Nine Arguments for the Early Authorship of Luke-Acts

The Acts of the Apostles (Acts) is a New Testament book that helps us to understand early Christian beliefs and practices. But when was it written? Was it produced during the lifetime of the witnesses who engaged with Jesus of Nazareth and the Apostles? Or was it composed much later by an individual or individuals unconnected with the events? If it can be argued that Acts is an early text, then its closeness to the events and its eyewitness testimony both give credibility to the miracles that it documents. 

Also, did the Apostle Paul’s companion Luke write it? If so, that places its author within the circle of those who participated in the events being reported. Further, if Acts is early, then by extension the Gospel of Luke should also be dated within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses and given the same credibility as Acts. The gospel was composed first.

Historian Colin J. Hermer lists various reasons for accepting the traditional composition date for Acts.[1] This date is around AD 62, only 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This publication date would place the extensive research and writing of Acts well within the lifetime of many eyewitnesses of Jesus and the events in the early church and Paul’s missionary journeys. 

In this blog I will focus mainly on the nine arguments themselves, tho I do mention one skeptical response.

The nine arguments supporting the early authorship of Acts are:

  1. Omission of the fall of Jerusalem in Acts
  2. No Mention of the Jewish-Roman War in Acts
  3. No Mention of the Deteriorating Relations between Emperor Nero and the Christian church in Acts
  4. No Mention of the Martyrdom of James in Acts
  5. Lack of knowledge about Paul’s Letters in Acts
  6. The Abrupt Ending of Acts
  7. Sense of immediacy in Later Chapters of Acts
  8. Undesigned Coincidences Between Acts and Paul’s Letters
  9. Author’s Specialised Knowledge is Evident in Acts

Some of these arguments for the early dating of Acts rely on arguments from silence. I will assess this approach of argumentation next.

Assessing the Historical Argument from Silence

The argument from silence is a probabilistic type of argument and is used as a ground for inferring a conclusion. There is disagreement over the effectiveness of the argumentum ex silentio for assessing historical arguments. For example, while one historian describes this as “nothing more or less valid than the universally valid method of historical investigation,”[2] another claims the argument is weak at best.[3] It is important when using this approach to form a strong argument, as weak arguments of this type are common.

Tim McGrew observes three steps that must be present for a strong version of the historical argument from silence:[4]

  1. the event in question would almost certainly have come to the notice of the author in question.
  2. the author would have recorded or given evidence of the fact had they been aware of the event in question.
  3. the works in which this was recorded would have survived to the present era and come to the notice of contemporary scholars.

He gives the example of Bergen in Norway. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of a major fire there between 1225 and 1230 AD. Various Annals document the history of this region, but do not mention any fires between 1198 and 1248. Which evidence – the archaeology or the documentation – should take precedence? Archaeologists and historians working together agreed that the archaeological evidence takes precedence. Clearly, the writers of the Annals did not record the fire that has left physical evidence of its occurrence. This suggests the writers did not have “recording fires” as a goal in their writing. So, in our list of three steps above, step 1 is probably satisfied, but step 2 was probably not satisfied because it was not important for the writer to record the fire. 

This example from Bergen shows us that we must be very careful before drawing an argument from silence, and we must take all the data into consideration before making an inference. An argument can fall down on any of the three steps above. It seems that in the Bergen case, the argument from silence fails at step 2.

Next, we will discuss the arguments supporting a dating of Acts to around AD62.

Omission of the Fall of Jerusalem in Acts

In AD 70, the Roman army besieged the city of Jerusalem, centre of Jewish resistance in the Roman province of Judea. After a brutal five month siege, the Romans destroyed the city and the Jewish Temple. This was a major turning point in Jewish history because the Temple was central to 1st century Jewish and early Christian culture and life. Historian Josephus records the horror of the fall of Jerusalem. 

As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamour, such as so mighty an affliction required; and ran together to prevent it. And now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered any thing to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it.[5]

Flavius Josephus, Of the War – Book VI

The stated purpose and content of Acts is that it is a work of history. Acts 1:1 continues the intentions of Luke’s Gospel to “draw up an account of the things fulfilled among us … handed down … by eyewitnesses.”[6]Authors in the late first century who know this area would have been painfully aware of the events Josephus describes.  

It is interesting to note that many other significant events in the life of the fledgling church are recorded in Acts. For example:

  • the Jewish authorities and their persecution of the Apostles Peter and John (Acts 4-5)
  • persecution of the church by Saul (Acts 8)
  • scattering of some people from the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8)

Given the effect the fall of Jerusalem would have had on the lives of the Jewish and Christian population there, it is hard to think of a reason why the author of Acts would not have mentioned this highly significant and unique event – the destruction of the Temple. Consequently, this is a very unlikely omission by the author. This would suggest the fall of Jerusalem had not happened while the book was being written.

Interestingly, Luke’s gospel does appear to refer to the fall of Jerusalem. During a discussion about the beauty of the Temple, Jesus says:

“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”[7]

Some skeptical scholars do not believe that Jesus could supernaturally know about the destruction of the temple. Consequently, they use this verse as evidence that Luke’s gospel was written after AD 70. However, if miracles do occur, there is no need to date Luke after AD 70. 

So – do miracles occur? While skeptics will quickly oppose the notion of the occurrence of miracles, I have yet to hear a convincing argument disproving the possibility of the supernatural. These arguments tend to cut the ground from under their own feet.

For example, David Hume’s attempt is mired in circular argumentation. He assumes miracles cannot happen to argue that they do not. Unfortunately, there are volumes of documented miracles from Hume’s time, as well as earlier and later in history. Further, Anthony Flew’s argument that one-off miracles are not permitted also disallows some important events that are recognised by believing and unbelieving scientists. For example, the origin of the universe and the origin of life on earth. Further, if one-off events (miracles) must always be overturned by the normal flow of events, no new scientific discoveries could ever be made. For these and many other reasons, the skeptical argument against miracles cannot disallow the occurrence of miracles. Skeptics therefore cannot reasonably require that Luke 21:6 points to a date of composition for Luke’s gospel beyond AD 70.

No Mention of the Jewish-Roman War in Acts

Tensions between the Jews and Romans were the precursor to the fall of Jerusalem. These tensions are dated to AD 66, and we would expect this to be mentioned in Acts if it had already occurred because again, it was significant and relevant to the church and the local community and would have been important to the author of Luke-Acts.

No Mention of Deterioration in Relations between Emperor Nero and the Christian Community in Acts

There are many facets to this highly significant period in the life of the early Christian Church. In his Annals, Roman historian Tacitus records Nero’s persecution of the Christians in various brutal ways. And he pinned the cause of the fire in Rome on the Christians.[8] This is dated to the mid to late AD 60s. It is not mentioned in Acts, suggesting it is yet to occur while Acts is being written.

If the author of Acts recorded earlier persecution by the Jewish authorities, and persecution by the Roman authorities, why not this Roman persecution that was happening close to home? Again, given the significance of these events, it is hard to see why the author of Acts would not have mentioned Nero’s persecution if it had already occurred. This suggests it had not yet occurred while Acts was being written.

No Mention of the Martyrdom of James in Acts

In his Antiquities, Josephus records the Sanhedrin’s killing of the Apostle James around AD 62. This would be an important event in the history of the Christian church as it involved the death of one of their first leaders. The omission of this event suggests it had not happened yet while the author was researching and writing.

The Author of Acts Does Not Appear to Know About the Apostle Paul’s Letters

If Acts was written later in the 1st century, surely the author’s research would have included reading the Apostle Paul’s letters and informing his account with the details recorded in there. However, there is no evidence this was the case from the Acts text.

Now, it is possible that the author simply didn’t have access to these letters. The 1st century was not an information-rich age like ours is today. Yet at a time when these documents were being copied and distributed amongst the earliest churches, it seems reasonable to assume he would have known about the existence of the letters from the people he was interviewing as part of his research. If Luke is the author, and he is a companion of Paul, you would think he would know about some of Paul’s letters. 

This is a weaker argument from silence compared to the previous two. But silence on the letters may suggest an early date for the research and writing of Acts, perhaps prior to the wide distribution of some of Paul’s letters. The fact he doesn’t mention them suggests the author’s research happened around the time Paul was writing his epistles.

The Abrupt Ending of Acts

There is a suddenness about the conclusion to Acts. The Apostle Paul makes his final journey to Rome and arrives after surviving a shipwreck. Paul is awaiting the outcome to his appeal to the Roman emperor. Through other writers of the time (1 Clement 5, Eusebius) it is recorded that Paul is released in AD 62 only to be reimprisoned and executed a few years later.[9] Acts reports none of this important detail. It seems the author writes up to his understanding of contemporary events, without knowing what the outcome for Paul would be.

Also, scholars have noted the parallels the writer of Luke-Acts seems to draw between the lives of Jesus and Paul. If the author had been aware of Paul’s martyrdom, they would have reported it in Acts to draw the parallel even closer.[10] Its omission suggests it had not happened yet, and the author recorded as much as he could based on prior known events.

A Sense of Immediacy in the Later Chapters of Acts

The early chapters report events in an indirect way, while the later chapters (e.g. Acts 27 – 28) report things more immediately. This suggests that the author relied on eyewitnesses testimony for the early parts of the book, and switched to his own memories for the events he was personally involved in.

Undesigned Coincidences Between Acts and Paul’s Letters

While Acts does not seem to use Paul’s letters as a source, nevertheless it reports events that are consistent with those letters. For example, Paul’s ministry in Macedonia is reported in Acts 16 and 19, and also in Romans 15 and 2 Corinthians 8 and 11. Multiple documents separately attesting to the same event is an undesigned coincidence and a mark of historicity.

Specialised Knowledge is Evident in Acts

The author comes across as someone who is well acquainted with the region. For example:

  • topography of Jerusalem is shown (Acts 1:12, 19 and 3:2,11)
  • knowledge of the Roman military guard and other Roman terms are clearly shown (Acts 12:4)
  • Cyprus is correctly described as a proconsular province
  • The part played by Troas in communication is acknowledged
  • Acts 13 – 28 show an intimate knowledge of local circumstances. There are many “we” passages in the later chapters of Acts

Implications of the Dating of Acts on Luke’s Gospel

These arguments for the early research and composition of Acts also by implication support an early date for Luke’s Gospel since the style of writing demonstrates the same author wrote both works. 

Placing both of these works at an early period in the first century, around AD 62, means the author researched and wrote within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. This, therefore, gives further support to the original Christian belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection, as these are prominent in both works. This was not a later idea imposed on 1st-century events.

Authorship of Luke-Acts

The church fathers Papias and Irenaeus lived at a time near the events reported in Luke-Acts. Given that Luke’s Gospel was essentially distributed anonymously, as it didn’t have the author reported on the front of the scroll, its authorship would have been part of the oral testimony that accompanied copies of the document. 

The traditional authorship of Luke, Mark, and Matthew’s gospels are affirmed by Papias and Irenaeus. Matthew was written by the disciple of that name, Mark was written by John Mark as a memoir of Peter, and Luke was a close companion of the apostle Paul. We do not know for certain that this traditional authorship is correct, but this tradition has a definite ring of truth about it; “Why would Christians as early as the second century ascribe these otherwise anonymous Gospels to three such unlikely candidates if they did not, in fact, write them?”[11]

Conclusion

I have presented nine arguments for the early authorship of Luke-Acts. Five of these are arguments from silence. How well do these arguments meet McGrew’s three steps? I would argue that it is highly likely that arguments 1 to 4 easily meet step 1. Argument 5 is less certain. Although I think it is likely Paul’s letters would have come to Luke’s attention. I would suggest all five arguments meet step 2 because the importance of the events, and the relevance of Paul’s letters, mean Luke would have very likely referred to them during his research and writing. Finally, all five arguments easily meet McGrew’s step 3. Acts is an important early work. At the time of writing, the earliest copy of Acts is found in P45. The Chester Beatty Papyri are dated to the third century and preserve much of the four gospels, and Acts itself.[12]

I have shown how nine arguments together argue for the early authorship of Acts at around AD 62. I think together these meet the criteria laid down by McGrew for a strong argument. Some of these events have a very major significance to everyone living in this 1st-century Jewish/Christian community. To suggest that the author would not record them because they were not relevant, seems unlikely. Given that there is an incremental quality to these arguments, taken together, this forms a strong argument suggesting research and authorship of Acts prior to the important events that are not mentioned, at around AD 62.


[1] Normal L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, (Baker Books, 2012), 10-12.

[2] Reference 2 in The Argument from Silence, Timothy McGrew, DOI 10.1007/s12136-013-0205-5.

[3] Reference 4 in McGrew.

[4] McGrew.

[5] Flavius Josephus, Of the War – Book VI, accessed 24th May 2022, https://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/war-6.html.

[6] Luke 1:1, Acts 1:1, NIV.

[7] Luke 21:6, NIV

[8] Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals, accessed 24th May, 2022,  https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0078%3Abook%3D15%3Achapter%3D44.

[9] Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Countering the Challenges to Evangelical Christian Beliefs, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 14.

[10] Ibid., 16.

[11] Craig Blomberg, “Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?”, mentioned in Kenneth Richard Samples, God Among Sages Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader, (Baker Books, 2017), 61.

[12] Papyrus 45, Wikipedia, accessed 25th May, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_45.

Advertisement

Was It a Miracle That Saved Our Lives?

At 2:52pm on October 21st, 1971, a gas explosion destroyed Clarkston shops in Scotland, killing 22 people and injuring 100.[1] Eighty-two minutes prior to this event, at 1:30pm, my mother May Gray strapped my sister and I into our new car. She didn’t realise it, but that day she intended to visit the dress shop at the epicentre of the looming explosion. Unexpectedly, our car refused to start. For 30 minutes, May made multiple failed attempts to start the car. Finally, she gave up and abandoned her shopping trip.

Later that day, my Dad returned home from work. He checked the car, and it started first time. The following day, May started the car without any trouble. Prior to October 21st, and at all times until we sold the car three years later, it never failed to start that way again. The only known exception to its reliability record occurred between 1:30pm and 2:00pm on the day of the Clarkston explosion. If the car had started during that period of time, we would have probably died at the shopping centre. I attached a picture of me and my Dad with the car to this blog. It was a light blue, 1970 Vauxhall Viva.

Miracles and Natural Law

Was the car’s temporary failure a curious coincidence, or can I reasonably claim that God miraculously saved our lives that day? I will use Richard L. Purtill’s definition of “miracle”. Miracles are events caused by God’s power that are temporary exceptions to the ordinary course of nature to show God has acted in nature.[2] Did a miracle occur for us on 21st October 1971? Scottish philosopher David Hume would resist this conclusion, viewing miracles as violations of unalterably uniform natural laws.[3] Hume, and contemporary skeptics with him, may suppose the car’s failure to start prior to the explosion was merely a coincidence.

However, Hume’s skepticism is problematic. Hume had an empiricist approach to epistemology. He thought people only experience sense impressions, “a constancy in certain impressions [and so] … perception of the sun … returns … as at its first appearance.”[4] Natural laws don’t exist to Hume. Rather, human custom leads us to identify sense impressions as objects. He is therefore skeptical of inductive inference. Scott Smith summarises Hume’s position; we may see three black ravens, but to infer therefore all ravens are black, is knowledge we cannot justifiably hold on Hume’s empiricism.[5] Consequently, because he only experiences discrete sensory input, and rejects induction, he cannot know natural laws exist. Hume is therefore inconsistent to observe inviolable natural law when arguing against miracles.

Today, natural laws are believed to describe what nature does, they do not prescribe what nature must do. Craig Keener observes that, when I drop a pen with one hand and catch it with the other, I am not breaking the law of gravity. Rather, I am intervening in its operation.[6] Purtill defined a miracle as a temporary, divine exception to the normal flow of natural law. It seems reasonable to assume that, if God created nature, he could choose to intervene if necessary. C S Lewis builds on this idea noting that if God fed new information into a natural system, the system would simply react in predictable natural ways.[7] Perhaps our car’s failure to start was a natural response to an intentional exception to natural law.

Anti-Supernatural Bias

Hume’s second problem is that his argument against miracles appears to be circular. Because he defines natural law as inviolable, and miracles as violations of natural law, he rules out the possibility of miracles axiomatically. Consequently, no amount of evidence is sufficient to prove a miracle occurred; Keener says Hume rejects any evidence contradicting his thesis or his anti-supernatural bias.[8] He therefore assumes what he intends to prove; there are no miracles. Arguments like this are logically fallacious by begging the question. Also, Hume may disagree that eyewitness testimony from 1971 supports a miracle claim. He might also suggest my family are ignorant or false witnesses for positing the miraculous.[9] Hume possibly never experienced a miracle himself, but it does not follow my family are therefore ignorant fabricators for supposing occurrence of a divine miracle.

Scientific Proof of Miracles

Contemporary skeptics may follow Hume and challenge me to prove scientifically the miraculous nature of the events from 1971. If I cannot prove a miracle, I cannot claim a miracle; “a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”[10] But their challenge fails to meet my definition of miracle. How can one scientifically prove a one off, temporary exception to the normal flow of events? Miracles are non-repeatable, so I cannot use scientific methods to investigate them. Miracles are also exceptions. Michael G. Strauss imagines aliens studying traffic lights to understand how humans control traffic, and they figure out what red, amber, and green mean. Suddenly, an ambulance appears blaring its siren as it zooms through the junction, breaking all the rules. This doesn’t make the traffic law void, rather it shows that rules can sometimes be broken in urgent circumstances, like when people’s lives are at stake.[11] Consequently, if I remain open to the possible occurrence of one-off exceptional events, and I do not trap myself in Hume’s circular anti-supernatural argument, then I can employ scientific tools to explore the evidence from 1971. Having gathered all the data about the motor car’s history, the people involved, and the timing of the events, one can use this data to draw an abductive inference. It is possible that an exceptional event overruled the normal operation of the car.

Is there a God Anyway?

Skeptics may claim we experienced a coincidence of events because no God exists to do miracles.  But it is not clear how the skeptic can prove God’s non-existence. I would suggest the Bible argues convincingly when it says God’s invisible qualities are not primarily seen through miracles, but through nature;[12] the heavens declare the glory of God.[13] If the natural universe we inhabit makes God likely, it seems possible that in certain circumstances, God could make exceptions to nature for his own reasons. Given the powerful, creative, and generous God revealed by nature, it seems reasonable to suppose that as our lives hung in the balance in October 1971, God was able and willing to influence the natural function of the car at the right time to save us.

I am Warranted to Claim God Miraculously Saved Our Lives

I think I am warranted to claim knowledge of God’s miraculous intervention on October 21st, 1971. I am rational, and there are good natural arguments for God’s existence. I cannot, however, prove the events were not a coincidence. This remains a possibility. Yet James L. Garlow and Keith Wall observe two helpful points. First, God’s intervention can occur through natural or supernatural events that fulfil his purpose. If the event is also improbable, and is spiritually significant, this suggests God’s possible involvement.[14] Our car’s behaviour seemed highly improbable, and our lives were at stake. Second, Garlow and Wall observe miracles show God’s involvement in nature, and demonstrate his character, resulting in increased faith in God.[15] Following the event in question, my family has experienced this increased faith. Consequently, given the improbability of the event, its spiritual significance, and the increase in faith that has resulted, this suggests our survival that day may have been a divine miracle.


[1] Magdalene Dalziel, Remembering the Clarkston Toll disaster of 1971 – a day Glasgow will never forget, Glasgow Live, 21st October, 2020, https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/history/remembering-clarkston-toll-disaster-1971-19143705.

[2] Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural, (Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2018), 27.

[3] David Hume, “Of Miracles,” in R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R Habermas, In Defence of Miracles A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History, (Leicester:Apollos, 1997), 33.

[4] David Hume, “A Treatise of Human Nature,” in R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 85.

[5] Smith, 87.

[6] Strobel, 88.

[7] C S Lewis, Miracles Do They Really Happen?, (London:William Collins, 1947), 93 – 95, summarized.

[8] Strobel, 88.

[9] Geivett and Habermas, 36.

[10] Geivett and Habermas, 30.

[11] Strobel, 167.

[12] Romans 1:20.

[13] Psalm 19:1.

[14] James L. Garlow and Keith Wall, Miracles are for Real What Happens When Heaven Touches Earth, (Grand Rapids:Bethany House Publishers, 2011), 119-121.

[15] Ibid., 64-65.

Archaeological Support for the Exodus

In my previous blog, I challenged the claim that Moses was a fictional character, a combination of various different characters from fictional mythology. The Usefulcharts YouTube channel claimed in their video that the archaeological evidence did not support the Biblical report of Israelites leaving Egypt, travelling around the desert for decades, till they eventually reached Canaan. I challenged that statement and I pointed out that a few relevant archaeological finds do exist. In this blog, I will list some more artefacts that support aspects of the Old Testament Exodus account.

Why do people claim the Old Testament as fiction? In the 1800’s, the school of higher criticism began to claim that the Old and New Testaments recorded fairy tales. The science of archaeology had not begun at this point, so there was no physical evidence yet to pose a counter argument supporting the Bible. Today – that situation has changed. Archaeological digs are uncovering artefacts supporting many Biblical accounts. Titus Kennedy is a professional field archaeologist and adjunct professor at Biola University. He comments that:

“the degree of historical corroboration between the Bible and the artifacts that have been discovered over the last 150 years is startling, surpassing previous expectations and estimates, and continuing to astonish.”[1]

Titus Kennedy

Higher criticism has entered popular culture today. The Old Testament is viewed by people as fictional and mythological, right? Yet – archaeological digs are uncovering many artefacts from the Ancient Near East which confirm claims made in the Bible. This directly challenges the notion of a mythological Bible. The argument from silence that was made by the higher critics is being shown to be unsustainable. For example, to date the reality of 70 individuals mentioned in the Old Testament have been confirmed thru artifacts discovered by field archaeologists.[2]

Here are four discoveries that are relevant to the Moses account in the Bible:

First – the Papyrus Brooklyn is dated 17th century BC. It contains the names of domestic servants, and some of the names are Hebrew. This supports the idea that Israelites lived in Egypt prior to the Exodus under Moses.[3]

Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah. (Exodus 1:15)

Check out Brooklyn Museum for more details.

Second – Egyptian records show that the Egyptians used Semitic slaves to make bricks. The Louvre Leather Roll records the brick making quotas and potential penalties imposed on the slaves. The Leningrad Papyrus 1116A and a wall painting found in the Valley of the Nobles in Egypt show compulsory labor on public building projects.[4]

You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of bricks which they were making previously, you shall impose on them. (Exodus 5:7-8)

For more, refer to Leather Scroll: Quota for Brick-making, 1274 BCE : Center for Online Judaic Studies (cojs.org).

Third – the Dream Stele. An inscription was found between the paws of the Great Sphynx in Egypt. This text was from Pharaoh Thutmose IV, son if Pharoah Amenhotep II. Thutmose IV was not the natural heir to the throne due to the death of his brother, Amenhotep II’s first born son. The cause of death is not recorded in Egyptian documents. But Thutmose IV fabricates a divine promise to solidify his legitimacy as Pharaoh.[5]

You can find a translation of the Dream Stele here – Dream Stele (Sphinx Stela) | Ancient Egypt Online.

If Amenhotep II was the Pharaoh during the Exodus, his eldest son would have died during the final plague on Egypt.

[Yahweh] struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon. (Exodus 12:29)

Four – the Nomads of YHWH. In Sudan, two Egyptian temples contain reference to the “lands of the nomads of YHWH.” They are the earliest known references to Yahweh, the name of God in the Old Testament. They describe nomadic people living in the wilderness east of Egypt who were enemies of Egypt. They lived in tents. Surely, they nomads must have been living like that for a considerable period for the Egyptians to record their existence? The inscriptions are dated to Late Bronze Age, 1300 BC.[6]

For more, refer to Three Egyptian Inscriptions About Israel – Bible Archaeology Report.

The only ancients known to worship Yahweh were the Israelites, so it follows that these nomads were the Israelites prior to their settlement in Canaan after their Exodus from Egypt. The inscriptions show the Egyptians knew about them.

[Yahweh’s] anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years. (Numbers 32:13)

Conclusion

Sure. It is easy to claim the Old Testament is fiction, but it’s becoming harder to justify that claim. If we think that, then we are ignoring an increasing amount of physical evidence that continues to be found today suggesting otherwise. While it is hard to line up an exact timeline, and difficult to match Egyptian and Israelite texts, the physical artefacts suggest a connection exists between them. They record the same events and peoples. Artefacts cannot by dismissed as mythology or propaganda. These and many more artefacts support the historicity of Old Testament accounts like the Exodus from Egypt.


[1] Titus Kennedy, Unearthing the Bible 101 Archaeological Discoveries that Bring the Bible to Life, (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2020), 239.

[2] Ibid., 238.

[3] Ibid., 48-49.

[4] Ibid., 50-51.

[5] Ibid., 58-59.

[6] Ibid., 60-61.

“Did Moses Exist?” – a Response

A friend pointed me to a video produced by the Usefulcharts YouTube channel this week – Did Moses Exist? Applying the Historical Method. I enjoyed it – it’s well produced, and the communication style is really easy to follow. He makes great use of pictures and…well…charts in his communication. His channel is well named – this is a useful way to communicate complex ideas.

I also appreciated the way he summarises a scholarly approach to history – “The Historical Method.” He refers to the importance of matching texts to archaeology, of seeking multiple sources, recognising genre, and taking notice of the passage of time. He also mentions the need to ask whether a source is “biased.”

Can we know whether something is true? Or are we left to just choose the interpretation we like best to explain an event or a writing from history? The video says – truth is accessible to us. We can know something about the past when we use historical methods. YES! I think he’s 100% on the money here.

For the rest of the video, the author applies these methods to the question, “did Moses actually exist?” In this blog I am going to make a few comments about his application of the Historical Method to the Moses question.

Responding to the Usefulcharts Argument about Moses:

First – he omits consideration of the cultural context of the ancient text. This is an important consideration. Which culture produced these writings, what were they like, and what was the purpose in writing. He does refer to the idea of “literary tropes” which were common at the time the text was originally written. We will come back to that. I think context is crucial in understanding any text. And if you are trying to answer the question, “did Moses exist?” we should include context in the discussion.

Second – his stated aim at the top of the video is to assess whether Moses existed in real life.[1] He says that he will take a historical perspective, and so this means he must restrict the historical data to reports that are only found outside of religious tradition – the Bible, or the Jewish written Torah. He isn’t using the Bible as a source of historical information in this video.

I think this is a misapplication of his historical method. Why would a historian arbitrarily set aside a rich source of information about a culture and the figure under consideration in the video – Moses? Particularly when this source is incredibly ancient, and so dates back to the times when these events occurred? A better approach would be to INCLUDE the Biblical texts, but assess the data we find in there. Perhaps he decided to set scripture aside because – he thinks it is somehow “biased.” I think this is an important misstep – and I will come back to it in a moment.

Also – I think his use of other Ancient Near Eastern writings to make his arguments shows a double standard. He seems happy to refer to the Babylonian record of Sargon of Assad as “an important part of the historical record,” and so is worthy of quoting directly as history.[2] If that is the case, on what grounds can he discount the writings of neighbouring Israel? Why are they not worthy of consideration as part of the historical record?

Third – he points to various competing Moses stories that he says come from the Hellinistic period,  spanning the time between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the birth of the Roman Empire around 31 BC. He seems to assume these competing Moses accounts are as potentially truthful as the Bible’s account of Moses. But they all describe a very different man.

What the video does not admit, however, is that these competing Moses stories are much much later than the Torah accounts. There is evidence that the Torah is much older than these Greek stories. For example, an inscription from the book of Numbers in the Torah has been discovered on metal amulets in Jerusalem that date back to 700 BC, and the Torah writings would have to have been around much longer before that time.[3] So – why does it make sense to treat the later Greek descriptions of Moses on an equal footing with the Torah? Clearly, the Greek accounts were written many hundreds of years after the Torah and the events it describes, in a different culture at a different time and for a different purpose. It is more reasonable to assume the earlier Israelite record is more likely to report who Moses actually was.

Fourth – he spends a lot of time making the argument that, because elements of the story of Moses are found elsewhere in other writings, this means that it is likely that Moses life in the Torah was a fictional account. He has a few examples of this. First, the Babylonian Sargon of Akkad, whose mother put him in a basket of reeds and placed him in the river.[4] He also points to common story tropes of the prince who finds out how hard life is outside the palace, or the hero who runs away and has to come back. He also observes that writings of this time viewed crossings of bodies of water as a metaphor of leaving behind an old life and starting a new one.[5] He likens this to the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus.

There are major problems with this line of reasoning. First, it commits the post hoc fallacy, which says that since Y followed X, this necessarily means X caused Y. Unless there are very good reasons to conclude that X caused Y, it is just not rational to suppose that it must have been so. There appear to be no good reasons to suppose this in the case of Moses. Second – most of the “tropes” the video identifies are very general themes that do crop up in many true historical accounts throughout human history. So – why must we assume the Moses account is fictional if the others are not?

Fifth – there is an assumption that religious sources are biased sources, and so should not be treated as reliable source of history. First – the Israelite nation recorded their religious history as a record of important events in their history. The Torah recorded of the nation’s covenant with Yahweh. This is the context in which the texts were produced. Second – to discount any text as biased (Biblical or otherwise) is to fail to realise that ALL communication from people carries bias. In fact, every person has a biased perspective in life. So – if we follow the video and reject biased accounts, then that means we also have to reject the video! Because he himself also carries bias when he wrote it.

The video’s tacit assumption is that a biased person is not capable of recording historical events. It turns out – the issue is not bias at all. The question is – can biased people (everyone is biased) tell the truth? I think the clear answer to that is – yes. For example, the most important accounts of the Nazi holocaust are from Jewish sources. Does that render them inaccurate? Quite the opposite. The people most interested in an event are likely the most meticulous in recording them.[6] Just because we all carry biases of different kinds does not mean we are unable to be objective. We can be objective. When it is important to us that we record what happened for the next generation to know and understand, we are likely to get details correct. Even though the ancient Israelite approach to historical record is less linear than our modern historical approach, this does not mean it must contain fiction. Israel’s record is likely to reflect what happened within the frame of their approach to history.

Sixth – he claims there is no archaeological evidence of Moses and an exodus from Egypt. But why would we expect to have evidence of the journey of a nomadic people who lived in tents as they travelled? It would seem more likely that we should find archaeological evidence of Israel from Egypt  (where they started from) and the Canaanite areas (where they ended up). The video gives the impression that there is no archaeological evidence – but this is clearly false. Evidence exists in both locations. For example, the Merneptah Stele was discovered in 1896. It is an Egyptian record mentioning Israel which is dated at around 1200 BC. There may be other earlier references to Israel in Egyptian archaeology.[7] Archaeologists have also found evidence supporting the Bible’s claim that Israel conquered Canaan around this time period.[8]

Also – just because we have not found archaeological evidence of Moses today does not mean the evidence does not exist. It just means it has not been found. Absence of evidence is never evidence of absence. There are many examples of Biblical accounts which were thought to be fictional, and yet archaeological evidence supporting the Bible’s account has eventually been found. One example of this is the archaeological evidence for King David in the Bible.[9]

Conclusion:

The video is an interesting discussion around whether Moses and the exodus occurred. He concludes that Moses must have been a composite fictional figure designed as a literary work explaining the origins of Israel.[10]

The idea that a story which forms an important part of a nation’s identity must necessarily contain invention – does not make sense to my mind. It assumes a very base level understanding of the idea of “myth.” But myth’s can be so much more than fictional tales. They can also be stories of actual events that shaped a people’s lives and their culture that take on incredible significance. I think – if you accurately assess the whole historical record for Moses – including Israel’s record – you can arrive at a strong argument proposing that the Torah contains historical accounts of a man called Moses.


[1] Usefulcharts Youtube Channel, Did Moses Exist Applying the Historical Method, youtube, uploaded Feb 19th 2021, accessed May 23rd 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptYz-Vu0dxY, 0:17.

[2] Ibid., 19:23.

[3] Jonathan Morrow, Questioning the Bible 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 102.

[4] Usefulcharts, 19:20.

[5] Usefulcharts, 20:11.

[6] Morrow, 114.

[7] Does the Merneptah Stele Contain the First Mention of Israel, Biblical Archaeological Society, uploaded January 17th, 2012, accessed May 23rd, 2021, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/does-the-merneptah-stele-contain-the-first-mention-of-israel/.

[8] Israel Enters Canaan Following the Pottery Trail, BAS Library, September/October 1991, https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/17/5/2.

[9] The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible, Bible History Daily, uploaded October 18th 2020, accessed May 23rd 2021, https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/the-tel-dan-inscription-the-first-historical-evidence-of-the-king-david-bible-story/.

[10] Usefulcharts, 20:32.

Responding to Confirmation Bias

Sometimes when I am discussing Christianity with internet atheists, the time will come when they kind of throw their hands up in frustration at me. “Oh – you are just blinded by your confirmation bias. I’ve done my best with you.” So – what is “confirmation bias”? Well – it involves cherry picking the best bits for ourselves. It’s about wanting something to be true, and so being unable to see any alternative viewpoint that could call your belief into question. Psychology Today defines it like this:

Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking.[1]

Now – whenever someone accuses me of confirmation bias, I want to scratch my chin in a skeptical way and say, “Hmmm!” Why do I want to do that?

It’s not because I think I am immune from confirmation bias. I know very well that I am not. The reason I become dubious at this point is because the other person has suddenly started talking like THEY are personally immune from the very thing they are accusing me of – confirmation bias!

Here is the thing – EVERYONE is vulnerable to confirmation bias. Whatever view we take, whether we believe God exists or are convinced he does not. The challenge for people when approaching problems and seeking solutions to them is – to minimize the effect of confirmation bias. And – I have worked hard to do this in my own life. I have not done this perfectly, but I want to do this, and I will continue to work at it.

Here are three good ways to reduce the risk of confirmation bias in life:

First – study multiple sides of an issue. This takes time and effort, but it is invaluable. I have spent the last five years studying for two Masters Degrees and – let me tell you – you don’t get far unless you are willing to listen to other people and be willing to respond to their claims. This builds an important skill, and crucially it helps us to reduce the risk that we will fall into confirmation bias again.

Second – think in terms of arguments. I don’t mean stand up rows with people. Rather, by an argument I mean form your position based on logical premises and conclusions that follow from the premises. I’m not saying you can deduce the truth of Christianity this way. But you can form many many cogent inductive arguments that support Christianity’s claims by appealing to every facet of life. From nature, history, science, etc. You can also form many arguments that call Christianity into question, and when you do that, you can form responses to them. This is what I try to do in my writing. Dr. Heshmat from Psychology Today thinks this is a very healthy way to live, because it develops, “the ability to look at the world without looking for instances that please your ego.”[2]

Third – be willing to have your mind changed on an issue. So, someone might say I simply want the Bible to be true, and so I look for things that confirm that desire in an intellectually plausible way. Well – I do think that so far in my life, my work in exploring the evidence for and against the truth of Christianity – makes my decision to BE a Christian the sensible one. I find excellent evidence across the disciplines to support it, and the arguments against the truth of Christianity tend to be much weaker to my mind, relying on a commitment to naturalistic thinking that is not itself justifiable.

So – yes, I stake my life on the truth of Christianity. BUT – I could change my mind on that if there were excellent reasons to do so. If better evidence came to light, for example, against the historical grounding of Christianity. I could overturn my thinking then. That would be the most honest thing to do. But – it would take VERY strong evidence to get me there, better than the evidence from antiquity we currently have. I am not someone who says, “You could never convince me otherwise.” Hey – I’m just little old me. I don’t know everything. I could be mistaken.

To the atheist, I ask the same. The average atheist I encounter is committed to the non-truth of Christianity and will look for anything to bolster their position, however weak the argument is revealed to be on further scrutiny. I would ask of the atheist the same thing I ask of myself. That some circumstance would exist where they could change their mind on the God issue.

Conclusion

In my blog and my podcast I work hard to present arguments rather than just asserting statements. For example, I am not interested in something like, “God exists. Change my mind.” Ok – it’s a popular meme. But its entirely unhelpful. Why? Because it’s about one person with confirmation bias – asking another person to unconvinced them!! This is not a helpful approach to discussing anything. We need to deal in the currency of arguments. And the stronger the argument, the healthier the opinion and the better the discussion. Good, cogent arguments are healthy, and when we think in this way, we resist the temptation of confirmation bias.

Back to internet atheists. The irony is that everyone of these people I have ever spoken to wants to convince me that Christian belief is wrong and God does not exist, or at least there’s not enough evidence to claim that he does. And so anyone who says he does (me) is automatically suspect. Well – my response to this is – enough with assertions. I have read enough internet atheist assertions (like – ‘there is not enough evidence that gods exist,’ or, ‘there’s no evidence the events in the gospels occurred.’) These are bare assertions. Let’s see your argument and let’s be willing together to examine the assumptions of your argument, weigh those assumptions, and have your claims challenged in a rational and respectful way. And when we do – lets recognize together that what we are doing is very good and healthy. Because it challenges the tendency toward confirmation bias in us both.


[1] Shahram Heshmat, What is Confirmation Bias?, Psychology Today, April 23, 2015, accessed 23rd October 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201504/what-is-confirmation-bias.

[2] Ibid.

What do Neanderthals Tell Us about Human Uniqueness?

Both archaeology and palaeontology give evidence for hominid creatures that lived before human beings. For example, the species called Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal) seems to have existed between 200,000 years and 30,000 years ago in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Almost thirty complete skeletons have been discovered.[1] Evidence of Homo sapien (Human) civilization dates back to about 80,000 years and so there is an overlap between Neanderthals and humans in ancient history and there may even be some evidence of interbreeding between these two species in our contemporary human genome.[2]

It is often said that there is an evolutionary connection between Neanderthals and humans. But what if there was a fight for dominance between Neanderthals and humans? Either could have survived. What if both species fought for survival and it just happened to be that the humans won? I think there is good evidence to suggest both these ideas are wrong.

A big reason for saying that is that there is a massive difference in the capability of the first humans in comparison to the Neanderthal. While Neanderthal capabilities were very basic and appear to remain consistent for 100,000 years or more, when humans suddenly appeared they had capacities that far exceeded everything that had come before. Human exceptionalism is evident, the human super-predator, the unique being who is made in God’s image.

 

Use of Fire

There is evidence of charcoal and primitive hearths in Neanderthal sites. But does this mean Neanderthals mastered pyrotechnology? Not to the various researchers who recently concluded that Neanderthals made opportunistic use of natural fire when it became available to them. They used it when it presented itself, rather than had mastery over it. But humans were uniquely able to create and curate fire in a sophisticated way.[3]

 

Creation of Tools

It appears that Neanderthals were able to produce and use tar as an adhesive when making spears. Does this suggest complex cognitive behaviour? The method they used is thought to be very basic and naturally occurring. They would not have to discover a precise method for distilling the tar. Also, when we compare the Neanderthal behaviour to current Chimpanzees and observe they too produce spears from tree branches using a six step process, make stone tools to open nuts, form insect repellent and exploit wildfires. So the Neanderthal behaviour isn’t so exceptional compared to Chimpanzees. [4]

Human behaviour is much more sophisticated, involving analysis of different tar production methods and choosing the most efficient production method for the maximum production yield. Human cognitive ability was superior to Neanderthals.

 

Cooking Food

Humans have always had the capacity to gather, but also to cook our food and to use implements. Based on some chemical residue at a Neanderthal site, Smithsonian paleoanthropologists concluded that the Neanderthals also cooked. But – age could have resulted in the sort of chemical residue. Worse, no grinding implements have been found to prepare matter for cooking, and there is evidence that they had not mastered fire. So – it seems we lack evidence that Neanderthals intentionally cooked their food.[5]

 

Use of Medicine

Humans do medicine. It appears that Neanderthals consumed plants that had no nutritional value, but had anti-inflammatory properties. So perhaps they did have a primitive type of medicine. But so do chimpanzees, who will eat certain leaves to cause vomiting to rid their digestive system of parasites.

 

Cave Paintings

There are many sites dated to between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. But Neanderthals were dying out by then. It seems more likely that humans were the cause of the case paintings. Painted shells have been found which are dated to around 45,000 years ago. Again – this is around the time Neanderthals were disappearing. “All claimed evidence for symbolic activities among Neanderthals is highly debatable. ..currently there is little compelling reason to conclude that Homo neanderthalensis was a symbolic creature in the same sense as modern Homo sapiens.”[6]

 

Symbolic Thought

Many studies have shown evidence suggesting Neanderthals lacked the cognitive sophistication of humans. For example, anthropologists notice human societies have the concept of division of labour, specialization based on sex and age. This promotes economy and allows human society to thrive in harsh environments.

The evidence suggests Neanderthals only hunted large game. By way of contrast, humans hunted a wide variety of creatures and developed many types of tools to assist them and clothing as well. This suggests a division of labour in human society that was lacking in the Neanderthals. It is thought that an inability to divide labour in this way led to small population groupings in fewer locations and the eventual demise of the Neanderthal species.[7]

 

The Use of Language

There is disagreement about whether Neanderthals could speak. Anatomical features remain inconclusive and while the Neanderthal genome appears to contain certain key genes, this doesn’t mean they used language. Animals communicate in many ways, but they don’t use syntactical language in a sophisticated way as humans do.[8]

The evolutionary paradigm doesn’t explain the appearance of language. Often it is linked to the ability of the species to vocalize and make sounds. But humans have a language capability that is independent of vocalization. Vocalization is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for language. The best way to study the appearance of language seems to be through evidence of symbolism and symbolic cognitive capabilities. And this is unique in the record to the human species, appearing around 80,000 years ago. While basic Neanderthal capabilities remained consistent for hundreds of thousands of years, humanity and its language capability appears suddenly.

 

Conclusion

There seems to be a good argument to suggest that humans are exceptional, of a different order from the start. So the idea that humans competed with Neanderthals for survival does not seem to be supported by the evidence. Neanderthals were very limited in their abilities, and when the human super-predator arrived, there was no comparison between them. This is consistent with the Biblical teaching that man alone is made in God’s image – the imago Dei.

Also, the evolutionary ideas of gradual improvement struggle to account for the large sudden appearance of human sophistication. Combining this with the related but different anatomy of human and Neanderthal species, it seems that we must make the data fit the evolution theory rather than the data suggesting an evolutionary connection between humans and Neanderthals. And this is not a good way to explain anything.

 

[1] Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity, 2nd ed, (Covina: RTB Press, 2015),184

[2] Rana and Ross, 267

[3] Dennis M. Sandgathe et al., “Timing of the Appearance of Habitual Fire Use,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 108 (July 19, 2011), E298, doi:10.1073/pnas.1106759108Paul Goldberg et al., “New Evidence on Neandertal Use of Fire: Examples from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV,” Quaternary International 247 (2012), 325–40, doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2010.11.015; Dennis M. Sandgathe et al., “On the Role of Fire in Neanderthal Adaptations in Western Europe: Evidence from Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, France,” PaleoAnthropology (2011), 216–42, doi:10.4207/PA.2011.ART54.

[4] Fazale Rana, Did Neanderthals Make Glue?, Reasons to Believe, January 10, 2018, accessed July 22, 2020, https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2018/01/10/did-neanderthals-make-glue.

[5] Rana and Ross, 315

[6] Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey H Schwartz, “Evolution of the Genus Homo,” Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 37 (2009): 81, quoted in Rana and Ross, 319

[7] Rana and Ross, 321

[8] Rana and Ross, 323

Why Start a New Christian Apologetics Podcast?

During the Coronavirus lockdown, I’ve launched a new 10 episode, weekly podcast. Please check me out!

 

Spotify

Apple Podcasts

 

What’s been the inspiration of my podcast?

Well – I used to do a sales job. I would travel around Europe with a colleague, and we would visit corporate customers in the hope that they would buy our (excellent) software products. I enjoy travel, and I enjoy talking to people. It was – in so many ways – a perfect job.

But there was a lot of downtime in that job. Airports to wait in, restaurants to eat in, hotels to use. When we weren’t towing our employer’s party line…there was lots of time to talk about other things. Usually, the subject of Christianity came up. Why? Because I’m a Christian and I like discussing the reasons why that makes sense.

The podcast – RESPOND – is inspired by those sorts of conversations that happened on my sales trips. Its all about a discussion for why Christianity makes sense! You can find it on Spotify and Apple podcasts…

 

Someone might ask – “Why do we need another podcast dedicated to the subject of Christian Apologetics?” Well – why do we need a new podcast about anything? If a topic is worth talking about – then it seems to me its worth sharing opinions on.

 

BUT – I think there are four particular reasons why this blog is important, and why another Apologetics podcast is useful. Here they are:

 

FIRST – Because the Bible Commands It

Now – I don’t mean that they predicted blogging or podcasting in the first century. Of course not. But what I DO mean…is that they encouraged Christians to put forward the claims of Christianity clearly, and be willing to discuss these claims with the unconvinced. Where does it say that?

Here are three examples:

“…I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 3)

In the first century, they might have contended in the Synagogue, or the marketplace. Today we might contend in the comments section underneath the blog or the podcast. Is it really that different…?

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

How we talk about these matters…matters! Robust conversation and the challenging of bad ideas is important, but its got to be done in a respectful way. And when the other person replies with rude comments? Hey – it teaches you a sense of humour.

“In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

There’s a sense that – Christianity always demands a defence, like in a court of law. People seem hardwired to attack the claims Christianity makes. And so – a response is required. This is what this blog, and the podcast is all about. But – again – notice that the heart behind this response is respectful. I’m sure I won’t always achieve that, and I may need to apologise if I get it wrong, but respect is my aim.

 

Here’s the bigger point tho. If Christians aren’t making a case for the truth of Christianity, they are disobeying the teaching of the Bible! So – it’s important that these blogs and podcasts exist. They make the case, and they help other Christians to make the case themselves. Which sounds like a win-win to me.

 

 

The second reason for another apologetics podcast? Because culture demands it

It seems to me that Western culture is steeped in three toxic ideologies.

Relativism, the idea that there is no absolute truth. The cry of the relativist is, “Who are you to enforce your morality on me?”

Pluralism, the idea there’s no exclusive truth. “So, how can Jesus be the only way?”

Naturalism, the idea that there’s no supernatural truth. “Hasn’t science proven that miracles are impossible?”

 

Christianity challenges culture on all three of these points. And frankly – our culture needs to be challenged this way. Christian apologetics is one route to doing so.

 

Third – the Christian Church needs it

The church is only a generation away from extinction. So, how do we help the next generation from drifting away? Well – an important way of doing that is through Christian apologetics. Showing the truth of Christianity in a clear and compelling way.

 

Fourth – the Results Confirm It

Many people have become Christians as a result of these sorts of discussions about the rational grounding to the Christian faith. One of the most famous Christians of the 20th century, C S Lewis, was a formidable intellect, earning multiple highest honours degrees from Oxford University. He lost his childhood Christian faith, but it was Christian apologetics which led him back to Christianity. Discussing these matters with his Christian friends, one of whom was J. R. R. Tolkien.

 

 

So – do we need another Christian apologetics podcast? Yep – we do. Give it a listen please, and give me some feedback. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

 

Could Jesus’ Resurrection Have Been a Cunning Lie?

Is it possible that the event which launched Christianity in the first century, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, was actually an elaborate lie staged by one man? A lie that influenced countless people down through the centuries? After Jesus’ crucifixion, did the disciple Peter simply invent a story about seeing the risen Christ? And did this lie result in the fabricated reports of the resurrection that appeared in the writings of Paul (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15) and the later gospels?

That’s the foundational claim of the book “The Christianity Myth,” which seeks to reframe first century Christian history in the light of a simple but highly influential fabrication. The author, Ken Thackery, assumes a fundamental difference exists between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Historically, Ken says Jesus existed, but the Christ preached by the church has always been a fabrication. Ken says “obviously this historical Jesus wasn’t resurrected in Jerusalem after his crucifixion,” and “…the New Testament evidence is therefore based entirely on Peter’s uncorroborated & unverified claims, the veracity of which has never been independently established.”[1]

This idea cuts to the heart of the matter for the Christian apologist. Often, when someone seeks to prove Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, one of the main lines of evidence are the New Testament writings themselves. Yet Ken says we must throw them all out, because they are clearly infected by this fabricated idea – the resurrection of Jesus.

 

1 – Some Questions

Clearly, Ken’s ideas raise lots of questions. For example, if the early Christian experiences reported in the New Testament are based on fabrications, why would people believe a lie that Peter allegedly told about Jesus’ resurrection in the first place? Particularly since this resurrection idea would have been alien to ancient Judaism, so why would it have been compelling to Jewish people if there was no evidence for it? Also, why were these lies about Jesus’ supposed resurrection so carefully documented anyway?

Here’s a bigger question.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, why would Peter put himself in danger by claiming that he was? Jerusalem was not a safe place for the friends of Jesus after his crucifixion. If the authorities had executed their leader, they would pursue any Jesus follower who decided to continue Jesus’ mission. We actually have evidence from the historian Josephus that this happened to other Jewish Messiah candidates. How interesting though, that in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the executed Messiah’s mission continued and spread despite the danger facing anyone who publicly proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But if Ken is right that Christianity is built on a lie, why would anyone want to put themselves in harm’s way by doing that?

Of course Ken’s answer is, they didn’t. This is all just a story, fabricated to give later Christian converts a plausible grounding for their Christian faith. He says, “converts would eventually want to know more about Jesus’ life before his crucifixion, and it was this growing need to know more about Jesus, that eventually triggered the appearance of many gospels. These gospels, all appearing after the death of all concerned were just local attempts to provide Jesus’ missing biographical details for the benefit of their pagan converts.”[2] Perhaps Ken would go on to say no one in first century Jerusalem believed in Jesus’ resurrection, it was all made up many years later for an eager audience of later Christian believers?

Well – if that is the case, then I would ask, what do we do with the first and second century evidence that supports the claim that the disciple Peter did not just put himself in harm’s way after Jesus’ crucifixion, he was willing to suffer and die for his first-hand personal witness of the physically risen Jesus? And – what do we make of the evidence that he was actually martyred in Rome for doing so?

What I’m saying is this. You could understand other people giving their lives for something they only thought was true. But Ken says Peter knew Jesus resurrection was false. If Peter was the only one who genuinely knew that Jesus’ resurrection was a lie, then why would he personally put himself through danger, suffering, and death for his own lie?

Now – Ken doesn’t seem to think Peter was martyred. He says, “The actual facts of the apostles is unknown and Peter’s alleged death in Rome is not backed up by reliable evidence.”[3] If Peter wasn’t martyred, then we can’t point to his willingness to die as confirmation that Jesus was raised from the dead.

But hang on. Is Ken right? Let’s test his claim that we cannot know with certainty that Peter was martyred for his Christian beliefs.

 

2 – Evidence for the Martyrdom of the Apostle Peter

The traditional understanding of Peter’s fate is that he was martyred in Rome under Nero’s reign in AD 64 – 67. How strong is the evidence for this traditional understanding? It turns out that there are many sources that support this idea from the first and second century. This is important because these sources were written “in living memory” of Peter.

In his doctoral dissertation, Sean McDowell examines the literary evidence from antiquity that supports the martyrdom of Peter.[4]

First – the New Testament itself. In John 21:18-19, Jesus cryptically predicts Peter’s execution, though no details are given. 2 Peter 1:12-15 records Peter writing from Rome in the knowledge that his death is imminent.

Second – 1 Clement 5:1-4. Written in the first century, this is believed to come from the church leader in Rome and written to the church in Corinth. Clement assumes Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around AD60 as common knowledge. “This is Peter, who … bore up under hardships not just once or twice, but many times; and having thus borne his witness he went to the place of glory that he deserved.”[5] Skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman says, “By the end of the first century and into the second it was widely known among Christians that Peter had suffered a martyr’s death. The tradition is alluded to in the book of 1 Clement.”[6] McDowell says, “at the very least, this passage provides evidence that Peter and Paul were considered examples of faithful endurance for the Gospel, even in the midst of suffering, until their deaths.”[7]

Third – the writings of Ignatius, a Christian leader from the second century who was also martyred. Two writings are important:

  • Letter to the Romans 4:3 – Ignatius faces his impending martyrdom, and he seems to assume both Peter and the apostle Paul were also martyred before him.
  • Letter to the Smyrneans 3:1-2 – this letter presupposes the martyrdom of many of the apostles, including Peter.

Fourth – The Apocalypse of Peter. This is a work attributed to Peter, but the real author is unknown (it is a pseudepigraphal work). Yet it is dated to the first half of the second century and is thought to be built around a historical core of data, providing “early attestation for the martyrdom of Peter in Rome under Nero.”[8]

Fifth – The Ascension of Isaiah. Like the Apocalypse of Peter, this is a pseudepigraphal work dated early in the second century. It refers to an apostle who fell into Nero’s hands and, since it was written in living memory of Peter, the readers would know who was being referred to here. While it doesn’t explicitly state Peter was martyred, it implies it happened in Rome.

Sixth – The Acts of Peter. Dated toward the end of the second century, this work contains legendary material, a historical novel. Yet scholars note that the authors did not just make material up. Rather, they were bound by received tradition and memory of events, including the martyrdom of Peter.

Seventh – The Apocryphon of James. This pseudonymous text is dated to before AD314, and it shows that “by the end of the second century at the earliest, the crucifixion of Peter was assumed by both Orthodox and Gnostic circles alike.” [9]

Eighth – Dionysius of Corinth. This was a pastoral letter written around AD170 to encourage the Corinthian church. He mentions the martyrdoms of both Peter and Paul, and the historian Eusebius uses Dionysius’ work as confirmation that both apostles died under the reign of Nero.

Ninth – Irenaeus, Against Heresies. Written at the end of the second century to challenge Gnosticism, he references the deaths of Peter and Paul in Rome. The tradition of their martyrdoms was strong, and so in this text, a reference is clearly being made to it.

Tenth – Tertullian, Scorpiace 15, written in AD208 (early third century). He is confident in Peter’s martyrdom in Rome, and encourages the reader to check the archives of the empire if they doubt this fact.

On top of the surviving texts attesting to Peter’s martyrdom, crucially there is no competing narrative from antiquity that presents a different explanation for Peter’s fate.

 

3 – Conclusion

There is therefore firm historical support for the Christian martyrdom of the apostle Peter from many different sources. And this makes Peter’s martyrdom as firm an event as any from antiquity. Unless we are to believe that not only is the New Testament fabricated, but all of this historical record as well. But this strains incredulity, I think.

So – the question remains. If Ken is right and Christianity is built on a lie, why would Peter choose to die for his own lie?

Here’s another possible interpretation of the historical record.

Jesus’ resurrection is not a lie. It is an event from history. God did raise Jesus supernaturally from the dead, and this event contributed to the changing of Peter and the other apostles from frightened defeated followers into brave and confident proclaimers of the resurrected Christ. This put them on a direct collision course with the same authorities who executed Jesus. Yet they were willing to put their lives on the line in spite of this danger. They were willing to “suffer and die for their first-hand witness of the risen Jesus – this is of foremost importance. The evidence shows that some really died as martyrs, and that none recanted.”[10]

[1] Ken Thackery, The Christianity Myth, https://keebostick.wordpress.com/2020/02/28/the-revised-christianity-myth/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sean McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus, (London: Routledge, 2015), 55 – 92.

[5] 1 Clement 5:4.

[6] Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary, quoted in McDowell, The Fate of the Apostles.

[7] McDowell, 73.

[8] Ibid., 78.

[9] Ibid., 87.

[10] Ibid., 259.

Are the Jesus Stories Originally from Egyptian Mythology?

Zeitgeist is a German word referring to both time (zeit) and spirit (geist). The spirit of the times are the popular and influential ideas that are going around. When the Zeitgeist movie was released online in 2007, it gives voice to renewed scepticism about religion in general and Christianity in particular.

It states that the Jesus story we find written in the New Testament is essentially a re-hash of earlier myths about dying and rising Gods. The Jesus of faith wasn’t a real person, rather he was an idea cooked up by people in the past. Here’s a taste of what it says:

 

“Horus … He is the Sun God of Egypt of around 3000 BC. He is the sun anthropomorphized… Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east … three kings followed [this] to locate and adorn the new-born saviour. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry…he was crucified … buried … and resurrected.”[1]

If this story sounds like the Jesus story, Zeitgeist says you are wrong. It is actually the story of the Egyptian Sun God Horus, who’s story was supposedly repurposed by the Christian church and attributed to the later Jesus of Nazareth.

This idea has a big problem.

Actually – this IS the Jesus story which has been mistakenly applied BACKWARDS onto the character of Egyptian mythology – Horus. This would be a bit like claiming the events from Charles Dicken’s life did not happen. Rather, they were actual events from the life of Ebenezer Scrooge (the character from the book A Christmas Carol) that were passed off as events from Dicken’s life. That’s a pretty absurd claim! Right?

If you think Zeitgeist summarises the Christian story, it’s because it does. But, it does NOT properly recount the Egyptian myth, and it anachronistically and incorrectly imposes historical reports about Jesus onto a mythological Egyptian character called Horus.

 

Chris Forbes is Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University in Sydney. He’s an expert in ancient myths. And – he has a number of interesting things to say about the mistaken claims of the Zeitgeist movie. You can find a useful interview with Chris here.

 

First – Horus is not an Egyptian sun God. He was the God of the sky. The sun God was Raa. So Zeitgeist’s play on words (sun God vs son of God) is just pointless and irrelevant.

Second – The mother of Horus was Isis, but there’s no evidence in the Egyptian sources that she was a virgin.

Third – Egyptians would not date Horus’s birth as December 25th, because they used a completely different calendar. December is a Latin month, and so a foreign idea to ancient Egypt.

Fourth – Horus wasn’t crucified and raised from the dead. He wasn’t killed at all. Rather, in this particular myth, it was Osiris who was killed by his brother Set, who dismembered him and hid the pieces around ancient Egypt so they could not be reconstituted again. Isis gathers the pieces, binds them together again with bandages, and so Osiris becomes the first Egyptian mummy that all the rest relate to.

Fifth – the Horus, Isis and Osiris events are not recorded in historical time. Rather, Egyptian mythology is understood to have happened in a kind of dream time, or mythology. By contrast, the New Testament and the reports of Jesus are clearly presented as a historical account.

Sixth – no serious historian doubts that Jesus of Nazareth existed and was crucified by the Romans in the first century. There is debate around whether the Bible’s description of him is correct. But – that he lived is beyond serious consideration. Horus, on the other hand, is a well understood myth.

Seventh – the sources used by the writers of the Zeitgeist movie are not qualified to make their assertions. For example, Gerald Massey is an English Poet and amateur Egyptologist. He’s not a professional historian. And this hurts the credibility of the film and its claims. When you actually check proper references and compare them with the claims that Zeitgeist makes, you can see that actually it is just talking nonsense.

[1] Zeitgeist: The Movie, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrHeg77LF4Y.

Responding to Extreme, Religious Covid-19 Reactions

I hope you are well, and this difficult period is allowing you some opportunities to rest. But if you are actually one of the workers during this partial lockdown period – thank you for your service! Stay well.

 

I’ve noticed over the past few days an increase in the volume of some quite extreme Christian groups. These groups seem to say things ranging from:

1 – true Christians will keep meeting in their churches despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

to

2 – this virus is a punishment from God

to

3 – true Christians will be immune to this virus

 

True Christians Will Keep Going To Church Despite Covid-19

An example of the first one is a quote I saw from Matthew Schmitz who said, “Unless religious leaders reopen the churches, they will appear to value earthly above eternal life.”[1] In his article, Matthew seems to rail against the way Christian churches have stopped holding public services. He views this response as basically stating that, “church is a non-essential service. We are capable of taking prudent measures to keep our supermarkets open, but not our sanctuaries.”[2] His opinion is that by doing so, the church views church as a non-essential service.

This reaction seems very strange to me. My own home church in Gloucester, and other churches I interact with in the UK and US, have adapted to the Coronavirus situation by conducting services online. They are working hard to grapple with the technology required to make this happen. If anything – I am seeing church leaders working much much harder to keep the heart of their church community moving forward, even if it is only virtual for now. I saw one hilarious tweet last week – “And just like that, we’ve all become tele-evangelists.” Well – yes, but rather in a positive and community affirming way.

I also know that churches are stepping up their services to folks in their local communities during this lockdown period. Churches in Gloucester (Kingfisher church included) are seeking to help the vulnerable by delivering food parcels to doorsteps. And, to provide increasing online support groups to the vulnerable – and I include everyone in that group. For myself, my Christian Apologetics group has moved online, and it is busier than ever.

So – I don’t share Matthew Schmitz’s opinion. Churches who value their members health – and also feel it important to set a Godly example by respecting the authority of national government – are right to move from in person to remote services. This shows the adaptability of Christian communities, a respect for authority, and consideration for believers and non-believers in our society. This does not devalue the Christian gospel. Rather, it applies the timeless principles to a new cultural moment.

 

The Virus is Punishment from God

I’ve also encountered Pastors who are calling this crisis out as an example of the wrath of God. Except doing so requires them to appeal to very time-specific events reported in the Old Testament that relate to periods of history unconnected to today. I’ve yet to hear any of them justify why any of those events have anything whatsoever to do with Covid-19.

So – my advice is – if you notice the book of Ezekiel talks about pestilence and what God thought about it, don’t assume that this has anything to say to events today.

 

True Christians Will Be Immune from the Virus

Margaret Court has reportedly claimed that “the blood of Jesus will protect the faithful in her church from the virus.”[3] The problem with this idea is it is completely foreign to historic Christianity. John Dickson observes this is actually root in the health and prosperity gospel. On the cross Jesus did not just take our sins upon himself, he also took our ailments too, so we don’t have to be physically unwell. This is a modern phenomenon and is not found either in the Bible or in church history.

The Bible

Ancient Israel was given specific promises in Deuteronomy about their wellbeing in the land if they hold to God’s promises. But there’s no evidence these specific promises would apply to other nations later in history, and the new covenant. In the New Testament, we are taught that everyone shares in human weakness and frailty. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:23, “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” There is no evidence that Christians would be immune from this. So the Bible contradicts the health and prosperity gospel.

Church History

History contradicts it too. There have been many pandemics since the birth of Christianity, and these tend to show the church’s willingness to put itself in harm’s way to serve the needs of the suffering. For example, in 250AD, Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, led the church through a 10 year empire wide pandemic. Yet he gave no hint that Christians would be immune from the disease in his writings. Like the pastors of today, moving to online services, he wrote hundreds of sermons down so that his suffering people could read and be encouraged in their suffering. In his work Mortality, he warned the Christians against expecting special protection in this fallen world:

“we should have no fear, no dread at the storms and whirlwinds of the world, since the Lord predicted that these things … It disturbs some that the power of this Disease attacks our people equally with the heathens, as if the Christian believed for this purpose, that he might have the enjoyment of the world and this life free from the contact of ills; and not as one who undergoes all adverse things here and is reserved for future joy…So long as we are here in the world, we are associated with the human race in fleshly equality, but are separated in spirit. Therefore until this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal receive immortality, and the Spirit lead us to God the Father, whatsoever are the disadvantages of the flesh are common to us with the human race.”[4]

Cyprian flatly contradicts the claims of the modern prosperity gospel. Christians are no more immune to this disease than anyone else. And – he encouraged those at his time who were discouraged that they were not immune. What Christians do have are two things:

First – the promise of eternal glory after death.

Second – a gratitude of spirit that motivates them to serve and support the suffering people in this world, whatever the physical outcome for themselves in the here and now.

It seems to me that the churches I am engaged with today are a lot closer to Cyprian’s ideas, then the modern prosperity gospel ideas that sadly pervades Christianity today. And – I’m happy and encouraged that is so.

 

[1] Matthew Schmitz, Church As a Non-Essential Service, First Things, Published 27th March 2020, accessed 30th March, 2020, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/03/church-as-a-non-essential-service.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Dickson, Pandemic Equality Single, Undeceptions Podcast.

[4] Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 7, Mortality, New Advent, accessed 30th March, 2020, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050707.htm.