Michael J. Kruger

Michael J. Kruger

Dr. Michael J. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. In addition, he is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serve as an Associate Pastor (part-time, of course) at my home church, Uptown PCA.

• Ph.D., University of Edinburgh(advisor Larry W. Hurtado)
• M.Div.  Westminster Theological Seminary in California
• B.S.  The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

Visit Dr. Kruger’s website: Canon Fodder. Follow Dr. Kruger on Twitter: @michaeljkruger

Rescuing the Church from a Facebook Culture

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the movie Star Wars in the theater in 1977. I (along with an entire nation) was awestruck. Nothing like that had ever been done before. We were all sucked into a new world of spaceships, light sabers, strange creatures, and distant galaxies. But of all the things that caught the attention of the average Star Wars viewer, no doubt the amazing technology of the future was near the top of the list. What would it be like to have robots with personalities, to hover above the ground on a “land speeder,” to play “chess” with virtual-holographic images, and to have lost limbs restored with robotic parts?

Of course, in our modern day these very things have largely been realized. In fact, I noticed that when my own son watched Star Wars on DVD a few years ago, he was not amazed by much of anything technological—some of that probably seemed pretty realistic to him. He was mesmerized instead by the fast flying ships, light saber fights, and fun action scenes. We live in a world where technology advances at such a mind-boggling pace that we hardly have time to stop and be amazed by it. We feel this today particularly in the area of “social media” such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and just plain ol’ texting. We are (supposedly) more connected with each other, more in touch with each other, more often communicating with each other, than ever before.

But, as I think about my son’s future, and even about life in the modern day, I have to ask the simple question: What effect does “social media” technology have on the way we view church? What effect does it have on the way we conceive of life in the body of Christ? Of course, much of social media is positive. And the church has used this technology to advance the cause of Christ. Moreover, I cannot miss the irony of writing about the affects of technological forms of communication on my own website! Nevertheless, I do have some concerns—and so should you. Here are a few characteristics of a “Facebook culture” that we certainly need to reckon with as believers:

1. Short attention span/limited learning style. For folks who can absorb information at the rate of a short text message or “tweet,” it’s difficult to imagine them sitting through a 35 minute sermon and being able to engage in a sustained manner. Does this mean we shorten our sermons or make them more entertaining? Or does this mean we have to work harder to train our congregations in the way they learn? Hopefully the latter.

2. Low view of authority/over-focus on equality. One of the most oft-overlooked impact of social media is the effect it has on the way we view authority figures. The Internet is the great equalizer—everyone has a voice. Now everyone has a platform to speak their mind, say their piece. After any blog article or any news story, a person can write their own opinion and their own comments. And certainly much of this is good. But it can also lead to an “egalitarian” view of authority; that no one person’s opinion should be valued or weighted anymore than another’s. This presents problems for a biblical ecclesiology that understands the church and the pastors to have real authority in the lives of its people.

3. “Surfacey” interactions/artificial relationships.  MIT professor Sherry Turkle has recently written the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011). She observes, “On social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but out profile ends up as somebody else—often the fantasy of who we want to be” ( p.153). In other word, people might feel more connected, but they can really be more distant, at least from who they really are. In contrast, true Christian fellowship requires that we engage with people as we really are, so that we can honestly face our sin and grow together in Christ.

4. Lack of Physical Presence. Turkle observes again: “People readily admit they would rather leave a voicemail or send an email than talk face-to-face…. The new technologies allow us to ‘dial down’ human contact, to titrate its nature and extant” (p.15). Modern technology can create an almost non-physical, quasi-Gnostic existence. It’s ironic that one of Christianity’s earliest enemies was Gnosticism, which held the belief that the physical world was inherently evil and that salvation was largely a release from the physical body. In contrast, biblical Christianity has always had a robust and positive view of the physical. Face-to-face presence matters. Indeed, one day, in the new heavens and new earth, we will have new, resurrected bodies and we will see Christ (and each other) physically. Forever.

5. Low Commitment/Accountability. One of the attractive features of a Facebook-style of communication is that it requires very little of us. It is a low-commitment and low-accountability type of interaction. We control—and entirely control—the duration, intensity, and level of contact. At any moment, we can simply stop. But the Christian life and real Christian relationships don’t work like this. We do have obligations to one another, covenant obligations. Put differently, Christianity has a corporate aspect to it that stands directly against the trend of individualistic and self-determined relational patterns of our modern technological age.

So, where do we go from here? Do we abandon the technology of our modern world, move to the countryside and adopt an Amish-style existence? Not at all. The point of this post has not been to condemn modern communication technology (I am using it this very moment!).  Rather, the point has been that we must be aware of the challenges that it creates for ministry in our modern and postmodern world. The technology does not necessarily create sin patterns, but exacerbates the sin patterns that are already present within our hearts, and the hearts of our congregations. In response, we need to do something that we needed to do anyway: give our people a robust and vibrant picture of what the church is and their place in it.  In other words, we need to give them a full-orbed biblical ecclesiology.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Early Christians Used Non-Canonical Writings... But Not Like Scripture

Full blog series can be found here.

For Christians struggling to understand the development of the New Testament canon, one of the most confusing (and perhaps concerning) facts is that early Christian writers often cited from and used non-canonical writings. In other words, early Christians did not just use books from our current New Testament, but also read books like the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas.

Usually Christians discover this fact as they read a book or article that is highly critical of the New Testament canon, and this fact is used as a reason to think that our New Testament writings are nothing special. The literary preferences of the earliest Christians were wide open, we are told. Or, as one critic put it, early Christians read a “boundless, living mass of heterogenous” texts.[1]

Because this fact is used to criticize the integrity of the New Testament canon, then all Christians should be keen to learn it. While the fact itself is true—early Christians did read and use many writings not in the canon—the conclusions often drawn from this fact are often not.

When scholars mention the Christian use of non-canonical writings, two facts are often left out:

1.       The manner of citation. It is important to note that while Christians often cited and used non-canonical literature, they only rarely cited them as Scripture. For the most part, Christians were simply using these books as helpful, illuminating, or edifying writings. This is not all that different than practices in our modern day. A preacher may quote from C.S. Lewis in a sermon, but that does not mean he puts Lewis’s authority on par with Scripture itself.

A good example of this phenomenon is the use of theGospel of Peter by the church at Rhossus at the end of the second century. Scholars often appeal to this story as evidence that early Christians had no established gospel canon. However, there is no evidence that the church there used the book as Scripture. 

When we ask the question about which books early Christians cited most often as Scripture, then the answer is overwhelmingly in favor of the books that eventually made it into the New Testament canon.

2.       Frequency of citation. Another often overlooked factor is the relative degree of frequency between citations of New Testament books and citations of non-canonical books. For example, scholars often appeal to Clement of Alexandria as the standard example of an early Christian that used non-canonical literature equally with canonical literature. But when it comes to frequency of citation, this is far from true. 

J.A. Brooks, for instance, has observed that Clement cites the canonical books “about sixteen times more often than apocryphal and patristic writings.”[2] When it comes to gospels, the evidence is even better. Clement cites apocryphal gospels only 16 times, whereas, he cites just the gospel of Matthew 757 times.[3]

In sum, Christians need to memorize this simple fact about the New Testament canon: early Christians used many other books besides those that made it into our Bibles. But this should not surprise us. For, indeed, we still do the very same thing today, even though we have a New Testament that has been settled for over 1600 years.

[1] Dungan, Constantine’s Bible, 52.

[2] Brooks, “Clement of Alexandria,” 48.

[3] Bernard Mutschler, Irenäus als johanneischer Theologe (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 101.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

How Do You Know the Scriptures are from God?

It probably comes as no surprise that the most common question I receive from both Christians and non-Christians is “How do I know the Bible is the Word of God?” And the reason this question is at the top of the list is not hard to determine. The authority of the Bible is the foundation for everything that we believe as Christians. It is the source of our doctrine and our ethics. Thus, we need to be able to answer this question when asked.

Let me say from the outset that there is not just one answer to this question. I think there are many ways that Christians can come to know the Scriptures are from God. God can certainly use historical evidences to convince us of the truth of his Word (though it is important to understand the limitations of evidence). And God can use the testimony of the church to convince us of the truth of his Word (I cover the details of this in Canon Revisited).

But it is noteworthy that throughout the history of the church, many Christians have ascertained the divine origins of the Bible in yet another way: its internal qualities. Apparently some Christians were persuaded of the Bible’s authority by reading it and observing its distinctive character and power.

Tatian is one such Christian. Tatian was a second-century Christian thinker, a disciple of Justin Martyr, and the author of an apologetic work known as Oration to the Greeks (c.165). In this work, Tatian makes his case for the truth of Christianity. During one section, he lays out his personal conversion story and recounts how he carefully examined all the pagan religious writings and found them incoherent, problematic, and, sometimes, downright evil.  But then he happened to come across the Scriptures and began to read:

I was led to put my faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centered on one Being. And my soul being taught of God, I discern that the former class of [pagan] writings lead to condemnation, but that these [Scriptures] put an end to the slavery that is in the world (29).

This is a profound statement. Tatian, the impressive intellect that he was, was not persuaded by historical evidence nor from the testimony of the church (though, as noted above, both are legitimate when appropriately utilized), but by the internal qualities of the Scriptures themselves. There was something about the Scriptures that came alive to him. How did he discern this? As he indicates, “my soul being taught of God.” Presumably this is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit.

And Tatian was not the only one who thought like this. One century later, Origen says something very similar:

If anyone ponders over the prophetic sayings… it is certain that in the very act of reading and diligently studying them his mind and feelings will be touched by a divine breath and he will recognize that the words he is reading are not the utterances of men but the language of God (Princ. 4.1.6).

The Reformers also thought this way.  They believed the truth of Scripture could be ascertained, by the help of the Holy Spirit, from the Scriptures themselves. This is what they meant when they said the Scriptures were self-authenticating.

Such a reality should come as no surprise. After all Jesus said, “My sheep here my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

The Oldest Trick in the Book

I love that GEICO commercial where the guy in the movie theater says, “Did you know there really is an ‘oldest trick in the book’?” Then the scene flashes back to ancient times where a man looks into an old book, and says, “Trick number one. Lookest over there.” The man then points across the room. His apprentice looks and, of course, sees nothing. Then the man says, “Madest thou look.”

The Puritan Thomas Brooks, in his wonderful work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, reminds us that there is also an “oldest trick in the book” when it comes to Satan’s devices against us. The title of his opening chapter is this: “His First Device to Draw the Soul to Sin.”

What is this first device, Satan’s oldest trick in the book? Brooks tells us: “to present the bait, and hide the hook.”

The fundamental deception of sin is that it promises to bring blessing, when it only brings cursing. It promises to bring life, when it only brings death. It never presents itself as it really is. Just as Satan presents himself as an angel of light, so sin presents itself as the bringer of joy and peace. Given that this was Satan’s means of tricking Adam and Eve, it really is the “oldest trick in the book.”

Brooks lays it out more fully:

Satan’s first device to draw the soul into sin is, to present the bait—and hide the hook; to present the golden cup—and hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure, and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin—and to hide from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin. By this device he deceived our first parents, “And the serpent said unto the woman, You shall not surely die—for God does know, that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Your eyes shall he opened, and you shall be as gods! Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure, the profit. Oh—but he hides the hook—the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!

What is the remedy against this trick? Brooks offers a very simple one: don’t play with the bait. He says:

Keep at the greatest distance from sin, and from playing with the golden bait which Satan holds forth to catch you…. It is our wisest and our safest course to stand at the farthest distance from sin; not to go near the house of the harlot—but to fly from all appearance of evil (Proverbs 5:8, 1 Thess. 5:22). The best course to prevent falling into the pit is to keep at the greatest distance from it; he who will be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is a righteous thing with God that he should fall into the pit. Joseph keeps at a distance from sin, and from playing with Satan’s golden baits, and stands. David draws near, and plays with the bait, and falls, and swallows bait and hook!

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

One of the Clearest (and Earliest) Summaries of Early Christian Beliefs

Since I am currently writing a book on Christianity in the second century, my research has been focused on some of our earliest patristic texts. These texts are a treasure trove of fascinating statements and declarations that provide tremendous insight on what early Christians really believed.

Some of my prior posts on this theme include discussions of the persecution of Christians, early Christian sexual ethics, the divinity of Jesus, and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Most recently, I came across an amazing paragraph in one of our earliest Christian apologies. Aristides, a converted Athenian philosopher, wrote an apology to Emperor Hadrian around 125 A.D. As such, it is one of the earliest patristic writings we possess. It is a lengthy treatise which compares the God of Christianity with the gods of the barbarians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.

But, at one point, he summarizes what Christians believe in a manner that would rival even the Apostle’s Creed:

The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven (Apol. 2).

Aristides makes it clear that Christians affirm a number of key truths:

1. The divinity of Jesus: “God came down from heaven” In the mind of Aristides, Jesus is not an angel, or a semi-divine being, but the very God of heaven itself.

2. The incarnation: “clothed himself with flesh” In very vivid language, the author affirms that Jesus is God enfleshed; he took upon himself a real human body (contra the Docetists).

3. The virgin birth: “from a Hebrew virgin” This doctrine flows naturally from the prior two. If Jesus is God, and he took on human flesh, then his conception would be distinctive from other human beings.

4. The authority of the Gospels: “taught in the gospel… and you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it.” Notice for Aristides there are books called a “gospel” which you can “read” to learn more about the person of Jesus. Moreover, these gospels contain a certain “power,” which the reader can discern.

5. The authority of the apostles: “and he had twelve disciples” Aristides recognizes that Jesus had an authority structure through the twelve that was necessary “so that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished.”

6. His death on the cross: “pierced by the Jews” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership.

7. His resurrection: “after three days he rose” Jesus did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead.

8. His ascension: “ascended into heaven” Jesus returned to his former heavenly home, in a position of power and glory.

This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church. And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Did Justin Martyr Know the Gospel of John?

There has been a long-standing scholarly discussion about how far back we can trace the roots of the fourfold gospel. We certainly see it in Irenaeus, who is quite plain about his view, “It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer than the number they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live and four principle winds… [and] the cherubim, too, were four-faced” (Haer. 3.11.8).

But, can we trace the fourfold gospel back even further? Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist writing c.150-160, is a key player in this debate. He clearly knows the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But did he know John? Scholars disagree about this. But I think there are good reasons to think that he did.  Here are a few:

1. We should remember that Justin was the teacher and mentor of Tatian who was famous for producing a harmony of all four gospels known as the Diatesseron. It is noteworthy not only that John was included in Tatian’s harmony, but that John provided the central chronological backbone for his work. If Tatian valued John so highly, then it is difficult to believe that his mentor, Justin, would have been unaware of this gospel.

2. At one point, Justin indicates how many gospels he knows when he describes these gospels as “drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them” (Dial 103). Since such language indicates (at least) two gospels written by apostles, and (at least) two written by apostolic companions. Thus, Justin appears to receive (at least) four core gospels. Given that we know three of these gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it seems only natural to think the last one would be John. And if it is not John, then which one is it?

3. Justin clearly knew other Johannine literature, such as the book of Revelation which he regarded as written by the apostle John (Dial 81.4). No doubt his familiarity with Johannine tradition is connected to the fact that he lived in John’s former residence of Ephesus during his dialogue with Trypho. His knowledge of other Johannine works is at least suggestive that he knew John’s gospel.

4. Justin is quite familiar with Johannine terminology like “logos,” as well as a number of themes distinctive to John’s gospel, and even seems to cite the gospel of John directly, “For Christ also said, ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (cf. John 3:3;1 Apol. 61.4).

Of course, these considerations cannot prove that Justin knew John’s gospel (but historical studies rarely are able to prove such things). Regardless, they give us very good reasons to think it is historically likely that Justin knew John’s gospel.

If so, then Justin provides good evidence that (at least) by the middle of the second century the fourfold gospel was received as authoritative in some parts of the early Christian movement. Indeed, Justin tells us the way the gospels (“memoirs of the apostles”) were valued in his day:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things (1 Apol 67.3).

Such a worship practice was not invented by Justin, but seems to be a practice with a lengthy historical pedigree. Thus, there are good reasons to think that the origins of the fourfold gospel may go back even further.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Did the Earliest Christians Really Believe in Substitutionary Atonement?

In a prior article (here), I explored how the second-century work the Epistle to Diognetus clearly affirmed the full divinity of Jesus—a doctrine that some say did not come around until the fourth century. I continue this theme by exploring yet another doctrine that some suggest is a late invention: substitutionary atonement.

The average internet-level narrative goes something like this: the earliest Christians had no clear understanding for why Jesus died on the cross and what it accomplished. The idea of a substitutionary atonement is a late invention designed to retroactively explain the (otherwise embarrassing) death of Jesus. In fact, it was not until Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?) in the middle ages that someone came up with the idea that Jesus died in place of sinners.

Of course, such a narrative can be readily refuted just examining the writings of the New Testament itself—particular the letters of Paul. However, it is also worth noting that this view was held by some of the earliest Christian writers; in this case, by the author of the Epistle to Diognetus in the early second century. Here are some excerpts from the author that affirm key aspects of substitutionary atonement:

The Serious of Sin

The author writes:

And when we had demonstrated that we were powerless to enter the kingdom of God on our own, we were enabled by the power of God. For our unrighteous way of life came to fruition and it became perfectly clear that it could expect only punishment and death as its ultimate reward (9.1–2).

Here is a clear affirmation of human inability to save ourselves (akin to total depravity), and a full acknowledgement that sin deserves the ultimate penalty of death.

The Grace and Love of God toward Sinners

The author writes:

But then, when the time arrived that God planned to reveal at last his goodness and power (Oh the supreme beneficence and love of God!), he did not hate us, destroy us, or hold a grudge against us (9.2).

God’s response to our sin, though deserving of death, is not to bring judgment but to show mercy.

Christ Bore Our Sins on Himself

Here is where we get to the crux of substitutionary atonement:

But [God] was patient, he bore with us, and out of pity for us took our sins upon himself. He gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the innocent one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the imperishable one for the perishable, the immortal one for the mortal. (9.2).

Here is a remarkable passage. Undoubtedly, the author views the work of Christ on the cross as an exchange, a swapping, of the righteous for the unrighteous, that we might be saved. And he says plainly that Christ “took our sins upon himself.” He stood in our place and bore God’s wrath for us.

Christ’s Righteousness Covers Us

Incredibly, the author even seems to affirm what Reformed folks refer to as the doctrine of imputation. This doctrine says that our justification is not only about having our sins taken away, but having Christ’s positive righteousness cover us. The author of the Epistle to Diognetus states:

For what else could hide our sins but the righteousness of that one? How could we who were lawless and impious be made upright except by the son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange!… That the lawless deeds of many should be hidden by the one who was upright, and the righteousness of one should make upright the many who were lawless!

This is a significant passage because it doesn’t dwell on just our sins being taken away, but dwells substantively and primarily on the righteousness of Christ. And what does that righteousness do? It hides our sins. And it “makes upright” the lawless. And this happens in a “sweet exchange.” If we are looking for an ancient writer who describes the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, this comes awfully close.

In sum, the Epistle to Diognetus shows that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, and also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, are not late inventions, but were present very early in the history of Christianity. Did some Christian groups hold other views of such matters? Sure. But the continuity between the teachings of this epistle and the writings of Paul himself (see especially Romans 5), make it evident that the substitutionary atonement/imputation view goes back very early indeed.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Answers to Newsweek’s Sad Attempt to Attack the Bible

On Christmas Eve, I wrote part one of my review of Kurt Eichenwald’s piece (see here), and highlighted not only the substantive and inexcusable litany of historical mistakes, but also the overly pejorative and one-sided portrait of Bible-believing Christians. The review was shared by a number of other evangelical sites and thinkers—including the Gospel Coalition, Tim Challies, Denny Burk, Michael Brown, and others—and ever since I have been digging out from under the pile of comments. I appreciate that even Kurt Eichenwald joined the discussion in the comments section.

But the problems in the original Newsweek article were so extensive that I could not cover them in a single post. So, now I offer a second (and hopefully final) installment.

False Claims about Christians Killing Christians

In an effort to portray early Christianity as divided and chaotic (not to mention morally corrupt), Eichenwald repeatedly claims that Christians went around murdering each other in droves. He states:

Those who believed in the Trinity butchered Christians who didn’t. Groups who believed Jesus was two entities—God and man—killed those who thought Jesus was merely flesh and blood…. Indeed, for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, groups adopted radically conflicting writings about the details of his life and the meaning of his ministry, and murdered those who disagreed. For many centuries, Christianity was first a battle of books and then a battle of blood.

Notice that Eichenwald offers no historical evidence about the mass killing of Christians by Christians within the first few centuries (we are talking about the pre-Constantine time period). And there is a reason he doesn’t offer any. There is none.

Sure, one can point to instances in the medieval period, such as the Inquisition, where Christians killed other Christians. But Eichenwald claims that Christianity began this way: “for hundreds of years after the death of Jesus.” This is another serious historical mistake that needs correcting.

When it comes to who-killed-whom in the earliest centuries of the faith, it wasn’t Christians killing Christians. It was the Roman government killing Christians.

Interestingly, the “heretical” groups like the Gnostics—whom Eichenwald presents as the victims—tended to avoid this government persecution. When the Roman officials looked to pour out their wrath on Christians, it was almost always those of the “orthodox” variety (although there were exceptions). Eichenwald either doesn’t know this, or just failed to mention it.

Portraying early Christians as mass murderers makes for great rhetoric. But it makes for lousy history.

Overstating the Popularity of “Other” Gospels

Continuing his portrayal of early Christianity as a movement in “chaos,” Eichenwald claims that other gospels were just as well-known as the canonical ones:

The reason, in large part, was that there were no universally accepted manuscripts that set out what it meant to be a Christian, so most sects had their own gospels. There was the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Simon Peter, the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Barnabas.

However, Eichenwald’s presentation here is enormously misleading. Apocryphal gospels were not nearly as popular, as wide-spread, or as well-established as the canonical ones. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways, but one simple way is just by observing how many manuscripts we possess of each gospel.

The physical remains of writings can give us an indication of their relative popularity. Such remains can tell us which books were used, read, and copied. When we examine the physical remains of the canonical gospels from the earliest centuries, we quickly discover that they were, far and away, the most popular.

For the gospel of John alone, we have approximately 18 Greek manuscripts from the second and third centuries. The most Greek manuscripts we have for any of the apocryphal gospels listed by Eichenwald is just two (Gospel of Mary). And the Gospel of Barnabas (a very late and notoriously unreliable “gospel”) has zero from this time period.

Blatant Exegetical Fallacies

Throughout the entire article, Eichenwald betrays his limited understanding of even the most basic interpretive and exegetical principles. He assumes that if the Bible really teaches a certain doctrine, then you will find chapter and verse stating that doctrine in a single passage. So, if the Bible really teaches the doctrine of the trinity, then we should find a verse using that word, or saying it succinctly.

He asks:

So where does the clear declaration of God and Jesus as part of a triumvirate appear in the Greek manuscripts? Nowhere.

It is clear that Eichenwald wants a single passage that either says the word trinity or describes God directly in a tri-fold manner. But Eichenwald is committing two fundamental exegetical fallacies. First, he is confusing word and concept—one of the most common exegetical mistakes. If a text does not contain certain wording, he assumes it means it doesn’t contain certain concepts. But this is demonstrably false. A verse can refer to a concept without mentioning certain key words.

Second, Eichenwald assumes that doctrines have to be demonstrable all in a single passage. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the way doctrines are derived from Scripture. Some of our most fundamental doctrines are pieced together from a variety of texts, in a cumulative fashion. The doctrine of the trinity is one of these.

Even more than this, Eichenwald seems completely unaware of the texts that do speak of the persons of the Godhead in a three-fold fashion. Take the words of Jesus in the great commission that baptism should be done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). Scholars have noted that the Greek construction uses the singular “name” followed by the threefold Father-Son-Spirit. Sounds pretty close to Eichenwald’s demand for a “triumvirate.”

Peter does something very similar in his first letter when he describes the doctrine of election as coming from “the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for the obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:2). All of these activities and attributes (election, foreknowledge, sanctification, one to whom we owe obedience) do not belong to merely human figures, but necessitate a divine one. And Peter describes this divine figure in a threefold manner.

And more passages like this can be added.

Eichenwald neither acknowledges nor addresses any of these texts (maybe he doesn’t know about them), but instead glibly declares the trinity to be an unbiblical concept. The audacity of such a conclusion is stunning. It requires us to believe that Christians have just tricked themselves about the trinity for thousands of years until finally, in the modern day, a Newsweek journalist uncovers the truth.

Confused about Contradictions

No critique of the Bible would be complete without the standard appeal to a laundry list of supposed contradictions. Eichenwald’s article is no exception. Instead of picking one contradiction and really developing the exegetical and historical case for his interpretation, he chooses instead to overwhelm the reader with a catalog of complaints ranging from the creation account to differences in the birth accounts to differences in the resurrection accounts.

Such a strategy has a twofold benefit for Eichenwald. First, the long list allows him to rattle off a variety of claims without actually having to do the hard work of demonstrating those claims. Thus, his accusations require him to offer no supporting evidence. Second, he knows no single individual could possibly respond to each of these claims in any level of detail (allowing him to potentially claim that Christians are unable or unwilling to respond).

Even so, there are numerous problems with Eichenwald’s approach. For one, he demonstrates hardly any awareness of the numerous evangelical responses to these problems (nor does he cite a single one). The reader begins to wonder whether he has even tried to find solutions, or whether he is just content to repeat back the arguments of critical scholars because they fit better into the purpose of his article.

In addition, Eichenwald repeatedly employs the fallacious argument from silence. He assumes that if one of the gospel authors doesn’t mention something, then he must disagree with it. For instance, he observes that in Mark’s gospel Pilate doesn’t declare Jesus to be innocent, but in Luke’s Pilate does. Thus, voilà! A contradiction! But this assumes that Mark’s account is exhaustive. Just because he doesn’t mention this part of the story does not necessarily mean he rejects it.

This sort of tendentious historical analysis isn’t designed to solve difficulties but is designed to find contradictions—whether they are there or not. Eichenwald should know better.

To cap it all off, Eichenwald even trots out the tiresome and oft-repeated claim that Jesus taught he was coming back in the lifetime of his disciples. Referring to Mark 13:30, he states:

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says of the Apocalypse, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be done”—in other words, the people alive in his time would see the end of the world.

Eichenwald is happy to pluck this passage out of its context and interpret it for the reader: “in other words, the people alive in his time would see the end of the world.” The problem is that his understanding of the text is directly in contradiction to the very passage he is citing from.

If Eichenwald had looked just one verse earlier, he would have realized that the “these things” the current generation would endure could not possibly refer to the second coming. Why? Because Jesus tells us the “these things” are what precedes the second coming! The prior verse states, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29). This verse makes it plain that the “these things” is something distinguishable from the second coming—a likely reference to the trials of the church age.

Such surface-level exegesis gives the reader the impression that Eichenwald is more concerned to score points against the Bible than he is with really understanding the meaning of the passage.

For a more thorough treatment of supposed contradictions, see my blog series “Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong” (first installment here).

Homosexuality and Obedience

Up to this point, Eichenwald’s article has been an epitomized by imbalanced and straw-man accusations against the Bible. Unfortunately, in the section on homosexuality Eichenwald reaches a new low. At no point is it more obvious that he is driven by his own entrenched ideological commitments and not by an honest attempt to understand what evangelicals believe.

Eichenwald begins with an analysis of 1 Tim 1:10 that is so blatantly fallacious and so critically flawed that it should be used as a textbook example of how exegesis is not to be done. He states:

But the translation there is odd, in part because the word homosexual didn’t even exist until more than 1,800 years after when 1 Timothy was supposed to have been written. So how did it get into the New Testament? Simple: The editors of these modern Bibles just made it up.

The reader is mystified by this statement. Of course, the word homosexual did not exist when Timothy wrote. It is an English word! But that doesn’t mean there were not equivalent words and phrases in Greek that clearly referred to homosexuals. Indeed, we have extensive examples in ancient Greek works that refer to homosexuality and to homosexuals. Eichenwald’s point here is utter nonsense.

Eichenwald continues:

But suppose for a moment that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, and that “defile themselves” does refer to homosexuality. In that case, evangelical Christians and biblical literalists still have a lot of trouble on their hands. Contrary to what so many fundamentalists believe, outside of the emphasis on the Ten Commandments, sins aren’t ranked. The New Testament doesn’t proclaim homosexuality the most heinous of all sins. No, every sin is equal in its significance to God. In 1 Timothy, Paul, or whoever wrote it, condemns the disobedient, liars and drunks.

Eichenwald is correct that homosexuality is not ranked by the Bible as the most heinous of all sins. And he is correct that other sins are also serious problems. But it is unclear how this helps his case. Regardless of where one ranks homosexuality, the key point is that the Bible still clearly affirms it to be a sin. And just like other sins (whether greed, idolatry, or gossip), one needs to acknowledge it as a sin and repent of it.

And it is precisely here that the main debate over homosexuality lies. The homosexual community refuses to even admit it is a sin at all. On the contrary, they want Christians to embrace and affirm homosexuality as something good and right.

Thus, Eichenwald finds himself in a dilemma. He clearly wants to affirm the validity of many sins in the Bible (especially if he thinks they are committed by evangelicals). Is he willing to affirm that homosexuality is a sin? And if he is not, then he is the one who is “picking and choosing” what to follow in the Bible. Indeed, if he does not, then he is carving out a special exception for homosexuality. Isn’t that the same sort of thing that he condemned evangelicals for doing?

A Profound Misunderstanding of the Gospel

At the end of Eichenwald’s article, he deals what he believes is the fatal blow to evangelical Christianity:

Which raises one final problem for fundamentalists eager to condemn homosexuals or anyone else: If they accept the writings of Paul and believe all people are sinners, then salvation is found in belief in Christ and the Resurrection. For everyone. There are no exceptions in the Bible for sins that evangelicals really don’t like.

This is an outrageously misleading assessment of what Paul actually teaches. Indeed, after such a statement as this, one wonders whether Eichenwald has even read Paul (or Jesus).

Eichenwald makes it sound like evangelicals believe that homosexuals cannot be forgiven or that the gospel is not for them. That is simply not the case (and I notice that he cites no evangelicals that actually believe this). Evangelicals believe that even the most heinous sins can be forgiven.

But here is the key. The gospel is for those who acknowledge their sins and turn away from them. Such an act is called “repentance.” And Jesus spoke of it often. Even in his very first sermon (Mark 1:15).

Of course, Eichenwald doesn’t mention this. It is much easier (and much more popular) to say that the gospel means you can live whatever lifestyle you want and still go to heaven. For Eichenwald, the main point of the gospel is that sins aren’t a big deal, no sin is worse than any other sin, and the main duty of a Christian is not to judge anyone else (which is why he ends his article with a monumental misunderstanding of Matt 7:1).

The truth is that Paul himself actually mentioned Eichenwald’s understanding of the gospel. And he condemned it. In Rom 6:1 he states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

The gospel is not for perfect people. But it is for repentant people—people who hate their sins and strive to stop committing them. Repentance doesn’t somehow merit salvation; but it is a requirement of salvation because it is the corollary of faith. A person cannot embrace Christ by faith if they are still holding tightly to their sin.

So, for homosexuals who repent of their homosexuality, and for any sinner who truly repents of their sins, then forgiveness in Christ can be theirs.


By way of conclusion, it is hard to know what to say about an article like Eichenwald’s. In many ways, it embodies all the misrepresentations, caricatures, and misunderstandings of the average non-Christian in the world today. It is short on the facts, it has little understanding of interpretive principles, it assumes that it knows more about theology than it really does, and it pours out scorn and contempt on the average believer.

Nevertheless, in a paradoxical fashion, I am thankful for it. I am thankful because articles like this provide evangelicals with an opportunity to explain what Christians really believe, and what historical credentials the Bible really has. Eichenwald’s article is evidence that most people in the world understand neither of these things. With all the evangelical responses to this article, hopefully that is changing.

In the end, there is a rich irony to the title of Eichenwald’s piece: “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”  While he intended this to refer to evangelicals, I think it applies best to his own article.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible

It is not unusual for Newsweek, and other major media magazines, to publish critical opinions of Christianity and the Bible during major Christian holidays. I have lost count of how many March/April issues of such magazines have cast doubt on the resurrection, just in time for Easter.

However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.

Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the fact about the Bible.

Being ignorant of biblical facts is one thing. But being ignorant of biblical facts after chiding one’s opponent for that very thing is a serious breach of journalistic integrity. Saying Eichenwald’s article is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black” just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

There are a variety of categories where Newsweek needs to give Eichenwald a serious slap on the journalistic wrist. Given the length of the article, I will have to deal with it in two parts. Here are some serious problems with part one:

Easy (and False) Caricatures

Eichenwald begins (not concludes, but begins!) his article by describing Christians:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

So, Eichenwald’s well-balanced journalistic understanding of the Christian religion is limited to street preachers who scream at people, those who demand the 10 commandments be posted in schools, and the tiresome trope that all Christians are part of the Jerry Falwell moral majority?

Anyone who has studied evangelical Christianity for more than 10 minutes, using more than internet articles from the Huffington Post, would know that the average believer in America is none of these things.

Such stock accusations and caricatures are just low-hanging fruit that are unworthy of serious journalism. Eichenwald should know better.

Irresponsible Accusations

But Eichenwald isn’t done. He is not nearly finished expressing his moral outrage against Christianity:

When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists.

Notice that Eichenwald (still in his introduction) just tosses out these (very serious) accusations and generalizations with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. One wonders whether we are reading a news article or the editorial page. Could a journalist ever get away with such evidence-less accusations if it were made against Islam?

Take for instance the charge that Christians are all about “banishing children.” Seriously? If Eichenwald had actually investigated which part of the population is leading the way in adopting children without homes, the answer would have been readily available. Evangelicals. Not Muslims. And certainly not liberal media elites.

But, even more than just being factually wrong, Eichenwald seems completely unaware that he is engaging in his own moralistic diatribe—the very thing he accuses Christians of doing. Remember, he complains that Christians are like the “Pharisees” always going around telling people they are wrong. Yet now Eichenwald is doing exactly the same thing. Why, then, is he not guilty of the very charge he levelled against Christians, namely “hate and condemnation”?

Apparently only Christian moralizing is “hate,” whereas Eichenwald’s own moralizing is just fine.

Overplaying Transmission Problems

Eichenwald attempts to discredit the Bible by pointing out problems in its transmission. However, the real problem is not with the Bible but with Eichenwald’s misinformed accusations. For instance, he claims:

About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament.

This is patently false. Collections of New Testament writings were functioning as Scripture as early as the second century (and, to some extent, even in the first).

Eichenwald tries again:

While there were professional scribes whose lives were dedicated to this grueling work [of copying manuscripts], they did not start copying the letters and testaments about Jesus’s time until centuries after they were written. Prior to that, amateurs handled the job.

Again, this is false. There is no evidence that the earliest Christian scribes were amatuers (whatever that means). On the contrary, the earliest evidence suggest Christian scribes were multi-functional scribes who were used to copying all sorts of literature from letters to literary texts and beyond (see chapter 7 of my book The Heresy of Orthodoxy).

Eichenwald is misinformed another time:

Not all of the amateur copyists spoke the language or were even fully literate. Some copied the script without understanding the words.

This is an egregious claim about earliest Christian scribes. There is no evidence that the earliest Christian copyists could be, in any way, characterized as illiterate. Eichenwald may be referring to a reference in the Shepherd of Hermas, a popular second-century text, where an individual was asked to copy a book who could not read. However, there is no indication that this individual was a scribe, nor that this was typical for scribes!

Again, another mistake:

But in the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries.

This is absolutely false. The number of NT manuscripts is a little more than 5,500 (and still growing), but not 10,000. In addition, Eichenwald mentions the high number of manuscripts as if it were a negative! Truth is that the more manuscripts we possess, the more certain we can be about the integrity of the NT text.

Moreover, Eichenwald never mentions (or perhaps doesn’t know) that the NT is in a class by itself when it comes to the number of manuscripts. Most other ancient texts from the first century (or thereabouts) are preserved in around 10–20 manuscripts (and some only in a single manuscript). Thus, the 5,500 NT manuscripts of the NT is impressive indeed.

Overplaying Textual Variations

In an effort to shock the reader, Eichenwald appeals to two significant textual variations in the NT, namely the long ending of Mark (16:9–20) and the pericope of the adulterous woman (John 7:53–8:11). These are the same ones that Ehrman highlights in his book Misquoting Jesus—which is evidently a big influence on Eichenwald.

But Eichenwald only tells part of the story. First, he doesn’t tell the reader that these are the only two significant variations in the entire New Testament. He presents them like they are typical when they are not. Second, he doesn’t explain how text-critical methodologies allow scholars to identify these changes as later additions. And if they can be identified as later additions, then they do not threaten our ability to know the original text.

Even more, Eichenwald continues to make factual errors about these changes. He states:

Unfortunately, John didn’t write it. Scribes made it up sometime in the Middle Ages. It does not appear in any of the three other Gospels or in any of the early Greek versions of John. Even if the Gospel of John is an infallible telling of the history of Jesus’s ministry, the event simply never happened.

This statement is riddled with errors. For one, scribes probably didn’t make the story of the adulterous woman up—it probably circulated as oral tradition. Second, it was not added in the “Middle Ages” as he claims, but probably sometime between the second and fourth century. Third, we don’t know that “the event simply never happened.” On the contrary, scholars have argued it may be an authentic event that circulated in the early church for generations.

Overplaying Translational Issues

Eichenwald next hones in on the issue of translations, claiming that English translations are utterly unreliable and written simply to reinforce traditional Christian beliefs that, otherwise, have no support. He states:

And so each time προσκυνέω appeared in the Greek manuscript regarding Jesus, in these newer Bibles he is worshipped, but when applied to someone else, the exact same word is translated as “bow” or something similar. By translating the same word different ways, these modern Bibles are adding a bit of linguistic support to the idea that the people who knew Jesus understood him. In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse.

This paragraph reveals a stunning misunderstanding of the way translations and texts really work. The fact that translators use different English words at different points is not due to some diabolical plot to trick people into believing in the divinity of Jesus, but is simply due to the fact that words mean different things in different contexts.

Moreover, Eichenwald is unaware that even the more progressive English translations do exactly the same thing! For instance, the NRSV of Matt 14:33 reads: “And those in the boat worshiped (προσκυνέω) him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

Overplaying Diversity in the Early Church

No critique of early Christianity would be complete without trotting out the standard claims that early Christians couldn’t agree on much of anything and everyone was busy fighting over early Christian doctrines. At this point, apocryphal gospels (such as Thomas and Peter) are often highlighted as evidence that Christianity was confused about what it really believed.

Eichenwald executes this part of the refute-Christianity-playbook perfectly. After repeating the standard trope about how “Christianity was in chaos in its early days,” he even offers the claim that Constantine (diabolical fiend that he was) really created modern Christianity as we know it:

And then, in the early 300s, Emperor Constantine of Rome declared he had become follower of Jesus, ended his empire’s persecution of Christians and set out to reconcile the disputes among the sects. Constantine was a brutal sociopath who murdered his eldest son, decapitated his brother-in-law and killed his wife by boiling her alive, and that was after he proclaimed that he hadconverted from worshipping the sun god to being a Christian. Yet he also changed the course of Christian history, ultimately influencing which books made it into the New Testament.

Eichenwald seems utterly unaware that this whole course of argument is incorrect and drawn directly from internet chat rooms and books like the Da Vinci Code. The truth is that Constantine had nothing to do with which books were placed into the New Testament, nor did the council of Nicea for that matter.

But, undaunted, Eichenwald digs his hole even deeper:

To understand how what we call the Bible was made, you must see how the beliefs that became part of Christian orthodoxy were pushed into it by the Holy Roman Empire. By the fifth century, the political and theological councils voted on which of the many Gospels in circulation were to make up the New Testament. With the power of Rome behind them, the practitioners of this proclaimed orthodoxy wiped out other sects and tried to destroy every copy of their Gospels and other writings.

Yet again, Eichenwald is flat out wrong. There was no fifth century “vote” about which Gospels would make it into the NT. On the contrary, the four gospels had been well-established in the church since the second century.

In sum, the first part of Eichenwald’s article is an unmitigated disaster. Its factual errors are legion, its bias against Christianity is palpable, it makes serious and yet unsubstantiated moral accusations against followers of Jesus, and, all the while, offers zero historical evidence backing up its claims.

This is not journalism. This is Eichenwald’s personal diatribe. Newsweek should really offer a formal apology.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Did Early Christians Believe Jesus Would Return in Their Lifetime?

One of the most-oft repeated ideas about the earliest Christians is that they believed that the Kingdom of God would come (apocalyptically) within their own lifetime. In fact Schweitzer famously argued that Jesus himself thought the world would end in his own lifetime; of course the world didn’t end and Jesus died disillusioned on the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In recent years, some have suggested that this belief in early Christianity would even have affected the development of the canon. If Christians thought the world would end in their own lifetime, then, it is argued, they would not have been interested in composing new scriptural books. Thus, the idea of a canon must be a later ecclesiastical development.

But, this argument simply doesn’t hold. First, it is by no means evident that early Christians believed Jesus would necessarily return in their own lifetime. Schweitzer’s views have been largely rejected–and rightly so. But, let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that Christians did have this apocalyptic mentality. Does that mean they would have resisted the composition of new books, focusing instead on only oral methods of delivery? There appears to be little reason to think so. Ironically, Paul is put forth as one who believed that Jesus would return in his own lifetime (as supposedly indicated by texts like 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), but yet we only know about this belief because Paul wrote it down in a letter! And Paul viewed this letter, as all his letters, as authoritative (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and to be read publicly to the church (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Such a scenario indicates that apocalyptic beliefs are not necessarily incompatible with the production of written, authoritative texts. Moreover, we have examples of apocalyptic communities that were prolific producers of literature, namely Qumran. On the basis of Qumran, David Meade argues that apocalypticism in the early Christian communities, far from preventing literary activity, actually “provides the ideological basis for the extension of Scripture” (“Ancient Near Eastern Apocalypticism,” 308).

Gerd Theissen sums it up well, “The thesis about the imminent expectation of the end as a factor impeding literary creation is false. Jewish apocalyptic writing is full of imminent expectations and yet attests to a flourishing literary production” (The New Testament, 10).

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

Did the Earliest Christians Really Think Jesus Was God? One Important Example

One of the most common critiques of Christianity is that some of its major tenets are late inventions. Core Christian doctrines, we are told, were never believed in the earliest phases of the church but were developed only at a later time period. Orthodoxy, therefore, was not early but late.

The most obvious example of a doctrine that was purportedly added later (we will cover another such doctrine in a future post) is the divinity of Jesus. The popular internet-level narrative goes like this: Jesus was not God, nor did he claim to be God. He was just an ordinary man. At a later point, his followers began to assign attributes to him that were semi-divine–like an angel. And it wasn’t until even later, around the fourth century council of Nicea, that Christians began to conceive of Jesus as the one and only creator God of the universe.

Of course, this is not the place for a full-scale assessment of early Christology. But it is worth noting that some of our earliest Christian sources outside the New Testament don’t at all seem confused about the divinity of Jesus, but affirmed that he was fully God in every sense of the word. One example is the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, a popular early Christian work that affirmed a very high Christology. Here are a few select passages:

But the truly all-powerful God himself, creator of all and invisible, set up and established in their [Christians’] hearts the truth and the holy word from heaven, which cannot be comprehended by humans. To do so, he did not, as one might suppose, send them one of his servants or an angel or a ruler… but he sent the craftsman and maker of all things himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he encloses the sea within its own boundaries, whose mysteries all the elements of creation guard faithfully, from whom the sun was appointed to guard the courses that it runs during the day, whom the moon obeys when he commands it to shine at night, whom the stars obey by following the course of the moon, by whom all things are set in order and arranged and put into subjection, the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and all the things in the sea, fire, air, the abyss, creatures in the heights, creatures in the depths, and creatures in between—this is the one he sent to them. (7.2)

This is a remarkable description of Jesus–especially so early. Notice that the author expressly states that Jesus is NOT an angel, or any other divine servant. Moreover, the author goes out of the way to say that Jesus is the very creator of the universe. Indeed, the author drives this point home by examining every part of creation—heavens, sea, sun, moon, stars, animals, heights, depths—and showing that Jesus made it all.

Although angels received many attributes that made them seem semi-divine, there was one thing they were never given, namely the status as creator. For Jews, that was an attribute that God and God alone possessed.

In the very next passage, the epistles goes on to say:

So, then, did he [God], as one might suppose, send him [his Son] to rule in tyranny, fear, and terror? Not at all. But with gentleness and meekness, as a king sending his own son, he sent him as a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a human to humans. So that he might bring salvation. (7.3–4).

Here we see the epistle invoke plain language that Jesus is the “Son” of God, and then expressly state that Jesus was sent “as God.” Ehrman’s translation of the Epistle to Diognetus translates this as “a god” (indefinite article and lower case), but there is no warrant in the Greek text for doing so. In fact, the original 1917 Loeb edition of the Apostolic Fathers translated this phrase as “he sent him as God.”

It is also worth noting that while the author fully affirms the divinity of Jesus, he also affirms the full humanity of Jesus when he says God “sent him as a human to human.” Here we see the beginning of the doctrine of the incarnation, namely that Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time.

A final example:

The Word appeared to them [the apostles] and revealed things, speaking to them openly. Even though he was not understood by unbelievers, he told these things to his disciples, who after being considered faithful by him came to know the mysteries of the Father. For this reason he sent his Word, that it might be manifest to the world. This Word was dishonored by the people but proclaimed by the apostles and believed by the nations. For this is the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient, who is always being born anew in the hearts of the saints. This is the eternal one who “today” is considered to be the Son, through whom the church is enriched and the unfolding grace is multiplied among the saints. (11:2–4).

The author’s use of “Word” (logos) suggests he is familiar with John’s gospel, or at least teaching based on John’s gospel. His high view of Jesus as the pre-existent God is evident from the phrase: “the one who was from the beginning who appeared to be recent but was discovered to be ancient.” What a fabulous, and profound, way of describing how Jesus is both God and man.

Although more patristic sources could be called as witnesses, it is at least worth noting that this patristic source, the Epistle to Diognetus, has a a view of Jesus in the second century that supposedly was not invented until the fourth century.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.

The 7 Sections of the Bible: A Sign of God’s Inspiration?

There are so many historical details to manage in the study of the NT and OT canon, that it is often difficult to step back and get the big picture. Scholarly energies are typically preoccupied with whether a certain church father cited a certain biblical book, and thus the entire biblical collection is rarely viewed as a completed whole.

In short, we tend to study the canon one book at a time. But, as Walter Brueggemann observed regarding this approach, “That is problematic because one never gets a sense of the whole of the Bible” (Creative Word, 5).

When we take that step back, and examine the overall canonical structure, some fascinating details emerge. One noteworthy example is the fact that the complete biblical canon can be viewed in seven distinct units.

There are good historical reasons to think that the OT canon in the time of Jesus was divided into the standard tripartite structure: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The structure finds confirmation in a number of historical sources that we cannot examine fully here (b. Bat. 14b; Josephus, Ap. 1.37-42; 4QMMT (95-96); Philo, Contempl. Life, 25. ). Jesus even seems to allude to this tripartite structure when he says, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

When it comes to the structure of the NT canon, at least as it emerged within the early church, it seems to have been divided into four sections. David Trobisch has demonstrated that these four clear sub-sections—Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts and Catholic [general] epistles), Pauline epistles, and Revelation—as can be seen from the uniform witness of the manuscript collections themselves (The First Edition of the New Testament).

Thus, when the OT and NT canons are considered together, it seems the overall biblical canon would have had a seven-fold structure. Given the well-established biblical usage of the number seven as representative of completeness or wholeness, a seven-fold canonical structure would speak to the overall unity of the biblical canon and provides further reason to think that the New Testament canon we possess is the proper conclusion to the original books of the Old Testament.

Moreover, a structure that has Genesis and Revelation as the “bookends” is particularly fitting given the role the number seven plays in each of those books. Genesis begins the biblical witness with a seven-fold creative structure that provides the foundation for the seven-fold work week, and then Revelation recapitulates this attention to the number seven by having seven churches, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven plagues, and so on.

Thus, in effect, the first and last books of the canon form an “inclusio” of sevens, functioning as appropriate bookends to the overall seven-fold canonical structure—with Revelation as an appropriate “sabbath.”

Of course, many of these connections are only apparent when we view the canon as a whole and therefore would not have been as accessible to the earliest Christians who did not yet possess a completed canon (or had the books in a different order, as some did). This fact reminds us again that some qualities of canonicity are synergistic—the whole can be greater than the constituent parts. It is like the “fifth voice” of a barbershop quartet; you only hear it when all four voices are joined together in harmony.

In the end, the canon’s seven-fold structure fits with the kind of structure we might expect God to give to his revelation, namely a structure that attests to the harmony, coherence, and unity of his Word.

For more, visit Dr. Kruger's website: Canon Fodder.