Month: August 2013

The Three Main Views of the Origin of the Synoptic Gospels

Excerpt from Chapter 6 of “Hijacking the Historical Jesus

There are three main views concerning the origin of the Synoptic Gospels: the Markan Priority Hypothesis, the Two-Gospel Hypothesis (which views Matthew as the first Gospel written but accepts a literary dependence between the Synoptic Gospels), and the Literary Independence Theory. The Literary Independence theory is by far the oldest theory of the origin of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I will argue that this theory (the Literary Dependence Theory) should not have been abandoned by many contemporary evangelical New Testament scholars. But, first I will comment briefly on the two newer theories.

Malmesbury BibleAdherents of the Markan Priority Hypothesis believe that Mark was the first to write his Gospel based upon Peter’s preaching. Mark himself was not one of the original apostles. There are two subcategories within the Markan Priority Hypothesis: the Two-Source View and the Four-Source View. The Two-Source View declares that Mark’s Gospel and a no longer extant document called “Q” formed the foundation for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Two-Source adherents believe that Matthew and Luke received much of their material from Mark, but the material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark came from a hypothetical document called “Q.” No one has ever found a copy of the supposed ancient document called “Q.” In fact, many New Testament scholars doubt it ever existed.

The Four-Source View within the Markan Priority Hypothesis posits the existence of two additional hypothetical documents called “M” and “L.” According to this speculative theory, “M” was an ancient source used by Matthew in addition to Mark and “Q.” And “L” was supposedly an ancient source used by Luke in addition to Mark and “Q.” Like “Q,” no copy of “M” or “L” has ever been found. Again, many New Testament scholars doubt that these hypothetical documents ever existed.

Carmina Cantabrigiensia Manuscript CThe Two-Gospel View of Synoptic Dependence claims that Matthew was written first, followed by Luke and Mark. Supposedly, Luke utilized Matthew as a source, whereas Mark “borrowed” from both Matthew and Luke. What the two Markan Priority views and the Two-Gospel View have in common is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were not written independently of each other. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were dependent upon each other.

The Literary Independence Theory disagrees. This view accepts the unanimous testimony of the early church fathers that the Synoptic Gospels were written independently of each other. The main reason for the origin of the various dependence theories of the Synoptic Gospels is to discredit the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts. It is therefore surprising that so many evangelical New Testament scholars would embrace these dependence theories. I agree with Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell (two New testament scholars from the Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, California) in their assessment that evangelical scholars should never have forsaken the Literary Dependence Theory. Their ideas are spelled out in The Jesus Crisis and Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels.

Review of “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (Part 2)

First Things First

All good biblical theology stems from a proper Biblical understanding of the nature of God. An incorrect view of the God’s nature will inevitably skew one’s view of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the nature of salvation. When reading Bell’s new book “What we Talk About When We Talk About God”, it becomes clear that Rob Bell did not begin with a proper view of God’s nature. Rob Bell’s “god’, rather than the personal and loving God of the Bible, sounds more like the impersonal “force” professed by Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy or the undefinable “consciences-bliss” called the Brahman in Hinduism.

Rob Bell begins his book by correctly citing famous physicists and astronomers such as Hubble, Penzias, Wilson and Einstein, whose research suggests that the universe began some time in the distant past with an event called the “Big Bang”. Other researchers, like Dr. Alexander Vilankin, built upon this foundation to prove that any universe which is expanding must have had a beginning. Thus, despite decades of attempts to prove the contrary, according to the most popular model, the universe is not eternal. The universe had a beginning.

The Solar SystemBell rightly claims that the universe, if it had a beginning, needs a cause; It didn’t just pop into being from nothing. Here he appeals to what is called the Kalaam cosmological argument. However, Bell seems to indicate that the external cause of the universe is an impersonal force we call God. To make this point, Bell constantly uses words such as “energy”, “force”, and “electricity” in describing God. (Bell Talk/God 19,109)

At this point, I think it’s worth offering evidence for a personal Creator. What does science tell us about the nature of the universe? Does this suggest a personal creator or an impersonal force? What is the evidence?

For starters, no matter what our belief about the origins of the universe, science offers us several reasons to believe that there is a creator of the universe. This creator, what Aristotle called the Prime Mover, must be intelligent, must not exist in time or space, must have unimaginable power, and should be omnipresent throughout creation. Indeed, it should be obvious that if the first cause chose to create the universe, it must be a personal being with the ability to make decisions.

The Anthropic Principle

Since we believe the universe was designed by a creator, what evidence is there to support this belief? When astronomers and astrophysicists gaze at the universe, which they do in every conceivable spectrum, what do the galaxies, our solar system, and the earth tell them about our universe? Everywhere they look, the sky speaks clearly that our universe shouldn’t exist like it does. It is so well balanced in so many ways that it appears to be designed. This is called the “anthropic principle”. And any evidence for intelligent design indicates an intelligent designer.

For example, life existing on earth is only possible because hundreds of perfectly balanced physical laws and universal constants maintain the kind of order necessary for stars and planets to exist. Given that, in order life like our own to exist, our sun needs to be stable and our planet just the right distance from the sun. That life would survive long without liquid water or protection from cosmic rays or the suns powerful rays.

In other words, many researchers readily admit that there appears to be a grand control board for the universe. All the dials on this board are perfectly set, within a very narrow range, for life to exist on earth. If any one of these grand dials for life were off just a little, one way or the other, life on earth would not be possible. This is good evidence that there is a “someone”, an infinitely intelligent someone, who set the dials.

Here are some other examples.

Let’s consider the universe itself. Just like with life, certain “dials” must be set perfectly for the universe to continue to exist. Bell correctly states the premise of the “Standard Model” that at the moment of the Big Bang, the universe came into existence. Since then, it has been in a state of expansion. If we assume this model, it is pretty amazing that the “dial” which controls the rate of expansion is perfectly set to keep a stable and life permitting universe in existence.

Big BangT imelineIf the rate of this universal expansion were larger, according to the Standard Model of stellar evolution, no galaxies could have formed. Without galaxies, our sun wouldn’t have a friendly and protected environment to exist in. In turn, the safety necessary for life to exist would be absent. On the other hand, if this expansion were smaller, according to the Standard Model, the entire universe would collapse back in on itself. Stars wouldn’t form, planets wouldn’t be warmed by their heat, liquid water wouldn’t be possible, and no life would exist in the universe.

As a matter of fact, if the distance between the millions of visible stars in our galaxy were much larger or smaller, the existence of planets, including the earth, would not even be possible. (Ross Creator/Cosmos 154-157) According to the Standard Model, the size, expansion rate, and stellar distances in our universe are just right for life here on earth.

A second example is the design of our galaxy and solar system. Examining our galactic neighborhood, we discover that many more of the grand dials for life have been perfectly set. The rotation on its axis and the tilt of the earth are all perfectly set to provide even heating and seasons, something necessary for human life to exist. The amount of oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere and in the crust is in just the right proportions for human life to exist on the earth. There are many more of these “dials of life” that have seen set with pin point accuracy for life to occur. If you believe the Big Bang happened, is it hard to imagine that some super intelligent being is behind it? (Ross Creator/Cosmos 190-193)

Is God The Creator?

Considering the circumstantial evidence science provides, as Christians, can we trust that this evidence points to the infinite, Personal Creator the Bible writes about. Does our God meet the requirements? Is the God of the Bible a super intelligent, super powerful being who is also personal? Does God exist outside of time and space so as to be able to cause it to exist?

Jesus TeachesGod is able to remember things. When we come to Him forgiveness, He chooses not to hold our sins against anymore. He no longer remembers our sins. (Isaiah 43:25, Psalms 79:8 and Jeremiah 31:20) God is able to speak to Man concerning Himself. (Isaiah 42:8, Isaiah 43:10-13) God is able to see what people do on earth. He heard the cries of his people Israel enslaved in Egypt. (Exodus 2:24) He heard his own people, whom he had set free from Egypt, later complaining against Him in the desert. (Numbers 11:1) God has the ability to know things, such as those who are his children and those who are not. (2 Timothy 2:19) God is a bodiless infinite Personal Spirit (John 4:24) (Martin Kingdom of the Cults 146-149)

Wrong Doctrine, Wrong Beliefs

Rob Bell’s God, the impersonal “force” or “energy” he writes about, does not sound anything like the God of the Bible. As stated at the beginning of this article, if one starts out with a false view of the nature of God, as Rob Bell has, this will trickle down into other areas of Christian Doctrine.

For example, rather than being clear about Jesus being God incarnate, Rob Bell seems to be very vague (at best) when describing of the incarnation of God. In his current book, Bell seems to use biblical terms to describe the incarnation. He states that Jesus is “the divine and the human existing in the same Body” (God/Talk 131) Yet there are other statements in his previous book “Love Wins” that seem to indicate that Bell believes that the impersonal force that He calls God became Flesh in Jesus (Love Wins 144-146) This is not the Biblical doctrine of the Incarnation.

The Biblical doctrine states that there is one God in three Persons. It was the second person of the Godhead who took on flesh and became a Man for our salvation. It is only a short step from saying that this generic impersonal force was incarnated in Jesus to saying that this generic impersonal force was also incarnated in the founders of all the other world religions.

Seattle Multifaith PanelBell seems to do this implicitly while Bishop Spong does so explicitly. Yet in this day and age, it seems this is the politically correct thing to do. I assume he doesn’t want anyone to get offended. Following this logic, some believe today that the founders of all the major world religions are all equally valid and in some way express God to humanity.

When Rob Bell appeared on the interfaith faith panel in Seattle in 2008, he offered no comments nor defense on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Sitting in the presence of leaders of other world religions, this spoke volumes about his beliefs. You know something is seriously wrong with a pastor when the very words of Christ are set aside for political correctness.


In this second article, we have covered the unique nature of the God of the Bible as Creator. He is a Personal Being rather than an impersonal force, able to create a universe full or miracles and made just right for human life.

Despite claims Bell makes about the nature of god, only the God of the Bible is truly able to love all human beings. This Love was shown in Him personally becoming a Man, dying on the Cross and rising from the Dead on the third day to give us eternal life. This love is manifest to everyone in creation.

The god of Rob Bell might sound more tolerant and less judgmental than the traditional God of the Bible, but this “god” did not go extraordinary lengths in order to redeem Man from sin and death. His god is impotent to save.

Review of “What We Talk About When We Talk About God” (Part 1)


It’s been two years since Rob Bell published his first real controversial book entitled “Love Wins”. In it, Bell set out to challenge the traditional view of Hell among Christians. For Evangelicals, it sparked months of discussion and debate. What followed the confusion was a long series of stinging and harsh rebukes from eminent theologians.

Yet as thought provoking as that book was, Rob Bell is not one to shrink from controversy. In March of 2013, Rob Bell introduced his newest book ”What We talk about When we talk about God.”

What We Talk about When We Talk about God CoverThis book introduces us to Bell’s vision for future of the Evangelical Church in America. Unfortunately, the theology of this imagined future looks a lot like that of a Biblical critic from the Jesus Seminar: Bishop John Shelby Spong. Well known for their skeptical view of the supernatural and the sayings of Jesus, the Jesus seminar holds many views seen a heresy by main stream Christian theologians. This is why so many find the similarities between Bell and Spong quite disturbing.

Has Rob Bell really decided to follow Spong’s false doctrine chapter and verse or did they come to these false doctrines as all men do: By doubting the God of the Bible. As Satan so cleverly began his deception in the Garden, “Has God really said … “

In this article we will look at these disturbing similarities between Bell and Spong chapter by chapter. Then in following articles, the errors of Bell’s newest book will be examined and refuted.


The first chapter in Bell’s book is entitled “Hum”. True to form, Bell begins with an analogy; something easy for everyone to understand. He compares Oldsmobiles to our understanding of God. The idea is that the traditional concept of a personal theistic God, which most evangelicals hold to, is simply outdated. Like the Oldsmobile, it is an old, ugly, and ill suited relic from a different era. Our understanding of automotive technology has grown exponentially in the last 50 years. Cars have become better as a result. Why, asks Bell, haven’t our our beliefs done the same?

Bell goes on to cite several examples of people for whom the traditional understanding of God simply did not work. In response, Bell says that a new way of talking about God “is being birthed”. (Bell Talk/God 2,3, 5-8, 11) Here Bell echoes the beliefs of Jesus Seminar member Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has stated publicly that we need a new and improved Christianity; The one that has been handed down to us over the past 2,000 years is simply outdated. It doesn’t work in the modern, complex world that we live in today. (Spong Change or Die 29-31,40-42)


In the second chapter entitled “Open”, Bell attempts to use the latest scientific discoveries to downplay the idea of a personal, infinite God. He mentions such scientific celebrities as Hubble, Einstein, Penzias, and Wilson who have apparently produced evidence to show that God is an impersonal force rather than an infinite personal being. (Bell talk/God-24-63) This “impersonal force” creates, pervades and sustains the world. (Bell talk/God—46-48, 62-63)

Why Christianity Must Change or DieThus, Bell believes it is counter productive to show that a personal, infinite God exists. It goes against all the evidence revealing to us a God which ”surrounds us, courses through our veins and lights up the sky here, right now”. (Bell talk/God 79)

Similarly, Bishop Spong writes about key events in the history of science which justify his claim that a personal, infinite being simply does not fit what we know of the universe. Specifically, he mentions 8 figures in the history of science whose findings show that a personal, infinite God does not exists. Rather … it’s a force. (Spong Change or Die 31-40)


In his third chapter, entitled “Both”, Bell asserts that all language is inadequate when talking about God. Language can be helpful but any descriptive words about God is not God. (Bell talk/god 90-91) Bishop Spong says the same thing. He writes that all human language about God is inadequate and doesn’t do God justice in describing Him. (Spong New Christianity/New World—60-63)


The heart of Bell’s book is found in chapter 4, entitled “With”. In this chapter, he deals with the nature of God.

In his writing, Bell consistently uses impersonal terms to describe God. For Bell, it seems that God is an ”it” rather than a “Who”. He already hinted at this impersonal concept of God in chapter 1. (Bell talk/god 18) In this chapter, he begins to give the reader further descriptions of his concept of this impersonal “it”. (Bell talk/god-103)

In addition to his constant use of the word “it” when describing God, Bell also uses the Jewish word for “spirit”, ruach. In this way, he attempts to connect the Old Testament God with this impersonal entity. (Bell talk/god 105-110) Bell also uses impersonal terms such as “energy,” “the force”, “the power” (Bell Talk/God 106,108) Oddly, even while explaining how God is an impersonal force that, Bell denies pantheism, which asserts that God is an impersonal power, a force which is identical with the universe. (Bell Talk/God 109/117)

To no surprise, Bishop Spong also uses some of the same impersonal wording for God ( “it” “force” and “energy”). In his Sunday School class in New Jersey, Bishop Spong writes how members of his class speak about God in impersonal terms. (Spong New Christianity/New World 65-66) Instead of the personal deity Christ spoke of as Father, Spong recommends Buddhism and other “eastern faith traditions” as ways to explore an impersonal understanding of God. (Spong Change or Die 57)

Both Bell and Bishop Spong use the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach, to refer to God. Both try to connect the impersonal force they describe to the God of the Hebrews with it. (Spong Change or die—60) As evidence, both Bell and Spong cite liberal Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, who also taught that God is an impersonal force. (Spong Change or Die-64-70)


In his fifth chapter, entitled “For”, Bell gives his understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Bell seems to affirm the incarnation, but is this Jesus the Incarnation of an impersonal force or a personal Being. Is Jesus the second person of the Triune God or not? Bell offered little information on his view of the incarnation in his previous book ”Love Wins.” Instead, Bell asserts that Jesus is the incarnation of impersonal energy, a spark, the electricity that created the universe. (Bell Love Wins 144-147, 159)


In chapter 6, Bell starts giving this impersonal force some personality. God is pulling humanity forward, away from dogma and exclusiviRob Bellsm, and towards greater love, tolerance and understanding. Bell offers two examples of how he believes God is moving humanity ahead: religious pluralism and gay marriage.

Bell shares a story about his trip to an interfaith conference in Seattle in 2008. While there, he joined a panel which included the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, Pastor Mark Driscoll, as well as other religious leaders. Attendees included leaders and representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Judaism and several Christian denominations. While there, Bell noticed a group Christians outside protesting the interfaith conference. This bothered him. He writes, “God was there, at that event, as God has always been, present with all of humanity…” (Bell Talk? God 155)

Bell seems to be saying that God moving us ahead by helping Evangelicals see how all religions are simply different paths to Him. Christians need to move on from stodgy, Evangelical traditions and see the real God of this universe; Who apparently is a universalist. Christians need to rid themselves of the Oldsmobile understanding of God. The exclusive claims made by Jesus can be very offensive to people in other religions. In fact, it is “unloving” to insist that Jesus is the only way.

At this point, it seems pretty clear that Bell is following Bishop Spong down a road towards religious pluralism. Spong affirms the “truth” of all religions when he states that the impersonal ground of being is found not only in Jesus, but also in Buddha, Mohammed, and in many other spiritual beliefs. (Spong New Christianity/New World—137-146)

Since the publication of his latest book, Rob Bell has come out in favor of gay marriage. In recent interviews, Bell has made the following statements:

– “I believe God [is] pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and coworkers,”

– “I am for fidelity. I am for love. Whether it’s a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed, and I think that the church needs to just … this is the world that we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are,”

– “I think it’s time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay and want to share their life with someone,”

– “This is a part of life in the modern world and that’s how it is. And that cultural consciousness has shifted, and this is how the world is and that what’s happening for a lot of people, is that they want nothing to do with God and Jesus because they can’t see beyond that particular issue.”

All four statements are found online at Christian Post news.

Needless to day, Bishop Spong has made many similar statements throughout his writings.

In conclusion, let it be remembered that both Rob Bell and Bishop Spong have given us a complete systematic theology of false doctrine.

In the next article, the theological errors of each of the main chapters of Bell’s latest book will be examined and refuted.