Month: February 2016

Historicity of Jesus: Josephus

By Kyle Larson

Flavius Josephus was a well-known Jewish historian of the first century AD. He is remembered for his history of the Jewish people and a book about their struggle to free the land from Roman rule in the mid first century. He is also remembered for defecting to the Romans after a failed military campaign against them resulted in his surrender. At the time, many Jews called derided him as conceited and a traitor. Fortunately, history allows us a much more balanced picture of this historical figure.

Flavius JosephusFlavius Joesphus was born Joseph ben Matityaho in Jerusalem into a family in the line of the high priest; His mother’s heritage linked directly to the Maccabean dynasty. At a young age, he showed a thirst for knowledge; to know more about his Jewish heritage. As he notes, many of the Jewish Priests came to him while still a boy to ask him questions about the Jewish faith.

At 16, he became a Pharisee. Pharisees were a Jewish group that adhered very strictly to the written law of Moses as well as to the great body of oral tradition that had grown up around the written law. In 63 AD, at the of 26, he sailed to Rome to ask for the release of some Jewish Priests. The priests had apparently risen up in rebellion against Roman authority, had been captured, and were now in Rome as prisoners. Josephus ultimately gained the release of these Priests, and in the process, became good friends with one of the mistresses of Nero.

After returning to Judea from Rome, he found Judea on the brink of revolt against its Roman task masters. He tried to reason with some of the Jewish leaders trying to convince them that it was “suicide” to revolt against Rome.  Rome had far superior military forces. His pleadings failed to convince any of the Jewish leaders.

Over the course of  time, because of his eminence in the Jewish community, he was called into military service on behalf of the Jewish rebels against Rome in the siege of Gamala. Even at this point, he still tried to convince the Jewish rebels to lay down their arms against Rome. Josephus only went through the motions of supporting the Jewish rebels against Rome.

Later, at the siege of Jotapata, an overwhelming Roman force had Josephus and a number of other rebel leaders backed into a corner; There was no way out. In desperation, they entered into a suicide pact similar to that at Masada. However. Josephus was able to cunningly weasel out of the pact so that, in the end, all the other Jewish leaders committed suicide while he cheated death by suicide.

Ultimately, Josephus surrendered to the Romans and became a slave of the Roman general. He was in their service as translator. At the siege of Jerusalem, Josephus tried again to urge the rebels to lay down their arms. They would not and, as a result, Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed. The city was sacked and the temple set on fire.

During the long siege, Josephus became good friends with Titus, the Roman commander against the Jewish rebellion. Fortunately for Josephus, Titus later became Emperor of Rome. After the rebellion, Josephus returned to Rome with Titus where he became the official historian of the rebellion.

Works of Josephus from 1640Josephus, in his book Antiquities of the Jews, which gives a historical account of the Jewish people, mentions Jesus, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ half brother James. The original quote speaking of Jesus, strangely enough, made it sound as if Josephus was a Christian. This was not the case. Josephus was a Jew. The passage was the subject of much controversy for centuries. Comparing Greek and Latin texts, it appeared that some Christian interpolation had occurred during the second century AD, but no scholar could say how it was altered or by whom.

The answer came in 1971. A Jewish scholar in Jerusalem found a 10th century Arabic version of Josephus’ work translated by Christians living in Arab lands. He also found an 11th century Syraic copy. Comparing the versions together, the interpolation could be removed and the original passage from the point of view of Jewish historian came to light:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

In this much more historically accurate version, Josephus is basically reporting historical facts. He is not trying to get his fellow Jews to believe that Jesus is the Messiah which he himself did not believe. It’s a straight forward historical report which includes his neutral reporting that the disciples reported that Jesus appeared to them. Josephus says Jesus was a wise man and seriously wonders whether or not Jesus was the messiah, not that Jesus WAS the messiah.

This Arabic translation of Josephus’ “Jesus passage” is strong evidence that Jesus really existed and that the gospel narratives are correct.

New Book: Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Being chosen as a co-editor for a new book on Biblical inerrancy, Dr. Fernandes adds his own views to those of others in the field. What is Biblical inerrancy and why is it an important topic?

The following is taken from the official site at: defendinginerrancy.com

WHAT’S INERRANCY!? AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

It’s been said that a table must have at least thBook Imageree legs to stand. Take away any of the three legs and it will surely topple. In much the same way, the Christian faith stands on three legs. These three legs are the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Take away one, and like the table, the divine authority of the Christian faith will surely topple. These three “in’s” complement each other, yet each expresses a slightly different distinction in our understanding of Scripture.

Inspiration. The first “in” is inspiration and this deals with the origin of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that “God breathed out” the words of the Bible using human writers as the vehicle. Paul writes,

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (literally “is God-breathed”), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Infallibility. The next “in,” infallibility, speaks to the authority and enduring nature of the Bible. To be infallible means that something is incapable of failing and therefore is permanently binding and cannot be broken. Peter said “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet. 1:23-25) and therefore its authority cannot be broken.  When addressing a difficult passage, Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:34-35). In fact, He said, “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled” (Mat. 5:18). These speak to the Bible’s infallibility.

Inerrancy. The last “in,” inerrancy, simply means that the Bible is without error. It’s a belief in the “total truthfulness and reliability of God’s words” (Grudem,Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity, 2004, 90). Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). This inerrancy isn’t just in passages that speak about salvation, but also applies to all historical and scientific statements as well. It is not only accurate in matters related to faith and practice, but it is accurate and without error regarding any statement, period (John 3:12).

BUT IS IT REALLY IMPORTANT?

Yes, inerrancy is extremely important because: (1) it is attached to the character of God; (2) it is taught in the Scriptures; (3) it is the historic position of the Christian Church, and (4) it is foundational to other essential doctrines.

1. It’s Based on the Character of God

Inerrancy is based on the character of God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). God cannot lie intentionally because He is an absolute moral law-giver.  He cannot err unintentionally because He is omniscient. And if the Bible is the written Word of God (and it is), then it is without error.

2. It was Taught by Christ and the Apostles

Inerrancy was taught by Christ and the apostles in the New Testament.  This should be our primary basis for believing it. B.B. Warfield said,

“We believe this doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures primarily because it is the doctrine which Christ and his apostles believed, and which they have taught us.” (Limited Inspiration, 1962 cited by Mohler, 42)

To quote Jesus himself, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18).

3. It’s the Historic Position of the Church

Gutenberg BibleInerrancy is the historic position of the Christian Church. ICBI produced a whole book demonstrating this  point (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, Moody). As Al Mohler pointed out (Mohler, 48-49), even some errantists have agreed that inerrancy has been the standard view of the Christian Church down through the centuries. He cites the Hanson brothers, Anthony and Richard, Anglican scholars, who said,

“The Christian Fathers and the medieval tradition continued this belief [in inerrancy], and the Reformation did nothing to weaken it. On the contrary, since for many reformed theologians the authority of the Bible took the place which the Pope had held in the medieval scheme of things, the inerrancy of the Bible became more firmly maintained and explicitly defined among some reformed theologians than it had even been before.”

They added, “The beliefs here denied [viz., inerrancy] have been held by all Christians from the very beginning until about a hundred and fifty years ago.” (cited by Mohler, 41)

4. It’s Fundamental to All Other Doctrines

Inerrancy is foundational to all other essential Christian doctrines. It is granted that some other doctrines (like the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ) are more essential to salvation. However, all soteriological (salvation-related) doctrines derive their divine authority from the divinely authoritative Word of God. So, epistemologically (in a knowledge-related sense), the doctrine of the divine authority and inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of all the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? Fundamentally nothing! Thus, while one can be saved without believing in inerrancy, the doctrine of salvation has no divine authority apart from the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

IT’S AN ESSENTIAL

Inerrancy deserves high regard among evangelicals and has rightly earned the status of being essential (in an epistemological sense) to the Christian Faith.  Thus, to reduce inerrancy to the level of non-essential or even “incidental’ to the Christian Faith, reveals ignorance of its theological and historical roots and is an offense to its “watershed” importance to a consistent and healthy Christianity. Inerrancy simply cannot be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

IT’S UNDER ATTACK… RIGHT NOW!

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was founded in 1977 specifically over concerns about the erosion of inerrancy. Christian leaders, theologians and pastors assembled together three times over the course of a decade to address the issue. At the first meeting, a doctrinal statement was jointly created titled “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (see full text here). This document has been described as “a landmark church document” created

“by the then largest, broadest, group of evangelical protestant scholars that ever came together to create a common, theological document in the 20th century. It is probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed-like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church.” (Dallas Theological Seminary, “Records of the International Council On Biblical Inerrancy”)

Despite this modern safeguard, in 2010, Dr. Mike Licona, an evangelical professor, wrote a book titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In this book, he suggested that the account of the resurrected saints walking through the city might be “apocalyptic imagery” (Mat. 27:51-53). In other words, he suggested that the events did not actually happen, but that it was lore or legend. Subsequently, Licona resigned from his position with the Southern Baptists and at Southern Evangelical Seminary. What followed is rather alarming. Incredibly, some notable evangelical scholars began to express their support for Licona’s view, considering  it consistent with a belief in inerrancy.

SCHOLARS TRYING TO REDEFINE INERRANCY

Of course, in order to defend Licona’s view they had to redefine inerrancy to include what were previously considered to be errors.  Some did this by misinterpreting inerrancy as expressed by the ICBI framers.

Since 2011, more alarming statements from Licona have surfaced, including: (1) A denial of the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (RJ, 306, note 114); (2) A denial of the historicity of the angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels (Mat. 28:2-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-14) (RJ, 185-186); (3) A denial of the accuracy of the Gospel of John by claiming it says Jesus was crucified on the wrong day (debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Spring, 2009); (4) A claim that the Gospel genre is Greco-Roman biography which he says is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34). Amazingly, these views continue to gain support among the evangelical community.

Read More …

Historicity of Jesus: Lucian of Samasota

By Kyle Larson

Lucian the SatiristIn the last of our non Jewish writers who mention Jesus, we will look at Lucian of Samasota. Lucian was born in 125 AD in Samosota, a region which today lies in modern day southern Turkey. As a young man, Lucian studied law and Greek literature. As an adult, he became a well know rhetorician, someone who argues cases in the Roman court system. He was also a widely known and popular satirist, speaker, and writer of his day. His most popular writings include:

  1. A True Story – A take off on the stories found in the Odyssey written by the Greek author Homer several centuries earlier.
  2. The Passing of Peregrinas – A pagan’s contact with the earliest Christians.
  3. The Symposium – A satirical look at one of Plato’s writings

Lucian, in his writings on the Christians, views them with disdain. There are probably a few reasons for this. First, Lucian had a habit of satire; It’s not a surprise that he approached Christianity that way. Second, Christianity was still so new that, apparently, Lucian didn’t take the time to investigate Christianity for himself. Despite this, Lucian gives one of the earliest description of Jesus and the Christians by a non Christian:

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”

It is human nature that when a person does not understand something and has no further interest in checking it out, it is easier to make fun of the thing than to try and discredit it, especially if the person has little or no knowledge about it. This is what Lucian is doing here. He mocks Jesus and the early Christians. Yet for all the mocking that he does, Lucian does not deny the existence of the Christians “lawgiver”, Jesus. He also gives us evidence that early Christians worshiped Jesus as a divinity. So this is again, very early testimony that confirms the existence of Jesus by a non Christian writer

Next week, we will begin looking at Jewish authors who affirm the existence of Jesus as a historical figure.