the Love of God, Contending for the Faith

jude17-25_image(2) - Edited


Jude has brought us along on a short, but powerful journey. Sharing with his audience, as well as us, what following Christ really is like. We are not just someone in an audience, listening to a pastor on a Sunday morning. We are being called to “save others by snatching them from the fire” and to show mercy to them, all while keeping ourselves in the love of Christ (Jude 23 CSB). This is the powerful, yet short message of Jude’s epistle. Join me as we look at the end of Jude’s epistle together.

Jude 17-23

Warning and an Exhortation

Jude’s last portion of his letter is structured as so—he calls for his audience to contend for the faith just as he requested them to in his opening. There are three sections—there is the call to remember the teaching of the Apostles regarding the eschaton (a fancy word for the end time), that there would be those who would live ungodly lives. Then, Jude breaks out his exhortation with verses 21-23. Jude then ends with his benediction.

jude17-19_imageWith this section, the words hymeis de (But you) begins both the sentences in verse 17 and 20. What is most interesting about this section is that Jude makes mention that his audience had heard what the Apostles said, which leads to the notion that either Jude is reminding his audience of what the Apostles said, of which he himself quoted, or, and more probable, is that Jude’s audience actually heard the literal words of all 11 of the Apostles, which would make this letter earlier than believed (Faithlife Study Bible note). As well, we have access to this teaching, in Mark 13:22; Acts 20:30; 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Pet 3:3 (CSB). This has to do with eschatology (the study of the end times). During the time period of Jude’s letter, the notion of the end time was that it began with Jesus’ resurrection and would come to fruition upon His second coming (Brooks 2016). Jude uses the word elegon which in the Greek is parsed as a third person plural verb in the imperfect active indicative. I know that is a long phrase to say “they said.” What it means, though, is that the wording connotes that the Apostles continuously predicted of these false teachers (NIV Study Bible). Jude calls these false teachers, empaiktai, scoffers. Jude, again, tells his audience that these men are out for nothing except what fulfills their desires. He tells us that we can know who they are because they “create divisions and are worldly, not having the Spirit” (Jude 19 CSB).


Jude 20–21 [widescreen]


Now we turn to Jude’s exhortation. Again, Jude begins his sentence with the words, hymeis de (But you). Jude uses several words, which all tie into the theme of contending for the faith. jude20-23_imageFirst, Jude tells his audience that they need to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20 CSB).  Followed by waiting on the eternal life in the mercy of Jesus Christ (Jude 21 CSB). After this, Jude wants us to “[h]ave mercy on those who waver” (Jude 22 CSB); save others from hell, show mercy without fear, and to hate corruption (Jude 23 CSB). This second to the last paragraph in Jude’s letter is loaded with such wonderful and, yet, powerful words.



Jude begins this exhortation with the desire for his audience to pray in the Spirit. Jude believes that praying in the Spirit will build up the members of the Church. The word for build up in Greek is epoikodomountes. This word is a long Greek word for “up” in English. The word build is connoted with it or joined with it through context. Here, Jude uses the word proseuchomenoi which is translated as praying. The lexical, or root word, for this, is proseuchomai which means to pray. It is the most common, or general, Greek word used for the actual act of conversing with God. Prayer was a very important part of the early Church, one that flowed over from Judaism (Hardin 2016). Early Judaism, of which the early Church came from, had several types of prayers—eg., liturgical, personal, and spontaneous ones (Ibid.). However, the early Christians did have their own take on the prayers, of which are—Abba Father, Thanksgiving, In Jesus Name, and Intercessions in the Spirit (Ibid.). Jude, here, is requesting his audience to pray in the power and spontaneousness of the Spirit (NIV Study Bible, Keener and Walton 2016; MacArthur 2017). Jude believes, that by praying in the Spirit, his audience will be able to keep themselves in the love of God. We can identify this by the simple fact that Jude’s only command is the word keep, in Greek is tērēsate. Helm (2008) in his commentary of Jude says,

It is a matter of Greek grammar. In the list of things Jude calls us to do in verses 20, 21, the word “keep” is the only one that appears as an imperative. In other words, it is Jude’s only command. The other items in Jude’s how-to list are what are called participles, which means that grammatically speaking they are dependent on the phrase “keep yourselves.” In essence, Jude’s call in verse 21 to keep ourselves is the center of gravity for everything else being said.

What Jude is getting at here, with verses 20 and 21 is that the good Christ followers will pray in the Spirit, unlike those false teachers who will be worldly, seeking any ways possible to fulfill their own desires.

Between verses 22 and 23, Jude uses the word mercy twice. The Greek word, eleate, translated as mercy is used by Mounce (2006) and he defines the root word, eleeō, as an “emotional response and resulting action after encountering the suffering or affliction of another.” Basically, Jude uses this word here, as well as in 23, in a way that is to have pity on those who are suffering. Jude then makes a strange request in verse 23, he seeks us to snatch people from Hell! The Greek word, harpazontes, means snatching. Once again, Mounce (2008) describes the lexical form of the word, harpazō, as a violent or forceful grasp. Mounce (2008) believes that Jude uses this word to teach “the forceful proclamation of sound doctrine.” In verse 22, again, who are those who waver? Jude chose the Greek word diakrinomenous, which translates as waver in the CSB, NAB, and the NLT, and the ESV, LEB, and the NIV translate the word as doubt. I believe that Jude is seeking for his audience to show pity on those who were affected by the false teachers and having doubt in the correct doctrinal teachings of the Church.

In verse 23, Jude then exhorts his audience to “save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear-hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (CSB). Jude uses the Greek word, sozete, which means to save. Since Jude’s audience was mostly Jewish, one can understand the meaning of this word in its Jewish context. The translators of the LXX (Septuigent—Greek version of the Old Testament) used sozo, the lexical form of sozete, roughly 15 times and mostly for the Hebrew verb yāša’ which means “to deliver and save;” as well as for mālaṭ meaning “to slip away, escape, or (piel) to deliver, save” (Verbrugge 2000). There were two main meanings of this word in the LXX for sozo which were by human deliverance, meaning from a king to “the poor, needy, and oppressed within the nation”; while the other meaning comes from God (Ibid.). Many Old Testament warnings were in regards to not being sucked into a false notion of salvation from things not of God (Ibid.). Jude, being the good Jew that he was trained up to be, uses these many warnings (as we have seen in his letter so far) to say to his audience that they are to be part of the deliverance of God to those who are led astray.

Jude uses the weirdest statement in his whole letter when he exhorts his audience to “show mercy with fear” (Jude 23 CSB). What does he mean by fear? The word in Greek is phobo. Jude’s use of the word phobo is nothing short of simply being mindful. What that means, in a way, has to be seen with the rest of the sentence of which this statement comes from “hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 23 CSB). What does Jude mean, though, in regards to “the garment?” Jude uses the Greek word chitona which is translated as either garment or tunic. The tunic, as used in this verse, was the garment worn under the outer one, or as William Mounce, in his New Testament Dictionary, states, “the article of clothing worn next to the skin by both men and women” (Mounce 2006). What needs to be understood here, then, is that what is the closest to the person is easily corruptible. In other words, as the translators of the NET state, “the things close to the sinners are contaminated by them, presumably during the process of sinning” (Harris 2017). All of verse 23 is taken from Zechariah 3:1-5 (CSB). God rebukes Satan for accusing the high priest Joshua in front of the Lord. God asks Satan, “[i]sn’t this man [high priest Joshua] a burning stick snatched from the fire?” After this, God takes Joshua’s clothes, which were filthy, and replaces them with clean ones (Zech 3:4-5 CSB). Jude wants his audience, who would have had this verse from Zechariah in their thoughts, to see that this was how God wants them (as well as us) to treat those who have strayed.

Jude 24-25



Jude 24–25 [widescreen]


Now we come to the portion of the letter known as the doxology or the benediction. This is Jude’s final closing to his audience. Most Jewish services would end on a praise through a doxology (Keener 2014, 722). Jude is now going to tie everything back to his theme of salvation that he briefly spoke of at the beginning of his letter (Jude 1-3 CSB; MacArthur 2017, 1988n). Jude is able to do this with his song of praise to God.

Jude opens is doxology expressing one of the most important truths in all of the Bible—”to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy” (Jude 24 CBS). To begin, Jude uses the Greek word phylaxai which comes from the lexical form phylassō which can mean to guard, preserve, and/or keep. The Greeks had a form of this word for a guard or sentry (phylax). In Jude’s use, it can be translated as protect. Only the CSB states this word as protect in English where the ESV, GNB, NJB, NIV, and NLT all interpret it as keep. For Jude, protect or keep can mean the same thing, which in theology is known as the doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.” It is best explained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647, 17.1) as ” [t]hey, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.” The notion is that if we are truly regenerated, saved, by the work of Jesus, then we will never fall away. There is also an understanding, here, that in verse 21 Jude tells us to keep in the love of Christ, which now he tells us that it is in God that we are kept. In other words, God’s grace keeps us, which causes us to stay in Christ’s love. By doing this, it brings glory to God.


Jude’s Epistle was written to show his audience, as well as us, to stay holy, persevering in the love of Christ. Jude 25 [widescreen]We are to contend for the faith, saving those along the way who have lost their way. We are only able to do this through the perseverance of God. It was God who created this world and everything in it, calling it good. From the beginning, God made a covenant with Adam, that was to be carried along by the rest of humanity, to expand His kingdom (the Garden of Eden). However, it was man who broke that covenant. Then, God made more covenants (eg., Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the people of Israel) knowing full well that we would never be able to uphold our end of the contract. Therefore, God had to do what we could not, he made a covenant with Himself through the person of Jesus the Christ, for us. Through that covenant, God was able to keep/protect us, which in turn allows us to stay in the love of Christ. This is the message of Jude, in a nutshell. “Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25 CSB)!

Reference List

Brooks, Page. 2016. “Eschatology.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Hardin, Leslie T. 2016. “Prayer.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Harris, W. Hall III ed. 2017. New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, LLC.

Helm, David R. 1-2 Peter and Jude. Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Keener, Craig S. 2014. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Keener, Craig S. and John H. Walton. 2016. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MacArthur, John. 2017. MacArthur Study Bible: Aniversary Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Mounce, William D. 2008. “(Have) Mercy.” In Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Verbrugge, Verlyn ed. “G5392 σῴζω.” In New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 


Epistle of Jude 12-19: Dead Fruitless Trees



Sometimes you go to a church where things act, look, and sound Christian (especially orthodox). However, you find out that the pastor has just been accused of having an affair with his secretary or stealing money from the offering. When your church needed a new roof or some work done in the basement, yet, somehow the pastor has just gotten a new car or house, you begin to wonder what is really going on. In the early middle ages (ca. AD 500-1000), the office of the priesthood was held by, mostly, the children of a current churches priest. Basically, until the 11th century, the Medieval Church allowed their priests to marry, giving their offspring the ability to inherit the parish and take over as its new priest. This was good, until the time of the Viking invasions, which left the churches in the hands of ungodly, false teachers, men who did not care how the church flourished spiritually, only that they got their women and money. After this, the priesthood moved to more of the nobility. During the High Middle Ages (ca. AD 1000-1250), if a noble had three sons, one took on the family industry of the nobility, the second would become a lawyer, and the third would become a member of the clergy. This tradition continued on till the modern period of the French Revolution (1789). Interestingly, the desire to hold a pastorate or church for sex, power, and/or wealth, has been common, even in today’s society. This is what Jude calls us to look out for. We must judge these so-called rulers by the type of fruit they produce.

Jude has just finished exegeting (fancy word for pulling out of the text, an important form of interpretation) and is now going to move along to applying his findings to his audience (Helm 2015). Those who proclaim to be teachers of the Word, yet live a life contrary to it, as Jude will tell us, are nothing more than dangerous reefs, waterless clouds, and fruitless trees (Jude 12 CSB). Jude tells us that these false teachers are the ones “whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever” (Jude 13 CSB). 

Jude 12-13

Jude begins his application by describing what type of people these so-called leaders actually are. He uses the word, in Greek, spilades, which can be translated, as in most cases, hidden reefs. This is a very interesting term to use when speaking of eating at a feast. In the translations of Mounce’s Reverse-Interlinear New Testament, NIV, and the NAB (New American Bible Revised), it is translated as blemish. According to the NET (New English Translation),  the translating of spilades as blemish is incorrect. The Greek word for blemish would be spiloi. They’re similar, even in the root of the words, spilas and spilos. Basically, the ESV, CSB (Christian Standard Bible, a revision of the HCSB), NET, and NLT have it translated, correctly, hidden/dangerous reef. Making the concept of the false teachers as ones who being so-called rocks of their community are nothing more than hidden reefs, causing a shipwreck (Harris 2017).

Early Christians celebrated the Eucharist as a love feast. Though we do know that Christ used bread and wine to form His new community; Jesus and His disciples feasted on a bigger meal, the Passover Feast, which consisted of lamb, bread, wine, and various other dishes. Craig S. Keener (2016), in his comment on Jude 12 in his Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, states that communal meals were part of the Mediterranean value system, where it created an obligatory friendship bond. The idea behind these feasts, tais agapais in Greek, was for the community to gather together to celebrate their love of Christ and each other. It’s in this feast that these false teachers are corrupting and shipwrecking the flock.

Jude now begins to tear these heretics apart, using some very descriptive words in regards to what kind of people they are, within his church. Jude begins with calling them “shepherds who only look after themselves” (Jude 12 CSB). In other words, what Jude is telling his audience is that these men care only about themselves. These men seek only gain, no matter what the cost. Jude continues to explain that these so-called shepherds are completely useless, devoid of any value. This is why he likens them to waterless clouds, dead, uprooted (twice over) fruitless trees (Jude 12 CSB). This last statement is important. Jude calls these men, dead trees, that are fruitless, and uprooted. It is vitally important for us to catch what Jude is saying here, these men are incapable of producing anything of value because they are dead and uprooted. They cannot, and will not, be able to be fruitful. 

Next, Jude moves to an even deeper expounding of their persons and reservations. Jude says that “[t]hey are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shameful deeds” (Jude 13 CSB). The Jews had a way with words. In Jewish writings, it was not uncommon to use the symbolism of waves for wickedness (Keener and Walton 2016). The Greeks had a way with language as well; here, for instance, is the single word epaphrizonta which literally translates into casting up the foam. It was sometimes associated with “babbling or exposing secrets” (Keener and Walton 2016). Next Jude tells his audience that these false prophets are “wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness is reserved forever” (Jude 13 CSB). Wandering stars were seen as actually planets, which in some cases they actually are (Keener and Walton 2016). What Jude is saying here, which aligns with his culture and time, is that these false teachers are nothing more than the erratic planets circling around the earth–which we know today is not correct, however, the argument is still valid (Ibid.). Again, Jude alludes to 1 Enoch, with this statement about the false prophets being wandering stars (Ibid.). It is in 1 Enoch “that God imprisoned hostile star-angels [and that their] judgment [was] as “darkness … forever” (Ibid.). 

Jude 14-16

It’s time again that we focused on Jude’s use of extrabiblical sources for his message in his letter. First, Jude was not incorrect in his use of extrabiblical sources, mainly because, even, Jesus did not stick strictly to the Old Testament (see Matt 23 CSB; Archer 1982). What we need to look at, quickly, is who Enoch was. The only source, in the Bible, for Enoch comes from the Torah, or Pentateuch (Gen 5:18-24 NKJV). What we can deduce, here from Jude, as well as Genesis, is that Enoch was the seventh generation after Adam and that he was thought to have prophesied the verse in 1 Enoch 1:9 (Jude 14-15 CSB). 1 Enoch is what scholars like to call, apocalyptic literature. Basically, apocalyptic literature is a Biblical genre that uses symbols and imagery to portray God’s future judgment (Neal 2016). 1 Enoch does resemble much of the Old Testament and may have influenced some of the New Testament writers, using common terms as Son of Man and shared notions of angels (Hiehle and Whitcomb 2016). First off, 1 Enoch was written ca. 200 BC (Ibid.). That is a long time after the actual life of Enoch, as well as about few hundred years before Jude even thought about writing his letter. Essentially, 1 Enoch is a book all about the coming judgment, end times narrative much like Revelation, of God, especially upon the ungodly (Ibid.). Though 1 Enoch is not canonical, Jude still used it to show his audience the seriousness of God’s coming judgment on false teachers (Helm 2015). To end this portion of Jude’s letter, these false teachers are nothing more than loudmouths who long to glorify themselves and gain as much sensuality, power, and wealth as they can (Jude 16 CSB).


We, in the Church of America, are continuously under attack by Satan and his army of false teachers. It seems that there is always someone taking advantage of another. Let us think like Jude, be on our guard of these dead and fruitless heretics. Jesus is our only Lord and God and we need to be wary of anyone preaching another gospel unlike some of those in Paul’s churches (Gal 1:6; 2 Cor 11:4 CSB). There are those who do not preach God’s wrath, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Christ’s actual divinity. Instead, they water down the Gospel, teaching a Jesus who led a revolution and died because of injustice. This is the Church in America that is falling prey to these attacks, and it is time that we listen to Jude, as well as the other New Testament authors, and wake up take back our Church. Oh little ones, be careful of the false teachers. Let us stay faithful to Christ, His teachings, and the Word of God.

Reference List

Archer, Gleason L. 1982. “Did Jude err when he cited nonbiblical sources?” In New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Harris, W. Hall III. 2017. New English Translation. Biblical Studies Press, LLC.

Helm, David R. 2015. 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Suffering. Preaching the Word Commentary Series. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Hiehle, Jonathan Alan and Kelly A. Whitcomb. 2016. “First Book of Enoch.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Keener, Craig S. and John H. Walton. 2016. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Neal, D. A. 2016. “Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.


The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part Five: What’s in a Baptism?

Jordan River

‎The Jordan River at Yardenit, near the outflow from the Sea of Galilee. The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible.


In the small Roman province of Palestine, ca. AD 30, during the reign of Caesar Tiberius, a Jewish prophet was out in the area of Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28 CSB). God had been silent for nearly 400 years, and suddenly, someone new came on the scene proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was coming near, that the people of Israel needed to be cleaned with water, repent, and accept God’s Messiah (Mark 1:4-8; Matt 3:1-2; Luke 3:2-3; John 1:26-28 CSB). God’s people had been waiting for this moment, His Messiah was finally coming. Israel was going to be restored to her Golden Years, as under David. The notions of who and what this Messiah was, was very misunderstood. The historical Jesus did not come to bring a war, free the Jews from their current exile under the Romans, He, as the Christ of faith (was also the Jesus of history), came to free His people from Satan, death, and sin. The historical Jesus came to set His people free, to reconnect them with their God, YHWH, through His death and resurrection.

Why a Prophet in the Wilderness and how does he Connect to the Historical Jesus?

Family tree of John and Jesus

Family Tree of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah. The image is taken from Faithlife Study Bible

Around the year 4 BC, while Caesar Augustus was the Emperor of the Roman Empire, John the Baptist was born. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were in their older age when they gave birth to John. Zechariah was a priest in Jerusalem, officiating in the Temple when Herod the Great was still the King of Judah. Zechariah was from the line of priests of Abijah and Elizabeth was a daughter from the family line of Aaron (Luke 1:57 CSB). Luke is the only author who gives us any internal information on John. It is Luke who gives us the angelic introduction to Zechariah, telling us that Elizabeth was barren and unable to have children (Luke 1:7 CSB). Luke also gives us the angelic understanding of who John was in connection with the story of Jesus:

he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people (Luke 1:13-17 CSB).

It is, though, in the Synoptics that we learn of John’s wilderness ministry (Mark 1:1-8; Matt 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18 CSB). Mark and Matthew tell us that John wore camel’s hair, a leather belt, and ate locust and honey (Mark 1:6; Matt 3:4 CSB). John’s message was one of repentance, to be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; Matt 1:1-2; Luke 3:3 CSB). Outside of the Evangelists, Josephus tells us about John the Baptizer:

 Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2).

Josephus wrote his works as an apology, as well as an explanation, of Judaism (along with their history) to the Romans (Keener 2009, 167). Josephus wanted to show to the Romans that his people, the Jews, were not all about rebellion they were not all a threat to the peace of Rome (Sanders 1993, 93). This is part of the reason why Josephus and the Gospels differ in their statement of who and what John was and did. There is an underlying historical connection—John was called by God to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In most of the critical scholarship, secular, and Jewish worlds, there’s a thought that the Gospels have actually tweaked the story of John (DeMaris 2002, 138;* Keener 2009, 166-167; Chilton and Good 2011, 26-31; Bock 2012, 28-29). What this means is that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and, even, John have all diminished the role of John the Baptist and increased that of Jesus’ (Bock 2012, 28-29). Inside this view is an argument that Jesus was actually a disciple of John’s and that once he was imprisoned Jesus took on John’s message and ministry for Himself (Sanders 1985, 91; Sanders 1993, 94; Theissen 2003, 15; Keener 2009, 166-167; Chilton and Good 2011, 26-31; Bock 2012, 28-29). The truth is, as Keener (2009, 167) holds, that the Gospel authors, whose material is much older than Josephus’, are actually more authentic than that of Josephus.

As we have seen, most of modern scholarship has tried to place John the Baptist as the rabbi of Jesus (for a humorous version see Chilton 2000, 41-43+), we need to get behind the real John, the one that history, through the Gospels, tells us about.

life of Christ infancy

Timeline of the birth and early life of Christ taken from the Faithlife Study Bible.

As mentioned above with the Gospels’ narratives, let’s look a little more deeply at John the Baptist. First, John was not an Essene (Bruce 1980,153-154; Wright 1996, 276; Keener 2009, 167). Second, what John was was a prophet. John not only baptized, he even prophesied that the Messiah was coming, saying: “One who is more powerful than I am is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8 CSB). Third, John, as a prophet, preached an eschatological message—from the Greek meaning the study of the end times (Bruce 1980, 154; Sanders 1985, 92; Sanders 1993, 93; Keener 2009, 167-169; Sproul 2009, 61-69; Bock 2012, 33). Fourth, and lastly, John was a baptizer. Baptism was simply a ritual washing, however, we need to understand what kind of ritual washing this was. 

First thing, John’s baptism was something new, Israel had never had anything quite like what John was doing (Bruce 1980, 155; Bock 2012, 31). In Leviticus 14, Moses is given commands from God in how to purify the people of Israel from skin diseases and contaminated objects. It deals with bathing, mostly after the ceremony which included being sprinkled with a mixed concoction of bird’s blood and water. The closest thing to what John was doing is from Numbers 19. Here, God tells Moses that a red cow is to be completely burned and its ashes added to water for purifying someone as a sin offering. Most importantly, Ezekiel declared that God was going to clean Israel of her impurities with water and place his Spirit within them, restoring them to their former glory making a new covenant with them (Ezek 36:24-30 CSB). Ezekiel 36_27 [widescreen].pngDuring John’s day, the Pharisees added certain details to being ritually clean. For them, the washing of hands was not hygienic, it was a necessary ritual to help those who were once prevented from gaining access to God by being unclean the ability to stay connected to Him (Bock 2012, 31). The Essenes would bath daily in hopes of keeping their access with God, also it replaced their use of the sacrificial system at the Temple (Bruce 1980, 120). What John was doing, however, was completely different.

John’s washing was one that a proselyte was to do when converting to Judaism (Bruce 1980, 156; Sproul 2009, 67; Sproul 2014, 284). This is important to understanding John’s baptism, message, and Jesus’ connection to him because to a Jew they were already a part of the story (Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 285). For Gentiles to be converts to Judaism they needed to do three things, says Sproul (Ibid), profess their faith through the Laws and the Prophets, be circumcised and go through a ritual baptism to become clean. Essentially, what John was proclaiming, to all of Israel, was that Judaism was completely unclean, they needed to repent, be baptized to be made clean (Bruce 1980, 156; Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 285; Limbaugh 2017, 123).  If this was John’s message, then what did it have to do with the historical Jesus?

Matthew 3_17 [widescreen]

What does the Baptism of Jesus have to the do with the Historical Jesus?

To break it down, John’s baptism of Jesus and his message are important to the historical Jesus due to the fact that He accepts John’s baptism, calling, message, mission, and prophetic ministry (Bruce 1980, 159; Keener 2009, 175-176; Bock 2012, 34-36; Limbaugh 2017, 124). Jesus tells John to allow His baptism, that it is necessary “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15 CSB). By taking on John’s baptism, Jesus was saying to him, that He would take on the very obligations that God required of Israel—hence the need to fulfill all righteousnesss—at the same time proclaiming that John was correct in requiring all of Israel to repent, be cleansed, and ready for God to return as their King (Sproul 2009, 68; Keener 2009, 175-176, Bock 2012, 34-36; Limbaugh 2017, 123-124). That Jesus had to humble Himself to be baptized in a ritual for repenting was something that is seen as being embarrassing for the early Christians (Keener 2009, 176; Bock 2012, 28). Because of this, then, historically the situation must have happened, or else why would the authors even put it in their story (Ibid.)? The historical Jesus is the Christ of faith, taking on the baptism of John, becoming our Messiah and the King of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ baptism marked that the new covenant had been established, that through Him would God’s Kingdom come and be ruled by Him (Sproul 2009, 68; Sproul 2014, 286-287; Limbaugh 2017, 124).

Author’s Notes

* Richard E. DeMaris, a social-Scientific scholar in Jesus studies, tries to argue that the visual experience of Jesus at His baptism has more historicity to it than His actual baptism. DeMaris (2002, 138), states “Jesus’ baptismal vision has a stronger claim to historicity than the baptism itself…Jesus’ baptism has no claim to historicity.” This is the type of arguments that are making it into our churches and seminaries, arguments that contradict themselves. There are a few fallacies that DeMaris is making here. The first one is the post hoc ergo propter hoc, also known as the faulty cause fallacy, which states that because one thing happens, another one follows it. DeMaris makes this fallacy by arguing that Jesus’ baptism did not really happy, but because of the view of Jesus being possessed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went through some kind of ritual, without actually going through it—in other words, because Jesus was a holy man, He had to receive His purpose from something. Another fallacy he makes is known as inconsistency, which means that an argument is made in which the premise stems from a self-contradiction. DeMaris makes this one with the argument that Jesus’ physical baptism did not happen, yet His baptismal vision has some factual historicity to it. When we do studies into the Gospels and Jesus’ life, we must be very careful of the types of arguments we are making.

+ Bruce Chilton, in his biography of Jesus, believes that Jesus separated from His family, to seek a rabbi who would help Him to understand His vision of the Kingdom, through the Temple, by following John at the Jordan River. Even giving a complete conversation:

“Shelama, rabbi,” he would have said. He [Jesus] opened his hands by his sides in a gesture of vulnerability, went down on one knee, bowing his head, holding breath, waiting to see if John would acknowledge him. “Show your face,” John finally said to this strange beggar-boy. He saw a young man, dirty and disheveled. “Who are you?” John asked. “Jesus from Nazareth.” “Why are you not then in Nazareth?” And Jesus found his voice by telling his story: how he had left his family because the Kingdom he intuitively discerned was palpable for him in the Temple, how he needed to remain near its center (Chilton 2000, 42).

Reference List

Bock, Darrell L. 2012. Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. New York: Howard Books.

Bruce. F. F. 1980. New Testament History. New York: Galilee Book, Doubleday.

Chilton, Bruce. 2000. Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. New York: Image Books, Doubleday.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2001. “Movement of John the Baptist.” In Studying the New Testament. A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

DeMaris, Richard E. 2002. “Baptism of Jesus: A Ritual-Critical Approach.” In Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen, 137-157. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Keener, Craig S. 2009. Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Limbaugh, David. 2017. True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing.

Sanders, E. P. 1993. Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Press.

________. 1985. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Sproul, R. C. 2014. Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

________. 2009Who Is Jesus?. Vol. 1. The Crucial Questions Series. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Press Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. 1996. Jesus and the Victory of God. Vol. 2. Christian Origins and the Questions of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.



The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part Four: What’s in a Birth?

Name of Jesus-Bernard of Clairvaux

Image is taken from Ritzema, and Brant, 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church.


The common thought of the coming Messiah was that He would be born in the line of David, that He would bring fourth David’s kingdom and that he would be a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6-7 CSB). Again, in Isaiah 11 (CSB), the Messiah is predicted to be of the line of David, a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit,” ruling over the whole world with the Spirit of God, judging righteously. They believed as Jacob prophesied, that the Messiah would rule forever once he comes (Gen 49:10 CSB). Balaam prophesied of the Messiah “[a] star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel” (Num 24:17 CSB). It says in Amos 9:11 (CSB), when Israel was not yet destroyed by the Babylonians, that after the exile God would renew the kingdom of David. Hosea also prophesied of a time of Davidic renewal and restoration (Hos 3:5 CSB). Micah even declared that the Messiah’s coming would be of humbleness (Mic 5:2 CSB). Matthew 1_23 [widescreen].pngIt was Jeremiah who, not only called for a new covenant, he also proclaimed that the coming Messiah would be a righteous king of the line of David (Jer 23:5 CSB). Ezekiel proclaims that the coming Messiah will be the judge (Ezek 21:27 CSB). The Messiah was also seen as a warrior king and priest, which to a people of oppression seemed amazing (Ps 110 CSB). It was, as quoted in Matthew, that Messiah would be known as the Immanuel, born of a virgin (Isa 7:14 CSB).

Why Most Historical Jesus Scholars and Critics do not Touch Jesus’ Birth

Most Jesus scholars do not touch the birth narratives of Jesus because they do not believe them to be historically reliable. Marcus J. Borg (1999, 179), states in his article on the virgin birth, that he does not hold the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke to be true. For him, these narratives are nothing more than literary creations (Ibid). Bart D. Ehrman (2014, 236), in his book on the Christology of Jesus, claims that Jesus’ followers began seeing Him as divine from His resurrection, however, later followers needed to extend this Christology from adoption to pre-birth. Within the Church, some critics and Jesus scholars, are afraid of being seen as heretical if they denounce the virgin birth (Chilton 2000, 5). According to Bruce Chilton (2001, 6-7), Jesus’ birth is simply a legend, wrote down years later to explain how Jesus was conceived; Chilton holds that Mary and Joseph could not help themselves, so they had sexual relations before their allotted time. In the Jewish culture during the Second-Temple, marriage was very specific. An older man married a younger woman of about 12-13 years of age. They had a year of celibate marriage, then they would be allowed to consummate their marriage (Chilton 2000, 5-7). For Chilton (2000, 7), again, states that it was not actually the Bethlehem of Judea, but of Galilee. In other words, for him, the Bible is not historically accurate. In 2007, the Barna Group (2009) did a study on the belief of the virgin birth by Americans that recorded that 75% of adults in America believed in the virgin birth. In 2017, the Pew Reserach (2017) reported that only 66% of adults now believe in the virgin birth.

Borg gives several reasons why not believing the birth narratives is important; it all comes down to the historicity. For Borg, the dating of the narratives is too late, end of the first century, Matthew and Luke do not match on genealogies, narrative, visitors, home of Mary and Joseph, the killing of the babies (as well as Herod’s plotting) and the use of the Scriptures (Borg 1999, 179-181). Borg (Ibid., 181-182) holds to a view that Jesus was actually born in Nazareth, which to make Jesus fit the Messianic prophecy of Micah 5:2 (CSB), they wrote in that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David. In an even more, possibly unbelievable, reconstruction of Jesus’ birth, Andries van Aarde (2002, 67-72), in his article on the fatherlessness of Jesus, states that Joseph was not even a historical figure—due to the lack of literature on him, other than in Matthew and Luke. Van Aarde states that, because the Pharisees’ argument of Jesus’ illegitimate birth (as argued in John 8:41 CSB), the early Church needed to make up a reason for Jesus’ fatherlessness, as well as His teaching of God as His Father (van Aarde 2002, 67-72).

Divine Birth’s in the Greco-Roman World

In the Greco-Roman world, the divine did not just become a simple human and retain its divinity. Either the human becomes divine and loses his divinity, or is made semi-divine, by way of birth. Then there are the gods, who are unable to become human. What these gods are capable of doing are adorning humanity like clothing. Unfortunately, the Greeks and Romans did not have actual virgin births (Ehrman 2014, 24). This is because, in the Greco-Roman world, the gods lusted after humans. These gods had their way with women (e.g., in the story of Hercules, Zeus enjoyed his time with Alcmena so much that he made time stand still till he was done), however, in the Jewish, as well as in the Christian, worldview (Second-Temple period as well) that God would never lust after anyone (Ibid). In our beliefs, God has morals, standards, and values. Even though God made Mary pregnant, he did it without any physical violation or fornication.

The Birth of the King

Matthew 1_18 [widescreen]

Much of the conversation surrounding the birth of Jesus revolves around the notion of whether he was virginally conceived or not. Borg (1999, 185-186) states, in his article on the birth of Jesus, that the biblical narratives of Jesus’ birth are not needed to be true to be factual about who Jesus is. Borg is a naturalist, therefore, the miraculous birth of Jesus is unnecessary. In other words, Borg (Ibid., 186) holds that Jesus was “the decisive disclosure of God.” For him, it is ok to hold, theoretically, that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God, but not necessary as history (Ibid). Ulrich Luz (2007), in his commentary on Matthew, states that the Virgin Birth is not historical, as it is, more creedal. Is this all, do we really not need to trust the biblical accounts of Jesus in order to see Him as Lord and God?

The real question, as posed by N. T. Wright (1999, 171), is whether we should see God as a deist would, or as traditional Christianity does? The first thing we must do is to not confuse the virgin birth with the Roman Catholic belief of the Immaculate Conception. This dogma was defined by Pope Pius IX, in 1854, as Mary being freed from Original Sin, “by the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ” (Johnson 2011, 438). The Church has long held a form of sacredness for the mother Mary. However, the second thing to be looked at is the meaning of the English word virgin. The Greek word, parthenos, is literally translated as virgin. However, there is much talk in the critic, secular, and Jewish scholarship that tries to explain that word is derived from the Hebrew word, ‘almah, is actually translated as a young woman (Levine and Brettler 2011). This view of the virgin birth has led to some ridiculous claims. Chilton (2000, 6-7) holds that Joseph and Mary were not able to help themselves and had sex before their Jewish custom allowed them to. Another interpretation, using this logic of the wording, holds to a more midrashic* understanding of Jesus as Moses (Levine and Brettler 2011). A grave problem with this argument is that it ignores the reason for the authors to even put it in their material, especially when the Greco-Roman culture had their own divine birth stories. The best answer to come against these arguments is with the embarrassment, multiple attestations, and Palestinian culture criteria.

Isaiah 7_14 [widescreen]


N. T. Wright gives us the best answer, through embarrassment criteria:

[e]ven assuming that Matthew or Luke regularly invented material to fit Jesus into earlier templates, why would they have invented something like this? The only conceivable parallels are pagan ones, and these fiercly Jewish stories have certainly not been modeled on them. Luke at least must have known that telling this story ran the risk of making Jesus out to be a pagan demigod. Why, for the sake of an exalted metaphor, would they take this risk—unless they at least believed them to be literally true (1999, 176)?

What also helps is to know how prophecy worked in the Old Testament. Most of these scholars are committing the fallacy of appealing to ignorance. What they want to say is that because there is no absolute proof that Jesus’ birth was miraculous, so it was not. By stating that Matthew did not understand the prophecy in Isaiah, due to the immediate context of the verse, the prophecy then had nothing, at all, to do with Jesus’ birth. However, Hebrew prophets always had an immediate context, as well as, a future one for all of their prophecies (France 1992,79; Blomberg 1992). In the case of Isaiah, the notion of who the Immanuel will be is given in one of two persons (in the immediate context), Hezekiah or Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Blomberg 1992). Isaiah’s use of the word sign throughout chapters 7 and 8, shows that the context is not just immediate but futuristic, as well (France 1992, 79; Blomberg 1992).  For Luke’s use of mentioning Jesus’ virgin birth is the connection of the Holy Spirit to His conception, as well as His divine echo to the creation of Adam—or as Darrell L. Bock (1994) states, in his commentary of Luke: “[t]he virgin birth is one mark of superiority for Jesus over John the prophet. It makes Jesus totally unique. The only other person to have had such a direct divine intervention in his birth was Adam.”

What the Virgin Birth says about the Historical Jesus as the Christ of Faith

Matthew 121 [widescreen]

It is clear from the evidence of Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ story, as different as they are, that this was no ordinary story. Matthew and Luke both had their own audience, as well as their own sources. No, I do not believe in the different M1s and L1s out there. What I mean, is that Matthew and Luke both draw on obvious familial memories. It is possible that Matthew was able to get his information from Joseph and Luke from Mary. It is also possible that one Jesus’ siblings were able to recount the story to either one, or that Jesus himself told Matthew, and Luke still got his from Mary. We will never know for sure, what we can know is that there is truth behind both stories, they fit our criteria. It would have been embarrassing for Jesus, as well as both Matthew and Luke and their communities to say that they worshipped a god who was born out of wedlock, which would have placed Jesus into a more pagan demigod. Joseph and Mary’s stories sit well within the Palestinian culture of marriage, and the fact that both Matthew and Luke tell of a virgin birth, which both having angelic visitors. There is more than just Luke and Matthew’s accounts, John also makes a reference in his prologue to his Gospel (Oden 2001, 142). Paul also assumes the Nativity in his letters to the Galatians (see also Gal 4:21-31 CSB, where Paul speaks of two births, one to a slave and one to a free woman of which the assumption of Jesus’ virgin birth is made) and the Romans (Ibid., 143-144).  By the middle of the second century, as well as the beginning of the third, the creedal response to heresies of Christ’s birth was becoming foundational (Justin Martyr First Apology XXI, XXIIITertullian On the Flesh of Christ IIIrenaeus Against Heresies 3.21.1; Oden 2001, 134). It must not be stressed enough, that if one is able to deny the miraculous birth of Jesus, then they must also deny the resurrection—of which most critical, liberal, and skeptical scholars do (Oden 2001, 134). The best possible answer to why the virgin birth is important for the study of the historical Jesus, we need to end with a statement made by N. T. Wright:

the God of Israel, the world’s creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazereth, I hold open my [Wright’s] historical judgment and say: if that’s what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object (1999, 178)?

Author’s Notes

  • Midrash is a Hebrew word used for Rabbinical interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures. It is a methodology, to an extent, still used today for many Jewish rabbis.

Reference List

Barna Group. (2009). “Americans Express Their Views of the Virgin Birth of Christ.” In Barna Group. Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2009. February 19, 2018.

Blomberg, Craig. 1992. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke. IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Borg, Marcus J. “Meaning of the Birth Stories.” In Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Chilton, Bruce. 2000. Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography. New York: Image Books, Doubleday.

France, R. T. 1985. Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. 2011. “Communion of Saints and Mary.” In Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Edited by Francis Schussler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin. 431-460. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Levine, Amy-Jill and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. 2011. “Virgin Birth.” In Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. Kindle edition.

Luz, Ulrich. 2007. Matthew 1–7: A Commentary on Matthew 1–7. Edited by Helmut Koester. Rev. ed. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Pew Research Center. 2017. “Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life.” Pew Research Center. Washington D. C.: 2017. February 19, 2018. file:///home/chronos/u-231d5846a851dcfcb6c745c7e62a1ae38ca8ce62/Downloads/Christmas-Survey-2017-Full-report.pdf.

Ritzema, Elliot, and Rebecca Brant, eds. 2013. 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church. Pastorum Series. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

van Aarde, Andries. 2002. “Jesus as Fatherless Child.” In Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce J. Malina, and Gerd Theissen. 65-84. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Wright, N. T. 1999. “Born of a Virgin?” In Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. New York: Harper San Francisco.


The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part Three: What is the Background?

Jerusalem city infograph from Faithlife Study Bible

Jerusalem city infographic from Faithlife Study Bible


Now that the historiography, sources, and methodology are done, and before we are ready to begin our analysis of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have to understand the complete background of Palestine at the beginning of the century. This will give us all the understanding we need to read through the Gospels to find the historical Jesus. Understanding the Jews, their common and diverse society, their religion, and political hope, and the Greco-Roman world that overshadowed them will allow us to move closer to the historical Jesus. Most importantly, we have to keep in mind, always, that Jesus was Jewish, born a Jew, lived as one, and died as one. We are going to start with a narrative of the epoch known as the Intertestamental Period. Basically, this is the time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. Then we break down the different cultures of the Romans and then move on to the Jewish one. After this, we will be ready to open our Bibles and study the life of Christ as depicted in the Gospels allowing us to find the historical Jesus as the Christ of faith.

From the Babylonian Exile to Roman Rule


Rome in the Mid-First Century Faithlife Study Bible Infograph

City of Rome infographic from Faithlife Study Bible

In 734 BC, the king of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser III, sacked a portion of the northern kingdom of Israel, also known as Samaria, and took them off into exile (2 Kg 15:29; 1 Chr 5:26 CSB). Then, in the year 722 BC Shalmaneser, as well as his successor Sargon II, finished the destruction and exile of Israel (2 Kg 17:5-6 CSB). It took the Assyrians three years to sack Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah, with the holy city of Jerusalem and God’s glorious Temple, were allowed to stand. In the year 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II then completely conquered Judah, sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and carried off all of its treasures and most of the people (2 Kg 24:12-16; Jr 52:28-30 CSB). Then, something amazing happened, in the year 538 BC, the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, allowed the Jews to return to the Holy Land and rebuild their kingdom and Temple (Ezra 1 CSB). Not only did Cyrus allow them to return to build their city and Temple, he also gave back the treasures stolen by the Babylonians (Ezra 1:7-11 CSB). There is only one unfortunate thing, the original ten tribes of Israel in the Northern Kingdom did not return, this is mainly because we do not know what happened to them. Israel proper has been lost to history. The second Temple construction began in the year 536 BC with the rebuilding of the altar (Ezra 3:1-6 CSB). Zerubbabel, the spiritual leader of the Jews at the time, finished his temple in 515 BC (Ezra 6:15 CSB). Under Nehemiah, the Jews rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, 445 BC (Neh 6:15 CSB). For the moment, Judea was still a part of the Persian Empire.

The Persians, however, would come into conflict with the Greeks, only this time not through the Athenians and Spartans, but a single ruler named Alexander the Great. This soon to be emperor was raised in Macedonia and trained under Aristotle, 342 BC. Alexander the Great became ruler of the Kingdom of Macedon in 336 BC. In 334 BC, Alexander took a unified Greece and began his conquest of the Persians (Bruce 1980, 2). Alexander completely defeated Persia within three years, 331 BC, and set up his new capital city in Babylon (Bruce 1980, 2; Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 45).

Alexander the Great's Empire
The Empire of Alexander the Great at its height in 323 BC, image taken from

When Alexander died in 323 BC, his empire, which stretched from Greece, through the Middle East (including Egypt), portions of Northern India, and as far east as the Himalayas, was divided between his generals, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus Cyclops (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 45). Ptolemy took Egypt and most of Northern Africa, Antigonus Cyclops took Asia Minor and Palestine, and Seleucus confiscated the largest portion from Mesopotamia to India (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 45; Bruce 1980, 2). Between the years 322-301 BC, these generals battled each other over the boundaries of their dynasties (Ibid). Judea came under the Ptolemies in 301 BC, until the year 198 BC when Seleucids took it from them (Ibid). Then, there came a revolt in Palestine, known as the Maccabean Revolt, 166-160 BC. At the same time, the Romans defeated the Macedonians in the Fourth Macedonian War of 150-148 BC. During this time, Israel begins its Hasmonean Dynasty, 141-63 BC. In the year 31 BC, Egypt collapses to the mighty power of the Roman Republic at the Battle of Actium, bringing an end to Alexander’s successor kingdoms. In ca. 753 BC, the eternal city, Rome was founded. By 509 BC, Rome becomes a republic. From 59-53 BC, The great Triumvirate (rule by three), which consisted of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus rules over the Republic. In 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, which began a civil war where, in 44 BC he was named dictator for life, as well as assassinated. A second Triumvirate was created, in 43 BC, which consisted of Octavian—later taking on the title of Augustus, which means “revered,” “majestic,” or “worthy of honor”—Antony, and Lepidus (Wright 2011, 29). In 27 BC Octavian takes the title of Augustus, making himself the first Emperor of Rome. Interestingly enough, Octavian actual took on the same title as Julius Caesar, dictator for life, to defend the Republic; once he defeated his enemies, Octavian returned the title to the Senate and “restored” the Republic back to them, upon which they declared Augustus the emperor (Horsley 2003, 20). Finally, in AD 6, Judaea became a province, territory, of Rome.


Greco-Roman Culture

Once Alexander conquered the, then, known world in 331 BC he brought a certain culture with him (Wright 1992, 152-153). This culture is what scholars call Hellenism (Ibid). Along with this culture was a new language or one could argue a new lingua franca—Greek—one that would not be overcome till the Arab conquest in the seventh-century (Ibid). Two other things came with Hellenism, Platonism (a dualistic Greek philosophy) and their vast religious system (Ibid). In the year 63 BC, General Pompey (Latin name, Gnaeus Pompeius), entered the Temple in Jerusalem, walked all the way into the Holy of Holies (the area in the Temple where God’s presence resided), marking the Jews’ first, technical, interaction with the newest world power—Rome (Bruce 1980, 12; Horsley 2003, 20). Once Pompey stepped foot into Palestine, he brought with him a newer version of Hellenism, Greco-Romanism, Hellenism 2.0. What Rome offered, especially after Augustus became emperor, is known as the Pax Romana, or the peace of Rome.


The Pax Romana was not that there was simply peace, there were still soldiers stationed in Syria, however, it was much more. N. T. Wright, in his first volume on the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, states:

It meant no extra war-levies, no troops marching through the land en route for somewhere else, no soldiers billeted on villages. It meant that trade and travel could thrive, that communications were as good as they had ever been in the ancient world…It meant that there was a unified system of justice which prided itself on its high standards, so that in theory at least one was not at the mercy of local officials who might or might not be open to inducements: a creaky system, perhaps, but it was at least de jure in place (Wright 1992, 153-154).

For Rome to have accomplished this expansion of communication, along with commerce, it needed good roads, as well as a clear maritime pathway. It was Pompey who cleaned the seas of their pirates (Bruce 1980, 9; Wright 1992, 153-154). Rome built massive highways all across her empire, of which brought commerce, literature, mail, philosophies, and religions of, and to, all of its dominions (White 2004, 41).

Ruins of Ancient Corinth Faihtlife Photos

Ruins of Ancient Corinth taken from Faithlife Study Bible


Rome’s peace was kept with military might (Wright 1992, 154). It was through the elimination of the pirates that Rome showed its use of peace (Horsley 2003,19). Though war had finished, after decades of two different civil wars, the newly formed Empire, kept most of her armies out of major cities and only stationed them on the borders as more of a deterrence (Ibid.,, 22). Basically, Rome was an empire of warriors, holding to conquest and victory as being highly lauded (Ibid., 26). Rome also brought about high taxes, which the people also had to pay their localities their shares too (Wright 1992, 154). Rome also imposed her religion upon everyone in the empire, except the Jews were able to get a pass by allowing themselves to be sacrificed for the worship of their God (Wright 1992, 154; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.8, 20-24; 18.3.1).


Rome’s religion was vast, even more so than under any of the Greek dynasties. Rome had those who worshipped the traditional pantheon of deities (ie., Zeus and the rest of the Greek mythical gods and goddesses), there was also the worship of various local deities (eg., Roma in Rome or Diana/Artemis in Ephesus), as well as the mystery cults of Isis and Mithras (Ibid). All throughout the Roman Empire, polytheistic belief was visible through temples, statutes that cluttered forums, various altars, and poets verbally citing mythological fairy tales, along with temple prostitution, and various festivals and rituals considered to be a virtue of a citizens’ civic and social responsibilities (Brown 1997, 85; Wright 1992, 154; White 2004, 49). Emperor worship was not very pronounced during Jesus’ life, mainly because Augustus began it, especially since Romans in the western portion of the empire did not believe it orthodox to call oneself a god while still alive (White 2004, 49-50; Brown 1997, 86; Horsley 2003, 22-24). What the normal citizen usually did, at least for the first few emperors, was to offer sacrifices to the statue of Roma, the goddess personification of Rome (Ibid). This form of worship was more of loyalty and fidelity to the empire than actual belief in the emperor being a god on earth (Ibid). Augustus, along with every emperor after him, was called the high priest —pontifex maximus (Wright 2011, 29). 

Second-Temple Judaism


Herod's Temple from Faithlife Infographics

Infographic of Herod’s Temple taken from Faithlife Study Bible

All throughout the Old Testament, God had promised His people (the Jews) that they were heading to a very specific goal (Wright 2011, 31-32). History had told them that, though they had made various mistakes, and a few setbacks, God was still in control and leading them along the way (Ibid). To an extent, there was a common Judaism, however, it should not be mistaken that it was still a very diverse belief system, with different groups that had their own take on the meaning of the story told from the Old Testament. Ever since Israel could remember, their God created the world, established a way out when Adam and Eve sinned, delivered them from the Egyptian enslavement, gave them their Temple, a king, and a possible future as the light to the nations (Ibid., 33-34). Then, suddenly, in one moment, all of it was gone. Babylon had come, destroyed their holy Temple and city, and taken into exile again. The author of Psalm 137 recalls the pain of remembering their great city of Zion in the foreign land of Babylon, crying when asked to sing to them of the city of Zion. However, and this is very important, Israel had been back, Zion and the Temple were rebuilt, yet they did not feel like they were actually back, they were still in an exile (Wright 2011, 35). This is the major part of the common Judaism that all the different sects held. There were a few other parts that made up shared belief in the Judaism of the Second-Temple period. According to E. P. Sanders (2011,19-23), in his article on common Judaism, states that all Jews gathered in fellowship in the synagogues, observed the Sabbath, kept dietary laws, and paid tributes to the Temple. Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz (2011, 2), in their article on common Judaism, states that the four beliefs all Jews held were: a belief in the God of Israel; an acceptance of the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) “as revealing God’s will;” observance of the Mosaic law; and “they identified themselves with the history and fate of the Jewish people.” Again, Sanders (1993, 33-34) sums up the main beliefs of all the Jews during this period: belief and worship of God (monotheism), election of Israel (covenant nomism), observance of the Mosaic law, and (as he states) “repentance, punishment, and forgiveness” (ie., cult, or practice, of the Temple).


Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes


As we have seen, there is a commonness to the belief system in Second-Temple Judaism, however, there were various sects, or groups, at large in the world of Palestine under the Romans. Josephus (Antiquities 13.5.9; Wars of the Jews 2.8.2) tells us that there were three sects, the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. He continues to tell us that the Sadducees do not believe in fate and are extremely more loyal to their own sect than to the others (Ibid). This sect did not believe in the resurrection, or any kind of afterlife, as well as disapproving in the traditions of the Pharisees (Sanders 1993, 47; Josephus Wars of the Jews 2.8.14). Along with not believing in the resurrection, the Sadducees also rejected the belief of angels, demons, and did not actually accept the belief of a coming messiah (Limbaugh 2017, 24; Josephus Wars of the Jews 2.8.14). It is likely that the Sadducees were from the line of the Zadokite Temple priests, which branched out during the time of the Maccabean revolt, 166-160 BC, eventually becoming compromised with the Hellenized rulers of Judea (Brown 1997, 76). After the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Sadducees seem to disappear off the map of Judaism (Barrett 1987, 157-158).


Josephus tells us that the Pharisees believed in fate, that it controlled all of humanity, that this fate was willed by God (Josephus Antiquities 13.5.9; Wars of the Jews 2.8.14). The Pharisees were known for their exceptional skill in interpreting the Scriptures, their traditions, and their belief in an afterlife—full of rewards and punishments (Sanders 1993, 44; Brown 1997, 77). The meaning of the word, Pharisee, means to separate (Limbaugh 2017, 23; Jeremias 1975, 246). They are believed to be descendants of the Hasidim, from the period of the Maccabean revolt, who wanted to separate from the corrupted, Hellenized, priests, and Hasmonean rulers (Limbaugh 2017, 23). Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees did believe in a coming messiah (Ibid). We can say, safely, that this group was part of the upper class during the Second-Temple era (Jeremias 1975, 246). Pharisaism eventually came out on top after the Jewish War of AD 66-70 and became the modern day Rabbinical Judaism.

Most scholars hold to a belief that the community at Qumran, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, were Essenes (Sanders 1993, 46). This group was separated into two groups, laymen and priests (Ibid). When the Hasmoneans came into power, ca. 142 BC, they removed the original Zadokite priests, of which caused them to leave Jerusalem and form their own group (Ibid). The Essenes were just like the Pharisees, only one thing was different, aside from creating their own community and not giving into marriage, they had their own writings that were separate from the Bible, studied them vigorously, and were extremely more strict than the Pharisees (Sanders 1993, 46-47; Josephus Wars of the Jews 2.2-13). The Essenes also rejected the authority of the Temple at Jerusalem, this is due to their view that it became corrupted (Limbaugh 2017, 25). The Essenes did believe in a coming messiah, however, they believed that there would be two separate ones, a kingly and a priestly one, of which they thought he would come for them only (Ibid).

Hope for the Messiah 

Most people have heard the word Messiah, or even its Greek counterpart Christ. Yet, not many really know what the word actually meant. Sure, today we understand the meaning of a messiah to be one who came to save, and for those of us who went to Church, or took some ancient and medieval survey courses in college, know the word to literally mean the anointed one. However, this word had much more meaning to it than just that. This word is thoroughly Jewish in context, as well as meaning. L. Michael White (2004, 14) states that the notion of the messiah was “a king like David of old, reborn to lead the nation of Israel.” It must be made mention that most Jews in the Second-Temple period did not believe the coming messiah to be divine (Wright 1999, 74). As N. T. Wright (1999, 75), in his book on the historical Jesus, states, Jews at the time of the Second-Temple did not have a single, unified vision of a messiah. We saw this earlier with the separate groups (ie., Pharisees sought a kingly and priestly messiah, the Sadducees had no belief in one, and the Essenes thought there would be two, a king and a priest). However, they did hold that God would be their King, that He would rule them in a Theocracy (Wright 1999, 74-77; Wright 2011, 40-43; Wright 1992, 302). To Israel, the choice of David, by God, to be King meant that He was truly in charge, working through David in favor of Israel (Wright 1999, 74-77; Wright 2011, 40-43; Wright 1992, 302). All of this led to one full understanding of the concept of a messiah for Israel. Essentially, the Jews believed that God would raise up a messiah, restore His kingdom, rebuild the Temple, and deal justice to the Gentiles who oppressed them (Limbaugh 2017, 28; Wright 1999, 74-77; Wright 2011, 40-43, Wright 1992, 302). This, in a nutshell, is what Israel had been expecting during the Second-Temple era. As we continue, in the next post, we will see how Jesus did not fit into the mold of Israel’s expectation of the messiah, nevertheless, He was the true Messiah. 


Reference List

Barret. C. K. 1987. New Testament Background: Selected Documents. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Brown. Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.

Bruce, F. F. 1980. New Testament History. New York: Galilee Book, Doubleday.

Elwell, Walter E. and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Horsley, Richard A. 2003. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Jeremias, Joachim. 1975. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions during the New Testament Period. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Limbaugh, David. 2017. True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing.

McCready, Wayne O. and Adele Reinhartz. “Common Judaism and Diversity within Judaism.” In Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz. 1-10. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.  

Sanders, E. P. 2011. “Common Judaism.” In Common Judaism: Explorations in Second-Temple Judaism, edited by Wayne O. McCready and Adele Reinhartz. 11-23. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.  

_______. 1993. Historical Figure of Jesus. New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Press.

White, L. Michael. 2004. From Jesus to Christianity. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Wright, N. T. 1999. Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

________. 1992. New Testament and the People of God. Vol. 1. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

________. 2011. Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. New York: Harper One.

The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part Two: Why the Sources are Important


Searching for the Historical Jesus needs to start somewhere, but that pinpoint somewhere has been hard for some scholars. First off, Jesus left no actual writings, unless you count the letter that Eusebius claims Jesus wrote to a ruler named Abgarus (Eusebius, Church History 1.13.9). There is no actual copy of this letter, so it is hard to believe that it is factual. However, it is possible to believe that Jesus did know how to read and write (Luke 4:17-21; John 8:6 CSB). Some critics, along with other scholars, have a hard time using the Gospels as primary sources. Therefore, it is necessary to start outside of the Bible for proof of Jesus, if the Gospels are to be taken as reliable and factual. The Roman historian, Tacitus (c. AD 55/56–c. 118), spoke of Jesus in his Annals (15.44):

Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Another source is found by a Greek satirist, Lucian (c. AD 115–200), who wrote of Jesus:

It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he [Jesus] pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue–he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account (Death of Peregrin, par. 11).

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian and a general during the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70, recorded:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Antiquity of the Jews 18.3.3).

So, there is plenty of evidence outside of the Bible that states that Jesus existed. With that, we can now begin our understanding of the Gospels.

What are Sources?

Historians, as well as theologians, use a wide variety of sources. These sources are broken down into three parts: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  Primary sources are, possibly, the most important ones that are used. They are called primary because they are the first ones used; in other words, primary sources were written by the people in the time period that is under investigation (e.g., in our research the Gospels tell us about Jesus, as a primary source, because they were written in the time shortly after he lived). Secondary sources are those that are written by historians, as well as theologians, using the primary sources (along with other secondary sources). These sources promote original research done by the historian or theologian in that time period. Tertiary sources use only the secondary ones, give a complete background on schools of thought, arguments, or discussions in regards to the time period (these are dictionaries, encyclopedias, and/or textbooks).


P52: Portion of the Gospel of John (dated between 90-125 AD)

P52: Portion of the Gospel of John (dated between 90-125 AD) from

What are the Gospels?

The Gospels are our primary sources (of which we will look at all four of the canonical). We can safely say that the canonical Gospels are primary sources because of the dating of them. Now, this is where scholarship disagrees with itself. There are some who hold to late datings for each of the Gospels, while there are some who hold to an earlier dating for the texts, and then, there are those who sit somewhere in the in middle for the dates. F. F. Bruce (1981, 7), in his book on the historicity of the New Testament, has dated the Gospels as so: “Mark around AD 64 or 65, Luke shortly before 70, and Matthew shortly after 70;” the only date that Bruce does not attribute is to the Johannine materials. Some scholars place Mark’s Gospel as later than AD 70 (Powell 1998, 48; Chilton and Good 2011, 108; Theissen 2003, 96;* Brown 1997, 164; Donahue 2002, 46). As for Matthew, scholars place his date to be AD 80-100 (Powell 1998, 74; Chilton and Good 2011, 109; Theissen 2003, 102; Brown 1997, 217, Luz 2007, 59). Luke is believed to have been written around the same time as Matthew’s, AD 80-100 (Powell 1998, 98; Chilton and Good 2011, 113; Theissen 2003, 109; Brown 1997, 274). As for John, it is thought his Gospel was written around AD 90-100 (Powell 1998, 126). A few scholars hold to a later date for John (AD 100-120), even with the dating of P52 (a portion of John 18) to between AD 80-90 (Theissen 2003, 148; Brown 1997, 376). For us, and our research here on this blog, we hold to earlier datings for the Gospels.

Holding to this view gives more attestation to a better historicity and authenticity of the Gospels. Starting with Mark, we are going to date it to around the mid AD 50s, mainly because Luke wrote his Gospel around AD 60 (we can hold safe to this because Luke was written before Acts, which was written around the time of Paul’s death, possibly before then since there is no mention of it in the book), Matthew sometime between AD 60-70, also since there is no real account of the destruction of the Temple mentioned, and John’s Gospel to around AD 70-80, mainly because of P52 which is a portion of a copy of the Gospel of John dating around AD 90-100 (Limbaugh 2017, 99-104, Blomberg 1992, 40; Bock 1996).

Gospel as a Genre

The actual word, gospel, comes from the middle English word Godspell, which comes from the Koine Greek, euanggelion, which is translated as good news. However, as much as this word does mean the good news of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, the word is also used as the genre of Jesus literature. As we study who the Historical Jesus is, we need to understand the meaning of the literature about Him, from His time period. According to Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 91), the word gospel, through its Aramaic use (besorta’), is best understood as a message of victory, or simply victory. They quote the Targum of Isaiah 52:7, as their proof text: “How beautiful upon the mountains of the land of Israel are the feet of him who announces victory, who publishes peace, who announces good victory, who publishes redemption, who says to the congregation of Zion, The Kingdom of your God is revealed (quoted in Chilton and Good 2011, 91; emphasis is their own). The best way to understand the Gospels, as a genre, is in the literature of ancient biographies (Powell 1998, 6-7; Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 72). Modern-day biographies tend to focus on a chronological note, often leaving information for the readers to look up more on the individual being written about (Ibid., 7). For the Gospels, this was not so, however, there are two that depict his birth to his resurrection (though they do not agree about what happens chronologically in between), one that moves from his baptism to his death (with a later rendition of his resurrection, which I hold to it being a part of the oral history and was added later into the text), to one that starts with prehistory and ends with his resurrection with a more theological structure than a chronological one.

Two-Source HypothesisThat the Gospels were seen as biographies of Jesus of Nazareth by its first audience is not the only way that they were presented by the authors (Powell 1998, 6-8; Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 72). Basically, there was a real Jesus, who lived, died, and even rose again. His story was quickly told by his disciples as a kerygma, which is a Greek word meaning “proclamation” (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 70). This is what historians would typically call oral history/tradition. These are the stories of a community carried down from one generation to the next. Some scholars tend to call it the kerygma, the message of the early church in regards to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (Ibid).  Within these Gospels are two separate sources, as supposed by some scholars—oral tradition/kerygma and the logia, sayings of Jesus (Theissen 2003, 27-28). Two-Gospels%Griesbach HypothesisScholars take this even further into what is labeled the Synoptic Problem and the Two-Source Hypothesis. Without getting too technical, the Synoptic Problem relies on the way Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate to each other, meaning scholars noticed that there are a lot of points of comparison within these three Gospels, which led them to question why. The Two-Source Hypothesis is one major answer to the question of the Synoptic Problem (Powell 1998, 16-17). This hypothesis argues that Matthew and Luke both used Mark as their structure, and then a source known as Q, short for the German word Quella which means source.  There are arguments for and against this, of which there is one known as the Two Gospel Hypothesis—also known as the Griesbach Hypothesis (Powell 1998, 19). This hypothesis holds that Matthew wrote his Gospel first (of which the early church held this thought for a long time), which Luke used to make his version, followed by Mark using both and shortening them into his smaller Gospel (Ibid).  A final way of answering the Synoptic Problem came through an extended version of the Two-Source Hypothesis, known as the Four-Source Hypothesis (I know, genius naming going on here). The way the Four-Source Hypothesis works is with starting as the Two-SourceFour-Source Hypothesis Hypothesis, only there were sources within Matthew and Luke that are not shared with either of these two Gospels, which are separate from Mark and Q (Powell 1998, 16). For Matthew, it is known as M1 and for Luke, its an L1 (as shown in the diagram). However, as Luke has shown in his opening to his Gospel, the authors did do their own investigation and research into the Gospels, Mark using Peter, Luke using other Gospels and eyewitnesses, Matthew and John using their own memories. It is also possible that each Gospel was more than likely written in regards to helping their own communities, yet keeping the truth of Jesus intact. We must understand these theories behind the sources of the Gospels if we are going to understand our own quest to find the historical Jesus and link Him to the Christ of faith.

The Methodology

The first thing, as Darrell L. Bock (2012, 12-13), in his book, Who is Jesus?, is to speak in corroboration, or “make a corroborative case for the historicity of the accounts…[of] what Jesus said and did.” In order to do this, we must first follow the “criteria of authenticity” (Ibid). Again, as Bock (2012, 13) says, this first rule “test[s] whether we can show a text to have its roots authentically in the actual events of Jesus’ life.” With this understanding, we have to follow a very specific methodology if we are to piece together the Gospels’ understanding of Jesus, of which we can then bridge the massive gap of the Historical Jesus with the Christ of faith. These methods are Multiple Attestation, Dissimilarity, Embarrassment, Criterion of Rejection and Execution, Coherence, Aramaic and/or Hebrew Traces, Palestinian Environment, Inherent Ambiguity, and finally, Historical-Cultural Plausibility (Bock 2012, 16-25). The idea of multiple attestation, as Bock (2012 18), in his book on finding the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, states that “if a saying, teaching, or theme is attested in multiple sources, then it has a better chance of being authentic…going back to authentic events in the life of Jesus.” This will also be used with the forms (ie., miracle stories, parables, pronouncements, etc.) within the sources (Ibid., 19). Dissimilarity is where a possible saying or event does not comply with either the Second Temple Judaism nor the early Church, making it authentically connected to Jesus (Ibid., 19-20). Embarrassment is when a particular story about Jesus, in the Gospels, is seen as being too embarrassing to have been made up. Again, Bock (2012, 21), in his book Who is Jesus?, says “[t]he embarrassing point in the story would ring true because it was a real part of the event.” A good example is that Jesus was crucified as a criminal, where it is embarrassing for our major leader and God to be put to death for a crime (Ibid). The criterion of rejection and execution, again as Bock (2012, 21) puts it, is “how Jesus was rejected by Jewish authorities and crucified by the Romans” making it possibly authentic. Coherence is where something is seen as coherent with the already authenticated source (Ibid., 22). Aramaic and/or Hebrew traces is where anything connected to something Aramaic or Hebrew is authentic to the source (Ibid). Palestinian environment is when the text meets with the culture, society, and life of first-century Palestine, making it authentic (Ibid., 23). Inherent ambiguity is an argument that states that if something about Jesus was made up by the early Church, it would have been extremely clear and not vague or ambiguous (Ibid). Historical-cultural plausibility is when something is made authentic it must fit into a Second Temple Jewishness of the first-century and still be influential on the early Church (Ibid., 24). These are the methods of which we will be using to link the Historical Jesus to the Christ of faith.

Author’s Notes

*Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 108), in their intro to the New Testament, as well as Gerd Theissen (2003, 96), believe that a date after AD 70 is more plausible than before it, which they gather because of the language of the destroyed temple in Jesus’ prophecy. It needs to be stated that just because Jesus made a prophecy does not mean that the authors of the Gospels put those words in His mouth in their writings. Chilton and Good hold to a theory of naturalism, meaning that nothing miraculous is possible, which goes for prophecies.

Reference List

Blomberg, Craig. 1992. Matthew. Vol. 22. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Bock, Darrell L. 2012. Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. New York: Howard Books.

________. 1996. Luke. IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Brown, Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.

Bruce, F. F. 1981. New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Press Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


Donahue, John R., and Daniel J. Harrington. 2002. Gospel of Mark. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington. Vol. 2. Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Elwell, Walter E. and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Limbaugh, David. 2017. True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing.

Luz, Ulrich. 2007. Matthew 1–7: A Commentary on Matthew 1–7. Edited by Helmut Koester. Rev. ed. Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Powell, Mark Allan. 1998. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


The Historical Jesus is the Christ of Faith, Part One: What’s the Difference?


The Beginning of the ‘Quest’

The search for the historical Jesus has been led by several questions, which are also asked in researching Christology, the Doctrine of Christ, that are posited in Thomas Oden’s Systematic Theology—quis, or who, quid, or what, quomodo, that is how, and ad quid, meaning why (Oden 2001, 30). Who was Jesus; what did He come to do; how did He do it; and why did He come? These questions have been asked in all seven ecumenical councils that sought to set down a theological understanding Christian doctrine up to our very own time. The search of the Historical Jesus, as a field of study, was only truly birthed fairly recently, the eighteenth century to be exact. The Historical Jesus was sought after, from Reimarus’ fragments in the mid-eighteenth century up to the publication of  N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began in 2016 and David Limbaugh’s The True Jesus published in 2017.  Everything, about the Historical Jesus, has been thrown around from an ethical teacher, who was a failed messiah, died and His disciples hiding the body, to the notion that he was mythical, a legend made up by His followers, to there being nothing more we can learn of Him, to a mystic, sage, or prophet (Galvin 2011, 280-287). At the heart of these quests for the historical Jesus is the attempt to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. The essential argument over the historical Jesus is that there is a real Jesus rooted in history and that the Christ of faith was a later figure made up, entirely, by his later followers. However, modern scholarship has shown that the primary sources (the canonical Gospels) are accurate in their representation of the historical Jesus, thus making the Jesus of history the true Christ of faith.

Schweitzer and the First Quest



Albert Schweitzer was the author of the book Von Reimarus zu Wrede, which his translator titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Image taken from

In 1774, the work of a Hebrew scholar in Hamburg, Germany was published by G. E. Lessing who claimed that the author was unknown. In actuality, Lessing was given the Fragments by Elise Reimarus, the daughter of Hermann Samuel Reimarus and she asked him to keep her father’s name out of the public due to a fear of him losing his respect in the Church and the academic community (Voysey 1879, 5). For Reimarus, Jesus was not the divine Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity but a failed messiah who tried to usher in an earthly kingdom for Isreal (Voysey 1879, 9-12; Wright 1999, 20; Galvin 2011, 279-280; McGrath 2001; 387-388). The question that can be asked, in regards to Reimarus (as well as those who came after him), is why did he feel the need to separate the historical Jesus from the New Testament version? For this, a look at Reimarus’ time and the major philosophy that dominated Germany is needed in order to understand his views.

Germany’s political, religious, and social mind frame was fueled by the notion of the Enlightenment, die Aufklärung. The German word means clarification, however it is usually translated in the fields of history and philosophy as the Enlightenment. This was a period where the middle-class people believed that reason was replacing superstition and religion. This was a time where France saw the upheaval of its political system in an absolute monarch overturned for a so-called republicanism. It also saw the removal of the Gallic Church (the Catholic Church as it was known in France) for the cult of the Supreme Being. This cult took most of the churches and Cathedrals in France and turned them into temples of reason. Germany was only too glad to join in on this except the monarchy in Prussia (Northern Germany and Poland) overturned their revolution. Christianity took on a different form of theology known as Deism.

Deism is a form of theology that believes that god* created the world and then left it to exist on its own, never to get involved with the outcome. Some people would describe it as the grandfather clock creator. They would describe it as a person who created the grandfather clock, put it on a shelf, and then turned around and left it. Along with this same line, just like the notion of purging supernaturalism from Christianity through rationalism, the miracles of Jesus were discarded as well. Because miracles could not be scientifically proven, arguing that the proof of miracles was a circular argument, they had to be removed from the historicity of Jesus (Pelikan 1985, 182-193). The following critics at this time, gave up on the notions of miracles, leading them to forgo orthodoxy altogether.



In 1835-1836, David Friedrich Strauss published The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Expanding on Reimarus’ notion that Jesus was a failed messiah and that his disciples made everything up, Strauss, using Hegelian Dialectism+, argued that the early Church mythicized Jesus as the Christ of faith (Galvin 2011, 280-281). In 1892, Johannes Weiss put out his Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. His argument stemmed from a notion of Jesus as an ethical teacher, pushing for a moral ideal in his notion of the Kingdom of God (McGrath 2001, 390; Galvin 2011, 282). A return to eschatological theology (granted through liberal theology++) was produced with this book (McGrath 2001, 390; Galvin 2011, 282). Basically, with apocalypticism, Weiss began to feel, as a Romantic, that the teaching of Jesus was much more than a lesson in ethics and morality (McGrath 2001, 390). During the same period, Martin Kähler (pronounced Kaahla, in German when the word ends with an r its almost silent), a systematic theologian, argued that the search for the historical Jesus was not necessary, that there was no way of truly finding him and that a closer look at the Christ of faith was more fruitful (Galvin 2011, 282; McGrath 2001; 391-392). Kähler is possibly the only quester to get close enough, however, he holds the notion that the search for the real Jesus was going to prove that the Christ of faith was not historical (McGrath 2001, 391-392). In 1901 the work Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien (The Messianic Secret in the Gospels), written by Wilhelm Wrede (pronounced Vilhalm Vreeda), had been published. Wrede had come to the realization that Jesus’ reason for hiding his messianic call was due to the authors of the Gospels (especially in Mark’s account); thus there could be nothing more known about the true existence of Jesus (Donahue and Harrington 2002, 27; McGrath 2001, 390-391; Galvin 2011, 282-283). Finally, the one person who summarized the lifes of Jesus critiques wrote his own, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (The Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede), published by missionary and medical doctor Albert Schweitzer. He argued that the Historical Jesus was possible to find and that he was a failed apocalyptic messenger who believed that God’s kingdom was coming in the near future, in a cosmic way (Galvin 2011, 283; McGrath 2001, 390; Oden 2001, 201; Wright 1992, 5). Schweitzer (1911, 398) said, “[w]e have made Jesus hold another language with our time from that which He really held.” It is believed that Schweitzer said that the search of the historical Jesus was like the scholars looking into a well to find him and only seeing their own reflection. Honestly, whether he said it or not, it is very true with how he viewed the critics of the lifes of Jesus. Schweitzer (1911, 396-403) held that from Reimarus to Wrede, Jesus was ripped from his actual historical setting and placed into the modern time as an ethical, moralist, and mythical teacher. Schweitzer, unfortunately, did not learn from his own lesson, since his Jesus was a failed messiah, who miss understood his very own calling, and God, holding to the thought that his own death would bring God’s cosmic kingdom to come quickly (Galvin 2011, 283; McGrath 390-391; Oden 2001, 201-202; Wright 1992, 6; Wright 1999, 23). Schweitzer’s book marked the end of the First Quest (Bock 2012, 5).

The So-Called No Quest

Rudolph Bultmann

Rudolf Bultmann, the originator of the demythologizing of the New Testament and Jesus Christ. Image taken from

The first half of the twentieth century became known as the period of No Quest (Bock 2012, 6). The key figure during this period was the New Testament scholar, Rudolf Bultmann. For him, the notion of ever finding the real Jesus of history was not possible (Bock 2012, 6; McGrath 2001, 393; Galvin 2011, 283; Oden 2001, 202; Wright 1992, 7). Bultmann then decided to focus his attention on the Gospels and the early Church. Bultmann took to studying what is known as the kerygma (the Greek word meaning proclamation) and the use of form criticism (McGrath 2001, 393; Oden 2001, 202; Wright 1992, 7). Bultmann (1958, 11-21) speaks of the miracles in the Bible, especially those pertaining to the Gospels, as mythological. For him, to keep the main lesson taught by Jesus and the early Church, one has to use his hermeneutic of de-mythologizing (Bultmann 1958, 11-21). Here, Bultmann owes his theology to the first questers, especially those of Strauss, Weiss, Kähler, and Schweitzer.

The Second Quest (also known as the New Quest)

The Second Quest (which is sometimes called the New Quest) was brought about by a student of Bultmann, Ernst Käsemann (pronounced case-aman). Unlike his teacher, Käsemann believed that the historical Jesus was reachable (Bock 2012, 6; Wright 1992, 8). Käsemann believed that one was able to perceive the real Christ, and then attach him to the Jesus of history, by using the method of Form Criticism (Ibid). Form Criticism is the method of finding the original way a story was passed on, more less (Bock 2012, 6). It was during this time, as well, that archaeologists were making astonishing discoveries, one of which was the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 (Bock 2012, 7). A large difference needs to be made between the First Quest and the Second. The First Quest sought a separation of the historical Jesus from the teachings of the Apostles (Bock 2012, 6-7; Oden 2001, 202-203; McGrath 2001, 394-396). In the Second Quest, it is the very teachings of the Apostles and of Jesus that get to the heart of the real Jesus (Ibid). The other importance of this period is the development of an actual method for research in the historical Jesus.

As mentioned earlier, a more centralized focus on the teachings of the early Church and Jesus, not simply his deeds, was vitally important to the scholars of this New Quest (Wright 1992, 8). The sayings of Jesus became the point of focus, which meant that there needed to be a way to find out which ones were authentic (Ibid). The various methods of assessing Jesus’ sayings are: dissimilar; multiple attestation; consistency; and lingual and cultural tests (Wright 1992, 8-9). The meaning behind dissimilar has to do with the fact that if a saying of Jesus was unlike anything of his time or the early Church, then it was authentic (Ibid). Multiple attestation is where a saying of Jesus is found in more than one source—i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke, also known as the Synoptic Gospels (Ibid). Consistency is when a saying aligns, theologically, with others that have already been authenticated (Ibid). The lingual and cultural tests is how a saying of Jesus fits into the Aramaic speaking world of a first century Jew (Ibid).

The Third Quest


N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright is one of the leading scholars in the Third Quest, who also coined the term. Image taken from


No one scholar agrees, completely, on when the Third Quest began; this is also due to the fact that any scholar has been attributed to starting it (Wright 1992, 12). However, there is one scholar who did coin the term, former Anglican Bishop of Durham and Professor of the New Testament studies at Mary’s College at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland—N. T. Wright (Ibid). N. T. Wright (1992, 12) puts the beginning of the Third Quest around the 1970s. For Darrell L. Bock (2012, 8), New Testament Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, this quest began around the 1960s, however taking complete rise in the ’80s. Whether the date was in the ’60s or later is not important, what is important is how the new questers view Jesus. For these scholars, putting Jesus into his historical context of a first-century Jew in the Second Temple epoch is important (McGrath 2001, 396; Bock 2012, 8; Wright 1992, 12). Some scholars, such as the Jesus Seminar (which include liberals like Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Robert Funk) hold a use of outside sources, mostly Gnostic (they hold to a very important view of the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter) along with the Synoptic Gospels (Wright 1992, 10; McGrath 2001, 396-397; Craig 2018). These scholars also see Jesus as merely a cynical itinerant preacher; they methodically strip the Jewishness away from Jesus and place him into a Hellenized mythic character (Ibid.). E. P. Sanders and N. T. Wright, following in the academic footsteps of Albert Schweitzer, place Jesus into his Jewish culture, using biblical and rabbinical sources, seeing Him as an apocalyptical prophet (McGrath 2001, 396). There is a split, almost right down the middle, ideologically of whether Jesus is to be situated into a Hellenized mind frame or a more Jewish one (Ibid., 397).

The Quest Moves On

From the beginning of the First Quest, the question of who Jesus was has been key in all of the quests (including the No Quest period). It was Lessing who presented a picture of the historical Jesus as being a ditch, where on one side is the biblical view and on the other is the historical one (Bock 2012, 4). This ditch was seen as being uncrossable. For most of these scholars, from Reimarus up to the Jesus Seminar, this ditch will never be crossed. However, as I agree with Darrell L. Bock (2012, 9) when arguing that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith by using all of the tools of the Third Quest,

…you can play the game by these rules and still move toward a better historical understanding of Jesus that also explains the faith of his earliest followers. You can cross the canyon.

There has been this need, however, all throughout the quests to separate the person of Christ from His works, or simply put the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith (Sproul 2009, 16). The late R. C Sproul (2009, 1), in his book Who is Jesus?, says,

[w]e need Christ—the real Christ. A Christ born of empty speculation or created to squeeze into the philosopher’s pattern simply won’t do. A recycled Christ, a Christ of compromise, can redeem no one. A Christ watered down, stripped of power, debased of glory, reduced to a symbol, or made impotent by scholarly surgery is not Christ but Antichrist.

Because we have separated the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith, we have lost sight of the “real Christ” (Ibid). Sproul (2009, 16) also said,

…the significance of what He did is strongly conditioned by who He is. Though we may distinguish between person and work, we must never isolate the one from the other.

Author’s Notes

*I use a lower case g for god here, mainly, due to the fact that this is not the same God as Yahweh, our Lord and Creator.

+Hegelian Dialectism is a form of historical/philosophical theory where you start with a thesis, which then comes into conflict with an antithesis. The outcome was what Hegel regarded as a synthesis. However, the argument continues till there is a perfect synthesis. This means that every synthesis is then made into a new thesis and the process then begins all over again.

++The birth of liberal theology really comes from the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The later critics of the nineteenth century began to question the ideology of the rationalists, giving birth to Romanticism, the child of the Enlightenment. Romanticism was a response to the overly critical rationalism of the Enlightenment. Romantics thought rationalism was breaking down; instead, everyone needed to feel things with their emotions.

Reference List

Bock, Darrell L. 2012. Who is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith. New York: Howard Books.

Bultmann, Rudolf. 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons

Craig, William Lane. 2018. “Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar.” Reasonable Faith. Accessed January 27, 2018.

Donahue, John R., and Daniel J. Harrington. 2002. Gospel of Mark. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington. Vol. 2. Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.


Galvin, John P. 2011. “Jesus Christ.” In Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Edited by Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


McGrath, Alister E. 2001.Christian Theology: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Oden, Thomas C. 2001. Word of Life. Vol. 2. Systematic Theology. Peabody, MA: Prince Press.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 1985. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. new Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Schweitzer, Albert. 1911. Quest for the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress From Reimarus to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Sproul, R. C. 2009. Who is Jesus?. Vol. 1 Crucial Questions. Orlando: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Voysey, Charles. Editor. 1879. Fragments from Reimarus: Brief Critical Remarks on the Object of Jesus and His Disciples as Seen in the New Testament. Translated by G. E. Lessing. London: Williams and Norgate.

Wright, N. T. 1999. Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.


_________. 1992.Who Was Jesus?. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.