Bibliology Part Two-C: The Manuscripts, Transmission, and Translation or What is Textual Criticism

The Image is taken from

“I am not, I repeat, so ignorant as to suppose that any of the Lord’s words is either in need of correction or is not divinely inspired; but the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated” (Jerome, Letters XXVII. 1). The Image is taken from



At the beginning of the fifth century, Jerome completed his magnum opus, the Vulgate. This work was the official Bible of the Middle Ages for roughly a thousand years. Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into the ‘vulgar’ (hence the name Vulgate), in Latin, was commissioned by Pope Damasus, ca. AD 382 (Demarest 2013, 162). The medieval Vulgate was not without its problems, which is why, in part, during the Renaissance, a humanist, Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) got permission from Pope Leo X to revise Jerome’s Vulgate.


Erasmus’ Greek-Latin Parrell New Testament. Erasmus originally sought to update the Vulgate, however, he ended producing a new Latin translation that replaced the Vulgate. The image is taken from

Using only a handful of Greek manuscripts, the first edition was published in 1516, a year before Martin Luther would nail his 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Erasmus’ new version of the New Testament was the first Greek New Testament to be printed in history, not handwritten (Alvarez 2016). Erasmus’ translation had various errors, hence his many editions. The biggest problem for Erasmus were the Greek manuscripts; he did not have access to the full New Testament (missing were the last six verses of Revelation which he translated from Jerome’s Vulgate back into the Greek [Carson 1979, 33]). There are a variety of issues surrounding the abundance of manuscripts used when translators ‘translate’ the Bible into a modern or current translation. Yet, we can be assured that God has overseen the entire process and preserved His Word from the moment of revelation and inspiration right down to our present age.


The Manuscripts of the Old Testament and New Testament: Are They Reliable?



An image of the Scroll of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. The image is taken from


Historians are still not quite sure when, as well as where, the Enlightenment began. Some scholars believe it was in the mid-seventeenth century, while others hold to it beginning in the eighteenth. When and where, is not really what matters, what does is that everything was under suspicion, guilty till proven innocent. The golden age of the Enlightenment, however, was in the late eighteenth century, mostly in France with the two different, yet similar, philosophical schools: the materialists and the philosophs. Basically, both parties saw miracles as suspect, and anything found in the Bible that smacked of supernaturalism was suspect to superstition and therefore not historical. In Prussia (northern area of Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and most of modern-day Germany), a philosopher, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing stated that there was no way of knowing the Christ of Faith from the historical Jesus, which has become known as Lessing’s Ditch. Basically, for the Enlightenment philosophers, as well as their children and grandchildren, there is no way of knowing the actual historical events of the Bible.

Through the Enlightenment, most of the Old Testament was laid waste to the new tool of historical-methodology, which gave rise to what is known as higher criticism. Scholars began to dissect the Old Testament, the Torah was written not by Moses but by an editor, or actually, editors, at various points in time. The J, E, EP, P (the theory that a different author, writing at different time periods, edited the Torah, therefore there was the Jahwists, Elohimists, the Priests, and the combination of the Elohim and Preist schools), theory became the norm. Isaiah was not thought to be written by Isaiah, at least not the whole, therefore two versions were put together into one. All of this has led some modern scholars to question the validity of the documents behind the Old Testament.

Today, some of the Old Testament scholars, as well as a small handful of New Testament ones, believe and teach that the manuscripts of the Old Testament have been corrupted, which they argue makes the Bible itself invalid (Wegner 2011, 119-138).


Qumran scriptorium, where copies of the Old Testament, as well as their personal sect books, were copied. The image is taken from

If this is true, then as Paul Wegner (2011, 119) stated in his essay on the corruption of the Old Testament, which will also be the same for the New Testament, that if these manuscripts are hopelessly corrupted, then we are not to be held to any of the commands given by God, which therefore would mean that God failed at revealing Himself since scripture is to be the revelation of the One Living God. Basically, the Bible would be pointless and should be thrown out or burned. How do we know if there are corruptions in the Old and New Testament manuscripts? Easy, we look at them ourselves, we learn about the methods of preservation done through the scribes, and how the text critics come to their decisions of what the originals may have said.


What are the Manuscripts Behind the Old and New Testaments?


For the Old Testament, the sources are fewer than what we have for the New Testament, which still does not posit a significant problem. Text critics look at various Hebrew, as well as, the Masoretic Text (the majority text for the Old Testament), Targums (Aramaic paraphrasing of the whole of the Old Testament), the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) as well as other Greek versions (like Philo), the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls (found in the area of the Dead Sea in 1946), and finally, some of the early Church Fathers’ illusions to and quotes of the Old Testament in their writings (Norton 2001, 156-173). We have, for the New Testament, over 5,600 Greek, 10,000 Latin, and somewhere between 5,000-10,000 Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, Syriac, and various other translated copies (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27; Bruce 1981, 10; Ehrman 2005, 88-89). As Daniel Wallace (2011, 146; 2013, 28) likes to state, if we never found any of these copies of the New Testament, then we would still be able to compile most of it through the various quotes of the Patristic Fathers in their various commentaries and homilies. Amazingly, with all of this information on the New Testament, we can safely say we have around 20,000 copies of the New Testament (Wallace 2011, 146; 2013, 27-28).


The Old Testament Texts


The manuscripts of the Old Testament have a rougher time than the ones for the New Testament. This is due, mostly, to the dating. As we have mentioned before, the Old Testament was written over a period of about 1,500 years. For the longest time, the earliest Hebrew text for the Old Testament could only be dated to the Middle Ages, with the oldest portion of the Bible being dated to the twelveth-century BC (Norton 2001, 156). For a text critic, this is not unusual, though, for a valid argument for the validity of the Old Testament, it doesn’t bode well. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, a better source of attestation to the Masoretic Texts, ie., the earliest Hebrew source (Ibid.) has been made. What this means is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have both Hebrew copies, as well as some in Aramaic, is that a closer date to the autographs can be made, roughly 600-800 years (Ibid.). This find has also shown that the Masoretic Text has been well preserved, since most of the Hebrew versions found at the Qumran site match, almost completely, with the Masoretic manuscripts (Ibid., 160-166). This also means, which we will discuss a bit later, is that the scribal process of hand copying the manuscripts was very thorough (Ibid.).


The New Testament Texts


Gymnasium of Sardis

Gymnasium’s in the Greco-Roman world were used as more than sports training facilities. The Romans used them for their education as well, reading, writing, mathematics (they even had primary, secondary, and tertiary schoolings). The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible Photos.


When looking at the New Testament, one has to take into account the classical world and their various manuscript evidence. So, for example, Caesar’s Gallic War. Caesar wrote this, supposedly, around 58-50 BC, to which we only have about ten good copies with the oldest dating to about 900 years later (Bruce 1981, 11). For a better example, let’s look at a couple of the more important Roman historians from the first-century, Livy and Tacitus. Most of our understanding of the Roman Empire leading up to the first-century comes from these two. Livy (59 BC-AD 17) wrote some 142 works on the history of Rome, yet we only have, roughly, 25% of his texts (Wallace 2011, 151). With Livy, though, we do not actually have his full collection, which is why Wallace (2011, 151) and F. F. Bruce (1981, 11) state that we only have about a quarter to a third of his works, which are found mostly in one copy of books iii-vi and are only fragments, which the oldest dates to about the fourth century. Tacitus’ (ca. AD 100) Histories were just fourteen books, we only have four and half of them (Bruce 1981, 11). Tacitus’ Annals were sixteen books long, which we only have ten full copies and two partials (Ibid.). Both of these works by Tacitus have their best manuscripts from the ninth and eleventh-centuries (Ibid.). More could be said, but I feel this is enough. Secular text critics wish they had the plethora of evidence that the New Testament scholars have.


Are Both the Old and New Testament Manuscripts Full of Errors and Corruptions?


To answer this question, we first need to understand what the scribal process was, define what an error is and what types of errors there are, and see if they actually matter for anything. The first thing we should do is read what the skeptics are saying about this. Basically, Bart Erhman (2005, 47-51), again the leading skeptic in New Testament textual criticism, states that the early Christian scribes were not professionals, ie., not trained, yet were literate and educated. What Ehrman (Ibid.) is saying is that the earlier manuscripts were very sloppy compared to those in the secular realm who were trained to do this as a profession, which to the Christians this was not a profession, it was necessary. Ehrman (Ibid. 47-55) proclaims that some errors were made by early scribes on purpose, to alter the text for theological purposes, while some were simply accidents (left out words, misspelled words, incorrect grammar, etc.). Ehrman (Ibid., 72) believes that the early Christian scribes lived in a vacuum apart from the other communities in the Roman Empire (eg., the community at Rome would still house the same errors in their various manuscripts because they would never have gotten a copy of any other manuscripts). Finally, for Ehrman (Ibid., 72-73) the rise of professional scribes in the Christian communities began to happen in the early to mid-fourth century with the conversion of Constantine, of which, according to Ehrman, requested 50 copies of the Bible be made for several of his new churches that were in the midst of being built (ironically, Ehrman gives no evidence for this, Eusebius, Life of Constantine VI.37). However, now that we know that for skeptics, all the mistakes in the copies, which has led to the so-called contradictions, of the Bible were made by educated unprofessional Christian scribes. Now, we need to know what the skeptics believe an error is.

For skeptics, it is beneficial for them to make statements, like what Ehrman (Ibid., 90) says in Misquoting Jesus: “[t]here are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.” For the skeptics, then, the errors in the manuscripts were one of two types: accidental changes and intentional changes, of which there are several kinds (Ibid., 90-95). In other words, for the skeptics, accidents were understandable due to abbreviations, no punctuations, skipping lines due to the ending words of some lines being the same, etc. (Ibid.). In regards to the intentional changes, the skeptics view them as very serious issues and make them their smoking gun. First, these intentional changes were done to correct those earlier problems, eg., Mark’s statement of a prophecy from Malachi, yet attaching it to Isaiah, or Matthew’s recording of Jesus saying that He doesn’t know the time of the end, which upset some later scribes who dropped that saying altogether (Ibid., 94-95). Another intentional error was to circumvent a possible misunderstanding of the text (Ibid., 95). Possibly, the most important one of them all for the skeptics was the changing of the text to promote “orthodox” theology (Ibid., 95-96). Lastly, there were scribes who would alter the text to “harmonize” them, mostly found in the synoptic gospels (Ibid., 97-98). What these mean to the critic and skeptic is that the texts cannot be trusted, we can never know what the original meant, and most importantly, the modern version of the Bible was the version of Christianity that won out, which means that the originals may actually have held more heretical views. Is this true though, are we hopelessly lost and unable to get back to the original words of the Old and New Testaments? Is our version of Christianity incorrect due to changes to the texts; is our Christianity actually the heretical one? What do you think? Do some exploring for yourselves, seek out the truth. The next post will be the answer to these questions, and maybe more.


C. B.

The Bearded Scholar


Reference List


Alvarez, Pablo. 2016. “500 Years of Erasmus’s New Testament!” Beyond the Reading Room: Anecdotes and Other Notes from the U-M Special Collections Research Center, July 29. Accessed July 14, 2018.

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

Carson, D. A. 1979. King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Demarest, Bruce A. 2013. “Jerome.” In Introduction to the History of Christianity. Edited by Tim Dowley. 162-163. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.

Norton, Mark R. 2003. “Texts and Manuscripts of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip Wesley Comfort. 155-183. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, INC.

Wallace, Daniel B. 2013. “Has the New Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 139-163. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.

________. 2011. “Lost in Transmission: How Badly Did the Scribes Corrupt the New Testament Text?” In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence. Edited by Daniel B. Wallace. 19-55. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Wegner, Paul D. 2013. “Has the Old Testament Text Been Hopelessly Corrupted?” In In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture. Edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. 119-138. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Academics.


Bibliology Part Two—B: The Manuscripts, Their Transmission, Translations, or What is Textual Criticism


Synagogue at Capernaum

This is an image of the Synagogue at Capernaum. The Jewish place education and religious meetings, as well as political meetings, was the synagogue. The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible Infographics.



Earlier in the week, I watched a debate between Christian scholar Dr. Michael Licona and atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. Sadly, I do not feel Licona did a good job debating Erhman. The debate was on whether the Gospels were historically reliable. Honestly, Licona did a good job explaining how an actual historian views ancient manuscripts. However, during his actual debate with Ehrman, he conceded to ridiculous, fallacious arguments put forward by Ehrman. I am continually amazed at how agnostic/atheists, critics, and skeptic scholars commit heinous fallacies without even blinking an eye. If you watch the debate, you will notice that Ehrman presents his argument for viewing the Gospels alone, we are not even allowed to compare them to any other writings, we cannot interpret them, if they do not say something then it did not happen, we are only allowed to read the Gospels in English, and we have to approach the Gospels with modern worldview presuppositions.* Today, this is how most scholars are teaching their students in secular colleges (as well as in a few divinity schools and seminaries). The truth is, the Bible is completely reliable, historically, socially, economically, and theologically. This is why Paul charges Timothy to be prepared, in season and out, to preach the word (2 Tim 4:1-5 CSB). The Word itself is God-breathed, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). God prepared it for us to be able to know Him, to teach, rebuke, correct, and be trained in all righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 CSB). It’s also why the authors of the Westminster Confession stated, in regards to the whole of the Scriptures, that

“the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6.1).

As the evidence will show, the Bible is more reliable than any other source for history. The evidence will also show that God has worked in and through history, proving that Christianity and the Bible are reliable, authoritative, and completely accurate for today.

To understand the reliability of the Bible, we have to approach them as any good historian would.  First, we need to be aware of several fallacies, especially those made by the agnostic/atheist, critic, and skeptic scholars make and make sure to avoid them. One of the first things to know about the Bible is that it is a historical document. What this means is it is prima facie (at first view). In other words, the Bible records history, which means we do not need to accept outside material as more historical in nature, or more authoritative in regards to describing historical facts (Barrick 2008, 16). Unfortunately, critics and skeptics do this all the time. If the Bible records a historical event, such as the census by Caesar Augustus and the governing of Syria by Quirinius, the critic and skeptic look at other sources during the time, find no record of a census and conclude that the Bible is incorrect and the other sources are more authoritative in their telling of the events; in regards to Quirinius as governor, they state that Luke was wrong because of the dating of Jesus’ birth and that Josephus was correct, yet they do not wonder whether Luke was correct and Josephus was wrong (Luke 2:1-3 CSB; Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 18.1-2). We also need to avoid the fallacy of arguing from silence. If there is silence in the Bible we have to find out why; we cannot just determine that the silence means that nothing happened. We also cannot make any over-generalizations, in other words, history is done in a very specific way. The past did not just happen in a vacuum. We cannot expect to think that the Bible is not reliable because it left material out, or shortened certain events, or even reorganized them. Doing historical research is best explained in the way Conal Furay and Michael Salevouris (2010, 12-13) do in their book on historical methodology; Furay and Salevouris stated that history is like walking in a dark landscape where you have a spotlight that only lights up sections at a time. All you want is to be able to see the whole thing, however, you can only see what the spotlight shines into view for you (Ibid.). This is how historians perceive history, they are unable to completely see the whole, instead, they are only able to imagine the whole with the small amount they can see. John says something similar in his Gospel when he explains to his audience about all of the deeds of Jesus, John states that the world would not be able to hold them (John 21:25 CSB).


Oral Tradition into Written Tradition or A Brief History of How the Bible Became Written



Doing history prior to the 15th-century is a bit difficult. This is mostly due (as is true for all nations’ histories, including America’s) to the fact that these earlier nations and cultures had passed their histories down verbally, to which at some point someone believed these stories to be important enough to have been written down. This is known as oral history. This is where the problem of manuscripts comes in and why historians, as well as the rest of us, need the field of textual criticism. This is a field of science that takes various copies of manuscripts, like the ones behind the modern English Bible, compare them together, and decide what the original (also known as an autograph from the German which loosely means author’s original work) said. This means, unfortunately, that anything pre-15th-century, or ancient works, are copies of the original works (Presnell 2007, 122). What makes this difficult is that many times the copies may have been altered, whether on accident or on purpose, leaving the text critic and historian to decide what the original may have actually said. What is good about this, especially for the Bible, is that the more copies there are the more precise the text critic can be on discovering what the original said, as well as knowing that there were more people who could read them as well (Ibid., 123). This also means that the knowledge of how important the message of the manuscript was weighed on the people of the time the copy came from (Ibid.).

For us, then, it is the same with the Kingdom of God. God spoke, the universe and mankind came into being, Abraham and his descendants acted, Moses moved, and a nation bowed to the power of Him by releasing His people from their slavery (Pelikan 2005, 9-11). The same should be said of the New Testament. Paul recounts the words of Jesus when he expresses to the Church at Corinth about the Lord’s Supper as being instituted by Christ Himself (Ibid., 18). Paul says,

and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25 CSB).

Peter told his congregation that the Bible had been orally passed on by the Word of the Holy Spirit,

No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20b-21 CSB).

In regards to showing the oral history of the early church, Paul tells the Church at Corinth, again, how he had passed on to them the Gospel, which he, himself, had received:

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you, which you received, on which you have taken your stand and by which you are being saved, if you hold to the message I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me (1 Cor 15:1-8 CSB).

And Paul tells the various churches in Galatia, possibly the earliest written document of the New Testament, how he received his Gospel (that is, for us, here, his oral history):

I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas,and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I didn’t see any of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother…Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,taking Titus along also. I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those recognized as leaders. I wanted to be sure I was not running, and had not been running, in vain…On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the one at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John—those recognized as pillars—acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do (Gal 1:17-19; 2:1-2, 7-10 CSB).

Luke also, in his Gospel (which I believe one of his major sources was Paul), gives an example of the passing of the early churches’ oral history on to his community:

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4 CSB).

And Peter also tells his congregation about how he passed on orally the message of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. Peter explained that they did not pass on myths, but that they were actually there, they saw and heard everything. Peter even reminds his audience about being present at the Transfiguration of Jesus and hearing God give his approval of Christ:

For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18 CSB).



The image is taken from the Faithlife Study Bible photos.

From oral to written was a process that took time. For Marcus Borg (2012, 11), a Liberal Christian and former New Testament Scholar and Jesus Seminar Fellow, the world of the New Testament may have only had, roughly, five percent of people who were literate (this is debatable). Borg (2012, 12) also holds that the only reason the Gospels were written down was two-fold: to preserve a Christian Communities tradition in regards to Jesus and due to the process of early institutionalization of some churches. Borg (Ibid.) holds that oral history in the Christian tradition “involved memory, development, and testimony” making it a communal process. One of the things that would have helped in the ability of the oral tradition to become written is an example from the New Testament. Jesus was a rabbi, who moved around the land of Palestine teaching and preaching the Tanakh. In order for his close students, the twelve disciples, to remember His words, Jesus taught in aphorisms and parables, which he would have done several times. In other words, Jesus, more than likely, repeated all that is recorded in the four different Gospels more than once to different audiences all over Palestine (Borg 2012, 13; Howard 2010, 1596; Keener 2009, 149).



 The biggest part of any culture’s oral tradition has to do with memorization. Craig S. Keener (2009, 139-152), in his book on the Historical Jesus, states that in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, memorization by disciples of teachers and rabbis was a critical part of their education, more so than having something written by the teacher (though, the oral portion was more important in the Jewish world than in the Roman). In the Greco-Roman world, it was not uncommon for people, ie. Seneca, to work extraneously hard to memorize names, sayings, teaching, and even lifestyles of their master teachers (Ibid.). Keener (Ibid.), gave an example of the students of Pythagoras who would not even get out of bed until they had completely recited, by memory, everything they had learned in class the day before. Josephus (Life of Josephus 2; Against Apion 1.2; 2.17; Keener 2009, 149) even mentions how the Jews worked extremely hard to memorize the whole of the Torah.

Sermon on the Mount
The image is taken from Blue Letter Bible.

 The rabbis would expect their students to be able to memorize their teachings and be able to recite them back; this was done through repetition (Keener 2009, 149). In the oral history of Jesus and his Gospel that His disciples passed on was mostly, if not completely, inflexible (Ibid., 150). In Judaism, eyewitnesses were more important in the reliability of the passing on of the oral history, which passed on through early Christianity (Ibid., 139). What was important to the memorization, especially when it comes to the Gospels and to the oral tradition passed on within the early Church, was that the “gist” of the events and sayings was made since verbatim sayings was slightly improbable (Ibid., 150). Also, it was not uncommon for both the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish one to have some who would be able to take notes, to be able to polish up the lectures, sayings, and speeches to publish them for their teachers later on (Ibid., 148-149). The Apostles came from this world, they sat at Jesus’ feet, learned how He lived, what he taught, saw why He came and placed it all to memory.  The message of the Bible is reliable because the process that was used to safeguard it was predetermined by God. That means, simply, God has kept His message safe, from beginning to end. Thus, the Scriptures are historically and theologically reliable.


Author’s Notes

* I need to make a single disclaimer here about the approach of Ehrman’s points from the debate. First, Ehrman is not an actual historian, though he does teach NT history at UNC (and all the Duke fans now understand the problem with Ehrman). He is a textual critic, which means he deals, mostly, with finding the original texts of the Bible. This means that he does need to know some history. Second, an actual historian would never approach an ancient document as Ehrman speaks of in the debate. To do proper history, historians must compare different documents from the same time period, this is done to help corroborate the reliability of the document, in other words, is the document telling the truth in events it gives of the time period of which it is said to be written in (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54; Presnell 2007, 130). History is all about interpretation, you cannot do history without this. The best way to explain this is is that historians evaluate their sources and make inferences based on the evidence (Marius and Page 2010, 49-54). When the text is silent, then the historian begins to question why. Erhman makes the fallacy of arguing from silence. Historians want to know why an author did not say something, was it due to ignorance, was it to make a statement, or was it on purpose for whatever reasons we may never know (Presnell 2007, 130). The silence is another reason why comparing different primary sources together is important. Ehrman knows better than to infer on his audience to only use the English translations, mostly because he is a textual critic. Historians know that ancient documents are best understood when read in their original language (Ibid., 122). Ehrman also knows that we cannot truly approach the Bible, as an ancient document, with 21st-century mindsets. To do so corrupts the original message of the material. The best historians know what their biasses and presuppositions are before they approach any historical material so they can keep the original message as pure as possible (Ibid., 88-89). If you want to see a better debate, check out the one I linked in my previous post between Daniel B. Wallace and Bart Ehrman on whether the original writings of the New Testament are forever lost. Also, if you want to watch a great lecture on the oral history of the early church, then watch this video by Darrell L. Bock:

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Barrick, William D. 2008. “Exegetical Fallacies: Common Interpretive Mistakes Every Studen Must Avoid.” In Master’s Seminary Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring): 15-27.

Borg, Marcus J. 2012. Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written. New York: Harper One.

Furay, Conal and Michael J. Salevouris. 2010. Methods and Skills of History: A Practical Guide. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Howard, Jeremy Royal. 2010. “Origin, Transmission, and Canonization of the New Testament Books.” In HCSB Study Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.

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

Marius, Richard and Melvin E. Page. 2010. Short Guide to Writing About History. New York: Longman.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. 2005Whose Bible is it?: A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. New York: Vikings.

Presnell, Jenny L. 2007. Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bibliology Part One: History of the Bible

Versions of the Bible

The image is taken from Logos 7, Faithlife Study Bible Infographic.



The Bible, as God’s inerrant, inspired, and without errors, Word has a fascinating history. Ever since the close of the first century, the Bible has been debated, used, interpreted, and misused. The battle for the Bible began, in the late second century, when early Church father’s, like, Iraeneus, Tertullian, and Origen began to compile lists of what most early Christians believed to be authoritative Holy Scripture, mainly a list of New Testament writings (Smith and Bennett 2005, 62-65). The Bible’s next major battle began in the seventeenth century with the birth of the Enlightenment. Skeptics and Critics began to question everything. This battle has been raging for centuries. It would not be till the 1970s when about 200 evangelical scholars would get together and produce the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This battle for the Bible is still ongoing today.



In the Barna Group’s State of the Bible 2017 (2017), a controlled group of roughly 2030 people was polled in regards to their views and practices of the Bible.   The largest percentage in the group was what Barna labeled “Bible-friendly.” This group holds to the traditional Evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible, however, they only read the Bible four times, or less, in a week. What this tells us is that most Americans, in 2017, believe the truth of the Bible, though, they do not participate enough in reading and studying of God’s Word (only 38% of the 2030 people, that’s about 771 people). The next largest group, right under the “Bible-friendly” are the “Bible neutral.” Only 23% of the group held to the Bible being inspired as the Word of God, yet they believed there to be some historical and factual errors in it (Barna Group 2017). 20% believed the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, factual, historically accurate, and without any errors and read the Bible four or more days a week, these are the ones the Barna Group (2017) called “Bible-engaged.” Right underneath the “Bible-engaged” are who the Barna Group (2017) call the “Bible skeptics.” This group made up only 19%, with a sub-group that the Barna Group (2017) called the “Bible hostile” which were 13%. However, most skeptics tend to be more hostile toward the Bible, roughly 78% (Barna Group 2017).

Both of these groups held that the Bible is not inspired and chalk full of errors and is nothing more than just another book written by mere men (Barna Group 2017). Ironically, most of these skeptics still have at least one Bible in their house with 62% being the hostile ones and 67% of the skeptics (Ibid.). Apparently, only half of Americans, according to this statistic study and/or read, listen, or pray with their Bibles one to three times a year (Ibid.). Also, one in five “Bible-neutral,” as well as the skeptics, wished they read the Bible more often (Ibid.). This is what this series on the Bible is going to be about. Why have a high view of the Bible (ie., that the Bible is God’s literal Word, historically accurate, written by the Holy Spirit through human authors, without any errors)? What will reading, studying, and praying the Bible do for you, in your life? How you view the Bible will define how you view God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the human condition.


History of the Old Testament


The Old Testament, as we Christians call it (the Jews know it as the Tanahk), was written and covers a history of some 1500 years. It covers the beginning of time, from creation to the fall and return of the Jews. Beginning with Genesis-Deuteronomy (also known as either the Torah or the Pentateuch), Moses wrote all five books sometime in the fourteenth or thirteenth century BC. The next portion of the Old Testament is categorized as the Historical Books. Inside this collection are the books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Esther. These books were written around the thirteenth century to around the closing of the fourth century BC. The next section of the Old Testament is known as the Wisdom Books. These books contain Job, Psalm, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon). The dating for when the Wisdom Books were written between the tenth century to around the close of the fourth century BC. Finally, there is the Prophetic Books, which can sometimes be split into the major prophets and the minor prophets. The books included in this section are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (these are usually known as the Major Prophets). Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (sometimes referred to as the Minor Prophets). The dates for their composition are between the sixth century and the fifth century BC. As can be seen, then, the Bible has been written by several human authors, one divine author (who is the Holy Spirit), and tells one overarching story within 1500 years. There is much more to the Old Testament than just knowing the composition of the books, though this is very helpful in attesting to its historicity.

The Old Testament, though, is not just one massive book, it’s a massive multivolume text. The Old Testament is, as well as the whole of the Bible, a library. It has, according to the Protestant tradition (the Catholics believe in the same list, though they have added to it with the Apocrypha, expanding it to 57) 39 books. All of these books fit into particular genres: historical narratives; poetry; prophetic (a sub-genre of prophecy is apocalyptic); and wisdom literature. Basically, all of these genres help us to understand what the human authors intended message (also what the divine author, the Holy Spirit) is trying to teach.

The structure of the Old Testament is based on the Hebrew layout. The Jewish Scriptures are aligned differently, mostly in the grouping. The Hebrew Scripture is called the Tanahk, which is actually an anacronym for the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebi’im), and the Writings (Ketubim). This is how each section, within the Tanahk, are structured. The Torah has five books (which are also known as the Pentateuch meaning five books/scrolls); they are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Prophets have, well, all the prophets except for Lamentations and Daniel; they also add Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel (which in their text is only Samuel), and 1-2 Kings (also only known as Kings). The Writings have the rest, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job; however, it also adds Ruth, Ezra/Nehemiah (which I also believe is only one book in their text), 1-2 Chronicles (which is also only one book, Chronicles), Esther, Lamentations, and Daniel.



As stated before, the Old Testament is a library of books, all with their own story to tell, yet they have one overarching message. The Pentateuch begins with the beginning, tells the story of creation, the fall of humanity, the call and lives of the Patriarchs, the enslavement of the Israelites, God’s calling of them from Egypt, God’s deliverance of them from slavery, the structure of their culture and religious lives, a census, and ends with God’s promises for them as long as they follow His decrees. The Historical Books cover the conquering of Canaan, the set up of the judges (not judicial characters, these guys were more like individual heroes for Israel), the establishment of the monarchy, the division of the Northern tribes (ten total) and the Southern ones (Judah and Benjamin), the fall away from following God and his decrees, the conquering and captivity of the Northern and Southern kingdoms into Babylon, as well as their return. The Wisdom Books hold more theological statements. These books offer reflections of who God is, His role in regards to Israel, as well as how Israel should live and act. The Prophets tell what would happen to both kingdoms if they would not return to a proper relationship with God. Essentially, these books show the relationship of God to Israel (as well as humanity itself), by the creation of everything, how God covenants with us, our fall and God’s plan of redemption for us.


History of the New Testament


Composition of New Testament Books

The image is taken from the Logos 7 Faithlife Study Bible Infogr.


The New Testament is a collection of 27 books (a diverse eclection) that shows the climax of God’s plan for redemption. Just like the Old Testament, the New Testament is structured in a very particular way. The New Testament opens with the Gospels and Acts, written between ca. AD 50s to 90s. The Epistles of Paul, James, Jude, John, and Peter, along with an anonymous Hebrews dating from the early to mid AD 40s to 90s. The last section of the New Testament is known as the Revelation of John, or also as the Apocalypse of John, dated either around Nero’s reign, AD 60s, or Domitian’s, AD 90s. Also, just like the Old Testament, the New Testament has various genres. The Gospels and Acts are considered Historical Narratives (some scholars do believe the Gospels are a genre all their own, while other scholars tend to believe them to be historical/ancient biographies), Epistles, and Apocalyptic literature. Within the structure of the New Testament, as we just saw, are the Historical Narratives which have Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. The Epistles which hold the thirteen letters of Paul (there are no so-called Pseudo-Pauline Epistles as some Liberal scholars believe, Paul wrote all the letters attested to him) Romans, 1- 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1- 2 Thessalonians, 1- 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Hebrews (which some of the Church fathers believed was written by Paul), James, 1- 2 Peter, 1- 3 John, and Jude. Interestingly, The Epistles are set up in several minor structures; Within the Pauline corpus, the letters are arranged longest to smallest, with Hebrews following because the Church fathers thought it written by Paul, though they were unsure. Also, Paul’s letters are divided into his usual letters Romans through 1- 2 Thessalonians and Philemon; however, 1- 2 Timothy and Titus are sub-categorized into the Pastoral Epistles. The rest of the Epistles, the ones not written by Paul, are known as the Catholic Epistles (not because they teach Catholic doctrine, but because they have universal teachings, the word catholic actually means universal, which is why this grouping of the letters is known as catholic).

The New Testament, just like the Old Testament, is a library of books that have their own message, yet tell an overarching story. The Gospels tell us the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (all from various viewpoints, which is a historian’s dream).

Jesus on the Cross
The image is taken from

 The Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Apostles took the Gospel message (also known as the kerygma) to various nations in the Roman Empire. The Letters or Epistles are much like the Old Testament Wisdom literature. Within the Letters are theological statements, how to live with each other in communion, how to worship God, and how to live as Christians within God’s Kingdom. The Apocalypse is the only tough one to explain, mostly because John echoes many Old Testament prophecies and apocalypses, as well as sharing what he sees of the Spirit that has to do with both his day, time, and culture, and with the future when God will complete his salvific history plan. However, as stated earlier, the major story of the New Testament is the completion of God’s salvation history, His redemption plan, for humanity. The New Testament tells of how God became a man, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose from the grave to give us life and to completely heal the fall that we caused. This plan ends with the glory of God in his defeat of Satan and his minions, the re-creation of humanity, earth, and heaven. Where the New Jerusalem sits on the new Earth, where God’s glory is our own light, where we live in peace forever.


C. B.

The Bearded Scholar


Reference List

Barna Group. “State of the Bible 2017: Top Findings.” Barna Group, Barna Group, 4 Apr. 2017,

Beckwith, Roger T. 2008. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

________. 2003. “Canon of the Old Testament.” In Origin of the Bible. Edited by Philip W. Comfort. 51-64. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishing.

Smith, Charles Merrill and Jame W. Bennett. 2005. How the Bible was Built. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.



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.