Category Archives: Non-canonical writings

So-called “Exalted Patriarchs” and Early Christology

What comes to mind when you think of Job?

Probably his innumerable sufferings, his insufferable friends, his desire to speak to God, and his dust-and-ashes when God speaks back.

But what probably does not come to mind is this:

Job said to his friends, “Be silent! Now I will show you my throne and the glory and the majesty that is among the holy ones. My throne is in the upper-cosmos, and its glory and majesty is from the right hand of the Father. The whole world will perish and its glory will be destroyed, and those who cling to it will partake in its overthrow. But my throne exists in the holy land, and its glory is in the era of the unchanging. … My kingdom is forever and ever, and its glory and majesty exists in the chariots of the Father.”

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New Book on OT/NT Canon and Text

In late 2018 (in the UK), Christian Focus released my short book entitled How We Got the Bible. It is part of their “Christian Pocket Guides” series of books that target an educated layperson / pastor / student audience with accessible but still academically-rich content.

In this short volume (~107 pages), I try to distill down to the essentials the vast landscape of issues pertaining to how Scripture came together and made it to the present day church.

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Why “We Three Kings” is Stuck in My Head

The Gospel Coalition reached out a few weeks ago to ask if I’d like to do a brief post on the ‘three wise men.’ Thousands of words later, I found myself trying to cut to the marrow in order to say something helpful and thorough on the subject. Throughout the process the classic hymn “We Three Kings of Orient Are” keeps popping in my head (almost as if it knew I was undermining nearly every word in the title).

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ETS2017 Paper on Inspired Use of Diverse Sources

This morning I presented as part of the New Testament Canon, Textual Criticism, and Apocryphal Literature Section of this years meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The section is chaired by Dr. Michael Kruger (RTS-Charlotte) and Dr. Stan Porter (McMaster). It was a privilege to be a part of the session along with my other NT colleague, Dr. Charles Hill.

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Autumn Seminar: Why These Books? Intro to OT and NT Canon

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 10.30.44 PMChrist Church Cambridge is hosting a variety of seminars (see full listing) this autumn, covering a range of biblical and church-related topics. I am leading a 4-week series covering how and why we consider the biblical books authoritative for faith and practice. Specifically, we will be covering the following questions, among others:

  1. What exactly is canon, and why does it matter?
  2. Who “picked” the books (if anyone), and on what grounds?
  3. Who decided we needed a canon in the first place, and who “closed” it?
  4. Why are some books considered part of the biblical canon and not others?
  5. Why do the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches have different canons?
  6. What are we to make of all the other works that are roughly contemporaneous with the OT/NT but which were not received as canonical?
  7. How can we know we have accurate copies of the right books?

The seminar audios and handouts for each class will be posted below as they become available. If you would like the full set of teaching notes, feel free to email me.

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Abortion in the Scrolls and the Didache

I realized on Friday of last week that I was late to the dance, but I believed it was important to dance at least one number on the issue of the sanctity of life. The annual American time of observing Sanctity of Life Sunday among Christian churches was celebrated last Sunday, but as it is not a British thing, I missed out entirely until I saw a few news items halfway through the week.

At present it seems that most Christians are still, for now at least, largely in agreement that the murder of unborn children in the name of the so-called reproductive freedom of enlightened (mostly) Western women who want out of an “unplanned pregnancy” (because, let’s face it, that’s the bulk of what is going on and the core line of reasoning of the pro-abortionist faction; the difficult exception cases pertaining to the endangerment of the mother, incest, or rape are exactly that: difficult exception cases) is nothing less than moral insanity on all levels. Entirely cogent arguments against elective abortion have been offered time and time again from both the perspective of the Bible (Protestants being strong here) as well as from the perspective of natural law (Roman Catholics being strong here). For many many Christians, the whole logic behind the “pro-choice” movement in favor of murdering 50 million persons (1973-2008; add another 10 mil. or more since then) who happen to be in utero is completely and utterly incomprehensible.

Among the mob that is so strongly arguing for abortion there often arises a peculiar attempt at undermining the Christian case against it: namely, that the Bible does not contain a clear command against abortion. In a lot of ways, it’s an absurd claim: the Bible condemns murder (implied: of innocent persons) in the 6th commandment (Exod 20:13); numerous passages discuss the personhood of infants in the womb (Job 10:8ff; Ps 139:13ff; others); and Exod 21:22–25, the great lex talionis provision containing the “eye for an eye” passage, is focused specifically on what should happen when someone injures or kills the unborn baby of a pregnant woman.[1]

Based on straightforward biblical reasoning, the case is completely closed. However, not everyone reasons biblically, and the question still remains – just Google “Does the Bible prohibit abortion” and you’ll get ~329,000 results (literally). The main reason, of course, is that the Bible doesn’t have the explicit language “Do not commit abortion.” Thus, bizarrely, some people conclude that the Bible has nothing to say about abortion.

The Christian reply often runs as follows:

“The Bible does not explicitly condemn abortion because the writers did not see the need to do so. NO ONE at that time who held to the ethics of the Israelite religion or, later, Christianity even entertained abortion as a legitimate possibility (though many people groups around them did regularly practice abortion), so there was no need for the prohibition.”

This line of argumentation, while in my opinion entirely correct, is apparently not entirely persuasive to everyone, since it seems to be making an argument from silence.

Or is it?

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The Biggest Lost Sheep

Too Big to Fail.

Screen shot 2014-01-18 at 10.24.20 PMThus is titled a best-selling book (and HBO movie) about the bailout of several major US banks during the economic collapse of the late 2000s. [Side trail: how many people even remember that whole sequence? I was working in the financial sector then, afraid of losing my own job, and even now I have trouble remember all the details: who bought whom, who collapsed, who merged, etc. We need a new syndrome to replace Attention Deficit Disorder: “How Mass and Social Media Keep Us Entertained and Ruin Our Memory by Shuffling Major Story after Major Story Until They All Run Together and We Cannot Remember Anything that Happened 3 Hours Ago, Let Alone 3 Years Ago.” But HMSMKUEROMSMSAMSUTARTWCRAH3HALA3YA is a horrible acronym, and probably hard to remember. Wait, what was I talking about. Let me check Twitter again…]

Anyhow, the whole premise of the book, the movie, and, frankly, the historical reality upon which they were based is simple: some banks were so big and so important that they deserved to be rescued – in fact, they had to be rescued – at whatever cost, even if it meant losing a lot of other things along the way (taxpayer dollars, other banks, other industries, international reputation, etc.). In other words, only the biggest things – because they are the biggest – are worth striving to save and rescue when the going gets tough.

Sometimes it feels like that with the Lord. Fortunately God does not operate on that principle.

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On Not Being Mary’s Baby’s Daddy

There should be a support group for teenagers who grew up in the nineties before the Internet and Dish Network came along to provide a wider array of wholesome entertainment outlets during the long summer afternoons when you had nothing else to do but turn on the television and watch the major networks’ star-studded 3pm-5pm lineup of pre-Dr. Phil talk shows: Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Geraldo Riviera (before it became just Geraldo), Ricki Lake, and whatever that lady’s name was who looked like she was on the Golden Girls.

Of the many psychologically damaging things one could observe on those shows – which, I suppose, in an odd way anticipated the bizarreness of most “reality” shows today in how they exposed the worse of the human condition on live-ish TV – the most prevalent was the paradigm for how a baby-daddy should respond when the paternity test comes back implicating him. (Note: I believe that is the only time in recorded history that “paradigm” has been used with reference to Jerry Springer). The formula involves (a) denial, (b) yelling, (c) name-calling, (d) more denial, (e) attempted punch by the baby-mommy who is restrained somewhat too late by the security professionals, (f) swearing, (g) scurrilous accusations by the baby-mommy’s friend or sister or cousin, who is also on stage, (h) booing from the audience, (i) cut to commercial break, (j) some ridiculously forced reconciliation by the show host and / or someone storming off set, whichever comes first.

The emotional scarring of my mid-90s adolescence aside, this all makes me think of how Joseph must have reacted when he found out that “before they came together Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).

[Yes, believe it or not, with that high-class introduction, this is a Christmas-themed post after all.]

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The Harry Potter Jesus

This evening, I gathered our children around for our Advent devotionals, and I began sharing some of the great stories of Jesus as a small boy in Nazareth. Pulling down one of the Jesus storybooks we have on the shelf, I began reading:

“When Jesus was six, he was playing with his cousin John and his half-brother James, who sort of resented him, and they began making mud pies in the back alley behind Joseph’s carpenter shop. Some poor peasants came walking by, and Jesus, taking pity upon them, spoke to the pies and transformed them into real beef pot pies. He then gave them to the peasants, who went away rejoicing and telling all their neighbors about the great things that had happened.”

“A few years later, Jesus was playing a game with his friends on the playground, and one of them stumbled over a rock on the edge of the field, fell into a crevasse, and was instantly bitten by a viper. The teachers could not figure out how to help him, as he was quickly dying, and Jesus calmly approached. ‘Oh you teachers of little faith. How long must I endure this school?’ And he spoke to the boy, and he was instantly healed. The classmates were amazed, but some of the jocks said, ‘He has a demon.'”

“When Mary heard all these things, she treasured them up in her heart.”

Then we sang a few Christmas carols and called it a night.

Wait … WHAT?

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