Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eusebius on Peter: historical methods

Eusebius is an important witness to the early church’s views. He is remembered, first and foremost, for the History he left of the early church. He may have seen himself primarily as a researcher and compiler; his greatest accomplishment in the History was not so much original writing as preserving the writings of earlier times, transmitting the notes of still earlier stages of Christianity. He has been criticized at times for not being skeptical enough of his sources; there are places where, to the best of our knowledge, that criticism seems justified.

I am interested in reviewing Eusebius’ comments on the canon of Scripture from a somewhat different angle than usual. Rather than re-examine whether Eusebius recorded the various books as accepted, disputed, or rejected in his day -- which has been well-recorded by many – here I will instead look at what he names as the basis for those decisions. As a representative of the early church and working inside the church’s tradition of scholarship, how did Eusebius reach his conclusions? How do his methods, materials, and results compare to those of modern scholarship?

The canon of Scripture was still in its formative stages in Eusebius’ day. That is to say, there were still ongoing disputes about a few books as to whether or not they should be considered as Scripture. Also to the interest of modern readers, there were a number of books attributed to Peter but rejected by Eusebius -- and the church in general -- as not having come from Peter. How was this determination made? Was the decision based on good judgment, or was it -- as some now contend -- simply a matter of the winners writing the history books? For the early church, what determined which books were 'in' and which books were 'out'?

Eusebius permits us a look behind the scenes, a view of an era in early Christian history when the question of which side would "win" -- and on what grounds -- was still under consideration. This current post will review Eusebius’ comments on the writings attributed to Peter. Eusebius’ treatment of other writers will be discussed separately as time permits.

In History III.3, Eusebius reviews the various books or writings attributed to Peter. By this I do not mean only books that we would recognize as being written by Peter, but the whole set of books that anyone had ever claimed were written by Peter, to the best of Eusebius’ knowledge. The writings which he evaluated included two letters attributed to Peter, an Acts of Peter, a Gospel of Peter, a Preaching of Peter, and a Revelation according to Peter. Of these six writings, Eusebius recognized only one as genuine. By genuine, he meant actually written by Peter. On what basis did he recognize the one writing but not the others?
Of Peter one epistle, known as his first, is accepted, and this the early fathers quoted freely, as undoubtedly genuine, in their own writings. But the second Petrine epistle we have been taught to regard as uncanonical; many, however, have thought it valuable and have honored it with a place among the other Scriptures. On the other hand, in the case of the ‘Acta’ attributed to him, the ‘Gospel’ that bears his name, the ‘Preaching’ called his, and the so-called ‘Revelation’, we have no reason at all to include these among the traditional Catholic Scriptures, for neither in early days nor in our own has any Church writer made use of their testimony. In the course of my narrative I shall take care to indicate in each period which of the Church writers of the time used the various disputed books; their comments on the canonical and recognized Scriptures; and their remarks about the other sort.

These, then, are the works attributed to Peter, of which I have recognized only one epistle as authentic and accepted by the early fathers. (History III.3, emphasis added)
Eusebius notes that his method is based on a review of the earlier writings of the church. Anyone who has read Eusebius will know his wide familiarity with the early writings of the church. In a number of cases, our only knowledge of an earlier source comes from Eusebius in his diligent cataloging and preservation of what had gone before. His familiarity with early church writings placed him in a good position to evaluate what had been known and accepted in earlier times. It was this familiarity with older historical sources which he used as evidence as to whether a book was known and attributed to a certain writer at an earlier date.

We should also notice that Eusebius’ general stance is that a writing was not accepted unless there was positive reason to accept it. That is to say, the default position was one of skepticism. Rather than accepting any book by default unless it could be disproved, the position was the opposite: he rejected any book which did not have historical evidence in its favor. Of the six contenders presented to him as supposed writings of Peter, he rejected five of them, saying “we have no reason at all to include these.” There is no hint that simply dropping the name Peter or attaching it to a writing was enough to succeed in giving authority to a writing or to succeed in convincing the early church that a writing actually came from the author named. The early church was not so na├»ve as to accept any writing that came to it, even one with the name of an apostle attached. On what basis, then, did they separate the early and authentic writings from the forgeries?

Eusebius explains this also: they made an evaluation of the historically earlier writers to determine which works they cited and which they did not. On this basis, Eusebius determines that the letter we have as 1 Peter was genuine, and bases this determination on the fact that “the early fathers quoted [the first letter] freely.” As far as the Acts of Peter, the Revelation of Peter, the Gospel of Peter and the Preaching of Peter, “neither in early days nor in our own has any Church writer made use of their testimony.” In searching through the history of quotations in earlier writings, Eusebius applied the objective methods of a scholar pursuing what is authentic. We may also note that he had better access to more ancient materials than are now available, materials which have now been lost to us.

Modern critical scholars still use this method to inform their own decisions. The history of the other writers who quoted a book or letter is part of the scholar's toolbox when evaluating a writing, especially useful when a question arises about the date or authorship of the work being quoted. Interestingly, although some disparage Eusebius for being too uncritical about his sources -- and most would recognize that he makes the occasional mistake in judgment -- many modern scholars have reached the same conclusion about the writings attributed to Peter that is recorded in Eusebius: namely, that of all the writings passed around under Peter's name, only the first letter can be attributed to him with any certainty. Eusebius notes that the second letter attributed to Peter may have been received more on its usefulness than on any sense of certainty about who wrote it. Other writings attributed to Peter are deemed to be spurious and therefore of lesser interest to those who want to hear from Jesus' own apostles. So while it is common for modern scholars to claim that the early church was uncritical, it is worth noticing that, in this case, we have an early church writer using similar methods to those recognized by modern scholars and reaching similar conclusions. That is to say, when we review Eusebius' scholarship focusing on Peter's supposed writings – and the level of confidence we may have about each writing – the methods and findings of this early church scholar are comparable to the results obtained by modern critical scholarship.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Grace over meals: for troubled times especially

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
King of the Universe,
Who clothes the grass of the field,
Who feeds the birds of the air,
And has given us today our daily bread.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jesus in context: "No fasting while the bridegroom is with them"

Jesus answered [a question on fasting], "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20, NIV)
We understand from Jesus' answer that his disciples will not fast in the way that John the Baptist's disciples fast. But why does he call himself a bridegroom? There is no record of his engagement or marriage, and for many centuries Christian monks and nuns have made vows of celibacy to be more like Jesus. If he had simply meant he was going to be married, after the wedding feast had ended the disciples could have fasted.

As we have seen before, Jesus makes use of imagery that was rich in meaning for his original listeners. Christians have many images of God, often retained from Jewish culture: the Father, the Shepherd, the Redeemer. But we have let one image of God fall into forgetfulness: the Bridegroom.
As a youth espouses a maiden,
Your sons [or: He who rebuilds you] shall espouse you;
And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
So will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5, JPS)
In Jewish custom there are certain days ordained for fasting, some for feasting, and some days on which people might undertake a voluntary fast. On mandatory feast days, the people were expected to rejoice and celebrate; it was forbidden to fast. In early Judaism, a list1 had been compiled of the days on which fasting and mourning were prohibited. These were "eventful days in the life of the Jewish people on which fasting is forbidden"2. It included such days as Hanukkah and Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks), because according to Jewish tradition the Torah was given on Pentecost. In the imagery of God as husband, the giving of the Torah at Sinai formed the wedding covenant between God and the people of Israel. If Jesus considered his presence to suspend the normal rules of fasting, then he was announcing his presence as one of the memorable events in the life of the Jewish people, a cause of rejoicing.
Jesus answered [a question on fasting], "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast." (Mark 2:19-20, NIV)

1 - The Megillath Ta'anith.
2 - Footnote #1 to Ta'anith 10b in the Soncino Talmud.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jesus in context: "My yoke is easy"

Many of Jesus' sayings are deeply Jewish in imagery. We miss the full implications of what he has said until we look at those images and what they meant to the people who first heard them. Consider Jesus' saying, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29).

We understand the call to rest. We are drawn to the kindness and lowliness, the compassion of the call. But the "yoke" itself had a meaning which we would do well to notice. The yoke was part of the religious imagery of Jewish culture. Consider the following quote from the Talmud, from the more ancient Mishnah section:
... one should first accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and then take upon himself the yoke of the commandments. (Berachoth 13a, Mishnah).
This is from a discussion in the Talmud of the obligation to recite the Shema. The Shema is more than a prayer -- and while it is like a creed, it is also more than a creed. It is a call to live a life following God, a life in keeping with the covenant with God, a life that honors God, praises God, and keeps his commandments. It is a call to be a part of the visible Kingdom of God on earth. The one who recites the Shema is said to take upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of the commandments. He is to learn from the Lord God and follow in his ways. The yoke is something worn by beasts of burden and by servants: by those preparing for active work. To recite the Shema is to willingly enter the service of God.

When Jesus says we are to take his yoke upon us and learn of him, he quietly assumes for himself a vital place at the center of faith and religious life. He is placing himself as the origin of something that is both a creed and more than a creed. Following him and learning from him brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven. Taking his yoke upon us is putting ourselves into the harness as workers in the kingdom of God. A yoke is placed upon someone by a master or a lord or a king. Jesus invites us to take our yoke from him.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

With the measure we use ...

While researching in the Talmud, I have found some illustrations of basic decency. Just as Jesus taught us that with the measure we use, so God will measure back to us, here are some examples of the same principle from the Talmud. I hope the main enjoyment here is not merely as historical interests, but as good examples of how a habit of kindness might show itsself.
Our Rabbis taught: He who judges his neighbor in the scale of merit is himself judged favorably. Thus a story is told of a certain man who descended from Upper Galilee and was engaged by an individual in the South for three years. On the eve of the Day of Atonement he requested him, ‘Give me my wages that I may go and support my wife and children.’ ‘I have no money,’ answered he. ‘Give me produce,’ he demanded; ‘I have none,’ he replied. ‘Give me land.’ — ‘I have none.’ ‘Give me cattle.’ — ‘I have none. ‘Give me pillows and bedding.’ — ‘I have none.’ So he slung his things behind him and went home with a sorrowful heart.

After the Festival his employer took his wages in his hand together with three laden asses, one bearing food, another drink, and the third various sweetmeats, and went to his house. After they had eaten and drunk, he gave him his wages. Said he to him, ‘When you asked me, "Give me my wages," and I answered you, "I have no money," of what did you suspect me?’ ‘I thought, Perhaps you came across cheap merchandise and had purchased it therewith.’ ‘And when you requested me, "Give me cattle," and I answered, "I have no cattle," of what did you suspect me?’ ‘I thought, they may be hired to others.’ ‘When you asked me, "Give me land,’ and I told you, "I have no land," of what did you suspect me?’ ‘I thought, perhaps it is leased to others.’ ‘And when I told you, "I have no produce," of what did you suspect me?’ ‘I thought, Perhaps they are not tithed.’ ‘And when I told you, "I have no pillows or bedding," of what did you suspect me?’ ‘I thought, perhaps he has sanctified all his property to Heaven.’ ‘By the [Temple] service!’ exclaimed he, ‘it was even so; I vowed away all my property because of my son Hyrcanus, who would not occupy himself with the Torah, but when I went to my companions in the South they absolved me of all my vows. And as for you, just as you judged me favorably, so may the Omnipresent judge you favorably.’

Our Rabbis taught: It happened that a certain pious man ransomed an Israelite maiden [from captivity]; at the inn he made her lie at his feet. On the morrow he went down, had a ritual bath, and learnt with his disciples. Said he to them, ‘When I made her lie at my feet, of what did you suspect me?’ ‘We thought, perhaps there is a disciple amongst us who[se character] is not clearly known to our Master.’ ‘When I descended and had a ritual bath, of what did you suspect me?’ ‘We thought, perhaps through the fatigue of the journey the Master was visited by nocturnal pollution.’ ‘By the [Temple] Service!’ exclaimed he to them, ‘it was even so. And just as you judged me favorably, so may the Omnipresent judge you favorably.’ (both from Shabbath 127b)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Forgive us our sins ...

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.

The Lord's prayer is trying to tell us something. Not only the individual petitions but also the order in which they're made shapes us as we pray. The last three petitions of the Lord's prayer seen above are closely connected. "Forgive us our sins" is a prayer that comes naturally, but we must be taught to pray to forgive those who sin against us. Why is the petition of forgiveness next to the petition, "Lead us not into temptation "? It is a common temptation not to forgive those who sin against us. It is a common temptation to see our sins differently than we see the sins of others. It is easy to let the sins of others provoke us to anger, resentment, or grudges. We're told in the Bible to get rid of all bitterness, malice, resentment and rage. These things are the outposts of evil in our hearts and minds. They are the cords with which evil binds us. We are told to throw off and cast behind us all the things that would hinder us from running the race which is set before us. But we find ourselves holding tight to the things which hold us down. I think that if we understood Jesus rightly about forgiving others as we ourselves hope to be forgiven, we would consider that in the case of our own sins we pray for our own forgiveness, and that we would be glad to see those we have wronged standing up and defending us as having done something that was unworthy of us at our better times. I think if we understood Jesus rightly, we would find ourselves in prayer standing before the throne of God and pleading for the forgiveness of those who have wronged us.

Have I gone too far? Consider that this is what Jesus did, and what Jesus is still doing. Consider this is also what the martyr Stephen did when he prayed for God to forgive the murderous mob that he knew would kill him. Consider that Jesus is the one who said we should pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. When we pray for our enemies, for what should we ask? It is plain that we're called to bless and not to curse. We may ask for the renewal of their minds, for God's peace and truth, and all kinds of other blessings, but we cannot neglect to pray for their forgiveness and to be their intercessor before the Lord God. Especially in the case of those who do not yet pray for themselves, the job may fall to us as the only believers they know to take up their case before God.

I expect we could then laugh at the weakness and disarray of evil in our hearts. Our final petition is that God should deliver us from the evil one. This follows the petitions of forgiveness and safety from temptation. And the refined that this prayer which Jesus gave us, when we pray as he taught us to pray, shapes our hearts so that we are more and more delivered from the evil.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The new prophecies and the dates of the gospels

Now that we have reviewed all of the new prophecies recorded by the authors of the four gospels, we are in a position to look for patterns that may indicate the date of authorship. We have seen some of the problems in determining to what exactly the prophecies are referring. When the reference is clear we can review the way the prophecies are handled and look for patterns that may indicate the date of authorship.


In the Gospel of Mark, the typical case is that the fulfillment is recorded following the prophecy. For example, when John the Baptist prophesies that someone is coming who is more powerful than he, shortly afterwards Mark records that Jesus came. The same is the case when Mark records that the disciples will leave, that one of them will betray Jesus, and that Peter will deny him. Sometimes there is a longer distance between the record of the prophecy and its fulfillment. For example, there is more space between Jesus' prophecies of his death and resurrection and the actual record of these events.

There are relatively few prophecies that Mark records for which he does not record the fulfillment. The question becomes, "Why does Mark not record the fulfillment of these prophecies?" In some cases the answer is easy. For prophecies of the end of the world, Mark would not record the fulfillment because they are not yet fulfilled. In other cases, the answer may involve how much Mark was interested in the fulfillment. When John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Mark did not record the fulfillment. Was this outside his area of interest?

When it comes to the question of dating the Gospels, the key question is whether the fall of Jerusalem was past at the time of writing. Mark records prophecies of the destruction of the Temple and of the fall of Jerusalem. Why did he not record the fulfillment of these prophecies? Was it because the fulfillment was still in the future, or was it simply outside his area of interest?

Here I would like to draw your attention to two specific features in Mark's record of the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. The first item is that this prophecy alone is singled out for hesitancy about the date. "No one knows the day or the hour." It would hardly be necessary to mention this if the fulfillment were already past. But some may say this hesitancy refers not to the fall of Jerusalem but to the end of the world. This brings us directly to our second point. The Gospel of Mark contains prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem (that we recognize as such because the events are past, for us) mixed together with prophecies that seem to refer to the end of the world. It is not clear whether the author believes that the world would end when Jerusalem fell, but many people -- both believers and skeptics alike -- have thought, based on passages such as this, that the earliest Christians expected the immediate end of the world. Because we live after the fall of Jerusalem, we know that the world did not end at that time. No one who lives today would write a document that confused or conflated the end of the world and the fall of Jerusalem. If Mark wrote after the fall of Jerusalem, conflating those events is difficult to understand. However, before the fall of Jerusalem, it would be relatively easy to conflate two future events as things dealing with an indeterminate future. I will take the question of whether Jesus expected the fall of Jerusalem to be the end of the world or whether that was something that was unclear in the mind of Mark, and leave that question for another day. For the present purpose, it is enough to notice that it would be unlikely for Mark to include passages in which the end of the world and the fall of Jerusalem were mixed together in that way if the fall of Jerusalem were already past and yet the end of the world were still in the future. A natural explanation for conflating prophecies of two such distinct events -- known to us to be distinct events -- is that the writer may not have known they would be distinct events. This would be the case if both the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world were still in the future at the time of writing.


In Matthew we see a very similar situation to what we saw in Mark. Most prophecies show a fulfillment shortly after the prophecy is recorded. A few do not, and they follow a very similar pattern to that already seen in Mark. When it comes to the question of dating the Gospels, Matthew does not provide us with much new information.


The author of Luke, however, left us not only a gospel but also the Book of Acts. We have more material and also a larger time span being covered. Many people assume a date for the Book of Luke around the year 80. If we look at the prophecies Luke records, we see that all those known to be fulfilled before the year 80 have their fulfillment recorded in either Luke or Acts – except for the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Taking together both the books of Luke and Acts, we see the author record the fulfillment of one prophecy after another. The baptism of Holy Spirit was recorded as a prophecy with a future fulfillment in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; the fulfillment is recorded in the Book of Acts. The persecution of the early Christians was recorded as a prophecy in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; again the fulfillment is recorded in the book of Acts. Luke is so conscientious about recording the fulfillment of prophecies that he seems nearly to have used the prophecies as a checklist for the events he chose to record.

What if the fall of Jerusalem had simply been outside his area of interest? What if he simply considered the events to be outside the scope of the narrative? We have an example of Luke handling just such a situation in the Book of Acts. When the prophet Agabus predicted a famine, Luke did not record the famine in any detail; however, he makes a point to mention that the prophecy was fulfilled. Based on the recurring patterns of recorded prophecies and fulfillments, we may consider it to be part of Luke's scope and intended subject matter to show when prophecies were fulfilled. Under the circumstances, it would be strange for Luke to record the prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, but not even mention their fulfillments as he had mentioned the fulfillment of Agabus' prophecy of the famine. This provides us with substantive reason to question whether Luke was written after the fall of Jerusalem as is commonly supposed, or whether it was written before the fall of Jerusalem.

Note that one of the main reasons cited for dating Luke after the fall of Jerusalem is that Luke plainly made use of Mark and Mark was also assumed to have been written after the fall. If Mark had been written after the fall, and Luke used Mark, then Luke must also have been written after the fall of Jerusalem. However, since we have seen substantive objective reasons from the text for thinking that Mark may have been written before the fall of Jerusalem, and then the date of Luke also becomes an open question. Both Mark and Luke handle the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem differently than the prophecies of other events. In Mark, the prophecies of the fall are the only ones singled out with a hesitancy about their date; they also seem to be conflated with prophecies of a separate event, the end of the world, which obviously did not happen at the same time as the fall of Jerusalem. In Luke, if we assume the date of 80, it becomes difficult to explain why there is no mention of the fall of Jerusalem given the author's demonstrated tendency to record a prophecy's fulfillment whenever it is known. This opens the possibility that Luke may also have been written before the fall of Jerusalem.

An early date for Luke would also explain something that is otherwise difficult to explain: why Luke would follow Paul so closely for so many years but end the narrative when Paul was still in prison. The Book of Acts mentions Paul more often than Jesus. In fact, the word "Paul" occurs more often than the word "God" in the Book of Acts. The opening chapters of the Book of Acts give a broader picture of the activities of the early Christians; in the later chapters after Paul was introduced, the narrative becomes largely focused on Paul. If the Book of Acts had been written substantially after the fall of Jerusalem, 10 to 20 years after Paul's death, it would be very difficult to explain not only why the fall of Jerusalem was not mentioned, but also why the martyrdom of Paul was not mentioned. Luke had shown an interest in recording martyrdoms; why leave out the martyrdom of his main subject? Here we have more than one line of objective evidence converging on a slightly earlier date for Luke: one which would explain why he omitted major events which were so clearly within the scope of his purpose.


The Gospel of John deserves a brief mention in this context. It is different enough in style and content that we should be cautious in drawing too many conclusions from a comparison of John to the others. However the Gospel of John is unique in being the only gospel accepted into the canon that was widely agreed from earliest times to have been written after the fall of Jerusalem. How does the Gospel of John handle prophecies? In particular, what about the fall of Jerusalem? Here we see the Gospel of John following the usual pattern, typically recording both a prophecy and its fulfillment. However, John shows little interest in the fall of Jerusalem. Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus' lengthy prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, John skips that entire conversation. The only place in John where we see Jesus talking about the events of the year 70, Jesus is saying, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it." While the predictions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain urgent calls to watch, the Gospel of John contains no call to watch for the fall of Jerusalem. Why have the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the Temple become so much less a matter of urgency? While in some places the earlier Gospels seem to conflate the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the world as part of some unknown future, the Gospel of John conflates the destruction of the temple with Jesus' death and resurrection as part of a fulfilled past. And finally, while in the earlier Gospels we see the prediction of Jerusalem's destruction giving those Gospels a forward-leaning sense of urgency, in the Gospel of John that forward-leaning sense of urgency is instead supplied by the future events of the death of the beloved disciple and Jesus' return.

Closing words

The dates assigned by scholars to the gospels are often based on assumptions about how the gospels handle new prophecies such as Jesus’ prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem. One common approach to dating the gospels rests on the assumption that if a prophecy is recorded then its fulfillment must have been in the past. Based on this assumption, it was widely assumed that even the earliest gospel must have been written after the year 70. My main purpose in undertaking this study was to make a more thorough analysis and determine whether the assumption was warranted about how the authors would handle the prophecies. The point of the previous posts on this topic was to provide a more complete and thorough analysis of the new prophecies. I found that the authors of the three synoptic gospels all treat the prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction differently than they treat prophecies that are known to have been fulfilled at the time of writing. This brings into question the assumption that recording the prophecy is a sure sign that the fulfillment was past and raises the question why the fall of Jerusalem is handled differently than the other prophecies.

None of the information we have here is enough to prove beyond all doubt the date at which the Gospels were written. However, it does provide warrant for seriously considering earlier, pre-destruction dates for the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dictionary: Self-control

self-control: n: taking ownership of your own life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New prophecies: Towards a full analysis

While reviewing how prophecies are handled in the New Testament and especially by the authors who wrote the canonical gospels, I had decided that I would not be satisfied with my research until I had made a review of all the "new prophecies" (prophecies made during the New Testament era). Below please find my results as a table showing the prophecies, where they are recorded as being made, and where they are recorded as being fulfilled (if they are recorded as being fulfilled). I have put numbers by each prophecy; any associated notes are placed below the table with the same number. Notes on methods are below that. The general summary and analysis are in an upcoming post.

#EventRecord of prophecyMade byRecord of fulfillment
01Birth of John the BaptistLuke 1:13-17Angel (Gabriel)Luke 1:57-63
02Zechariah to be struck dumb until son's birthLuke 1:20Angel (Gabriel)Luke 1:64
03Birth of JesusMatthew 1:21
Luke 1:31-33
Angel (Gabriel)Matthew 1:25
Luke 2:5-7
04John the Baptist to be Jesus' heraldLuke 1:7ZechariahLuke 3:2-6; Luke 6:27
05Jesus destined to cause rising and falling of many in IsraelLuke 2:34SimeonVarious losing/gaining prestige and position (if that is the point of "rising and falling") associated with Jesus in Luke and Acts
06Herod's attempt on the infant JesusMatthew 2:13An angel of the LordMatthew 2:16
07Coming of one more powerful than John the BaptistMatthew 3:11
Mark 1:7-8
Luke 3:16
John 1:26-27
John the BaptistMatthew 3:13-16
Mark 1:10-11
Luke 3:21-22
John 1:29-34
08Baptism of the Holy Spirit (and fire)Matthew 3:11
Mark 1:8
Luke 3:16
John the BaptistMatthew: n/a
Mark: n/a
Acts 2:1-4
09Coming of the Holy SpiritLuke 24:49, Acts 1:4-5
John 14:26, John 15:26, John 16:12
JesusActs 2:1-4
John 20:22
10Jesus' upcoming absence from the worldMatthew 9:15, Matthew 25 (large portions)
Mark 2:20
Luke 5:35, 17:22-24
John 7:33-39, John 16:28
JesusMatthew: Matthew 28:20 implicit
Mark 16:19*
Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9
John 21:22-23 implict
11Jesus’ death and / or resurrectionMatthew 16:21, Matthew 17:12, Matthew 17:22-23, 20:17-18, 26:2
Mark 8:31-32, 9:9, 10:33-34
Luke 9:22, 9:44, 18:31-33
John 2:19, 8:21-22, 8:29, 10:14-18, 12:23-33, 16:20-23
JesusMatthew 27-28
Mark 15-16
Luke 23-24
John 19-21
12Some standing here will see the kingdom of GodMatthew 16:28
Mark 9:1
Luke 9:27
JesusMatthew: n/a (or 12:28)
Mark: n/a (or 11:9-10)
Luke 11:20, 17:20-21 (or n/a)
13Jesus' departureLuke 9:31Moses and Elijah during the transfigurationLuke 23-24
14Persecution of the disciplesMatthew 10:17-36
Mark 13:11-13
Luke 12:11, 12:52-53
John 15:20, 16:1-4
JesusMatthew: n/a
Mark: n/a
Acts: many (e.g. 4:18-20, 5:17-41, 6:8-15, etc.)
15Jesus to lose none of those given himJohn 6:39JesusJohn 17:12, 18:8-9
16Jesus’ return, last judgment and/or general resurrectionMatthew 19:28, 24:30-31, 24:42-44, 25:31-46
Mark 13:26-27, 13:34-37
Luke 12:40, 22:30
John 6:39-40, 6:44, 6:54, 12:48
Jesus(Not yet fulfilled)
17Destruction of Temple and/or destruction of Jerusalem, with accompanying signsMatthew 23:35, much of Matthew 24
Mark 13
Luke 19:43-44, Luke 21:6-32
JesusMatthew: n/a
Mark: n/a
Luke: n/a
18Destruction of Temple? Short comment that is deliberately ambiguous; debatable whether should be considered a prophesy of temple's destruction.John 2:19JesusJohn: n/a
19Judas to betray JesusMatthew 26:21-25
Mark 14:18-21
Luke 22:21-22
John 13:21-30
JesusMatthew 26:47-50
Mark 14:43-46
Luke 22:47-48
John 18:2-3
20Disciples to abandon JesusMatthew 26:31
Mark 14:27
John 16:32
JesusMatthew 26:47-50
Mark 14:50-52
John 18:15
21Peter’s denialMatthew 26:33-34
Mark 14:29-31
Luke 22:34
John 13:38
JesusMatthew 26:69-75
Mark 14:66-72
Luke 22:44-60
John 18:15-18, 25-27
22Peter to be arrested and executedJohn 21:18JesusJohn 21:19 makes more sense in light of past fulfillment, but the event is not explicitly recorded
23Disciples question whether it is a prophesy: That the beloved disciple would live until Jesus’ returnJohn 21:22-23Jesusn/a: The disciples cite Jesus’ wording to indicate they do not think it is a prophesy
24FamineActs 11:28AgabusActs 11:28
25Paul’s arrest in JerusalemActs 21:10-11AgabusActs 21:33
26Shipwreck but survival of all passengersActs 27:22-25, 34Paul (with an angel)27:40-44

The order in which these are listed is roughly according to the first occurrence of the prophecy in the chronology of Luke / Acts. Additional prophecies of the same event are noted together with the first prophecy. Any prophecies that are not mentioned in Luke / Acts are set into the list based on their estimated place in the timeline.

My general comments on this information should be ready soon.

Notes on individual lines

10 - The reference on the fulfillment in Mark is in the appendix, i.e. the lines probably not part of the original text. It can then be argued that in Mark this prophecy could also count as unfulfilled; no weight can be placed on this particular verse in Mark for the overall analysis.

11 - There is some record that the hearers did not understand the prophecy (Mark 9:10, Luke 9:45, Luke 18:34). There is also a record of the remembrance of the prophecy (Matthew 27:64-64, Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:6-7, Luke 24:5-8, Luke 24:44, John 2:23).

12 - The meaning of this prophecy is disputed among Christians, as to what it means to "see the kingdom of God" (or even, more simply, what the "kingdom of God" means). Some argue that it means the end of the world, others that it means Jesus receiving authority to rule and being declared Son of God with power, still others that it was fulfilled through the events surrounding the destruction of the Temple. I do not intend to settle or even assess these differences here, just to raise awareness of how much dispute there is over the meaning of these words. I will have more to say on the subject in my analysis rather than here in the end notes to the table.

14 - While John does record early persecutions of Christians (see John 9:22 and John 12:42) and/or the disciples in hiding for fear of persecution (see John 19:38 and John 20:19), these events do not seem to be directly the point of the prophecies, so these items are not listed in the table as the fulfillment.

16 - Matthew and Luke warn about surprise fulfillment (Matthew 24:50, Matthew 25:13, Luke 12:46).

17 - This set has a hesitancy formula attached in Matthew and Mark: "no one knows the day or the hour" (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32).

18 - A remembrance of this prophecy is recorded in John 2:23. Here the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the obsolescence (destruction?) of the Temple are seen as part of one interlinked chain of events.

Notes on methods

Unless you have a special interest in how I decided what counts as a prophecy and things of that nature, you're welcome to skip this last section.
  • I needed a working definition of a prophecy that was clear enough to distinguish between what is a prophecy and what is not. Should we count “I will make you fishers of men” as a prophecy or a promise – or simply a plan? So I made the distinction that a promise or a plan can be accomplished by the actions of the one speaking. We do not count “I will eat dinner before I go to bed” as a prophecy since it was within our own power to accomplish. A prophecy is distinguished from a promise by the fact that it was not the speaker’s human actions, influence, or power that caused the results.
  • A prophecy is also not an obvious result of an ongoing chain of events. "It will grow dark tonight, and lighter in the morning" is not a prophecy. I am not counting as prophecy a simple foreknowledge of something so predictable that anyone with ordinary knowledge and common sense might easily have reached the same conclusion. For example, Paul’s expectation of a disastrous voyage sailing under bad conditions (Acts 27:10) is not counted as a prophecy.
  • Indirect references are not counted as a prophecy unless it is clearly intended as a prophecy as shown by wording or context. For example, “I have a baptism to undergo” (Luke 12:50) is generally taken to refer to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but is not counted as a prophecy, simply to keep to things that are more likely intended as prophecies.
  • Sometimes it is not plain whether the text indicates a prophecy or a pre-arranged plan with another person. For example, "As you enter the village you will find a colt tied there" (Luke 19:30), or "a man carrying a jar of water will meet you" (Luke 22:10) are not listed as prophecies. Also, when it is arguable that something was more of Jesus’ instructions rather than a prophecy, it is not listed as a prophecy. For example, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8) is not counted.
  • Sometimes there is a question whether to count a prophecy as a "new prophecy" if it was already made in the Old Testament, but Jesus is shown to repeat it as a prophecy having special applicability at that time. For example, "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Luke 12:53, see also Micah 7:6). This was done simply to allow such things to be recorded, if they should prove to be of interest. So when the text shows Jesus applying an old prophecy and enlisting it as still future, it is listed with the double reference both to Jesus’ use of it and to the original setting. The more common case -- when an older prophecy is simply mentioned in the text of the gospel -- is not counted as a new prophecy.
  • There are times when it is unclear whether someone is making a prophecy or someone levelled it more as an accusation. Stephen the Martyr may have mentioned Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (Acts 6:13-14); then again, the people mentioning it were introduced as false witnesses. Given that Stephen’s lengthy recap of the history of Israel climaxes with quotes about the inadequacy of the temple, it may be that he had mentioned its destruction, but for this purpose I will let it go as too tentative. Fortunately that particular prophecy (if it was one) is superfluous, given the number of clear examples where a destruction prophecy is recorded.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Gospels: Sources of insider information

Every once in awhile, when reading the gospel accounts, I have found myself wondering: "How would the gospel writers know that?" How would the early Christians have known about Herod's birthday party and the dancing girl? How would the early Christians have known about private conversations involving the high priest? How did the early Christians know what John the Baptist taught? And other similar questions. I have stumbled across the answers to some of these while reading, and have begun a list on sources of inside information mentioned in the gospels
  • On Herod's household: Joanna (Luke 8:3)
  • On Herod's life: Menaen (Acts 13:1)
  • On John the Baptist: Andrew (John 1:40)
  • On events in the Sanhedrin: Nicodemus (John 7:50)
  • On events in Cana: Nathanael (John 21:2)
  • On events involving the high priest (John 18:15-16)
If I come across more, I will update this list.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Christian Reconcilication Carnival: Recognizing the peacemakers

Hi all

And welcome to Christian Reconciliation Carnival #14, in which I give some recognition to those who have worked toward Christian Reconciliation in 2008 around the blogosphere. Your suggestions and nominations were solicited back in December, and I have also looked around for who has been working towards reconciliation.

So here, in no particular order, are the people I have seen working towards Christian reconciliation in 2008. If I have forgotten someone, feel free to drop a comment and I would be glad to update this list. Below the Reconcilers 2008 list, please find additional reconciliaton-related posts of note.

Reconcilers 2008

Here I'd like to recognize those providing forums and creating environments of Christian fellowship across our divides.
  • Jeremy Pierce of Parablemania has been organizing the Christian Carnival every week for a long time now. The Christian Carnival is one of the main forums in which Christians from all different viewpoints meet and interact.
  • Michael Spencer's Boar's Head Tavern is one of the regular hang-outs of many Christians around the internet. At the Tavern, you can usually find lively conversation from members of various Christian groups. The ale may be virtual reality, but the fellowship is real.

Building bridges
Here I'd like to recognize those working across group lines on efforts of understanding each other and clarifying their differences.
  • Josh S of MetaLutheran (aka Fearsome Pirate) has an interesting venture going: he and an Eastern Orthodox Christian are "trading places" ... something like foreign exchange students in each others' churches. I'm not sure how it's working out but I love the idea. Makes me wonder: What if every church had a foreign exchange program?

Rubbish removal
Here I'd like to recognize those working within their own groups to remove logs from their own eyes. It is my firm belief that if each group was to clean up its own first, at least half the work of reconciliation would be done.

Reconciliation-minded posts

Reconciliation-minded posts -- including disagreements handled with civility -- around the blogosphere since the last Carnival:

Father Stephen posts an excerpt from a Russian lay theologian's work, The Church is One.

Internet Monk looks at an example of a good Christian way to critically engage another Christian in reviewing Justin Taylor's look at John Piper.

The St Athanasius and St Cyril Theological Library had an update on steps being taken by the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox towards full unity in communion.

Kevin at FamilyHood Church talks about an increasing willingness to recognize brothers and sisters in Christ despite doctrinal divides in Child's Play.

Internet Monk asked, "How can a person grow spiritually in the next year?" and posted responses from an Eastern Orthodox priest, an Anglican priest, a Baptist pastor, a Roman Catholic spiritual director, a Methodist pastor, and a Lutheran pastor.

Adrian Warnock keeps a level head while writing an installment of the ongoing atonement debate, here responding to Steve Chalke.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

New solar cell developed: Solar becomes viable?

I don't often say so here, but I am a huge fan of both the school science fairs and of solar energy. It is assumed, in my home, that both children will be doing science fair projects every year. (This year my son is working on a mathematics project related to computer chess playing, and my daughter is working on a solar energy project which is unrelated to the big breakthrough in this post.)

I was happy to see that a 12-year old boy, with a photo of him standing next to what sure looks like a science fair project board, has taken solar to the next level: his new design for solar cells is roughly 500x as efficient as current solar cells. It has a few innovations in it, but one of the more encouraging is this: it absorbs UV rays also: i.e. it works on cloudy days. Which is to say, solar should shortly become a viable energy source. I wish I could sign up to be a beta tester for the prototype ...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Handel: Scripture is a symphony

I was reading today that Handel's Messiah is now banned from public performances in China (h/t Ancient Hebrew Poetry), along with other sacred music. Apparently Messiah had been performed in China before, and was very well received. Handel's music is amazing -- and I'm not just saying that because he was Lutheran. (Beethoven considered Handel the greatest composer of all time -- which is no small compliment considering Beethoven is also a serious contender for the title of greatest composer of all time.)

The reason I bring up Handel is because I think he was, like J.S. Bach, primarily a theologian, and one who understood Scripture better than most of the systematic theologians. He did understand the basics of liturgy: that Scripture is not just for analyzing, but for praying and for singing. A musician and a poet notices things that an analyst does not: that the Psalms were originally for singing and are still best appreciated when sung, that the prophecies were originally announcements and are still best understood when proclaimed, that the imagery and symbolism of Scripture is more similar to a fugue with deep, hidden themes than it is to a textbook. And then there is that section of the book of Revelation where Handel noticed that it was an endless chorus of different voices exclaiming, "Hallelujah!" (I would rate Messiah's grand finale piece as the best Bible study ever written on the book of Revelation, and every other study of Revelation as merely preparatory to enable people to appreciate and participate in that grand finale.)

Handel knew that, rightly understood, Scripture does not cause only analysis but ultimately it causes celebration. Rightly preached, the Word of God does not cause people to dedicate themselves to analyzing the Scriptures, but to go out into the world celebrating the glory of God. Handel the theologian did not write traditional Bible studies or traditional systematic theologies; he wrote symphonies -- not on the view that they were lower than analysis, but on the view that praise is the ultimate fruit of understanding what God has done.