EASTER: The Evidence

Rembrandt, Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene

How do we know that Jesus rose from the dead? Several years back I put together a simple outline of the main lines of evidence using the word EASTER. Each point is tied to Paul’s important defense of the hope of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. At the end is a list of six books for those wishing to pursue the evidence for each of the six points in detail.

Empty tomb (1 Corinthians 15:4)

One important evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is the fact that he was buried in a rock tomb and then a couple of days later that tomb was found empty. The Gospels accurately describe the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid, matching the many limestone rock tombs that had been carved around Jerusalem in the first century. The Gospels all report that women, including Mary Magdalene, were the first to discover the empty tomb—not something men were likely to make up. The author of the Gospel of John claims that he personally went to the tomb and saw that the body was gone and that the grave clothes had been left behind (John 20:2-9). Jewish critics of Christianity claimed that the disciples had stolen the body from the tomb. That claim is not credible (the disciples were disheartened and scared), but these critics implicitly conceded the empty tomb as fact.

Appearances (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

An empty tomb by itself is just a mystery: the case of the missing body. Continue reading

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Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 2: Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Incoherent?

In Part 1, I responded to Unitarian philosopher Dale Tuggy’s claim in a recent conference address that my biblical argument for the doctrine of the Trinity omitted essential elements of the doctrine. Here I will respond to his objection that my statement of the doctrine is incoherent. In Part VII of my outline study “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I concluded by reviewing the propositions that constitute the essential elements of the doctrine, including these four:

  1. The Father is God (see Part III).
  2. The Son is God (see Part IV).
  3. The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
  4. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).

As he has been doing with Trinitarian theology in general for many years, Tuggy finds fault with my argument by complaining about the logical difficulty of affirming that each person “is God” and yet that the persons are distinct from one another. “Things that are identical to the same thing are identical to one another.” With this analytical knife Tuggy thinks he can cut any presentation or defense of Trinitarian belief to ribbons without so much as opening a Bible. His point is that my argument is incoherent because (as he sees it) the affirmations that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God logically contradict the affirmation that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not each other. To this objection, I have three responses. Continue reading

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Dale Tuggy and the Biblical Basis of the Trinity, Part 1: Are Essential Elements Missing?

First Council of Nicaea

First Council of Nicaea (325) – unknown Eastern Orthodox icon

In Part VII of my eight-part series of articles entitled “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity,” I offer the following concluding argument for the doctrine:

A. All the elements of the doctrine are taught in Scripture.

1. One God who is one divine being (see Part I and Part II).
2. The Father is God (see Part III).
3. The Son is God (see Part IV).
4. The Holy Spirit is God (see Part V).
5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, i.e., they are not each other, nor are they impersonal; they relate to one another personally (see Part VI).

B. The New Testament presents a consistent triad of Father, Son, Holy Spirit (God, Christ, Spirit)….
C. Therefore, the Bible does teach the Trinity.

On April 13th, at the 2019 Theological Conference, a Biblical Unitarian meeting in Hampton, Georgia (ironically held at the Calvin Center, owned by the liberal PCUSA), Dale Tuggy devoted part of his lecture, “How Not to Argue from the Bible to the Trinity,” to a critique of the above argument. Unlike the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which has drifted completely away from the Bible and Christianity, the advocates of Biblical Unitarianism generally take a fairly conservative view of the Bible and accept such basic Christian beliefs as the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, in this respect they are more conservative than many pastors and scholars in the PCUSA! Tuggy is a philosopher who blogs on the subject of the Trinity. His critique of the above argument begins just under 17 minutes into the video and ends about ten minutes later. In this post, I will respond to his claim that my argument for the Trinity is unsound. In a second post, I will respond to his claim that my argument is incoherent.

Before he gets to his main criticisms of my argument, Tuggy asserts that I don’t need the second premise, regarding the consistent triad of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the New Testament (point B. above). He speculates that I threw it in there because I think only Trinitarianism can explain this premise and that Unitarianism can’t. Tuggy guessed incorrectly here (although I certainly think Trinitarianism explains this information better than Unitarianism). Continue reading

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Jesus as God and Distinct from God: A Reply to Kegan Chandler

Chandler, The God of Jesus

In his book The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma, Kegan Chandler repeats Dale Tuggy’s critique of Richard Bauckham’s “divine identity Christology,” which is essentially that the idea is logically contradictory. As part of his critique, Chandler offers the following quotation from the book Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with Ed Komoszewski.[1] Here is how Chandler presents the quotation:

One pair of evangelicals who subscribe to Bauckham’s thesis admit:

The New Testament makes a distinction between [Jesus and God the Father]… sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath.

But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as “God” and “not God” at the same time? Is this conclusion only “hard to understand” as these apologists claim, or is it impossible?[2]

Chandler’s footnote to our book cites page 1 and credits Tuggy for the citation. The second-hand nature of the citation shows, since the quotation actually comes from page 21 of the book.

As is very often the case with Chandler’s quotations from Trinitarians, he characterizes the statement he quotes here as something we “admit,” as though it were somehow contrary to or in tension with our theological position. This is not at all the case. Chandler has made it seem as though we were making an embarrassing admission by a highly selective, partial quotation of what we said. Here is the complete statement with the omitted material restored:

Third, we take for granted that Jesus is not God the Father. Rather, Jesus is “the Son of the Father” (2 John 3 nasb). The New Testament makes a distinction between the two, sometimes as the Father and the Son, sometimes as God and the Son of God. Although it’s hard to understand, the New Testament both distinguishes Jesus from God and identifies him as God—sometimes in the same breath (e.g., John 1:1; 20:28-31; Heb. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:1-2). It is this fact about New Testament teaching—paralleled in what it also teaches about the Holy Spirit—that led Christian theologians to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity. We will not be discussing the Trinity in this book, although Jesus’ identity as God is a key part of that doctrine.[3]

Far from something we are forced to “admit,” the New Testament distinction between the Son Jesus Christ and God the Father is basic to the doctrine of the Trinity.

In addition to obscuring the point we were making by his selective partial quotation, Chandler excises from the quoted sentence the biblical references we cited as exemplifying our point that Jesus is both called God and distinguished from God “sometimes in the same breath.” Those texts we cited—John 1:1, John 20:28-31, Hebrews 1:8-9, and 2 Peter 1:1-2—are all discussed in some detail later in our book.[4] Chandler does not engage or even mention our treatment of those texts anywhere in his book.[5] Nor does he engage the exegesis of those texts from other orthodox Christian scholars, though he offers a few citations from such scholars on John 1:1, generally shorn of context, without even commenting on how those scholars handle the texts in question.[6] Trinitarian studies of the other texts do not get even this much attention.[7]

Chandler asks, as quoted above: “But does the data really force the conclusion that the New Testament positively identifies Jesus as ‘God’ and ‘not God’ at the same time?” This is not quite what we said, but let it stand. Chandler excised our reference to “the data” from his quotation of our book, ignored much of “the data” in the rest of the book, and never engaged any orthodox treatment of the exegesis and interpretation of any of those biblical texts. In a book of more than 500 pages boasting over 1,500 footnotes, about 200 pages of which are focused on the biblical teaching about the person of Jesus, these omissions are really inexcusable.

The point being made here is simply this: If a critic of the doctrine of the Trinity is going to cite Trinitarian scholars, he ought to engage their arguments. With rare and mostly fleeting exceptions, this is something Chandler does not attempt in his book. Rather, for the most part he attempts to wring admissions out of orthodox scholars by selective quotations that appear to support his position.

NOTES

[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007).

[2] Kegan A. Chandler, The God of Jesus in Light of Christian Dogma: The Recovery of New Testament Theology, foreword by Anthony F. Buzzard (McDonough, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2016), 434.

[3] Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 21.

[4] Ibid., 138–44, 148–56.

[5] Chandler has only two other references to Putting Jesus in His Place in his book, neither dealing with any of these biblical texts: God of Jesus, 440, 511.

[6] Chandler devotes 26 pages to John 1:1-3 (God of Jesus, 469-94) and only briefly quotes A. T. Robertson, F. F. Bruce, and most notably Murray Harris without engaging their exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 487, 493). This appears to be the only reference in Chandler’s book to Harris’s important monograph: Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).

[7] Chandler devotes three pages to John 20:28 without citing a single orthodox scholar or engaging any Trinitarian perspectives on that text (the 18th-century Hebrew scholar J. D. Michaelis does not count); God of Jesus, 418–20. He dismisses Hebrews 1:8 very quickly without even mentioning any Trinitarians or engaging any orthodox exegesis of the text (God of Jesus, 416). 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 are dispatched in a footnote (God of Jesus, 413 n. 1301).

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Enoch, Jude, the Canon, and the Sons of God: Some Notes for the Curious

God took Enoch, Gerard Hoet (ca 1700)

In an odd coincidence, I was asked twice in one day to comment about the canonicity of the Book of Enoch and some related matters. I will not attempt to resolve all of the issues here, but instead will offer a brief overview and some references for those who would like to pursue the matter in further depth.

In the epistle of Jude, we read the following:

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying:
“Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his holy ones,
to execute judgment on all
and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness
that they have committed in such an ungodly way,
and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15 ESV).

Compare Jude’s quotation of Enoch with the following passage from the Book of Enoch:

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones
To execute judgement upon all,
And to destroy all the ungodly:
And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness
which they have ungodly committed,
And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Enoch 1:9)

By the way, the closest any passage in the canonical Old Testament comes to the statement in Jude is in a different context, that of God’s revelation to Israel in the wilderness:

“The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us;
he shone forth from Mount Paran;
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
with flaming fire at his right hand” (Deut. 33:2 ESV).

The odds are very good that Jude’s quotation of Enoch (Jude 14-15) came from the Book of Enoch. The quotation is very close to what is found in the book. The matter is complicated by the fact that the book was probably written originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, Jude’s quotation is in Greek, and our earliest substantial manuscripts of the book are later translations in other languages (especially Ethiopic). Given these language differences, the similarities between the two passages are surprising. Most scholars think Jude is quoting from the book, and this seems likely to be correct. If Jude is quoting a “tradition” found also in the Book of Enoch but got it from a different source, that source would either be oral or written. I don’t think it’s plausible to argue that it was oral only, so we would likely be talking about a different book. If so, that different book is also not in the canon of Scripture, so we have not gained anything by denying that Jude was quoting the Book of Enoch. Perhaps one could maintain that Jude was quoting from an earlier version of the Book of Enoch. Continue reading

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Don’t Know Much about Book of Mormon Geography

John Clark’s Mythical Geography View of the Book of Mormon

On January 29, 2019 (yesterday as of the time of this writing), the LDS Church published an article online entitled “Book of Mormon Geography,” another installment in its series of innocuously titled “Gospel Topics” essays. Begun in 2013, this series has addressed such problematic issues in Mormonism as the conflicting First Vision accounts, race and the priesthood, the Book of Abraham, the LDS doctrine of becoming Gods, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, Joseph’s use of a seer stone in translating the Book of Mormon, and DNA and the Book of Mormon. The articles are all anonymous and, in most cases, appear to have been composed by BYU scholars. The typical Gospel Topics essay is heavily footnoted[1] and ends with a vague acknowledgment of “the contribution of scholars.”

The new essay on “Book of Mormon Geography” is something else. It is only five short paragraphs in length, has only four footnotes, and contains no acknowledgment of scholarly input. Evidently there simply is not much that the LDS Church has to say on the matter. The essay itself confirms this impression. It begins with the following paragraph, which it sets in all italics:

The Church takes no position on the specific geographic location of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. Church members are asked not to teach theories about Book of Mormon geography in Church settings but to focus instead on the Book of Mormon’s teachings and testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

This directive is not new. A 2012 curriculum manual contains an abstract diagram of the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi with the caveat, “As you use this diagram, explain that the Church has no official position about Book of Mormon geography except that the events occurred in the Americas.”[2] LDS leaders and writers have cautioned many times for over a century against placing too much confidence in any particular theory about the lands where the Nephite civilization was located.[3]

Although the directive expressed in the new essay is not itself new, the essay makes some noteworthy statements, as we shall see. Continue reading

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Six Hints that the “Baby Jesus Stories” of the Gospels Were Not Late Additions

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

 

Every December, articles circulate online (and often in major news magazines) calling into question the truth of the virgin birth of Christ. This year, a blog article posted on December 19, 2018, by former fundamentalist Christian turned atheist Valerie Tarico has been making the rounds, boosted by various progressive “news” websites such as Alternet and RawStory. Tarico’s post is entitled “Six Hints that Baby Jesus Stories were Late Additions to Early Christian Lore.” Let’s look at her six hints.

Paul’s Silence about Jesus’ Miraculous Nativity

According to Tarico, Paul’s epistles, the earliest New Testament writings, “give no hint” about Jesus’ virgin birth or the other miracles associated with his nativity. “Paul simply says that he was a Jew, born to a woman.”

Well, yes. Paul makes no mention of a number of significant events mentioned in the Gospels, such as Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, his cleansing of the temple, or any of Jesus’ miracles. His omission of these events does not call any of them into question historically. Paul was not writing a biography of Jesus; he was writing letters to churches and church leaders to address specific pastoral and theological issues as they arose in those churches. Tarico’s “hint” here is no more than an argument from silence, a fallacious form of reasoning.

That having been said, the very statement Paul makes to which Tarico alludes may in fact be a “hint” that Paul was aware of Jesus’ miraculous conception:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4).[1]

Three aspects of this passage are at least possible hints at the virgin birth of Christ. Continue reading

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Is Apologetics a Discipline?

Apologetics booksBrian Huffling, a philosopher of religion at Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), wrote a provocative essay on his blog in March 2018 entitled “Why Christian Apologetics Is Not a Discipline.” This interesting think piece was brought to my attention today on Facebook. I would recommend reading Huffling’s piece before going further here. My own response to his argument is in the form of sic et non (yes and no).

Let me first summarize the essay. Huffling quotes with approval Winfried Corduan’s comment that “apologetics is not a discipline, it’s a practice.” He echoes Gary Habermas’s recommendation that individuals interested in apologetics pursue a degree “in a discipline, like history, and then do apologetics from that field.” Huffling goes so far as to assert, “Being an expert just in apologetics is to not be an expert in anything.” Apologetics is not itself a discipline, but it is something one does in a particular discipline, as when one does “historical apologetics, scientific apologetics, or philosophical apologetics.” He worries that Christians who pursue apologetics in and of itself will be sloppy, inaccurate, or oversimplistic in their work. No one can be a specialist in every subject area, but a good apologist will be a specialist in some specific area. Huffling advises students at SES who want to do apologetics to major in philosophy because “most apologetic issues are inherently philosophical.”

I do agree in general with Huffling’s advice about specializing in some specific discipline. Continue reading

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Leaving IRR but Not Leaving Mormonism Alone!

Rob teaching about the Book of MormonLast month, I announced that the Institute for Religious Research, where I have worked since 2008, was facing a deep financial crisis that made its future after the spring of next year very doubtful. Since that announcement, a few people have begun making monthly contributions or made generous one-time gifts. To those of you who have given in these ways I wish to express my thanks and appreciation. After pursuing some avenues of fundraising and observing the results, I came to the conclusion that while the organization might survive it was extremely unlikely that it would have sufficient funds to continue employing two persons full time. At the same time, several ministry friends with whom I consulted expressed interest in working with me in some capacity or assisting me financially to work independently. For these reasons, a couple of weeks ago I made the decision to give my notice at IRR. I will be leaving the staff of IRR effective at the end of this year. My colleague Joel Groat, who has been at IRR almost since its beginning over 30 years ago, is now the executive director. During the remainder of 2018, I will be taking care of things related to my departure and completing some projects for IRR.

My departure at the end of the year should make it much more feasible for IRR to raise the funding necessary to sustain the organization for the long term. The ministry’s focus will be on its mentoring program and support groups for transitioning Mormons (and possibly Jehovah’s Witnesses) and on training and equipping Christians for discernment and outreach in Utah and outside the United States, especially in Latin America and Africa. Joel has some particularly exciting opportunities to train and equip thousands of pastors in Kenya next year. If you have been blessed by IRR’s ministry, I would encourage you to support the organization financially so that this important work will continue.

Although my plans beyond the end of the year are not yet entirely solidified, it appears that my main work will be writing books. I have a rather long, ambitious list of books that I hope to have published over the next several years. Some of these books will be on Mormonism, the subject area that has had most of my attention the past ten years. Thus, the work that I have been doing will go on and I am hopeful it will have an even greater impact, if God wills.

When I announced last month that IRR was in dire financial straits, one rather unpleasant Mormon apologist rejoiced in that possibility, comparing the possible closing of IRR to the closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic. His offensive analogy aside, even if IRR closes its doors its contributions will continue to help Mormons who are sincerely seeking the truth. There are hundreds of articles about Mormonism on IRR’s website and I don’t think they are going to disappear. And IRR may yet survive this financial challenge and continue its mission of ministering to transitioning Mormons and equipping Christians for discernment and outreach to them. In any case, the false scriptures, doctrines, and rites of the LDS religion will not be safe from scrutiny. Evangelical work in this field is in fact getting even better, as one can see from the publication earlier this year of Sharing the Good News with Mormons, a collection of essays offering practical, informative strategies for doing just what the title indicates. And as I’ve noted, I hope to continue working in this area after my departure from IRR.

Mormonism will not, however, be the only subject I address. I’m going to be working on books on other subjects, including a second edition of Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with my good friend Ed Komoszewski in 2007. I will also be teaching some courses and speaking at some conferences. I am going to the annual Evangelical Theological Society convention in Denver next month, where I will be presenting a paper on Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian views of the Holy Spirit. I am also scheduled to teach again (on a topic yet to be determined) at the Defend Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in early January 2019. If you will be at either of these events, I hope we will meet up and get a chance to talk. In the meantime, I would be grateful for your prayers. If you want to follow what I’m doing and receive updates, you can follow this blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Are You Smarter than a Trinitarian? Part Two: Responding to Mormon Misrepresentations of the Trinity

Kimmons - My reaction to trinitarians who call me a heretic

In Part One of this response to LDS apologist Ronald Kimmons’s flow chart on the Trinity, I summarized his argument and replied to red herrings or misdirections included in that chart that are not germane to the issue of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is true. As I explained there, Kimmons seeks to trap Trinitarians into one of two indefensible positions: (a) claiming that people who don’t believe in a meaningless word are going to Hell or (b) claiming that people who don’t accept the Trinity are heretics while at the same time affirming an explanation of the Trinity that is itself heretical. As I shall now show, Kimmons’s polemic against the doctrine proceeds by systematically misrepresenting what Trinitarians actually believe.

 

The “Incomprehensible” Doctrine of the Trinity

Kimmons begins his questioning of Trinitarians with the question, “Can you explain the Trinity to me in a way that makes sense?” The Trinitarian is allowed to answer either “Yes” or “No.” Already we have a problem. Well-informed Trinitarians should be able to explain the doctrine of the Trinity sufficiently so that others can know what it claims, and they may even be able to explain its meaning in a way that shows it is not meaningless or irrational. However, this does not mean that their explanations, even if reasonable and cogent, will be persuasive or satisfactory to opponents of the doctrine. Moreover, most Trinitarians acknowledge that the doctrine in some way represents God as being beyond our full or complete comprehension. That is, most Trinitarians recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity posits ideas about God that we find difficult if not impossible to explicate fully. The “triunity” of God means something to us, something that is intelligible and significant, but since there is nothing literally triune in nature or in our tangible experience our understanding of how God is triune remains imperfect. This does not mean that we should answer “No” to Kimmons’s first question. We can explain the doctrine in a way that makes sense, at least to a significant extent, but those who take a rationalistic approach to the matter (I must understand it fully and perfectly or it cannot be true) will not agree that it makes sense.

You can see what Kimmons is doing from the rhetorical question he asks if you answer “No” to his question about explaining the Trinity: Continue reading

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