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

Jefferson Bible

An image of Jefferson’s Bible. The image has been taken from



In 1820, Thomas Jefferson created his Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, and English. As the title states, Jefferson compiled some of the sayings and events in the Gospels that he believed were authentic to Jesus and threw out the “rubbish” (Pelikan 2005, 188). If this sounds familiar, it should. This notion of chopping up the Bible and finding “the authentic words of Jesus” is something the Jesus Seminar did in the 1980s.

The Five Gospels
 The image is taken from

 In their massive tome, Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, published in 1996, the Gospels were sifted through, the sayings of Jesus were voted on, and the outcome was very bleak. William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith), in an article he wrote for his website criticizing the Jesus Seminar, states their view of Jesus as ” a sort of itinerant, social critic, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher.” Interestingly, in Jefferson’ s situation, he had Latin and Greek texts, which means he could have found variants to base is dissecting of the Gospels, however, the Jesus Seminar did not use textual criticism (the science of comparing ancient documents together to come to a conclusion of what the original may have been), they used a non-canonical gospel, one based in a heresy, to decide what the authentic words of Jesus were. Unfortunately, this is what happens daily in pop-Christian criticizing circles. They take the English rendering of the Bible and decide, both inside the faith and outside the faith, whether there are contradictions or not. I am not saying this is wrong, however, there is no looking at the Hebrew and Aramaic texts for the Old Testament and the same for the Greek of the New Testament. R. C. Sproul (2009, xii) says it best: “If the Bible is unreliable in what it teaches…[then] the church is left to speculate and has nothing of value to speak to the world.” The reliability of the manuscripts behind the English Bible gives us the trust we can have in the teachings of God’s Word, making it possible for the Church to have value in speaking to the world today.


What the Skeptics are Teaching


Before we can get into the actual understanding of the manuscripts, what they are, and how they are used in translation, we need to first look at the arguments, used by textual critics (some are not textual critics, but historians and such) who are not believers, as well as those who are so-called Christian scholars.

One of the first things most non-Christian and liberal-leaning Christian scholars state about the Bible are the various variants (differences in the texts of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts). Sometimes, these are considered contradictions. In one of Rob Bell’s (2017, 273-277) latest books, What is the Bible?, he states that the reasons for the contradictions is with the evolution of the thinking of God that, he assumes, happened in the Jewish communities. Bell (2017, 275) says “[o]ver time, peopled evolved in their thinking about God.” In this section of his book, Bell poses questions, which then he proceeds to answer (honestly, Bell is a very confusing author; he writes with very short sentences and almost in a bloglike fashion). Bell (2017, 276) attempts to answer the question of why there are contradictions by saying that it is better to look at them as not contradictions but as an evolution in thinking. Timothy Beal (2011, 104) talks about the various variants between most of the older manuscripts, not just the Greek but those in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. Beal (2011, 104) does state, somewhat correctly, that some of the variants are not important, simply scribal errors, but that most are extremely important, made on purpose (this is where I disagree with him, as well as scholars like Daniel B. Wallace, and we will discuss this more in a bit). We will come back to the issue of the variants later, however, let us now turn to another argument posited by the skeptics and critics of the manuscripts to the Bible–we do not have the originals of the manuscripts.

One of the major arguments, as outlined above, is that we do not have the originals of the letters penned by Paul, Peter, or James, or the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. We do not even have the originals of the Torah written by Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Because of this, many skeptics and critics see this as a huge problem. To them, this means we cannot be sure that what we have today as the manuscripts behind the Bible are faithful in their representation of the originals (also known as autographs, which comes from the German which translates, loosely, as written by the author). Bart Ehrman (2005, 4-5), an agnostic leaning atheist, New Testament scholar (who ironically began as a conservative Christian who studied at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and then received his MA and PhD from Princeton), in his book Misquoting Jesus, says that his changing from an evangelical believer to an agnostic began when he learned of the dilemma of not having the originals of the New Testament and the many variants within them. Ehrman (2005, 7) says that there were two seemingly problematic questions he kept having while he learned to study the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek, mostly the Greek). These two questions were spurred by the doctrine of inerrancy and plenary inspiration, which he had presupposed while studying at Wheaton (Ibid.). His questions were: “how does it help us to say that the Bible is the inerrant word of God if in fact [sic] we don’t have the words that God inerrantly inspired, but only the words copied by the scribes—sometimes correctly but sometimes (many times!) incorrectly? What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired” (Ibid.). Ehrman (2005, 7) then goes on to state “[w]e don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways ” (emphasis not mine). After Ehrman (2005, 10) reached his time in Seminary at Princeton, he realized that there were errors in the Bible, which is ok because we don’t have the originals (Ehrman 2005, 10). However, he begins to answer his own questions with one point, simply, that for most of Christian history we have not had access to the originals and therefore, we cannot say with certainty that they inspired (Ibid.). Here is what Ehrman says, and this is the crux of his argument, this is the foundation to his understanding of the Bible; here is where atheists, skeptics, critics, and now, Muslims get their information for attempting to debunk the Bible as God’s holy word. Ehrman (2005, 10) says:

…the vast majority of Christians for the entire history of the church have not had access to the originals, making their inspiration somehting of a moot point. Not only do we not have the originals, we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later—much later. In most instances, they are copies made many centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…these copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even  know how many differences there are…there are more differences among our mansucripts than there are words in the New Testament.

Basically, Ehrman’s argument is this—since we don’t have the original manuscripts, we do not have the original words given by God. If we do not have these words, then God did not give them. If God did not give the words, then God did not preserve the words either. Therefore, God did not inspire the Bible (Ehrman 2005, 11). For Ehrman (2009, ix-xii), his coming to this knowledge was not about keeping to a doctrine, it was chasing the truth and for him, the truth is that God did not inspire the Bible, nor did He preserve it. Therefore, for Ehrman (2005, 12-15; 2009, ix-xii) the Bible is nothing more than another book, from history, that was written by humans, for humans, that helps to explain life (if this also sounds familiar, see anything written by Rob Bell on the Bible and the Christian faith).


How do we Answer the Critics and Skeptics in regards to their Arguments?


Honestly, it’s not easy to answer these guys. Most of them have studied, for years, in prestigious universities. To answer these arguments, we must first realize that there is nothing new under the sun. Basically, what is being lauded today as genius and, sometimes, as original, is really recycled attacks on the Bible.

celsus library virtual reconstruction 800x494
 This is an artist’s reconstruction of the Celsus Library in Ephesus. The Celsus Library was named after the second-century Greek philosopher and writer, Celsus. The image is taken from

 In the second century, a Greek philosopher and writer, Celsus, wrote an attack on the belief of Christianity which included the Bible. He says

[i]t is clear to me that the writings of the christians [sic] are a lie, and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction: I have heard that some of your interpreters…are on to the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism (Hoffman 1987, 37 quoted at

In the late third century, a Roman philosopher Porphyry wrote about the Christian Bible, saying,

If ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote concerning me.” He said it, but all the same nothing which Moses wrote has been preserved. For all his writings are said to have been burnt along with the temple. All that bears the name of Moses was written 1180 years afterwards, by Ezra and those of his time. And even if one were to concede that the writing is that of Moses, it cannot be shown that Christ was anywhere called God, or God the Word, or Creator. And pray who has spoken of Christ as crucified (Macarius, Apocriticus 3.3).

If that sounds familiar, as well, then it is because modern scholastics still hold to this view today. Modern academia believes the Torah to have been either written, or finalized, in the return from Exile by Ezra or some other scholar. With the Enlightenment and its redheaded step-child Romanticism, many fanciful ideas in regards to the Bible were put forward. One of them, a child of Romanticism, Walter Bauer argued that there were many different types of Christianities during the early church, which, basically, battled over which faith was to be the correct one. Bauer believed that some of the heretical sects of Christianity were most likely earlier than those of the orthodox one (Wasserman 2012, 326-327). All of these arguments seem to actually be absurd when you look at the evidence. So, again, how do we answer their arguments? Daniel B. Wallace gives some great advice in this area.

Basically, we have more copies of the New Testament than any other material of the ancient and classical period (Wallace 2012). Wallace (2012) also states that we can answer with the relative dating of the New Testament (this just means how close we can date the earliest copies with the events they speak of or to their actual written time period). Next, Wallace (2008) also argues for the understanding of the various variants in the manuscripts. Finally, Wallace (2008) states we can know for sure what this means in regards to the manuscripts themselves and our faith.

With confidence, we can know that we have “an embarrassment of riches” (Wallace 2008). Basically, we have too many copies, which is a problem worth having. Just in the Greek, we have roughly more than 5,700 copies to compare (Ibid.). If Greek wasn’t enough, we know that the New Testament, alone, was copied (a lot), early on, into various local languages (Ibid.). To date, we have about 20,000-25,000 various copies in Latin, Coptic, Syrian, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and Gothic (Ibid.). Not to mention the overwhelming amount of quotes, in their entirety, of the New Testament by the early Church Fathers, that’s about a million quotes; that means we could basically reproduce the entire New Testament if we only had their quotes and no other copies (Ibid.). This is just the tip of the iceberg. We will spend the rest of the next post touching on the arguments surrounding the manuscripts and how to best answer them.

Helpful Links on the Battle over the Bible

That is a great place to start because its a discussion in regards to the canonicity of the Bible between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Kruger.

This next video is a wonderful instruction on how the early church used and saw the Bible by Dr. Michael Kruger.


Next, this is a bit more popular level, making it more understandable, plus the videos are very short. Matt Whitman, the host of Ten Minute Bible Hour, has a complete series on the Bible called the Nuts and Bolts of the Bible. I linked the first video below, however, I highly suggest you watch all 22 videos (you know, when you can).


Lastly, this is a great video, extremely long coming in at just over three hours. This video is a debate over the original texts of the New Testament between Dr. Bart Ehrman and Dr. Daniel B. Wallace.

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar

Reference List

Beal, Timothy. 2011. Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Bell, Rob. 2017. What is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. New York: Harper One.

Craig, W. 2018. “Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar.” Reasonable Faith. Available at: Accessed 23 Jun. 2018.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2009. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them). New York: Harper One.

________. 2005. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. New York: Harper San Francisco.

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

Sproul, R. C. 2009. Can I Trust the Bible? Vol. 2. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

Wallace, Daniel B. 2012. “Bart Ehrman Blog and the Reliability of the New Testament Text.” Daniel B. Wallace, Daniel B. Wallace, May 1, 2012,

________. 2008. “Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts.” In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Wasserman, Tommy. 2012. “Misquoting Manuscripts?: The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Revisited.” In Making of Christianity: Conflicts, Contacts, and Constructions: Essays in Honor of Bengt Holmberg.  Edited by Magnus Zetterholm and Samuel Byrskog. 325-350. Coniectanea Biblica: New Testament Series 47; Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns.


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.



Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: 1:1-10 No Other Gospel Part B—Paul’s Defense of the Gospel

Galatians 1:1-6


Paul has completed his introduction. Paul has given is greetings, has even begun his argument from verse one, right out of the gate. Paul has established his authority, in case it was being questioned. Now we move from the introduction to why Paul wrote his letter. Here, we find Paul’s argument. Paul says that we should not turn from the Gospel that has been taught us. We are not to accept anything stating to be the gospel when there is no other gospel at all, and those that deliver a false gospel are to be cursed, cursed to Hell. Paul teaches us that we are to stand fast, firm, to the Gospel.

This is the portion of the letter where we get the purpose or occasion. Here, in this section of the epistle, we are introduced to the notion that there are “some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6 CSB). Some of the Galatians are turning away from the Gospel that Paul had preached to them. The Gospel is so important that if anyone else were to teach something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are to be damned to Hell. One major thing, here to note, is Paul’s use of the rhetoric device of omission (Osborne 1991, 40). Paul omits his usual, and customary Greek/Jewish, thanksgiving/prayer section. This is important because his audience would have expected it, may have been excited to see what he may have been thankful for in their Churches. However, Paul is not extremely happy with the Galatians, therefore he moves right in to tell them why he is upset with them. A close reading of this section will show how serious it is as well, the reason why Paul is upset and writing to his Churches in Galatia.

Don’t Quickly Flee from the Gospel

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6 CSB)


tacheos word pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 Word Study

Two key words in this section are vitally important. In most of my studies for this section, I have noticed that they are overlooked. Paul uses an adverb, followed by a verb. These words are tacheōs, the adverb meaning quickly, and metatithesthe, the verb meaning turning. Of these two, we can safely say that tacheōs is easily understood at face reading. However, metatithesthe needs to be explained more for us to understand it.

tacheos word pie
 The image is taken from Logos 7 Word Study

 In Greek, this word had a tone of revolting, in a military style, and a complete attitude change (Boice 1976, 428). The word was also used to show someone’s conversion from one school of philosophy to another (Hays 2000, 204). Since this was in the middle voice, the only persons forcing the Galatians to do this was themselves and no one else (Boice 1976, 428). To the Galatians, who heard this message in the original language, they would have heard Paul telling them that they were abandoning the Gospel on their own volition. This would have been crushing to the Galatians. That is how serious Paul sees this issue, the Galatians were revolting against God by their own doing.


Exodus 3319 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media files.


Not only are the Galatian’s revolting against God, they are ignoring the fact that it was He who called them. Paul uses the aorist verb, kalesantos when he speaks to the Galatians as being “called” by God. The aorist verb, as we stated last time, is something that happened in a fixed moment, however, it is something that is on-going without completion (Osborne 1991, 51). The other thing to note about the word kalesantos is that it is connected to the word Christou.

Kalesantos word pie The image is taken from Logos 7 word study.

 In Greek, much like in Latin, the verbs are connected to nouns by cases. Since this verb is in the genitive (this is sometimes the case of possession), it must match the noun of the same case. It was Christ who did the calling, not Paul, this is the main point of this statement. It must be made evident that Paul is not claiming, here, to be the one who called the Galatians. Most other scholars, linking back to John Calvin’s interpretation of this verse, believe that it is Jesus who called the Galatians (George 1994, 92). Paul’s writings use “him who called you” interchangeably with God (Gal 1:15; 5:8; Rom 4:17; 9:12; 1 Thess 2:12; 5:24 CSB; George 1994, 92). The Galatians were defecting from God, Christ, and Paul—though it is more important to note that it was God who they were deserting (George 1994, 92). Paul calls God the Father in this letter, several times (Gal 1:1, 3, 4; 4:2, 6 CSB). It was this God the Father, the One who calls, who created everything, and who raised Jesus from the dead that the Galatians were deserting (George 1994, 92).


This is where there are variant readings on Gal 1:6. Remember that variants are differences between the manuscripts we have on the various collections of the base texts for the Bible. Most manuscripts, all from the west (Latin side of the Roman Empire), have “by the grace of Christ.” However, there are some manuscripts (P46 c. 200 AD and the heretical Marcion Canon, mid to late second century) that have “by grace” (which is thought to be the original since it is the smallest version), some have “by the grace of Jesus Christ”, and some that have “by the grace of God.” Since the version that just has “by grace” is thought to be the original, we can make an assumption that later scribes felt the need to clarify who’s grace the Galatians were called by, hence the modern translation of the “by the grace of Christ” (textual note in the NET). It can also be argued that in the Pauline Corpus, the use of “by the grace of Christ” is used more often. Since this is also true, we can also deduce that the original statement was this one. However, most scholars see the first argument as the valid one (Ibid.). Either way, what is most important is that whichever variant someone takes, the theology is still the same—the Galatians were called by God, either through Christ as God, or just God as Himself by His grace.


John 116 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media files.


chariti word pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 word study.

The word grace is very important, especially to those of us practicing orthodox Protestant Christianity. In the Greek, this one-word chariti is where the action is taking place. This word is stating that grace is what the Galatians (as well as us) receive. What is grace? A. Boyd Luter (2016), in his article on grace in the Lexham Bible Dictionary (LBD), defines grace, simply, as “a more powerful person toward another.” It is also demonstrated by God towards His people (Luter 2016). Contextually, here, Paul is using the word “grace” as being distributed divinely. There are plenty of texts in the Old Testament (OT) that shows God’s grace (sometimes favor) toward Israel. Noah found favor in God (Gen 6:8 CSB); Moses was also able to find favor in God in Exod 33, 34 (CSB). God is expressed as being “compassionate and gracious.” Israel worshipped God as being gracious, mostly throughout the Psalms (Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8 CSB; Luter 2016). Even the Prophets spoke of God’s graciousness (Jer 31:2; Zech 12:10 CSB; Luter 2016). Titus 211 [widescreen]By the time of Paul, the early Christians had expanded upon the notion of God’s grace, as being fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The early Church saw grace as being connected to salvation, Spiritual gifts, and was used in some of the epistles as greetings and farewells (Luter 2016). It is here, though, where we need to understand what Paul means when he uses the word chariti. From beginning to end, Paul soaks this letter in the notion of charis—grace (Gal 1:3, 15; 2:9, 21; 3:18; 5:4; 6:18 CSB; George 1994, 92). The word grace, here, is meant to be taken as absolute. Timothy George (1994, 92), in his commentary on Galatians, states that grace “show[s] that this is the only basis on which we can relate to God in any sense.”


A Different Gospel that is not Another Gospel

Not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:7 CSB)



The end of verse six and the beginning of verse seven are connected together with the notion of a different gospel, which Paul states is no other gospel at all. The words heteros (different) and allos (another), as J. Louis Martyn (2008, 110) in his commentary on Galatians states, “are virtual synonyms in Paul’s vocabulary.” In ancient Greek, these words were not differentiated from each other, however, Paul, here, makes that happen (Martin and Wu 2002, 106). A distinction between the two words, heteros and allos, needs to be drawn. Heteros was a word that differentiated something different from the statement or thing already mentioned, where allos expresses another of the same thing (George 1994, 93). Basically, then, what Paul is stating is that the Galatians have embraced something completely different than the Gospel, yet there is no other similar or same version of the Gospel. Timothy George (1994, 93), in his commentary on Galatians, says it best—”[the Galatians] had embraced a heteros gospel, one drastically different in kind from that they had received from him, for there is, in fact, no other (allos) genuine gospel to be placed alongside the real thing.”


1 Corinthians 118 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 media file.

The true Gospel that Paul distinguishes in this letter is that of Christ crucified and resurrected—that we are saved by the grace of Christ and justified by our faith in that grace. Euangelion throughout the New Testament, basically, means a message of good news, or the process of delivering it (Seal 2016). First, an understanding more broad than Paul, the early Christians, and the other New Testament authors needs to be sought—context is everything. To really understand this, we need to look at the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint (LXX) which was, for the most part, the translation the early Church used. The Septuagint uses the term “good news” as verbal form and once in the noun form (Smith 2016). In the Greek translation of Isaiah (Esaias) Jesus quotes, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor” (Esaias 61:1a; CSB translation is “The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor). Isaiah also said of God speaking of Himself “as a season of beauty upon the mountains, as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news: for I will publish thy salvation, saying, O Sion, thy God shall reign” (Esaias 52:7, LXX—”How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isa 52:7 CSB).The Romans had their own understanding of “good news.” On an inscription from Priene (a Roman city on the western portion of Turkey) that states the divine Roma (a believed goddess who personified the divinity of the city of Rome) had made Augustus bring an end to all wars (there had been three separate civil wars in roughly twenty years over the single control of Rome) and usher in peace, a saviour of the Roman people, as prophesied of—possibly a nod to the Aeneid—denoting the “good news” of his victories (Crossan and Reed 2004, 239). After this inscription (ca. 9 BC) the Romans began using “good news” for the imperial cult, for military victories and honors for an emperor (Hays 2000, 205; Martyn 2008, 127-128). However, by the time of Paul’s writing, anyone who was a Christian euangelion came to mean something completely different in Jesus the Christ.


1 Thessalonians 24 [widescreen].png


Paul’s Gospel, in a nutshell, was the centrality of Jesus—the climax of the salvation history was on the death and resurrection of Christ, not the Torah (Schreiner 2001, 22-25). In 1 Corinthians 15:3b (CSB), Paul says “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.” Again, in Acts 13:37-39 (CSB), Paul gives his message of the Gospel to Pisidian Antioch in Galatia. There he tells them that God raised Jesus from the dead, unlike David, to justify those that could not be justified under Moses. This was Paul’s Gospel.


Author’s Notes

This seems like a good spot to wrap-up our study in Galatians this week. I apologize for the long wait on this passage. Galatians, it would seem, has become a very difficult book to study. As you can, hopefully, see in this post. Next week we will finish this portion of the text by looking at who the troublemakers are in the churches of Galatia. Till next time, please subscribe, like, comment, and share.

C. B.

The Bearded Scholar



Reference List

Boice, James Montgomery. 1976. “Galatians.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary With the New International Version: Romans through Galatians. Vol. 10. 407-508. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelien. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed. 2004. In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, a New Vision of Paul’s Words and World. New York: Harper San Francisco.

George, Timothy. 1994. Galatians. Vol. 30. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Hays, Richard B. 2000. “Letter to the Galatians.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles and Introduction, Commentary, Reflections for each Book of the Bible Including the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books in Twelve Volumes. Vol 11. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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

Martin, Ralph P. and Julie WU. 2002. “Galatians.” In Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans, Galatians. 100-134. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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

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

Osborne, Grant R. 1991. Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 2001. Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press.

Seal, David. 2016. “Euangelion.” In Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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


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

Who wrote the Letter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When was the Letter Written?

South or North Galatia

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

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

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

Who were the Original Recipients of the Letter?

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

Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Image is taken from

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

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

Author’s Note(s)

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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Greeting 1:1-5


Galatians 13–5 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide.

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


The Role of an Apostle


Apostle Word Pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study.

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


God as the Father



Greek Word Pie is taken from Logos 7


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


Jesus’ Death and Resurrection as an Atonement


John Huss on Jesus' Sacrifice as an Atonement

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Romans 323–24 [widescreen]

The image is taken from the Logos 7 Passage Guide.

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


Author’s Note(s)

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

Reference List


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Galatians for Us Today

Galatians 220 [widescreen]

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

Why was this Letter Written?

Galatians Word Cloud

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

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

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

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

Conversion of St. Paul

The image is taken from

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

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

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

Paul and Barnabas are called gods
The image is taken from

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

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

Galatians' Word Cloud from Logos

The word cloud is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide

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

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

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

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

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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jude17-25_image(2) - Edited


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

Jude 17-23

Warning and an Exhortation

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

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


Jude 20–21 [widescreen]


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Jude 24-25



Jude 24–25 [widescreen]


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

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


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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Epistle of Jude 12-19: Dead Fruitless Trees



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

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

Jude 12-13

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

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

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

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

Jude 14-16

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


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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jordan River

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


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

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

Family tree of John and Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life of Christ infancy

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

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

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

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

Matthew 3_17 [widescreen]

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

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

Author’s Notes

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

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

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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Name of Jesus-Bernard of Clairvaux

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


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

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

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

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

Divine Birth’s in the Greco-Roman World

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

The Birth of the King

Matthew 1_18 [widescreen]

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

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

Isaiah 7_14 [widescreen]


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

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

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

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

Matthew 121 [widescreen]

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

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

Author’s Notes

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

Reference List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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