Saturday, September 17, 2016

Big News!!!

Big news everyone!  The blog has been converted into its own domain!  All the information you've found here will still be accessible through the website, but all new articles and posts will only be found there.

The website domain is:

Check it out and contact me if you have any questions or thoughts on the content!  Thank you!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Who Wrote the Book of . . . 2 Peter?

Who Wrote the Book of . . . 2 Peter?
Posted by Clark Bates
September 3, 2016

      In the realm of biblical authorship, few books face as great a tension as that of the Epistle of 2 Peter. Difficulties abound regarding the style and language of the work, as well as its comparison to the Epistle of 1 Peter, and that is to say nothing of its less-than-stellar reception by the early church. In light of these barriers, most of the academic world reject 2 Peter as apostolic, preferring to view it as a pseudepagriphical writing from the second century. Below, I'll acknowledge and briefly examine the evidence used for objection to traditional authorship and counter them, where possible, with a more measured understanding of what is accused.

Internal Evidence

      To begin, the author of 2 Peter identifies himself as Simeon Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1). In addition the author includes several personal flourishes including his experience with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration ( 2 Pet. 1:17-18 cf. Matt. 17:1-5; Mk. 9:2-7; Lk. 9:28-35). The author also seems to feel the imminence of his death while alluding to the prophetic utterances of Christ, as recorded in the Gospel of John (1:14; Jn. 21:18-19). The author refers to this as his “second letter”, inferring that he is the same author as that of 1 Peter (3:1) which, in the last article this was argued as being apostolic in origin, strengthening the apostolic authorship of this epistle as well. What's more, the author speaks of himself as a companion in ministry with the apostle Paul (3:15-16), placing his own teachings on par with those of the apostle to the gentiles. Therefore, the internal evidence demonstrates that the author of 2 Peter sought to identify himself as the apostle Peter.

      This notwithstanding, 2 Peter stands apart as one of the most contested New Testament epistles today. As previously mentioned, modern Academia believes it to be a pseudepigraphical writing of the 2nd century. According to NT scholar Richard Bauckham, “The Petrine authorship of 2 Peter has long been disputed, but only since the beginning of this century has the pseudepighraphical character of the work come to be almost universally recognized.”1 Attempts by many scholars to defend the traditional authorship of 2 Peter have not been received favorably, even to this day, and it would be disingenuous to attribute all of this opposition to entrenched skepticism within Academia. That is not to say that no response can be made, but that any response should be made with respect to the evidence presented.

“The contemporary reader must, on one hand, decide whether the arguments against the book's authenticity are cogent,and, on the other, whether there is sufficient warrant to affirm that the letter came from Peter.”2

Historical Difficulties

     A common assertion in defense of forgery is that 2 Peter is not quoted in any church documents, prior to the third century.3 This is not universally accepted, however, given the argument from several regarding its limited use in the second century by way of allusion. While even Bauckham recognizes that there is better evidence than is sometimes admitted for second century use of 2 Peter, the evidence is decidedly weaker than that of any other accepted writing.4 writing from the fourth century but speaking of the second, the historian Eusebius recognized 1 Peter as authentic but doubted the authority of the 2 Peter, “The so-called second Epistle we have not received as canonical, but nevertheless it has appeared to be useful to many, and has been studied with other Scriptures.”5 However, even though 2 Peter finds itself within the Eusebius' list of “disputed books” (2 Peter, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John), it is in good company as all these works were included into the canon of Scripture. Therefore, although inadvertently, Eusebius has given credence to the early disputation of the letter while simultaneously demonstrating its use in in the second century! By the fourth century 2 Peter found its way into the canons of Laodicea (AD 360), Athanasius (ca. 296-373), Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-387), Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 390) and Carthage (AD 397), among others.

      In modern scholarship, 2 Peter has been rejected as authentic due to its use of Jude, largely because the epistle of Jude is deemed to be “post-apostolic”, and if the author of 2 Peter utilizes Jude, it must have been written after the apostle's death.6 However, if it can be ascertained that the dating of Jude is incorrect, this argument against 2 Peter fails. Another argument against Petrine authorship as linked to the epistle of Jude is the use of imitation from one letter to the other. 2 Peter appears to mimic sections of Jude, making it submissive to the latter. Given the apostle Peter's primacy in the early church, it is considered doubtful that, were his letter authentic, it would be in a secondary position.7 However, even this argument is based on suppositions. If the epistle of Jude is authentically penned by the brother of Jesus, it would be customary that the higher status would be bestowed upon the family member over the apostle.

Literary Style and Language

      Concerning literary style and language, the letter contains a considerable amount of rare words gleaned from a variety of literary works, poetry and obscure sources. This would suggest that the author is widely read, something the biblical accounts seem to contradict, regarding the nature of the apostle (Acts 4:13). This is deemed so conclusive that the “Hellenistic influence . . . rules out Peter definitely.”8 This uniqueness in style, when compared to the first epistle, is so distinct that it is concluded that each letter is written by separate authors. 1 Peter speaks of the “revelation” of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7), while 2 Peter refers to His “coming” (2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4) and “the day of the Lord” (3:10). 1 Peter describes God's redemption as “the salvation of your souls” (1:9), but 2 Peter prefers to speak of “entry into the eternal kingdom” (1:11). 1 Peter quotes the OT extensively, while 2 Peter scarcely; and while 2 Peter refers back to the first letter, there is virtually no intersection between the two.

      While a great deal of credence is given to the differences in style and vocabulary of the two epistles (and the differences should not be minimized) there simply is not enough of a corpus of Petrine literature to determine what the apostle could, or could not, have written. The apostle could have referred to Christ's “revelation” in one instance, and to His “coming” in another. Similarly, the use of Hellenistic terminology is insufficient grounds to reject apostolic authorship given the Hellenistic world within which the apostles lived, wrote and ministered. It is a well known fact in the early church that the apostle Peter was in need of linguistic help. Thorough knowledge of Greek was not as widespread in Galilee and the ability to write well was not universal by any means.9 The use of an amanuensis has been discussed in previous articles and was common practice, especially for the apostle. To quote the Beatles, Peter “got by with a little help from his friends.”10 While there is little documented on either side of this debate regarding the license which the apostle may have given his “secretary”, it is common knowledge that various amanuensis throughout the centuries would contribute as little as dictation or as much as linguistic style and language. Because of this broad range of secretarial practices it becomes impossible to say what kind of style Peter could have used.

Historical Setting

      It is also argued that the letter provides historical clues to a late dating. The author speaks against heretics “since the time the fathers died” (3:4) suggesting the letter was written to a problem occurring after the first generation of Christians. In 3:2 the author speaks of “your apostles” suggesting the apostles were a group to which the author did not belong, and in 3:16, the author speaks of Paul's letters as “Scripture,” indicating that that the book was written in a post-apostolic age.11

      Regarding the use of the term “fathers” in 3:4, there is no reason to see this as a referent to first generation Christians unless you operate from a position of skepticism regarding the dating of the text. The early church did not refer to the first generation of Christians as “the fathers”, however it was a term utilized for the Jewish ancestors.12 Likewise, in 3:2 the use of the term “your apostles” does not suggest a post-apostolic authorship, but is merely a designation of those who have preached and ministered the gospel to the readers. Regarding the use of “Scripture” in light of the apostle Paul's writings, a suggestion of pseudonymity must be forced upon the text. While it is true that during the apostle Peter's time the term “Scriptures” referred to the divinely inspired works of the OT, but early into the life of the church, the same term was applied to the teachings of Jesus (1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:6).

       The majority opinion that 2 Peter exists as a pseudephigrical text is not without its difficulties, even given its wide acceptance. As has been discussed in early articles, there is no secured reasoning that a document, known to be pseudonymous, would ever be allowed into the canon. Very little attention is given to this feature because most who argue for the pseudonymous nature of this epistle already accept a limited canon of authentic Pauline writings and presuppose a New Testament filled with pseudepigraphy! Ironically, the above-mentioned “personal flourishes” within the epistle are also used as a reason to accept pseudonimity!13 It is argued that the emphasis on Petrine authorship is too heavily stressed and suggests the author is covering their work. This approach tends to overflow with an unnecessarily extreme form of hyper skepticism to the text, and can not explain why the author would use the instances that they did, rather than more foundational events that ascribe higher authority to the apostle.

      The contemporary objections to Petrine authorship are not without their weaknesses, and we must not allow the volume of opinion to decide a case such as this. These objections should be received and analyzed, but also responded to. The verdict of the early church was certainly ambiguous but the epistle was clearly used, and widely so. What's more, while the epistle bears little similarity to it's earlier counterpart, it bears no similarity to the later apocalyptic literature that also bore the apostle Peter's name. Academic consensus aside, we are left with three options regarding the authorship of this epistle:

  1. The prima facie claim of the letter to be apostolic should be accepted.
  2. The evidence of its forgery is determinative, therefore it does not deserve canonical status.
  3. Or, the evidence is inconclusive.

Many prefer a form of the second option but seek to keep the epistle's canonicity, but this is disingenuous. Others, in the face of the dispute, find the third option best. I see the acceptance of the epistle into the canon as a clear rejection of the second option, and while I can sympathize with the third, only the first is permissible in light of the existing evidence and a high view of biblical innerancy.

1Richard Bauckham, “2 Peter: An Account of Research.” Aufsteig und Niedergang der romischen Welt, 2.25.5 (New York: de Gruyter, 1988), 3719.

2Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Jude & 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 140.

3Pheme Perkins, Interpretations: First and Second Peter, James and Jude, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995), 160.

4Richard Bauckham, World Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, (Waco: World Press, 1983), 160.

5Esuebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1.

6Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 144.

7It has been argued by some that Jude imitates 2 Peter, but this line of argumentation is not corroborated by the evidence.

8W.G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, transl. H.C. Kee, 2nd. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 431.

9Green, Jude, 146.

10 Mark, Sylvanus, and a certain Glaucias are three such “friends”.

11Earl Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 308.

12Green, 316.

13Kummel, Introduction, 430, 433.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Priviged Planet:. New Study Suggests We are Alone in the Cosmos

In the paper, the three astronomers calculated the likelihood for advanced life as a function of cosmic time and concluded that we humans must be the first on the cosmic scene. In their calculation, they presumed that any life possibly existing in the universe must be like us in that its chemistry is carbon-base ...

Click on the link below
Are We Alone in the Cosmos?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: No God But One by Nabeel Qureshi

Book Review:  No God But One: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence For Islam & Christianity

Posted by Clark Bates
August 27, 2016

      For those familiar with his previous writings, Nabeel Qureshi's biography as a Muslim Zealot turned Christian apologist has made him the overnight authority on Christian/Islamic Apologetics. As he recounted in his first work Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel spent much of his life as a devout American Muslim, fervently seeking to spread the faith of Allah and his messenger Muhammad to all who would hear him. Raised to love Islam but faced with insurmountable questions after the events of 9/11, the author sought to investigate his faith and silence the doubts that began to permeate his thoughts and worship. Through multiple interactions with Christians and Muslims, over the course of four years, Nabeel's faith in Allah and the Prophet began to erode, while his realization and acceptance of Jesus began to increase. As he recalls,

“On August 24, 2005, when I could resist no longer, I bent my knee to Jesus and proclaimed my faith in Him. Soon after my family was shattered, and the next year of my life was by far the most harrowing I have ever endured. I was now an outsider, both to my family and to all my friends in the Islamic community.”1

      Having achieved a degree in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School, the author focused his sights on defense of the Christian faith, earning degrees in apologetics from Biola University and religion from Duke. Currently, Nabeel is pursuing his doctorate in New Testament studies from Oxford University and is an international speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. The events that Nabeel describes in his premier writing are now parlayed into his latest work as a structured, point-by-point comparison of the Christian and Islamic faiths, with the ultimate goal of demonstrating the overwhelming reliability of Christianity and the need for Muslims worldwide to seek the truth.

      Separated into ten parts, No God but One addresses the various dissimilarities between the two faiths, followed by an epistemological analysis of each faith's claim to truth. Much of Nabeel's writing is contemporary with the debates circulating in the public sphere regarding Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God, the comparison of modern jihad with that of the Crusades, Muhammad as opposed to Jesus, the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and the Quranic claims of divine origin and perfection. In so doing, the author provides a plethora of information for the Christian and Muslim reader, sandwiched between the harrowing account of a young Muslim girl's conversion to Christianity and its resulting consequences.

      Nabeel's method of approach creates a means by which the reader is systematically exposed to an increasingly monumental level of evidence, calling into question the very foundations of Islam. The author crafts arguments that include comparing and contrasting Sharia versus the Gospel, Jesus versus Muhammed, Trinity versus Tawhid (Allah is absolutely one), and the Quran versus the Bible. All the while interspersing his own personal life story into the content of each comparison, Nabeel provides the reader with an immersive experience that relates audience to narrator on an intimate level rather than merely offering data for consumption.

      Nabeel's earlier work, Answering Jihad, suffered slightly from a sense of hurried compilation. Admittedly, that work was produced within the period of a few months, but impressively carried a great deal of information. No God but One does not suffer from this in any way. From start to finish one gets the impression that great care and compassion has gone into each chapter. The author's desire to present his own journey to faith as the template upon which each challenge is made allows the reader to feel for those embracing the Islamic faith and long for them to see truth. As Nabeel states at the outset, “In rejecting the Source of Life, we bring death upon ourselves. This bears repeating: The result of sin is death because it is a rejection of the Source of Life.”2

      However emotionally effective this text may be, it does not remain at a superficial level. In dealing with the relation of Islamic Tawhid versus the Trinity, the author relays, both through his firsthand knowledge and investigative results, that, “the trinity the Quran is denying is actually tri-theism, three gods: Allah, Jesus, and Mary.”3 Challenging not only the logical difficulties that arise from the Islamic doctrine of Tawhid, namely the teaching that Allah can have no attributes and remain Tawhid, Nabeel turns the Islamic argument of Allah's transcendence on it's head, accusing Islam of creating a god made in the image of man: “If God created our minds, then He must be greater than their comprehension. Who are we to demand that He be simple enough for us to understand Him?”4

      The purpose of this book seems very clear, the faith of Islam cannot overcome the historical data and metaphysical claims upon which it survives. In contrast, the Christian faith is built upon metaphysical truth claims, grounded in the historical space-time event of the resurrection. In every avenue of inquisition the author finds Islam untenable and Christianity unwavering. However, his earnest desire to not abandon the faith of his birth reminds readers that this debate involves real people in desperate spiritual circumstances. Far from being a tool by which to browbeat non-Christians, Nabeel's book seeks to build empathy while simultaneously conveying truth.

      The target audience of this book is broad. It's readability makes it accessible to every layperson of either faith. At the same time, it's detailed information provides an excellent apologetic resource for the pastor, teacher or evangelist seeking to reach out to their Islamic neighbors or friends. While some Christians might find the apologetic used within to be cursory, so too might the skilled Muslim; however, for many of both worldviews a deep understanding of their faith's cardinal doctrines seems to be sincerely lacking in the West, and, as such, this book will continue to serve even them. This work may stand out as the author's crowning achievement, but it is too soon to be certain. As far as effectively conveying the reason for Christianity over Islam, Nabeel succeeds admirably. Doing so in a manner that engenders no hostility from the side of the writer is an even greater achievement, and is one that is successfully accomplished as well. As the author expresses it in his appeal to Muslim brothers and sisters, “Leaving Islam can cost you everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known, and maybe even life itself. Is it really worth sacrificing everything for the truth? The answer is simple: It depends on the value of truth.”5

1Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One:A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 23.

2Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One, 34.

3Ibid., 62.

4Ibid., 68.

5Ibid., 349.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Brief Defense of the Moral Argument

A Brief Defense of the Moral Argument

Posted by Clark Bates
August, 23, 2016


      What moral difference would it make if God did not exist? A large portion of society today would probably say, “None.” An excellent example of this is found in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. It says:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Now compare this with the U.S. Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The point of agreement within these two worldviews is the objective value of humanity, but the area of discord is the source of this value. According to the U.N., objective moral value presumably comes by naturalistic processes. Humans are simply “born with it.” Whereas the Declaration of Independence asserts that this objective moral value comes from something greater, namely God.

      This is the heart of the Moral Argument for God. Formally stated it would sound like this:

      1. If objective moral values exist, then God exists.
      2. Objective moral values do exist.
      3. Therefore, God exists.
On the basis of this argument naturalism cannot account for objective moral values, such as those stated in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, because naturalism functions as a valueless process. The same naturalism that Tennyson called “Red in tooth and claw,” and that Richard Dawkins said in , “should not be used as a guide for society”, is a valueless process that cannot conceivably produce valuable personal beings.1 2

Let's examine each premise to see if the conclusion follows:

Premise 1: If Objective Moral Values Exist, God Exists.

      Now the only way to determine if this premise is true is if it can be demonstrated that naturalism cannot produce moral values and duties. Let's begin by defining what I mean by an objective moral value or duty. An objective moral value or duty is a an obligation to do what is right in a given circumstance regardless of one's personal opinion. It's often asserted that many atheists or non-theists are just as, if not more than, moral as Christians. This is used as evidence that belief in God is not necessary for morality to exist. This is absolutely true. You don't have to believe that God exists in order to be moral. But the argument before us is not that it is necessary to believe in God for objective moral values and duties to exist, but that for objective moral values and duties to exist God must exist. It has nothing to do with whether or not one believes in God, for all mankind is created with the same image of God regardless of their belief system and therefore all mankind is able to recognize the same objective moral standards.

       According to Sam Harris, “If there are psychological laws that govern human well-being, knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis of objective morality.”
3 What Harris is proposing is a form of “atheistic realism” which asserts both that the physical universe is all that is and yet objective moral values are brute facts that exist within it. The issue here is that what he's asserting is that metaphysical realities somehow exist within a strictly physical world and we should just not question that. To take it a step further, a moral obligation is a type of proposition, i.e. “Rape is bad.” We make propositions all the time, but they arise from our mind; Harris is insisting that these objective propositions somehow arise from mindlessness. This is a kind of expansion on the work of another atheist named Michael Martin who wrote that “One could affirm the objective immorality of rape and deny the existence of God with perfect consistency.” In both instances these men are making the claim that moral values and duties are just the result of human evolutionary development, however they are guilty of equivocating what “is” with what “ought” to be. It “is” true that mankind psychologically acknowledges laws (that exist apart from themselves mind you) that provide an enduring basis of reality. It “is” true that one can affirm that rape is wrong and deny God, but neither of these factors can answer “why” those things are true. They tell us that rape “is” wrong, but not why rape “ought” to be wrong. They confuse an is with an ought.

      To put it another way, the evolutionary process is primarily interested in survival, not in true belief. It can, and has been, argued that moral values help us survive, but this says nothing about whether those moral values are true, and for morality to be objective it must necessarily be true. We may believe, with the UN, that human beings have intrinsic value and that this has helped us survive, but this may still be false. We may believe in moral obligations as a means of preservation of the species, but this belief may be wrong. And if an appeal to objective moral values is going to be made, such an appeal requires that these values not only be real, but that they be true. For if they are not true, there is no longer an objective reason to abide by them. If naturalism fails to account for the “Why” of objective moral values and duties it cannot serve as adequate explanation for them.

Premise 2: Objective Moral Values do Exist

     The nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche famously, and rather dramatically, stated that “God is dead” in his “Parable of the Madman”, but even he recognized that with the destruction of God came the destruction of objective value. He wrote in that same parable,
"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”4

The existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre saw this too when he wrote,
“It is very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him.”5

      Now it's often claimed that objective morality cannot exist given the wide diversity of moral values throughout the world. However, C.S. Lewis, in his work The Abolition of Man, surveyed the basic moral precepts of various cultures and found at least 8 points of commonality with all. There were agreed upon moral laws regarding general and special benevolence, or kindness, an expected moral duty towards parents and the elderly, moral laws regarding justice, regarding integrity and truth, regarding mercy and generosity. In short, while differences in particular moral circumstances may exist in various cultures, there are multiple areas of cross-cultural common morality. As Frank Turek rather comically reiterates, Hindus believe that it is immoral to eat cows, whereas Americans do not. The reason that Hindus find it immoral to eat cattle is their belief in re-incarnation and the potential for that cow to be inhabited by an ancestor. Americans eat cows because we don't believe that Grandma is in the cow. However, while the practice is different the moral value remains the same, both Americans and Hindus agree, it's wrong to eat Grandma!

      While it might be en vogue to deny the existence of an objective moral law, it is impossible to live consistently with that belief. Our daily lives belie the reality of objective moral values. Our reactions to perceived violations reveal a sense of moral justice. You might say that you don't believe in an objective moral standard but if you've ever been the victim of theft or been in a hit and run accident you've filed a police report! You did this because you intrinsically acknowledge that it is morally objectionable for someone else to take your belongings or for someone to damage your car without retribution.

      Without an objective moral law there would be no standard for human rights. Just as we've seen in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, human rights are endowed by the Creator, making them unalienable, that is to say, inherent. When Nazi war criminals were brought before the Nuremburg trials they were convicted of violating human rights inherent to all people. If moral values and duties were merely subjective, the Nazis did nothing wrong. For them, the extermination of various races and people was the morally right action to achieve the Ubermensch (Supermen). The Allied nations could not accuse them of committing criminal actions unless a standard of moral values and duties exists beyond personal preference. What's more, any moment we as individuals or as a society declare one particular set of moral values deficient to another, we are claiming to know a standard by which they are measured.

      Let me ask you this, “Why do Black Lives Matter?” I don't ask that to be inflammatory. I agree that black lives do matter, but unless you have some objective moral standard by which to determine that they matter, there's nothing to protest. The sense of social injustice that we see rising up in various areas of this country point to the recognition of a universal standard of human value. Ironically, the political group that most often denies the existence of objective morality yet vociferously supports social justice movements are labeled “progressives”. The very name of which implies that a change in moral values must occur, meaning we are not living up to an unspecified objective moral standard that is claimed to not exist.

      Truth can be defined in many cases as that which best corresponds to reality. Objective moral values surface in every facet of our daily lives, bleeding through the reality of our existence. When someone consistently maintains a belief despite its being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality it's called being delusional. No matter how loudly one might shout down the existence of objective moral values or duties, the truth of reality will always prove them wrong.

Which brings us to:

Premise 3: Therefore, God exists

       In the absence of a naturalistic explanation for objective moral values and the verifiable existence of these same objective moral values, the explanation must exist beyond the realm of naturalism. The fact that moral values are equivalent to moral propositions means that they must be made by a moral mind that transcends our own in such a way that all of humanity can perceive it. In the same manner that physical laws cannot be asserted without being applied by a lawgiver, neither can moral law be acknowledged without a Moral Lawgiver. This Mind or Lawgiver is best understood as God. The rejection of such a possibility finds its existential bite in the accountability that necessarily follows. If there is a moral standard to which we are held, set by a transcendent Moral Lawgiver, then we are accountable to that Lawgiver. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,

“It is after you have realized that there is a Moral Law and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power – it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.”6


1Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam A.H.H., Canto 56,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed.”

2Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 380-1.

3Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values, (Simon & Schuster, 2011), 215.

4Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Parable of the Madman”

5Jean Paul-Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism,” trans. Bernard Frechtman, (Carol Publishing Group, 1945).

6C.S> Lewis, Mere Christianity, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 31.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Who Wrote the Book of . . . 1 Peter?

Who Wrote the Book of . . . 1 Peter?
Posted by Clark Bates
August, 6, 2016

      Having discussed the contested books of Paul and the authorship of the gospels, this series on New Testament authorship will now turn toward the writings of Peter. It may or may not surprise some readers to hear that both epistles that bear the apostle Peter's name are highly questioned, and in many cases, considered pseudonymous. This belief has arisen from the school of source criticism that gained prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but recent scholarship has begun to demonstrate the inability of these conclusion to truly account for the authorship of the Petrine epistles.

      It has been the format of this series to present the case against traditional authorship, followed by a parallel case for it. I have decided that for this article and perhaps the next, the format will be more amalgamated in which each objection to traditional authorship will be challenged immediately. We will then conclude with a brief summary and discussion on additional evidence for the Petrine authorship of this epistle.

Who wrote 1 Peter?

      This question is, of course, the heart of the entire article, but given that 1 Peter begins with a salutation attributed to the apostle himself (1:1) it becomes glaringly important. The nature of pseudonymity has been discussed in earlier articles on Paul and will not be regurgitated here, but it has become a prevalent opinion with many modern scholars to accept authorship of this epistle by a Petrine group in Rome between AD 75 and 95, seeking to accurately represent the apostle's thoughts.1 For those that embrace a late dating to the book, the existence of such a group would be inevitable from a sociological standpoint, but even if this were a sociological inevitability, it does not explain why such a group would write in such a way.

      By way of example, both in the letter's opening and close, references are made to Mark and Silvanus (1:1; 5:12-13). Are these to be understood as pseudonymous fiction? If this epistle were carried by Silvanus, as has been suggested, how was he to represent the letter to its recipients, knowing it was a forgery? Even if we are to accept that the Gospel according to Mark is Peter's testimony, the author of the gospel does not presume to write it in the apostle's name. Perhaps more importantly, while a Petrine group of faithful followers might present an attractive alternative, there is no extant evidence from the first century that such a group ever existed.

Major Challenges to Traditional Authorship

      Almost all modern challenges to apostolic authorship can be contained within 4 categories: 1. The Greek of the epistle is to advanced for the apostle Peter; 2. The content of the book reflects a church structure and social environment that corresponds to a time decades after the apostle's lifetime; 3. The epistle reflects a dependence on the deutero-Pauline letters (those letters contested as pseudonymous in their own right) making its dating to be after them and thus beyond Peter's lifetime; and 4. Christianity could not have reached the remote areas of Asia Minor spoken of in the letter and become a target of major persecution until a decade after Peter had died.

      Taking each of these objections in turn, it must be acknowledged that the Greek of 1 Peter does appear to be of a higher quality than one would expect from a fisherman-turned-apostle. Most who support the earlier dating of this authorship will at least propose the use of a considerably more skilled Greek amanuensis. That being said, quality of language can be, to some extent, subjective. The letter is argued to have such features as, “polished Attic style, Classical vocabulary . . . and rhetorical quality. . . mak[ing] it one of the more refined writings in the NT.”2 But the question persists as to whether such language and style require an author formally trained in Greek, and whether or not the apostle Peter could have attained such skill in his lifetime.

      It has recently been noted that, within the syntax of the epistle, 1 Peter exhibits a clearly bilingual interference, consistent with a Semitic author for whom Greek is a second language.3 “This is perhaps the most telling feature of the Greek in 1 Peter, for a letter's syntax flows almost subconsciously from an author's proficiency with the language. . .”4 When the syntax of 1 Peter is paralleled with that of another Semitic author like Josephus we find that rather than demonstrating refined Greek understanding, the author was deficient to Josephus in multiple areas, including use of prepositions, genitive personal pronouns and the dative case with the preposition en. What this demonstrates is that the author of the epistle was likely of Semitic origin (thus limited to the area of Palestine) in the first century. He would not have been a Greek or Latin speaking Roman or from Asia Minor, making the pseudonymous authorship by a Petrine group less likely.

      The second argument against apostolic authorship is based on the addressed persecution and church structure of 1 Peter. Three emperors of note instituted Christian persecution in the Roman empire during the first century: Nero (54-68), Domitian (81-96), and Trajan (98-117). The nature of persecution in the book is far too vague to be used as a method of dating however. When examining the letter itself, the persecution listed appears to be limited to malicious talk, verbal slander, and false accusations (1:6; 2:12, 15: 3:9, 16; 4:12, 16). This form of persecution need not necessarily point to the level of martyrdom seen under the emperors mentioned and could easily refer to a time period prior to the escalation of government sanctioned and enforced persecution.

      The historian Pliny the Younger wrote approximately 60 letters tot he emperor Trajan over a three year period in AD 90, some of which concerned the persistent problem of Christianity. In these letters he recounted Christians abdicating their faith twenty years prior.5 If what is written in 1 Peter regards a less dire situation than that of Pliny then it must be written more than twenty years prior. Much of the debate around the persecutions centers on the “fiery ordeal” of 1 Peter 4:12. Those who claim t a late dating see this as a reference to Nero who used Christians as living torches to light the streets of Rome at night, but recent scholarship suggests this is more likely am acknowledgment to the philosopher Seneca, a contemporary of Peter, who wrote, “Fire tests gold, affliction tests strong men.”6 The image of trials as a testing analogous to fire smelting gold is characteristic of the epistle (1:7, 18; 4:12). Peter describes the trial as worldwide (5:9), which suggests a persecution faced by all Christians, not one executed by Roman officials in one place.

      This type of persecution was common in the early church.7 Most who hold to a pseudonymous authorship maintain that the letter was written after AD 70 but prior to the reign of Domitian. This is based on 1 Peter 4:15-16 which suggests that Christians were being arrested simply for being Christians, as though it were akin to a common thief, something argued to be impossible prior to Nero.8

      Regarding the church structure, it is stated that the use of the term episkopountes (overseeing) in 5:2 refers to the monarchical bishop of the second century. Given the history of this term, the above challenge is more of a case of reading a second century reality backward into the text. As far back as the book of Acts, the apostle Paul uses presbyteroi (elders) and episkopoi interchangeably. In Acts 20:17 and 28 the apostle exhorts the Ephesian elders (presbyteroi) to shepherd (promainein) the people of God because they are overseers (episkopoi)! There is clearly no distinction of terms here, nor any suggestion of official offices. Given that 1 Peter is not written tot a local body, but to a wide area likely covering a territory that would surpass a single bishop there is no reason to assume the later meaning is applied to the term here.

      Coming finally to the epistle's dependence on deutero-Pauline literature. First, it must be recognized that this claim assumes the pseudonymity of those letters, which is not a certainty. Second, the argument has been adjusted simply to 1 Peter's dependency on Paul the apostle as well. Even to assume this dependency would be to suggest a pseudonymous author from a Pauline school rather than a Petrine one, but this creates the added question of why this letter would not then be attributed to Paul instead of Peter? Some have sought to avoid this difficulty by explaining the dependence as an amalgamation of of Petrine and Pauline traditions in which “much Pauline tradition is now set forth under the name of Peter”, the assumed primary apostle of Rome.9 This view struggles some, first in its assumption that Peter was in a position of hegemony in the early church beyond that of other apostles, and second this must be assumed to have consistently developed within twenty years of his death.

      Notwithstanding these objections, Peter makes no reference to Paul or his letters in this epistle, and similarities that do exist are of terms and themes that could be less reliant on Paul and more understandably based upon a common faith and Christian tradition. The connection between the two apostles is strained. Too strained even to be a reliable objection to traditional authorship.

Secondary Support for Traditional Authorship

      A final note on pseudonymity must be mentioned. While the prevalence of pseudepigraphy has already been discussed, such writings were largely connected to certain genres. Primarily wisdom literature (Wisdom of Solomon) and apocalyptic (1 Enoch). 1 Peter is neither of these and the acceptance of pseudonymous letters as a genre is contestable. To argue that the book is pseudonymous while retaining a direct link to apostolic authority (as is often claimed) is unverifiable when the link can only be inferred, and merely consists of an attempt to remain skeptical while retaining some sense of authority.
However, even a motive of honoring the apostle by way of pseudonymity finds no support in the first century. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The spurious letter of 3 Corinthians, attributed to Paul, enjoyed acceptance until it was recognized as being non-Pauline. When a presbyter of Asia Minor was discovered as its author, he was not congratulated but censured and removed from church office.

      Lastly, the epistle of 1 Peter contains several allusions to the teachings of Jesus. While the value of these allusions in determining authorship is debated, the list ranges from thirty to at least fifteen. These verba Christi, as they are known, parallel teachings found in all four Gospels, but do not quote the Gospels which does not indicate a literary dependence but one of experience. On this topic, Gundry writes, “The most striking feature about the verba Christi in 1 Peter, however, is that they refer to contexts in the gospels which are especially associated with the apostle Peter.”10


      While more could be said regarding the geography of the intended recipients of this epistle, and even the theology within its text, sufficient is the discussion at this stage to close. As has been seen in may of the earlier articles, source-criticism has always sought to understand New Testament literature from a vantage point of skepticism. While this is not necessarily inappropriate, the result, as we see here, is too often one in which the critic will maintain skepticism even in light of insufferable difficulties. It is not a position of integrity to assert a skeptical position solely on the basis of group think or an unwillingness to admit previous error. The evidence must always lead those investigating to a conclusion, wherever it may lead. In the case of New Testament authorship, what we often see is a magnifying of contrary evidence against authorship and a diminishing of evidence for. However, when the data is objectively analyzed the traditional authorship rises above accusations as the more likely at best or inconclusive at worst.

1J.K. Elliott, Essays and Studies in the New Testament Textual Criticism, (Cordoba: Ediciones el Amendro, 1992), 127-30.

2Elliott, ESNTTC, 120.

3Karen H. Jobes, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 7.

4Jobes, 1 Peter, 7.

5Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96.6.

6Seneca, On Providence, 5.10.

71 Thess.1:6; 2:14-16; 3:3-5; Matt. 10:16-20; Gal. 4:29.

8L. Goppelt, A Commentary on 1 Peter, trans. J.E. Alsup, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 39-45.

9M.E. Boring, Abingdon New Testament Commentary Series: 1 Peter, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 43.

10R. H. Gundry, “Verba Christi in 1 Peter: Their Implications Concerning the Authorship of 1 Peter and the Authenticity of the Gospel Tradition,” New Testament Studies, 13 (1966-67), 349.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Who wrote the Books of . . . 1 and 2 Thessalonians?

Who wrote the Books of . . . 1 and 2 Thessalonians?
Posted by Clark Bates
July 30, 2016

      Paul's missionary journey to Thessalonica was a volatile one, but resulted in two epistles that have become foundational to the church overall and in varying degrees to particular denominations. Continuing with our series regarding New Testament authorship, we push forward with the contested letters of Paul. While 1 Thessalonians is widely accepted as authentically Pauline, 2 Thessalonians is not. However, the connection between these letters is such that it would be detrimental to not write of both together. In recent years, contemporary skeptical scholarship has all but dismissed the possibility of Pauline authorship in these letters and it is because of this that we now turn our attention to them.

Against Pauline Authorship

      Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey, as recorded in the book of Acts (17:1-9). It was a tumultuous stay for three Sabbaths, resulting in a riot, created by Jews within the city. Because of this, Paul and Silas were sent out of the city. Luke's account of Paul's time in Thessalonica, it is suggested, differs dramatically from the references to the visit found in the epistles. If, as Luke recounts, Jews were among the converts during his time, it would be unlikely for Paul to refer to them as having “turned to God from idols” (1 Thess.1:9).

      What's more, Luke suggests that Paul's visit was merely three to four weeks (three Sabbaths), yet the epistles speak of activities that surely would have taken longer. For instance, Paul claims to have worked long enough to set an example (1 Thess. 2:9) and praises the Philippians for sending him money twice while he was in Thessalonica (Phil.4:15-16).

Beyond this opposition there are three matters that must be addressed regarding the authorship of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:

  1. The Co-Authorship of the Letters
  2. The Alleged Interpolations in 1 Thessalonians
  3. The Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians


      Both letters name Paul, Silas, and Timothy as the authors of the letters, yet they are traditionally ascribed strictly to Paul. Many scholars argue that this is not accurate, nor is it fair. The dominant use of the first-person plural within the writing of the epistles, even in the thanksgiving section stands out among the rest of the Pauline corpus, including those letters that name someone else in the salutation (1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon).1 In antiquity, it was rare to include multiple people within a salutation and the use of the plural “we” would likely have been understood as referring to authorship.

Interpolations of 1 Thessalonians

      The authenticity of 1 Thessalonians is not questioned by many scholars today. It exists as one of the seven letters ascribed to Paul in the critical canon Pauline writings. However, critical scholars do argue for the addition of non-Pauline material into the letter known as interpolations. Some suggested sections of interpolation are 2:1-10 and 5:1-11, but most support for this view surrounds 2:13-16.

      The use of the phrase “wrath of God” coming upon the Jews, it is argued, must refer to the destruction of the temple in AD70. Therefore, this section could not have been included in the original text which is dated within the mid-50s. What's more, the section reflects a very negative view of the Jew's hope for final salvation which is in direct conflict with Romans 11:26. It is reasonable to assume, then, that this section is especially non-pauline.

Against the Pauline Authorship of 2 Thessalonians

      Skepticism regarding the Pauline authorship of this second epistle began in the 19th century with F.C. Bauer, but much of the modern force against traditional authorship is indebted to the writings of Charles Mason in 1957 and Wolfgang Trilling in 1972. While the usual critical arguments have been employed regarding vocabulary and style as theology have been employed these have not survived into much of the contemporary debate. The two main points of debate regarding the letter in modern scholarship are rather paradoxical. It is argued that 2 Thessalonians is too similar to 1 Thessalonians to have been written by Paul and 2 Thessalonians is too unlike 1 Thessalonians to be written by Paul.

      The thrust behind the “similarities” argument is that no author would duplicate material from one letter to another so soon after to the same audience. Both letters share commonalities in salutation, verbal application and structural configuration. It is said that every paragraph in 1 Thessalonians has a counterpart in 2 Thessalonians.2 Both letters feature the unusual double thanksgiving (1 Thess. 1:2 and 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:3 and 2:13) and a transitional benediction (1 Thess. 3:11 – 13; 2 Thess. 2:16-17). These similarities lead many scholars to conclude that whoever wrote the epistle clearly utilized 1 Thessalonians as their template.

      The striking differences between the letters are also pointed out by much of critical academia, centered largely around the eschatology of the two epistles. It is suggested that Paul displays a sense of imminence in 1 Thessalonians which is very typical of the early church. He has an expectation of being alive for the second coming (4:17) and cautions his readers against trying to calculate the times and dates (5:1-4). However, in 2 Thessalonians warns against thinking that the second coming is imminent. He even states that the rebellion and introduction of the “man of lawlessness” must precede the second coming (2:1-4). If 1 Thessalonians is Pauline and reflects his actual eschatology, it must be that 2 Thessalonians is not.

In Favor of Pauline Authorship

      It should be noted that Luke's account of Paul's time in Thessalonica makes reference to “God-fearers” as well as Jews becoming converts to the gospel. God-feareres were Gentiles that worshiped the Hebrew God and would still be, in Jewish eyes, Gentiles. Because of this, embracing the one true God found through Jesus Christ would be to “turn from idols to the true God.”3

      Regarding the length of Paul's sojourn in the city, Luke is actually rather vague. The Acts narrative states that Paul and Silas preached for three Sabbaths and that some time after that certain Jews instigated a riot. There is no clear direction of time, therefore a stay of several months cannot be ruled out. Even with this possibility, however, it is not as unreasonable as critics might suggest that Paul could have accomplished the activity detailed in the Thessalonian epistles over the period of one month.4


      While it is true that the use of first person plurals dominate the epistles, that does not mean the author(s) only uses plurals. In fact, there are several instances of first person singular references in both letters (1 Thess. 2.:18; 3:5; 5:27; 2 Thess. 2:5; 3:17). If the letters had been genuinely co-authored, this would be rather unusual. The use of a first person plural can be seen as a literary device, but it is also possible that Paul makes mention of Silas and Timothy so prevalently precisely because they were closely associated with the church at Thessalonica. Even if it is accepted that the letter is co-authored, Paul would be the primary author and voice of the writing, and thus the ascription of 1 and 2 Thessalonians to the apostle is not unjustified.

Interpolation of 1 Thessalonians

      While it shouldn't be minimized that this passage contains harsh overtones toward the Jewish people and its potential conflict with Romans 11, there exists no textual evidence that this passage was ever absent from the epistle. What's more, the suggestion that early Christians would have been able to merely insert new sections into widely distributed Pauline letters without difficulty or trace runs into insurmountable logistic difficulties.5 What's more, the verses themselves are not out of context. Paul's commendation of the Thessalonian's reception of the Word of God and encouragement regarding their persecution fit the theme of 2:1-12 nicely. The use of “God's wrath” against the Jews is a sentiment found in other areas of the New Testament related to the widespread Jewish rejection of the Messiah (Matt. 23:32; Acts 7:51-53) and brings to close the sin of Israel and her refusal to listen to God.

In Favor of Pauline Authorship of 2 Thessalonians

      The letter claims to be written by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and is even attested by Paul to be in his own writing (3:17). No responsible early church authority questioned Paul's authorship of 2 Thessalonians.1 It is included within the Muratorian Canon as well as the Marcion Canon and known by the early church fathers, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus.

      Despite the conventional arguments against Pauline authorship attributed to similarities and dissimilarities, many scholars, not all evangelical, still maintain traditional authorship. The verbal parallels should be acknowledged, but much of the similarities are overblown. The passages in question largely circulate in the opening and closing portions of the letters where you might expect a repetitious formulation. The differences in the letter, especially regarding the body of 2 Thessalonians betray any suspicion of reliance on 1 Thessalonians by a pseudonymous author.

      The main point regarding the dissimilarities between the epistles is theological. This argument is considered all but certain by critical scholars but hinges upon the preconceived notion that the apostle could not have held these two eschatological positions simultaneously. As a point of fact, many Jewish apocalypses contain the same mixture of imminence and warning signs that we see in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Even more to the point, the same mixture is found within the gospels. One need only consider Matt. 24:33 with Matt. 24:44b for an example. Like so many circumstances in the dual letters of Paul, the difference in content (eschatological included) rests on the different pastoral needs for each writing.
      Critics often overemphasize the teaching of “immediacy” within the early church while also downplaying the importance of imminence in later Christian writings. The eschatology of 2 Thessalonians seems to be dependent on the book of Daniel causing some to consider that the eschatology of each letter are not in conflict but rather two stages of the same crisis.2 If this consideration is correct, there ceases to be any difficulty. While most critical scholars posit a pseudonymous author for 2 Thessalonians, the same difficulties that plague this suggestion regarding other Pauline epistles plague this one as well.


      While it can be agreed that there is a potential of co-authorship within the letters, the existence of Paul the apostle as the primary author for both remains the more reasonable position. The argument from tradition, the ratification of verbal and structural similarities and eschatological dissimilarities, and the insurmountable difficulties with the suggestion of pseudonymity should lead readers to find assurance in Pauline authorship. These letters are written by an apostle with a sincere pastoral desire toward his church, seeking to commend them, encourage them, and calm them in times of distress and persecution. They are yet another intimate window into the heart the “least of the apostles.”

1F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, WBC, (Waco: Word, 1982), xxxii – xxxiii.

2Consider, 1 Thess. 1:1a v. 2 Thess. 1:1a; 1 Thess. 1:3 v. 2 Thess.1:11; 1 Thess. 1:3 v. 2 Thess. 1:3-4; 1 Thess. 1:4 v. 2 Thess. 2:13 among others.

3Rainer, Reisner, Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 348-49.

4It is argued by several that only one of the gifts sent by the church at Philippi was actually sent to Paul in Thessalonica. Peter T. O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 535-36; Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 3-4.

5Charles Wannamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 30-33.

6D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 536.

7Colin R. Nicholl, From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians, SNTSMS 126, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). The basic argument is that the second coming has filled the church with fear rather than joy, resulting in words of encouragement at first, followed by words of solace in the second as an effort to counter false teaching that the second coming has already passed.