Tag Archives: New Testament

Naked Bible Podcast Episode 176: Hebrews 1:5-14

The writer of Hebrews builds on his assertions that the particular son of God (Jesus) who was the agent of creation, eternal wisdom, and the essence of God, by comparing him to other supernatural sons of God (angels). But what does a phrase like “You are my son, today I have begotten you” mean? Does this mean Jesus was a created being? This episode notes the use of this phrase and other Old Testament passages utilized by the writer of Hebrews to explore its actual meaning. Along the way, the episode discusses two links in Hebrews 1 to the Deuteronomy 32 worldview and the divine council.

There was a special deal from Logos Mobile Ed associated with this episode:  Get 40% off Dr. Heiser’s Jewish Trinity course. Limited Time Offer.
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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 5

This is the 5th and final post in a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher

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This is the final post in this series, and I draw a number of conclusions here. At the end, I list all the works that I referenced in this series, in case I missed one earlier. This has been a great opportunity to read through these texts again and think through the issues and the claims that I make here. Thanks to Mike and all of you for your openness!

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS

The first major finding of this study was that cosmology was often linked to liturgy in such a way that it could be considered an indicator of the kind of worship that was practiced. Cosmology includes the description of heaven and beings in it, and their relationship to those on the earth (and under it).  There were two primary cosmologies used by these groups:  the biblical cosmology and the platonic cosmology. In the biblical cosmology, there are three basic levels to the universe (heaven, earth, and the underworld), as opposed to seven in the Hellenistic cosmologies. For instance, Aune writes,

It is striking that Revelation does not reflect more specifically the cosmology typical of the Hellenistic and Roman period, in which the cosmos was thought to consist of seven heavens.  Paul’s account of his own ascent to the third heaven reflects a cosmology of at least three heavens (2 Cor 12:1-5). John knows only a single heaven as the dwelling place of God and his angels. This older cosmology consisted of a three-tiered universe consisting of heaven above, earth in the middle, and the underworld beneath (the three-tiered universe is also reflected in several apocalypses, including the five apocalypses that constitute 1 Enoch, the Testament of Abraham, and the Apocalypse of Ezra . . . .)  The earth itself was thought to be a flat disk surrounded on all sides by water. Below the earth was the underworld, which was the realm of the dead, called Sheol by the Israelites but Hades by the Greeks.  Above the earth was the vault of heaven containing the heavenly bodies and, in the highest place, God and his angelic entourage. The new cosmology that developed during the Hellenistic period, and quickly displaced older cosmologies, regarded the earth as a sphere . . . .  The earth was thought to be a stationary center surrounded by seven planets (including the sun and moon), each of which moved in its own sphere . . . .  The earth was at the same time the ‘innermost’ as well as the ‘lowest’ part of the cosmos . . . .  God was thought to dwell in the highest heaven or sphere, usually the seventh or eighth heaven (Corpus Hermeticum 1.26), with various supernatural beings located at various levels below him. (David Aune, Revelation 1—5, 318).

The mystical belief of “worship=ascending to heaven,” which was first a part of Jewish and later Gnostic (and still later, Christian) mystical groups, seems to have built on the Platonic cosmology of various levels Plato described in Timaeus.  Timaeus was the standard work for much of the ancient world about the cosmology of heaven and earth.  In it, the astronomer/philosopher who sees the stars and understands the cosmology is the hero.  Margaret Barker has argued (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that this work reflects First Temple Judaism (via Pythagorus). More helpful is Gordon Lathrop, who has pointed out significant parallels between the blind man in Timaeusand the blind man (his name in Aramaic is “Bar-Timaeus,” which Mark carefully explains means “the son of Timaeus”) in Mark’s gospel.

At the junction of the two major parts of the Second Gospel, between the Gospel’s ‘Galilee’ and its ‘Jerusalem,’ exactly between the ministry narratives and the passion story, there stands the account of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52).  He is called ‘the son of Timaeus.’  The name itself strikes us at least three ways.  First, this is the only recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus in the entire Gospel who is given a name at all.  The name matters.  Second, the name is intensified, this patronymic being repeated both in Greek and in Aramaic. . . .  And third, as many commentators have noted, the name is very hard to place in a Jewish context.  It is not a recognized, current Hebrew or Aramaic name.  . . .  It is a Greek name and, in fact, one with a very specific and recognizable history.  Here is the ‘son’ of Timaeus, Plato’s Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere.  This cry for help occurs at the very place, structurally, that the lament of the blind man occurs in the Timaeus:  at the juncture of the two major parts of the book. (Gordon Lathrop, 30-31).

Unlike Plato’s blind man who laments without hope, Bar-Timaeus abandoned his cloak (perhaps a philosopher’s cloak?) and came to Jesus.  After calling Jesus “my teacher,” he received sight and followed Jesus “in the way” (Mark 10:52).

It occurs at a place that corresponds, in the Timaeus, to the ethical culmination of the argument, to the turning of the consideration of all things toward the ordering of the life of the wise.  Only now the wise—together with everyone else—are invited to the wise folly of the cross. (Lathrop, 33)

A second difference between the two cosmologies is the population of heaven.  In the biblical cosmology, not only is God in heaven, but there is a core group of the heavenly host that works closely with God.  The core group in the biblical model is known as the divine council (DC) or divine assembly, and is found in many places throughout Scripture.  “One of the central cosmological symbols of the Old Testament is the imagery of the divine council and . . . the issues of order in Israel and in the cosmos are rooted in and understood as under the aegis of the divine council” (P. Miller, 423) It is not an exaggeration to say that the DC may be the most important hermeneutical guide for understanding celestial worship, whether in ancient Jewish or early Christian theologies. Even some Gnostic texts adopted an eclectic approach and incorporated a heavenly assembly into their doctrine, while still relying primarily on the Platonic model. In the original Platonic model, there is no such core group of “helpers.”  Instead, there are the Ideals.

A lexical study of the words used for the DC includes, among others, the Hebrew words qahal (“congregation”), ‘edah “assembly”), and most importantly, sod(“council”).    The sod was a group of elohim that worked closely with Yahweh. The term sod was also applied to righteous, human worshipers on earth in some texts.

Those beings in his council (sod) are charged with three functions:

(a) “demonstration of Yahweh’s omnipotence in the form of accompaniment (Dt. 33:2), praise (Job 38:7; Ps. 19:2[1]; 29:1f.), fear (Ps. 89:7f. [6f.]), counsel in the form of obedient response (Job 1f.; Isa. 6:8; cf. the resistance to polytheistic notions in Isa. 40:13:f.);

(b) mediation of Yahweh’s salvific will to the world of human beings (1 K. 22; Isa. 6; cf Dt. 32:8f.; Jer. 23:22);

(c) implementation of social justice (Am. 3:7; cf. Ps. 82:3f.).” (Fabry, 10.174-75)

The first category contains our primary interest—heavenly worship—but you can see that it is likely that these various functions are interconnected. The DC is probably the heavenly model for the creation of the human community in the early chapters of Genesis.  It is the congregation that is the plural referent in “let us make man as our image” (Gen. 1.26-27).  The text is clear that God made the man (the Hebrew verbs are singular here), but that the model was plural.  Thus at the very beginning of the Torah, the cornerstone of the OT and of the whole Bible, we have humans created in order to be the physical, earthly representation of the spiritual, celestial community.

To say that the image of God is the primary overarching motif in Scripture is good. However, this claim goes beyond that, and this leads us to the third major finding of this study:  that liturgy or worship is one of the key purposes of human existence. It is an essential part of our reason for existence.

Psalm 29 is an example of this. “If Psalm 29 were to be considered a song for the solemn prostration before Yahweh . . . then we would have to assume that a heavenly act would correspond to the earthly hymn of praise and prayer (cf. especially Psalm 148)” (Kraus, 348). In other words, the heavenly worship is the model for the earthly worship.  In fact, Psalm 29:9b “is the key-verse of the whole psalm—it leads us away from the commotions on the earth up to the heavenly sanctuary where the company of the heavenly beings recognizes and glorifies these very occurrences on the earth as a revelation of the glory of Jahweh” (von Rad, 1.360).

 

 NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

All quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are from the translation of Lightfoot, Harner, Holmes, 2nd edition.

All quotations of Origen’s Commentary on John 13-32 are from Ronald E. Heine, trans., FOTC, Origen: Commentary on the Gospel According to John Books 13—32(Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993).  Thanks to Peter Martens for pointing out this passage to me.

“The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” in Acts of the Christian Martyrs, trans. Herbert Musurillo (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972), 111-13.

Harold Attridge, Hebrews (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Patrick D. Miller, “Cosmology and World Order in the Old Testament: The Divine Council as Cosmic-Political Symbol,” in Patrick D. Miller, Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays, JSOTSS 267 (Sheffield, 2000).  Previously published in HBT 9 (1987), 53-78.

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

H.-J. Fabry, “סוד, sod” in TDOT 10.174-75; H.-J. Fabry, “סוד als ekkleiologischer Terminus,” Bausteine Biblischer Theologie: Festgabe für G. Johannes Botterweck zum 60. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern, (Köln-Bonn: Peter Hanstein, 1977).

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Jean Daniélou, Theology of Jewish Christianity I.

  1. K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

Daniel Boyarin, “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John,” in HTR 94 (2001) 243-84.

  1. J. Krause,Psalms 1-59: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988)
  2. von Rad,Old Testament Theology, trans. D. M. G. Stalker (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1—12.

George Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Hermeneia).

James Davila, Liturgical Works.

Claus Westermann, “kbd” TLOT 2.

Robert Hayward, Divine Name and Presence: The Memra.

Lucien Deiss, trans Benet Weatherhead, Early Sources of the Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975).

  1. Ringgren, “עמד,” inTDOT 11.182-85.
  2. Grundmann, “‘ίστημι,”TDNT 7.641, 43.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 4

Part 4 of a series by guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher

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C. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN GNOSTIC GROUPS

This post deals with groups that are known as “Gnostics” from the Greek word gnosis = “knowledge.” They developed the century after Christianity. They are the darling of much of contemporary scholarship, which tends to trust them more as authentic christianities and distrust the NT—it is so backwards! One of the results of the problem these groups posed, is that early Christians developed their understanding of Christianity in order to show the distinction. But when you read these, you will see a sampling of how these groups derided and scorned followers of Jesus.

Some scholars are using the term “Gnostic” less these days, because we have come to see that there was a fair amount of diversity among these groups. But the term is still useful. To follow up on the previous point, the groups who drew on the mystical elements present in some streams of Judaism (e.g., Enoch) as well as middle-Platonism came to be known as “Gnostics,” though many scholars regard this as a fairly elastic, catch-all category. There were many different Gnostic groups, which have been divided into three major types, based on their liturgical practices: (1) Cults of Power—e.g., Simon Magus; (2) Groups originating from the Separation of Christianity from Judaism—and (3) ‘The Gentile Counter-Churches’—e.g., Valentinus, Marcion, and Tatian. (Although Montanus may be classed in this division, he and his Church cannot usefully be pushed into the same theological classification with the others as a ‘Gnostic’ phenomenon.) Look at some of the things they wrote. (Word that are between angle brackets show where there was a break in the text, and the scholar inserted their best guess.)

 Treat. Seth 60.16-29. It is an ineffable union of undefiled truth, as exists among the sons of light, of which they made an imitation, having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man and lies so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the perfect assembly, (and) themselves with their doctrine to rear and slavery, worldly cares, and abandoned worship . . . .  [This Sethite text scorns Christians for imitating the heavenly world, but in the process admits belief in a perfect, heavenly assembly. Boldface added.]

 Ap James 15.13-23. And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind(s) farther upwards and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns and angelic benedictions and angelic rejoicing.  And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we too rejoiced. [In this text, the disciples mentally ascend to heaven, where they join the heavenly worship.]

 Disc. 8-9, 56.22—57.9. Lord, grant us a wisdom from your power that reaches us, so that we may describe to ourselves the vision off the eighth and the ninth.  We have already advanced to the seventh, since we are pious and walk in your law. . . .  Lord, grant us the truth in the image.  Allow us through the spirit to see the form of the image that has no deficiency, and receive the reflection of the pleroma from us through our praise. [Here, the speakers pray for the ability to ascend to the eighth and ninth heavens so that they may have the heavenly vision of God.]

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. For some of them prepare a nuptial couch, and perform a sort of mystic rite (pronouncing  certain expressions) with those who are being initiated, and affirm that it is a spiritual marriage which is celebrated by them, after the likeness of the conjunctions above [italics mine].

 Irenaeus AH 1.21.3. After this [baptism] they anoint the initiated person with balsam; for they assert that this unguent is a type of that sweet odour which is above all things.

 Zost 8.10-14. And about this airy-earth, why it has a cosmic model?  And about the aeon copies, how many there are, and, why they are [not] in pain?

 These groups generally believed that there was one God, but many lower, divine beings in heaven, and that there were angels. Some also believed that the male God had a female consort.  Most references to worship in the realms above the earth are rather general, whether in the presence of God or merely in the Aeons between heaven and earth. There is not much material extant on what most of them did for liturgy, and even less on what they thought they were accomplishing by what they did. These references often only say that “x praised y” or that “x prayed for forgiveness.”  Generally, liturgical form is not implied.

Here are some more texts which refer to some kind of religious acts that might be called “liturgy” or “piety” or “worship.”

Origen, Comm John 13.114 – Heracleon thinks, however, that the expression “we worship” means the one who is in the aeon and those who have come with him, for these, he says, have known whom they worship, because they worship in truth. [Italics original.  Those who have already ascended and are in the aeon, one of the intermediary levels of heaven between the Father and earth, are presumed by Heracleon, a Valentinian, to worship the Father properly.]

 Val Exp 25.30—26.21 – [He is] . . .the [true] High Priest, [the one who has] the authority to enter the Holies of Holies, revealing the glory of the Aeons and bringing forth the abundance to . The East [. . . that is] in [him.  He is the one who revealed himself as] the primal [sanctuary] and [the] treasury of  [the All]. [liturgical terms and cosmology with heavenly paradigm—primal sanctuary—implied]

 Val Exp 39.20-22 – [The complete one glorifies] Sophia; the image [glorifies] Truth. [worship in the heavenly realms, but not worshiping Jesus]

 Val Exp 40.20-29 – And we [glorify] thee:  [Glory] be to thee, the Father in the [Son, the Father] in the Son, the Father [in the] holy [Church and in the] holy [angels]!  [glory to God among the angels]

 Gosp Truth 40.30—41.3 – For that very reason he brought him forth in order to speak about the place and his restingplace from which he had come forth, and to glorify the pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of the Father. [The Son was created to praise the pleroma (in heaven?)]

 Tripart Trac 64.20-22 – The one whom they hymn, thereby glorifying him, he has sons. [the beings created by the ?son sing hymns of praise to him]

 Tripart Trac 68.22 – Therefore, in the song of glorification and in the power of the unity of him from whom they have come, they were drawn into a mingling and a combination and a unity with one another.  They offered glory worthy of the Father from the pleromatic congregation, which is a single representation although many. . . .   Now this was a praise […] [the pleromas sing praise]

Some groups, such as the Valentinians, believed that the person’s soul passed through multiple heavens, each higher than the last, in order to gaze upon God and sometimes participate there in the angelic liturgy. (In the Valentinian form, one had to ascend first through thirty levels (Aeons). In other words, worship = ascending to heaven. A key difference from early Christian texts is that Jesus was not worshiped, either in heaven or on earth. After all, he was merely the human body that the heavenly Savior or Christ descended on.  There were many other heavenly beings who were much higher and much more important and glorious than the Christ.  For instance, in the Gospel of Philip, “the sacramental catechesis. . . insists that its rites transform the initiate into Christ in contrast to those of conventional Christians which merely lend the name Christian” (Pheme Perkins, “Identification with the Savior,” 183). Also, they believed it was an error to worship God as the Creator. This is because at least one group (the Valentinians) distinguished between God and the creator. The one who created the world was not God, but said was a lower being that resulted from a botched abortion by Sophia. This, of course, was a significant difference from OT and early Christian practice.

Not covered here are the mysterious references to the heavenly “bridal chamber,” about which little is known.

CHRISTIANITY COMPARED TO GNOSTIC GROUPS

  1. Christians worshiped Jesus. This was a big deal. Gnostics never did.
  2. Christians worshiped God as Creator. Gnostics never did.
  3. Some Gnostic groups (e.g., Valentinians) believed in ascending to heaven as a substitute for worship. They didn’t need Jesus, etc.

“We may not always know what we are reading in ancient documents.  We do not always know how a document is related to its own context, since the context is not always known.  In the final analysis, we can only do what we are mandated to do by the dominical institutions as we have them in the writings that the church canonized as sacred scripture.  We preach the gospel to all people and baptize in the triune name those who come to faith in Jesus.  We take bread and wine and give thanks over them.  There are models in the tradition that can instruct us in how to do these things.  But we must finally do them in a way that reflects our own obedience of faith and expresses our own devotion to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.” (Frank Senn, 327-28)

NOTES/BIBLIOGRAPHY

David H. Tripp, “‘Gnostic Worship’: the State of the Question,” in Gnosticism in the Early Church, Studies in Early Christianity 5, ed. David M. Scholer (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1993), 322-23; reprinted from Studia Liturgica 1 (1987): 210-20.

Margaret Barker, Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T & T Clark, 2003).

Robert A. Oden, Jr., “Cosmology, cosmogony,” Anchor Bible Dictionary 1.1170.

Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. by James Robinson, 3rd edition.

April D. Deconick, “Heavenly Temple Traditions and Valentinian Worship: A Case for first-Century Christology in the Second Century,” in Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila, and Gladys S. Lewis, Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism:  Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, SJSJ 63 (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 308-41.

Pheme Perkins in “Identification with the Savior in Coptic Texts from Nag Hammadi,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, ed. Newman, Davila, Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

Frank C. Senn, “Lutherans Are Natural ‘Splitters’,” Worship 79 (July 2005).

Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

  1. K. Beale, NIGTC,Revelation(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999),

David E. Aune, WBC, 3 volumes: Revelation 1—5Revelation 6—16, and Revelation 17—22.

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Heavenly Worship in Second Temple Judaism, Early Christianity, and Gnostic Sects: Part 3

Guest blogger, Stephen Huebscher
This is the third of five posts in this series.

B. CONCEPTIONS OF HEAVENLY WORSHIP IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY

Early Christian conceptions of heavenly worship drew heavily on the OT and, not surprisingly, show a similarity, though with some important differences.  Revelation and Hebrews are undoubtedly the most important NT books to gain an understanding of the heavenly liturgy and its significance for Christians on earth.

Revelation

Revelation 4—5 is the most comprehensive of all the worship scenes and hymns in the book.  It has a number of OT antecedents, including Exodus 19, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1—2, and especially Daniel 7:9ff, which Beale argues is the primary interpretive lens John uses to understand the visions he has seen (Beale 315, 366-69). The fact that Isaiah 6 forms a part of the understanding of the heavenly throne room in Revelation is a striking contrast to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice where this OT text is not even mentioned! (Davila 91). Rev. 4—5 presents a scene of heavenly worship around the throne of God, and in that sense is similar to what were later called the merkavah hymns in Jewish mystical texts of hekhalot literature.  David Aune correctly observes the connection between the heavenly worship scenes in Revelation and the divine council.  “The focus on the throne vision is God enthroned in his heavenly court surrounded by a variety of angelic beings or lesser deities (angels, archangels, seraphim, cherubim) who function as courtiers.  All such descriptions of God enthroned in the midst of his heavenly court are based on the ancient conception of the divine council or assembly found in Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Phoenicia as well as in Israel” (Aune 277). Scholars have argued for a variety of sources for the liturgy portrayed here, ranging from Jewish synagogues to Christian churches.  However, I have been most persuaded by Beale’s arguments for a strong OT background for this passage (as well as the rest of the book), and I believe he is correct when he writes, “John intended the readers to see what is told of in the vision as a heavenly pattern that the church is to reflect in its worship rather than the other way around (just as the heavenly pattern of the tabernacle shown to Moses on the mountain was to be copied by Israel in the construction of their own tabernacle)” (Beale 312). Beale summarizes:

The concluding hymns of Rev. 4:11 and Rev. 5:9-13 bear out that this idea—that sovereignty in creation is the basis for sovereignty in judgment and redemption—is the main theme of the two chapters . . .” (Beale 369, italics original). One of the keys to seeing these chapters as a heavenly liturgical pattern for earthly worship comes at the end of chapter 5, where creatures on earth join the heavenly praise, and to which the elders add “Amen.”  Of the prayers of the saints that the elders hold in 5:8, the elders function as heavenly priests, according to Aune (356). The use of καινός (new) “associates Christ’s redemptive work with the beginning of a new creation . . .” (Beale 358).

In Revelation 6:9-11 (souls of the martyrs under the altar) Beale believes that the altar is to be identified with the throne of God, thereby showing divine protection (Beale 391-92). Although the importance of silence in Revelation 8:1-4 (silence in heaven) is probably to be found in Jewish writings, it may perhaps reflect “the practice of maintaining silence in the Jerusalem Temple while the priests went into the Holy Place to offer incense; it was during such a time that Zacharias had his vision of the archangel Gabriel” (James Roger Black, personal note).  Revelation 11:19 with its mention of the ark in heaven points to the “presence of God without a literal reappearance of the ark . . . which is expanded in 21:3, 22, where the establishment of the end-time temple is interpreted as God’s presence in the midst of his people” (Beale, Revelation, 619).

Revelation 19:9 mentions the wedding supper of the Lamb, which may be the (eschatological) wedding meal mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and Gnostic literature (Isa. 25:6-7; 65:13-17; Matt 22:1-10 = Gos. Thom. 64; Matt. 25:10; Luke 12:36; 14:8; Acts Thom. 4-5, 7, 13) (Aune, Revelation 17—22, 1032). If this is so, then it is the referent for Jesus’ statement at the Last Supper about drinking new wine in his Father’s kingdom (Matt 26:29; Mark 14:25; possibly Luke 22:18).  This, in turn, makes the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper an earthly type of the (future), heavenly worship. Other texts that could be added, though not specifically wedding texts, include Matt 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; 14:15; 22:28-30.

Hebrews. Hebrews 8—10 has a lengthy discussion of the application of Jeremiah 31 and the new covenant to the situation of Christians.  In it, the author repeatedly makes distinctions between the earthly “tent” of the Mosaic worship and the true, heavenly “tent” that Christ has entered to make atonement for sins once for all.  For our purposes, two observations by Attridge will suffice.  “The basic image with which our author operates is that of a paradigmatic sanctuary, probably with two parts, in heaven” (Attridge 223).  “The interior reality that the heavenly temple symbolizes is not a principle or virtue generally available to humankind, but a relationship made possible by Christ” (Attridge 224). Although the author of Hebrews makes much use of liturgical language, the application to Christians generally does not put a lot of emphasis on ritual act, but rather on prayer, public praise, and service (e.g., Hebr. 13:15).

Hebrews 12.22-23

You, however, have approached Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem; and myriads of angles in festive gathering and an assembly of firstborn who are inscribed in heaven; and a judge, God of all, and spirits of the righteous who have been perfected. [This passage uses language that draws on the picture of the cosmic mountain in the OT and ANE (which is where God convenes the divine council), divine theophanies, and visions of the celestial court.  This text shows human Christians participating with heavenly beings in a festival gathering, which, by definition, has liturgical overtones.] (Attridge 371, 374-75).

Other NT. In other NT texts, the cosmology and population of heaven is usually very similar to that found in OT texts. For instance, Paul’s statement “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels,” (1 Tim 5.21) should be probably be understood as a divine council scene.  The differences in heaven are both cosmological and liturgical.  Cosmologically, Christ has been highly exalted.  The liturgical implication is that he therefore receives worship.  In other words, Christ now becomes the focal point of heavenly worship.  Unlike some of the DSS and later hekhalot texts, no angels, not even exalted ones, ever receive worship in heaven.  A second cosmological difference is that whereas OT Israelites would pray to the Name in the Jerusalem temple and God would hear in heaven, now Christians are to pray to Jesus in heaven, and the Father will hear them (e.g., 1 Kings 8; John 14:13-14). “Name” was still used as a reference to Jesus in some of the NT texts (Acts 5:41; 3 John 7). Other names or titles for Jesus include Law, Covenant, Beginning, and Day (Daniélou, 147-63).

The present identity of Christians is often referred to in the same terms used of celestial beings: sons of God, children of God, children of the Most High, saints/holy ones, stars, etc. The future identity of Christians seems to be celestial beings, and some texts seem to state that Christians will be on par with or part of God’s divine council (DC).

Some texts show joint human/angelic worship (e.g., Hebr 12:22-23), just as some OT texts show joint human/angelic combat (e.g., Judges 5:20 “the stars fought with Sisera”). This joint worship makes sense when we understand that God is present among worshipers, and that members of the heavenly host are present with him.  The fact that God is present accounts for the emphasis on the proper way of worshiping God.

The worship of angels in Colossae that Paul opposed “may represent a cultic practice of visionary ascent and deification,” a practice which has connections with the mystical views both in Jewish and Gnostic sects. (Perkins, 167)

This last quotation in this post is from Justin Martyr, and early Christian writer.

Justin, Apol. I, 65-66. On the day which is called Sun-day, all . . . gather in the same place.  Then the Memoirs of the Apostles or the Writings of the Prophets are read . . . .  The president speaks. . . .  Then we rise all together and pray (Deiss 25). [Basil some years later comments on his understanding of standing in prayer, which scholars believe to be reflected in the forgoing quotation from Justin. “We stand up when we pray, on the first day of the week (i.e., Sunday)… also because that day itself seems in some fashion to be an image of the world to come” (Deiss 25). This becomes significant when we realize that the phrase “stand before” is often used with the liturgical sense of “serve” in biblical and Jewish texts of angelic messengers who serve God.]

CONTINUITY AND DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OT & NT

There is a lot of continuity and overlap between OT and NT on this issue. The biggest difference is that the OT has a mysterious “second Yahweh” figure, whereas Jesus is part of the equation in the NT. Stay tuned for Part 4.

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The Myth of an Aramaic Original New Testament

I get questions about whether the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. Some really aren’t questions; they are (I presume) well-meaning people trying to inform me of the “fact” of Aramaic primacy. In light of those sorts of emails, it was nice to come across a well-written summary of why this is a myth (by a professional Aramaic translator no less) It is an even-handed discussion that goes beyond the way I try to disabuse people of the myth in a shorter, less elegant way.

I would only add that this discussion makes zero sense for the two-thirds of the New Testament written to Gentile churches. It’s really about gospel originals (and Luke must then be excluded). And there are no (as in zero) manuscripts of the New Testament that compete with the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament for chronological primacy, either. Aramaic New Testaments from antiquity are all translations made a couple centuries or so after the New Testament was written in Greek.

I periodically am asked about the Lamsa translation of the Bible, which is an attempt to produce an English translation on the basis of Aramaic (Syriac) manuscripts, there is a review here. It speaks for itself (Lamsa’s translation wasn’t exactly hailed by Aramaic specialists).

 

 

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Catholic Skeptic Candida Moss at it Again

Someone just sent me this short article from the Daily Beast by church historian Candida Moss: “Nero, the Execution of Peter and Paul, and the Biggest Fake News in Early Christian History.” Basically, it’s about how Christians really weren’t persecuted by Nero as part of the great fire of Rome because the term “Christian” wasn’t in use by 64 AD. If you’re thinking the book of Acts’ references to Christians rebut that, Moss just says you can’t trust Acts — it was written after 64 AD (Moss notes scholars disagree but basically just ignores that point; see below). Candida Moss was the scholar who told us that Christians really weren’t persecuted like church tradition has it. Scholars have pointed out that her definition of persecution was too narrow — essentially front-loading the conclusion in the data.

Sigh.

Aside from the fact that plenty of scholars would assign an early date to Acts which would fit just fine with the Nero chronology, this idea is another example of scholarly illogic. (I’ve mentioned before how I once said — in a doctoral seminar — that all scholars should be forced to take at least one course in logic). Moss commits the (I should think obvious) logical error of presuming no one used a term in SPOKEN discourse before a term was WRITTEN. Really? Think about the illogic of that. Did peoples whose languages were never preserved via writing not have a vocabulary? Scholars regularly make this mistake — equating communication and its vocabulary with writing instead of …  well … SPEECH.

The point is that lots of people could have been referring to Christ-followers as Christians before the term was ever put into a piece of literature.

For those curious about the dating of Acts, here are some excerpts from sourced discussions (footnote content is not copied):

Schnabel

As regards the date of composition, most scholars assume that Luke wrote the book of Acts between AD 80–90. This date is predicated on two factors: the dependence of Luke-Acts on the gospel of Mark, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 which is regarded to be presupposed both by Mark 13 and by Luke 19:43–44; 21:20. To begin with the second argument: since the description of the fate of Jerusalem by Mark (and Luke) contains many Old Testament and Jewish motifs (Daniel; 1-2 Maccabees), and since we should not discount the possibility of genuine prophecy, the date of AD 70 as terminus post quem for the composition of both Mark’s gospel and Luke’s two volume work is not compelling. The first argument raises the issue of the reliability of the two-source hypothesis (Mark wrote his gospel first, and both Matthew and Luke depend on Mark as well as on a source which contained mostly sayings of Jesus), which continues to be disputed; and it begs the question when the gospel of Mark was written—some scholars are prepared to date Mark as early as AD 55. If Luke’s gospel is indeed dependent on Mark’s gospel, and if Luke wrote Acts shortly after having written his gospel, a date of Mark in the late 50s or even in 60/61 would allow for the completion of Acts certainly before AD 70 and possibly before the date at which Luke’s narrative in Acts ends (Paul is a prisoner in Rome from AD 60–62). This leaves the possibility that Luke published Acts before he knew the outcome of Paul’s trial.
The ending of Acts which relates Paul being under house arrest in Rome, preaching the gospel, does not by necessity presuppose that Acts was written before AD 62. If Paul was indeed released from prison, as 2 Tim 4 suggests and 1 Clement 5:5–7 presupposes, Luke may have written Acts soon after Paul’s release in AD 62. Luke’s silence about Paul’s acquittal and about Paul’s renewed missionary activity could be explained by his desire not to alert the apostle’s enemies about the location of his ministry. Or Luke took Paul’s preaching in Rome to be a more suitable climax for his narrative than a reference to Paul’s continuing ministry in the churches of the East.40 A date not long after AD 62 is suggested not only by the lack of reference to Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians between AD 64–67 and Paul’s (and Peter’s) martyrdom, but also by the fact that the Jewish revolt against the Romans in AD 66 and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 are not reflected in Luke’s portrayal of the Jews and of Jewish institutions in Jerusalem and in the diaspora. Irenaeus (Haer. 3.1.1; 3.14.1) and Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 2.22.6) assert that Luke-Acts was written in Rome, which is a good possibility, particularly in view of the historical considerations connected with the date of Acts, but certainty is not possible in this matter.

Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts (Expanded Digital Edition.; Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012).

Bock

The date of Acts is tied to discussion of the date of Luke’s Gospel (Bock 1994a: 16–18). As the sequel, Acts would have come after the completion of the Gospel, and so the discussion is tied to the two books as well as to the Gospel of Luke’s relationship to the other Gospels (Fitzmyer 1998: 51–55 has a solid survey of the issues here). Acts could have been written no earlier than AD 62, since there is discussion of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome. Some scholars argue for allusions to Acts in the Pastoral Epistles, such as in 2 Tim. 3:11 or the mention of Luke in 2 Tim. 4:11, but such connections are not certain (Conzelmann 1987: xxvii).

Conzelmann (1987: xxvii–xxxiii) covers potential allusions to Acts in the later writings of the church, as does Bruce (1990: 10–12). Potential allusions include 1 Clem. 2.2 (Acts 2:17); 1 Clem. 5.4, 7 (Acts 1:25); Pol. Phil. 2.3 (Acts 20:35); Pol. Phil. 6.3 (Acts 7:52); Pol. Phil. 12.2 (Acts 2:5; 4:12; 8:21; 20:32); Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 50.12 (Acts 1:8). Such allusions would mean that the work was completed by the turn of the first century.

Two options dominate the discussion of the date of writing. One possibility is sometime in the 60s. The other is the period AD 70–100. Hemer (1989: 367–70) has a good list of adherents for all such options over about the last century, including those who opt for a date as late as AD 135, a decidedly minority third view. The latter date assumes that a noncompanion of Paul wrote this work and that the unified tradition surrounding Luke is completely wrong, as he would not have lived to such a late date.

The major arguments for a date in the 60s are the absence of references to Paul’s death and/or the lack of resolution of his Roman imprisonment (Kistemaker 1990: 22–24, opts for a date before Nero’s persecutions in AD 64). Reasons are as follows: (1) Those who point to the lack of resolution on the imprisonment favor an early 60s date. Those who emphasize no mention of Paul’s death favor a date in the mid- to late 60s. The rationale here is that if a writer had written after AD 70, then how could the outcome of this imprisonment or the eventual death of Paul in about AD 67 not have been noted? The argument is more against a later date than for the earlier date, since it is an argument from silence. (2) The absence of any mention of Nero’s persecution also suggests an earlier date in a time before Rome attacked the new movement. Bruce (1990: 14) responds, however, that the Romans themselves regarded Nero’s behavior as an aberration of Roman standards, so nothing need change in how someone writing after AD 62–64 saw the Romans as a whole. (3) There also is no hint of the war with the Jews in the late 60s. Here too the argument is more against a late date and is grounded on what is not covered. (4) It is also suggested that the positive tone in engaging Judaism comes before there was a major split. (5) Finally, the lack of discussion of Paul’s letters is said to favor an earlier date. The argument for a late date must suppose that the author of Acts ignored these letters, which would have been well known by the later period.

A date in the early 60s relies a great deal on the lack of resolution of Paul’s fate. Hemer (1989: 383) asks rhetorically about the argument for the nonresolution of Paul’s fate, “If Paul’s fate were immaterial, why tantalize the reader with a cryptic and unnecessary focus on it?” If there are reasons to suggest a resolution is not necessary to the author’s account, however, then the rationale for an early 60s date is weakened. And there is such an explanation: whether Paul (or any messenger of the gospel) dies or not in bringing the message is not as relevant as the message being proclaimed, which is exactly where Acts ends. The message reaches Rome as God had promised Paul. In Acts, we have martyrs for the faith such as Stephen and those who are merely persecuted. In each case, the gospel message is shared (Bruce 1990: 13). This is Luke’s key point. It must be admitted that this argument for an early date has some force. The question is whether it is compelling enough in light of other factors that also are at work in determining the date of Acts.

Critics of a date in the 60s, or at least the early 60s, note that abrupt endings occur elsewhere in the canon and do not impact dating. For example, Mark’s Gospel likely does not develop the resurrection appearances—a surprise—and such an omission is the clear choice of its author. So how much can one make of such an argument (Fitzmyer 1998: 52)? It may well be that the death of Paul is alluded to delicately in Acts 20:24–25. But the real reason for objecting to this date is that it requires an early date for Mark’s Gospel, which most place, at the earliest, in the 60s as well (Fitzmyer 1998: 53). A late-60s date or a post-70 date for Acts escapes this objection.

Those favoring a late date tend to base it on the fact that Acts follows Luke’s Gospel and then argue that Luke’s Gospel was written in a post-70 setting. This view depends more on how Luke’s Gospel is dated than on evidence from Acts. The key to this discussion is whether Luke’s treatment of the Olivet Discourse and its focus on the city of Jerusalem more than the temple reflect a post-70 perspective, something that is also debated. In addition, those holding this view appeal to allusions to Israel’s house being desolate or the unique description of Rome’s forces surrounding Jerusalem in Luke 19:41–44. The argument is that these texts with their unique details about how Jerusalem was put under siege require that Jerusalem had already experienced judgment, which means a date after AD 70. Since all these passages that are invoked for the date of Luke’s Gospel appear in prophetic contexts, the possibility of prediction cannot be excluded; this renders their use for dating problematic, especially when it is possible that Jesus saw Israel headed for covenantal judgment because of its rejection of his message, something taught in Jewish sacred texts (Bock 1994a: 17).

Those who favor an AD 80–100 date also refute the idea that the book could be later in origin, such as AD 115–30, because its theology does not reflect the period of the early second century.
A decision here is difficult. In favor of an early date are the use of Paul in Acts and the lack of explicit development of the fall of Jerusalem. For a date after AD 65 but before AD 90 stands the connection of Acts to issues tied to the date of the Gospels and details in Luke. For reasons argued in Bock 1994a: 17, I do not find the post-70 dating of Luke on the basis of eschatological texts convincing, but the relationship of Acts to the dating of the Gospels is an important factor for this topic. The latter would tend to favor a date in the late 60s. Marshall (1980: 46–48) speaks of a “towards AD 70” date. This date is suggested by the lack of explicit reference to AD 70 and by the lack of any effort to draw upon the “legacy” of Paul in contrast to Acts’ focus on Paul’s own ministry activity. Luke might even be writing when he can sense the approach of Jerusalem’s defeat by Rome. Either Acts is written so much after AD 70 that these issues are no longer worth noting, because they are a given, or it is written before it. On balance, the latter is more likely.

Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 25–27.

Guthrie

 

In a historical book such as Acts, which constitutes the main document on primitive Christianity, the date of production is clearly of considerable importance. As so often in problems of dating New Testament books, the prior decision regarding authorship will naturally affect the presuppositions with which the subject is approached. Moreover, in this case, the decision already reached regarding the date of the third gospel will clearly have an influence on the date of Acts, since this book must be dated subsequent to Luke. Our present approach will be first to treat the subject of date in the light of the traditional position concerning authorship, and then to discuss alternatives. If, of course, the conclusions regarding date demand a period too late to make the traditional authorship possible, it would require a fresh consideration of the latter problem.

There are three main proposals: first, before A.D. 64, secondly, A.D. 70–85, and thirdly, a second-century date. They will be considered in this order.

a. Arguments for a date before A.D. 64

(i) The absence of reference to important events which happened between A.D. 60 and 70. The fall of Jerusalem is nowhere referred to and, although it is not decisive that Luke must have hinted at it if it had already occurred, there is a strong presumption in favour of this opinion. It would have been difficult for him to avoid some allusion to it, although it must be recognized that the destiny of Jerusalem would not have appeared so tragic to the Christian church as a whole as it would to the Jewish people. At the same time it is not without significance that Luke in his gospel centres more attention on Jerusalem than do his fellow synoptists.2

Another event of importance was the persecution of the church under the Emperor Nero. This precipitated so great a crisis that it is difficult to imagine that the earliest Christian historian could have ignored it so completely if he wrote after the event. Although the geographical area affected was confined to Italy, it is still astonishing that Luke makes no mention of it in ending his story at Rome. The only other possibilities would be to suppose that Acts was written after such an interval that the grim details of the horror had faded from the author’s mind, or else that he was unaware of it. It might just conceivably be argued that the author would have no cause to mention it, in which case it could be discounted as a factor affecting dating, but probability is on the side of a date before it.4

A further event of less widespread importance, but one which might well have interested Luke, was the martyrdom of James, the Lord’s brother. In fact Luke mentions two early martyrs: James, son of Zebedee, and Stephen. Moreover, the description of James’ position as president of the Jerusalem church and the care with which Luke describes his relationships with Paul show that the author regarded him as a key figure in primitive Christian history.

Yet all these three suggestions are arguments from silence and must be used with reserve.

(ii) The absence of reference to the death of Paul. The abrupt ending of Acts has for long been an enigma. The author leaves his readers with a description of Paul, a prisoner at Rome, but enjoying considerable liberty to preach and teach. Yet there is no indication about what happened to Paul after this. The reason for the abrupt ending is subject to various interpretations and these must be carefully examined in considering its effect upon the dating.

1. The author records all he knew. If, at the time of writing, Paul was still in his own hired house awaiting further developments, the abruptness is at once explained. There was nothing else to report.

2. The author did not wish to mention the outcome of the trial. It is suggested that he knew of Paul’s death, but that it was no part of his purpose to close with this. Such a procedure would, in fact, draw too much attention to the man, whereas Luke’s purpose was to describe rather the progress of the gospel. It has even been suggested that to conclude with Paul’s death would hint at a parallel with the conclusion of the gospel with its climax in the passion story and that it was to avoid this that Luke omits all reference to it.3 But this latter motive would not be applicable if the gospel and Acts were conceived as a continuous narrative, and in any case the author regarded the passion of Jesus as the beginning and not the end of the real work of Jesus in the world. It is not sufficient, on the other hand, to propose a theory of the author’s intention without supplying an adequate motive for the intention, and it may be questioned whether this condition has been fulfilled. It seems incredible that an author should devote so much space to relating the details of the trial of Paul and then leave the reader wholly in the dark with regard to its outcome.2

3. The author intended to write a third volume. On the analogy of the connection between the gospel and Acts it has been proposed that Luke had in mind another volume which would have related the subsequent history of Paul and his associates, and this has had the support of some notable scholars. It would, of course, get over the difficulty of the abrupt end of Acts, but such a desirable end is achieved only by the postulation of an entirely hypothetical volume which has left no trace in Christian history. The theory admittedly does not demand that the proposed volume should have left any trace, for it does not demand that Luke actually wrote the third instalment.4 It would suffice that the author intended to write it. But Acts does not give the impression that it was written as part of a continuing series. The gospel has reached Rome and this forms a natural climax to the history of the primitive period. There is something to be said for the objection that it is difficult to imagine what a third volume would have contained in order to have reached the same spiritual stature as the two former volumes. Moreover the great amount of space devoted to Paul’s trials is unintelligible as an introduction to a further narrative of the same kind. In other words, it is easier to assume that Paul’s trial was still in progress than that the author has in this way drawn his second book to a close in anticipating a third volume. While the suggestion cannot be ruled out, it cannot be said to be very convincing.

The silence of Acts regarding the death of Paul may, therefore, be said to raise a presumption in favour of an early date. But one objection to this conclusion needs to be noted. In Acts 20:25 some scholars find clear evidence that the author knew that martyrdom crowned Paul’s Roman imprisonment. But if this passage preserves the genuine tradition of Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders, it is capable of being interpreted as a presentiment on Paul’s part without necessitating the presumption that it must have been fulfilled. After all, Paul’s plans, according to Romans, were to turn westwards towards Spain and he evidently at that time had no intention of revisiting Ephesus.2 The Pasoral Epistles, if dated after the end of Acts, presuppose that he did. Those scholars who claim to fit the Pastoral personalia into the Acts structure would not see these epistles as being in conflict with the Acts 20 reference. Those who dispute an early date for Acts almost invariably regard the Pastorals as non-Pauline and for them the line of argument lacks validity.

(iii) The primitive character of the subject-matter. It is significant that the major interests of the author of Acts are those prevalent in the earliest period of church history, but which were not so relevant in later times. The Jewish-Gentile controversy is dominant and all other evidence apart from Acts suggests that this was a vital issue only in the period before the fall of Jerusalem. Even by the time of Paul’s later letters it had ceased to be a burning issue. Moreover, the question of Gentile inclusion was taken for granted when once the universal character of the Christian church had been established. Again, the preoccupation with food requirements in the report of the decisions of the Jerusalem Council points to an early stage of Christian development. Before the fall of Jerusalem all these factors were of vital significance.

(iv) The primitive nature of the theology. Supporting evidence of a more incidental character, but nevertheless highly significant, is found in the theological language. The whole book gives the impression of primitiveness. Such titles for Jesus as ‘the Christ’, ‘the Servant of God’, ‘the Son of man’, reflect primitive tradition. Equally primitive are the description of Christians as ‘disciples’, the use of λαός for the Jewish nation, and the reference to the first day of the week when Christians met together to break bread. Either the author writes early enough to be in direct, living touch with actual eyewitnesses, or he possesses such remarkable historical skill that he is able to reproduce with clear fidelity the primitive climate of thought. The former alternative is the more credible.

(v) The attitude of the state towards the church. Luke is at pains to demonstrate the impartiality of the imperial officials regarding Christianity. In no case is it the Roman officials who persecute the church. The local government at Ephesus is represented as distinctly helpful towards Paul and his companions, while the cause of persecution against the church is in every case the intrigues of the Jews. This is precisely what might be expected before Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64, but subsequent to that date the imperial officials would be more suspicious of Christianity and less inclined to treat it under the general concession to Judaism as a religio licita. The concluding word in Acts (ἀκωλύτως) is significant in this respect, for it forms a fitting climax to Luke’s design to show the unhindered progress of the gospel.

(vi) The relation of Acts to the Pauline epistles. It is universally admitted that the author of Acts shows little or no acquaintance with Paul’s epistles and it may reasonably be claimed as a consequence that Acts must have been published before the collection of the Corpus Paulinism, or at least before this collection had much general circulation. There are differences of opinion as to when the collection was made, but this circumstance favours as early a date as possible for Acts. Those who consider that the collection was actually prompted by the publication of Acts assume a period, subsequent to Paul’s death, during which he was neglected, and this automatically excludes an early date for Acts, but the whole theory is open to challenge.2

b. Arguments for a date between A.D. 70 and 85.

The major reason for preferring this to the earlier date is the author’s use of Mark. It has already been shown that the dating of Luke generally takes as its starting point the date of Mark as A.D. 60–69 and assumes that Luke has adjusted the vague reference in Mark 13 to ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ to the more specific ‘surrounded with armies’ through his knowledge of the details of the siege. In other words, Luke is supposed to have written after A.D. 70. In that case Acts would clearly need to be dated later still. Reasons have already been given why this widely accepted dating of Luke may be challenged, and if the gospel is dated as early as A.D. 60 (see discussion on p. 130 f.) this would suggest an early date for Acts and would be in keeping with the argument already given for a date before A.D. 64. It is a doubtful method of dating early books to use a particular interpretation of the one available datum and then to build a superstructure of other books upon it. It will be clear that if a predictive element in the ministry of Jesus is allowed the whole basis of this generally held dating collapses.

It should nevertheless be noted that not all who accept the traditional authorship of Luke date the book before the fall of Jerusalem. If Luke is the author and it is deemed necessary to date his gospel after A.D. 70, the upper limit for the dating of Acts is restricted only by the probability of Luke’s life-span, which is very difficult to estimate. It would certainly not be impossible for Luke to have written Acts any time up to about A.D. 85 but it could hardly have been much later. A date between A.D. 70 and 85 is, therefore, preferred by the majority of scholars.

E. J. Goodspeed produced a list of additional reasons for a date as late as A.D. 90 for Luke–Acts, which were mainly inferences from the contents. Late features, according to him, can be seen in certain literary characteristics, in the infancy interest, in the resurrection interest, in the doctrine of the Spirit, primitive miracles, cessation of the Jewish controversy, interest in psalmody, church organization, primitive glossolalia, the inferences from 20:25, 38 that Paul is dead, Paul’s heroic stature, the emergence of the sects, lack of acquaintance with Paul’s letters and the historical background of a successful Gentile mission. Quite apart from the questionable character of some of Goodspeed’s inferences (e.g. that Paul is dead from Acts 20:25, 38), it is by no means clear that any of the points he mentions requires a date any later than the early sixties. In any case he accepts Lucan authorship and supposes that the author collected his material long before his book was actually published.

c. Arguments for a second-century date

Earlier critics of the Tübingen school popularized a second-century dating for Acts because their reconstruction of the history demanded it. The reconciliation tendency of the author to patch up the Petrine Pauline clash required a considerable time interval to develop. But the subjective character of this kind of criticism has assured its doom and the dismissal of the historical reconstruction of this school of thought has caused a general disinclination towards a second-century dating. But there are still some arguments which are advanced in support of this dating.

(i) The relation of Acts to Josephus. The fact that both Acts (in the speech of Gamaliel, 5:36) and Josephus refer to a rising under a Jew named Theudas has given rise to the theory that the author of Acts consulted Josephus’ Antiquities while writing his history. If this deduction is correct Acts must be dated after A.D. 94. An alleged contradiction between Josephus and the gospel has already been cited in discussing the dating of Luke (see p. 127 f.), and a similar contradiction is suggested here. Acts places the rising of Theudas before the rising of Judas the Galilean, but the latter happened in the time of Augustus, while Josephus dates the former at a period subsequent to Gamaliel’s speech. There are two possible explanations. Either one of these reports must be wrong, or else the Theudas mentioned by Luke was not the Theudas mentioned by Josephus. Most scholars prefer the former alternative and generally presume that the historian in error must be Luke. But the author of Acts almost certainly did not consult Josephus, for had he done so he would surely not have made so obvious a blunder. Moreover, it is no more self-evident that Acts must be wrong and Josephus correct than vice versa. It is, of course, possible that two rebellions were instigated by men named Theudas, since this was a fairly common name, but such a theory is none too convincing without corroborating evidence.

(ii) The relation of Acts to second-century writers. Some scholars have gone much farther than Josephus and have found affinities between Acts and the second-century Church Fathers. It has been maintained that Justin shared the same theological outlook as Acts although he makes no literary use of the book. But theological affinities are a precarious method of assessing dating, for the theory that Acts and Justin’s works were both produced about the same time is certainly not the only explanation of the relationship, nor is it even the most reasonable, for it raises far more problems than it solves.2 It may be assumed that Acts was linked with the third gospel almost from its inception, in which case it would be inconceivable for Marcion to have been acquainted with Luke and not Acts. But it would have been equally improbable for Marcion to have chosen as his one gospel a book which was clearly not of ancient standing. All the evidence points to an arbitrary rejection of Acts by Marcion on the same grounds as those on which he rejected the remaining gospels.

A second-century dating of Acts which gained such favour among earlier critics is not likely to be reinstituted by any argument based on theological affinities, in view of the strong traditional testimony against such a theory. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine that the strong impression Acts gives of recording factual details, particularly in the latter part dealing with Paul’s activities, is the work of a second-century writer. It is far less credible to regard the book as the product of a writer’s historical imagination than it is to regard it as the record of one who was in close proximity to the events he relates—which would be the case with a first-century dating

Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (4th rev. ed.; The Master Reference Collection; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 355–365.

 

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Matthew 24 and the Days of Noah Once Again

I recently added this to my FAQ, but I thought I’d post it here as well.

Do you think Matthew 24:37-38 is a prophecy about the return of nephilim or has anything to do with Genesis 6:1-4?

The short answer to both is no. (I also don’t think it has anything to do with UFOs or aliens). Back around the year 2000 or so I suspected that was the case, but I know better now. It’s not a text-driven argument or position. I blogged about this (and Dan 2:43 as well) back in 2015. There are several problems with the idea, but I’ll summarize my thoughts here.

There are several reasons why Matt 24:37-38 does not connect back to Gen 6:1-4. The sons of God are mentioned nowhere in Matt 24. There isn’t a whiff of divine-human transgression. Their presence is assumed on the basis of the phrase “marrying and giving in marriage,” but that’s actually where the idea breaks down. If Matthew wanted readers to think about Genesis 6:1-4 in these comments, he’d use the Greek terms in the Septuagint of LXX for what the sons of God and mortal women were doing. Matthew doesn’t do that even once. The LXX reads ἔλαβον ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ πασῶν, ὧν ἐξελέξαντο (lit: “they took for themselves women from all which they chose”). Matthew doesn’t use any of these terms. Matthew’s Greek for “marrying and giving in marriage” is γαμοῦντες καὶ γαμίζοντες (lit: “marrying and giving in marriage”). Even if you can’t read Greek you can look at the words and know they aren’t the same as Gen 6 LXX.The other significant problem is that saying Matthew 24:37-38 is about a repeat of Genesis 6:1-4 requires you to ignore parts of what Matthew describes — or deliberately not see the disconnections with Genesis 6:1-4. Here is the full list of what Matthew says will be going on when Jesus returns that was going on in the days of Noah:

– eating and drinking
– marrying and giving in marriage
– not watching / being unaware

Only one of those (conceivably — but incorrectly) could be associated with Gen 6:1-4 — the “marrying and giving in marriage.” The others have no association whatsoever with the supernaturalist aspects of Gen 6:1-4. So why impose the supernaturalist character of Gen 6 onto what Matthew says? It’s an arbitrary decision, and one made incoherent and unsustainable by the lack of any connection to the LXX of Gen 6:1-4. When biblical writers want their readers to cross-reference an OT passage with what they are saying, they create connections. Matthew doesn’t do that even once.

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Recent Article Response to Bart Ehrman’s Views on Ancient Pseudepigraphy

The Society of Biblical Literature just released the latest issue of its Journal of Biblical Literature. One of the articles caught my attention: “Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations
—A Rejoinder to Bart Ehrman,” by Armin D. Baum of the Freie Theologische Hochschule in Gießen, Germany. The article is not available online, but it’s importance led me to alert those who subscribe to JBL or who can access it through a university or seminary library.

The article is, as it suggests, a response to the way Ehrman understands pseudonymity, particularly as articulated in his book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Here’s the abstract to Baum’s article:

The ancient notion of authorship and forgery can be analyzed in various ancient
texts, including embedded texts (e.g., reported speeches) and independent texts,
some written under the author’s control (e.g., speeches, letters, and history
books), as well as others written independently of the author’s control (e.g., translations and unauthorized lecture publications). In all cases an authorial attribution was regarded as correct and nondeceptive if either content and wording or just the content of a particular text could be traced back to the author whose
name it carried. This prevailing principle of ancient authorship attribution, while
often taken for granted and applied without further explanation, was also stated
explicitly in several places. These ancient statements are in conflict with the most
innovative contribution of Bart Ehrman’s otherwise very useful recent book Forgery and Counterforgery (2012). Ehrman has rightly joined the growing number of scholars who have raised substantive doubts regarding the once-popular thesis of innocent ancient pseudepigraphy. At the same time, his assertion that in antiquity a text’s authenticity was assessed not on the basis of its content but always on the basis of its wording goes one step beyond what the numerous relevant ancient sources reveal.

For readers unfamiliar with the issue of pseudonymity, the authorship of certain books of the New Testament have long been questioned as to whether the person whose name the book bears. Ehrman’s work in this area has emerged as the most recent treatment of the issue, not only casting doubt on the named authorship of certain books, but even the ethics of producing books under pseudonymity (Ehrman calls it an unethical deception).

Baum’s article above pushes back on Ehrman’s view, at least with respect to the ancient view of authenticity. It’s an important article for that reason.

The last sentence of the abstract is noteworthy. It’s vintage Ehrman — affirming “X happens” and then extrapolating to an unnecessary conclusion. In this case, yes pseudonymity happens (and, as Baum points out, in a variety of ways, perceived in various ways), but the observation allows Ehrman to chastise the New Testament. Baum’s take essentially says, “not so fast” or perhaps “let’s not affirm the obvious and extrapolate to the unnecessary.” This method is characteristic of Ehrman’s work.

For those wondering about the books of the New Testament in this regard, I’d recommend Guthrie’s lengthy and detailed New Testament Introduction. It’s older but, to be honest, there’s nothing else like it between two covers. Of course scholarly commentaries will discuss a book’s authorship at length (and many would disagree with scholars characterizing some of the books of the New Testament as pseudonymous).

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