Review Did Jesus Exist by Bart Ehrman

Ehrman Did Jesus existI just finished Bart Ehrman’s response to the Jesus mythicists Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. A “Jesus mythicist” is a person who believes that Jesus never existed as a man but was a literary creation of biblical authors. Part I of the book presents the overwhelming evidence that Jesus did exist: Chapter 2: Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Jesus, Chapter 3: The Gospels as Historical Sources, Chapter 4: Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels, and Chapter 5: Two Key Data for the Historicity of Jesus. Based on this wealth of evidence, Ehrman argues convincingly that, contrary to claims of a few radical mythicsts, virtually scholars of antiquity agree that: “Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea.”[1] Mythicism is truly a position on the fringe of scholarship.

In fact, mythicism itself did not exist until relatively recently. It’s not much of a surprise that none of Christianity’s earliest critics ever claimed Jesus did not exist. The first biblical scholar to make such a radical claim was Bruno Bauer who thought that Christianity was a combination of Judaism with the Roman philosophy of Stoicism.[2] He wasn’t taken seriously and his views were quickly discredited. A German scholar, Arthur Drews, wrote The Christ Myth (1909) which Ehrman believes was “the most influential mythicist book ever produced”[3] because it had a widespread effect across the Soviet Union in servicing Lenin and Stalin’s campaign to stamp out the church. Most thoroughly addressed are Earl Doherty, a layman, and Robert Price, a rare breed of mythicist biblical scholar, and Richard Carrier who holds a Ph.D. in classics from Columbia University. Ehrman exposes the likes of Archarya S. (DM Murdock), the primary source for the debunked Zeitgeist film, as pseudo-scholars who have failed to do proper research in the original source documents and Ehrman embarrasses them badly. He writes:

Just to give a sense of the level of scholarship in this sensationalist tome [The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold], I list a few of the howlers one encounters en route, in the order in which I found them. Acharya claims that:

  • The second-century church father Justin never quotes or mentions any of the Gospels.. [This simply isn’t true: he mentions the Gospels on numerous occasions; typically he calls them “Memoirs of the Apostles” and quotes from them, especially from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.]

  • The Gospels were forged hundreds of years after the events they narrate. [In fact, the Gospels were written at the end of the first century, about thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus’s death, and we have physical proof: one fragment of a Gospel manuscript dates to the early second century. How could it have been forged centuries after that?]

  • We have no manuscript of the New Testament that dates prior to the fourth century. [This is just plain wrong: we have numerous fragmentary manuscripts that date from the second and third centuries.]

  • The autographs “were destroyed after the Council of Nicaea”. [In point of fact, we have no knowledge of what happened to the original copies of the New Testament; they were probably simply used so much they wore out. There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that they survived until Nicaea or that they were destroyed afterward; plenty of counterevidence indicates they did not survive until Nicaea.]

  • “It took well over a thousand years to canonize the New Testament,” and “many councils” were needed to differentiate the inspired from the spurious books. [Actually, the first author to list our canon of the New Testament was the church father Athanasius in the year 367; the comment about “many councils” is simply made up.][4]

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the book. He lists many more, showing why “mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology.”[5]

While the shredding of Archarya S. makes for great sport, it is important to keep in mind that Ehrman is no friend to evangelical Christianity. He has built a career on his deconversion testimony from inerrancy affirming fundamentalist to freethinking skeptical agnostic. His book titles like Misquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted, God’s Problem, and Forged reveal his anti-evangelical zeal. Even so, when someone hostile to one’s position argues a position that favors it, it seems more compelling. If one overlooks his bias, Did Jesus Exist? Is a valuable resource for evidencing the historical Jesus.

While I enjoyed the book, I took issue with many of Ehrman’s claims. In particular, I would like to address his handling of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy (Dn 9:24-27) and then offer a minimal facts argument based on that prophecy. This prophecy comes up in Did Jesus Exist? because mythicist Richard Carrier uses it to demonstrate that some Jews were expecting the messiah to suffer and die (a fact Ehrman disputes). He argues:

Carrier tries to establish his point about the humiliated messiah first by quoting Isaiah 53. But as I’ve shown, Isaiah is not speaking about the future messiah, and he was never interpreted by any Jews prior to the first century as referring to the messiah. Carrier’s argument becomes more interesting when he appeals to a passage in chapter 9 of the book of Daniel. This is one of those postdated prophecies so common to the final six chapters of Daniel. By postdated prophecies I mean this: the book of Daniel claims to be written by a Hebrew man, Daniel, in the Babylonian exile, around 550 BCE. In actual fact, as critical scholars have long known (Carrier agrees with this), it was written closer to 160 BCE.14 When the character Daniel in the book “predicts” what is going to happen, the real author, pretending to be Daniel, simply indicates what already did happen. And so it sounds as if the sixth-century prophet knows the future because what he predicted in fact came to pass.[6]

Actually, it is far from established that Daniel was written in 160 BC and there are compelling arguments that it was written in the sixth century (~ 540 BC) as it internally claims. Please refer to this essay by Bruce Waltke at Knox Theology Seminary. The late dating of the book is more of a worldview issue than a historical one. This is because Daniel’s prophecies are so accurate that skeptics are forced to date the writing after the predicted events or accept supernatural revelation (something they dare not do). Ehrman attempts to do just that with Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy that the messiah would be “cut off” prior to the destruction of Jerusalem (Dn 9:26) but in so doing, he completely ignores facts contrary to his interpretation. Ehrman presents Carrier’s position in order to argue against it:

Daniel 9 is a complicated passage that “predicts” in precise detail what will happen to the people of Jerusalem over the course of “seventy weeks” that have been “decreed for your people and your holy city; to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity.” The weeks are interpreted within the text itself to mean seventy “weeks of years”—that is, one week represents seven years. According to verse 25 there will be seven such weeks of years separating the order to rebuild destroyed Jerusalem and the appearance of “an anointed prince.” Verse 26 then indicates that sixty-two weeks of years later an “anointed one” shall be “cut off and shall have nothing.” Carrier argues strenuously that this shows that the author of Daniel expected that the messiah (the “anointed one”) had to be killed (“cut off”).[7]

He then responds, “It is an interesting interpretation but highly idiosyncratic. You won’t find it in commentaries on Daniel written by critical Hebrew Bible scholars (those who are not fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals), and for some good reasons.”[8] He disputes that the prophecy is messianic by arguing it simply refers to an “anointed one.” However, Māšîaḥ nāgîd in Hebrew is a king (or prince) and a priest and this hardly applies to Joshua or Onias III as Ehrman asserts. In fact, the Old Testament law separates the duties of priest and king. Of course, he commits the genetic fallacy by excluding conservatives a priori and completely ignoring their arguments. But he commits a more egregious fallacy of Suppressed Evidence by not addressing central feature of the prophecy, the seventy weeks of years.

The Maccabean view of Daniel espoused by Ehrman does not add up. Liberals attempt to start the seventy weeks at 586 B.C. destruction of Jerusalem but his seems to be a pure contrivance to make the math sort of appear to work. Howwever, there was no decree to rebuild the temple as the prophecy specifies (Dn 9). Even granting the starting point of 586 B.C. yields an end at 96 B.C. long after Antiochus’ persecution and the restoration of the temple. The inconvenient fact that Ehrman and other liberal scholars ignore is the specified time period of seventy weeks of years excludes the Maccabean period and affirms the prophecy’s culmination at Jesus’ crucifixion. In my book The Supernatural Worldview I present a minimal facts argument for the supernatural inspiration of the Bible based on this prophecy:Supernatural WV JPG

While there are several interpretations of this prophecy held by sincere, Bible-believing scholars, nearly all evangelicals and even some Jewish scholars agree it is messianic. In fact, this prophecy alone has led many Jews to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah. Because my purpose here is to merely demonstrate that the future was written in advance, I present a minimal-facts case from five key points:

  • First, the prophecy was unquestionably written down before Jesus was born. Conservative scholars like Dr. Bruce Waltke at Knox Theological Seminary argue vigorously for dating the book to sixth century BC as it internally claims.[9] However, even the most liberal scholars late date it to the second century BC during the Maccabean period (over three hundred years later than the book claims). A total of eight fragmentary copies of the book of Daniel were found at Qumran amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), but none is complete due to the effects of extreme age. However, between them, they preserve text from eleven of Daniel’s twelve chapters (chapter 12 is missing but quoted in another DSS work). The discovery labeled 4QDane (4Q116) contains part of chapter 9. All eight manuscripts were copied within 175 years, ranging from 125 BCE (4QDan) to about AD 50 (4QDan). The mere fact that it was accepted as canonical at Qumran means it was necessarily composed long before the oldest date in the second century.
  • Second, any coherent reading must account for the elements in verse 24: 1) Finish the transgression; 2) Make an end of sins; 3) Make reconciliation for iniquity; 4) To bring in everlasting righteousness; 5) To seal up the vision and prophecy; and 6) To anoint the Most Holy.
  • Third, there is scholarly debate on whether the “commandment to rebuild” is the decree to Ezra in 458 BC (Ezra 7:11–26), Sir Robert Anderson’s date of 445 BC widely popularized in his book, The Coming Prince,[10] or 444 BC, as purposed by Waltke and others.[11] Because I am making a minimal-facts case, the exact date isn’t important. No one disputes that there was a command to rebuild between 458 and 444 BC.
  • Fourth, the prophecy predicts the Messiah will be cut off after sixty-nine weeks of years (483 years). Some object to the translation of mashiach as “the Messiah,” because the Hebrew can also mean “anointed one” and also because the definite article “the” is not in the original text. However, the oldest Jewish translation, the Septuagint, translates mashiach as tou christou (“the anointed one”), which is where the word “Christ” derives. Furthermore, mashiach nagid is a priest and a king (or prince), but the Old Testament law separated those duties for Israelites and predicts that they are to be uniquely combined in the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6–7). For this reason, many rabbis hesitantly acknowledge the seventy-weeks prophecy as Messianic.[12]
  • Fifth, after the Messiah is “cut off,” the city and sanctuary will be destroyed. That Jesus was crucified between AD 30–AD 33 is virtually uncontested. Even secular Roman historians like Tacitus wrote about His crucifixion.[13] It is also an undisputed historical fact that the Roman army led by Titus Vespasian destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.[14]

Based on these well-established facts, one must ask if there is another viable candidate for the Jewish Messiah who was “cut off” just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.[15]

 

 



[1] Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, Kindle Edition,(HarperCollins, 2012), 12.

[2] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?,16.

[3] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 17.

[4] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 23-24.

[5] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 20.

[6] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 67-168.

[7] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 168.

[8] Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, 168.

[9] Bruce K. Waltke, “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 133:532, (October 1976): 329. Journal article available here: https://www.galaxie.com/article/bsac133-532-04.

[10]Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, 59. Note: This book is widely available for download online; print versions available at www.amazon.com and other online booksellers.

[11] Waltke, 329.

[12]]Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003) 89.

[13] The Roman historian and Senator Tacitus referred to Jesus Christ, His execution by Pontius Pilate, and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written ca. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44.

[14] Flavius Josephus, book 7, chapter 1.1, The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem.

[15] Cris Putnam, The Supernatural Worldview, (Crane, MO, Defender, 2014), 53-54.

Russ Houck’s Epidemic: Heretical Pseudohistory

By Cris D. Putnam
EpidemicThroughout history, cults have fed off of the periphery of Christianity. Because a large part of evangelicalism is now preaching a seeker sensitive message, those hungry for real biblical truth and depth are easy prey for pseudo-scholars writing revisionist history like Russ Houck. The book under review, Epidemic: Examining the Infected Roots of Judaism and Christianity belongs to the genre of Pseudo-history.

“It purports to be history, and uses ostensibly-scholarly methods and techniques (which in fact depart from standard historiographical conventions), but is inconsistent with established facts and/or with common sense. It often involving sensational claims whose acceptance would significantly require rewriting accepted history.”[1]

Lacking footnotes and substantive documentation, Epidemic is a poorly researched book that will appeal largely to marginalized members of society. However, that is what makes it so very dangerous. Houck makes a seductive appeal from emotion and incredulity that depends on the reader’s historical and theological ignorance. The charge of Pseudohistory will be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in this essay.

Houck makes radical unsubstantiated claims without any evidence. For example, he claims that Constantine completely corrupted the New Testament and infected Christianity.  If what Houck writes it true, then one cannot trust anything in the New Testament to be genuine, not even the great commission. When a passage like Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19) disagrees with his Anti-trinitarianism, Houck constructs a conspiracy theory to dismiss the passage. Because the book is over four hundred pages of pseudo-history and conspiracy theory; for the purpose of this review only four major points are examined.

He claims 1) the trinity is a pagan doctrine inserted by Constantine; 2) Constantine added Matthew 28:19; 3) The earliest MS of the NT do not contain Matt 28:19 the Great Commission. 4) The original NT was all in Hebrew or Aramaic– Constantine changed it to Greek. After these four point are shown to be false two major heresies will be shown, denial of the Holy Spirit and Arianism (the belief that Jesus was birthed from the Father).

For Houck to make a case he needs to show some relationship between paganism and trinitarianism but he has not done so. There is no deity in Greco-Roman paganism who is one in essence and three in person. He does not show a single source document from paganism with the concept of trinity. In fact, a central argument used by real theologians is the Trinity’s absolute uniqueness amongst world religions.  Millard Erickson writes in his Christian Theology, “In the doctrine of the Trinity, we encounter one of the truly distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Among the religions of the world, the Christian faith is unique in making the claim that God is one and yet there are three who are God.”[2]  Although the internet is full of sources citing Alexander Hyslop’s long discredited book The Two Babylon’s, archeologists have uncovered a wealth of information about ancient Babylon. No one has ever substantiated Hyslop’s claims with actual citations from Babylonian literature because they do not exist.

The doctrine of the Trinity is based on three foundational biblical truths: 1) monotheism 2) three divine persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, 3) the three divine persons are co-equal and co-eternal.  It contains no inherent contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be true and not true at the same time in the same way.  If one said, “one in person and 3 in person” then it would be a contradiction. There is no logical contradiction with “one in essence but 3 in person.” For an in-depth defense of the trinity refer to my website here. But Houck’s claim that Constantine initiated this is easily refuted by the early church Fathers.

Early Church Father’s Disprove Houck

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is an ancient account of Polycarp’s (a disciple of the apostle John) death. It reports that Polycarp used the Triune Name in a prayer. He said, “I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages.”[3]  Also, Ignatius lived in the first century, the time of apostles. The second chapter of his “Epistle to the Philippians” reads “He sent forth the apostles to make disciples of all nations, commanded them to “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”[4] A direct quote of Matthew 28:19. But it gets very specific with Tertullian.

Tertullian, a century before Constantine, writes in On Baptism, “sealed in (the name of) the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,”[5] citing Matthew 28:19 directly.  In the statement of the Trinity, Tertullian (160-225) was a forerunner of the Nicene doctrine of the trinity. Tertullian wrote in Against Praxeus ch. 12: “If the number of the Trinity also offends you, as if it were not connected in the simple Unity, I ask you how it is possible for a Being who is merely and absolutely One and Singular, to speak in plural phrase, saying, “Let us make man in our own image, and after our own likeness; ”[6]  Furthermore, Tertullian wrote in Against Praxeus chapter 25: “Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are, one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,”[7]  Here the term Trinity is explained as three persons in one essence over one hundred years before Constantine. How could Houck miss such and obvious problem for his thesis?

The citations form Ante-nicean  (pre- AD 325) church Fathers thoroughly discredit Houck’s claim  that Constantine corrupted the great commission.  The earliest New Testament manuscripts do as well.

Early Manuscripts Disprove Houck

Houck says Matt 28:19 does not exist in any MS dated earlier than the Byzantine text of Constantine (AD 325). (p. 212)   Constantine did not commission any Bibles at the council of Nicea itself. He did commission fifty Bibles in AD 331 for use in the churches of Constantinople, itself still a new city. No historical evidence points to involvement on his part in selecting or omitting books for inclusion in commissioned Bibles. And there is no historical evidence he changed the text.  Houck not only claims he changed it , he even claims Constantine was responsible for changing the language to Greek. But we have hundreds of Greek MS dating before Constantine!  Our two oldest extant Bibles are Greek and contain Matt 28:19. New Testament scholars Kurt Aland, Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman doubt that the two oldest extant codexs: Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were copied by Eusebius on the Constantine order. They reflect the Alexandrian text type rather than the Byzantine:

The suggestion has been made by several scholars that the two oldest parchment manuscripts of the Bible that are in existence today, namely Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus may have been among those ordered by Constantine. … There are, however, one or two indications that point to Egypt as the place of origin of Codex Vaticanus, and the type of text found in both codices is unlike that used by Eusebius.[8]   (Houck cites this book by Metzger approvingly on page 226)

Codex Sinaiticus is an early fourth century Alexandrian MS and it absolutely contains the nomina sacra:

19 Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[9]

Vaticanus is also available for examination online[10] and it certainly contains the Trinitarian formula.

By Constantine’s time there were thousands of copies but not a single MS has been found that lacks the Trinitarian formula and, worse yet, not a single church father complained about the addition. We have elaborate transcripts of debates, counsels and disputes over every major doctrine, especially the trinity—yet Houck cannot produce one single reference concerning Matthew 28:19 to back up assertion. However, there are citations in early church documents in favor of its authenticity.

Didache Disproves Houck

Houck draws great significance from the lack of a specific triniatrian formula in the baptismal texts in Acts but NT scholars are in agreement that Acts presents condensed summaries and none of these descriptions were intended to be strict formulas for use in baptism.  The early summary of apostolic doctrine, the Didache 7:1–4; 9:5, uses both formulas interchangeably.

7. But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living (running) water. [11]

9:  But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord;

On page 152 Houck claims the Didache is a gnostic document but NT scholars and historians do not believe Gnosticism yet existed when it was composed.  Houck is grossly misinformed, seeming to believe that Gnosticism dates back before Christ. No historian agrees with him; most scholars place the origins of Gnosticism in the late second century AD.[12] On the Didache, Patristics scholar,  J. Tixeront, in the Handbook of Patrology writes:

The dates fixed upon by critics for the composition of the Didache fall between the years 50 and 160. The work was probably composed between 80 and 110. The basis for such a conclusion is the fact that the liturgy and hierarchy which the author describes, are quite primitive; there is no trace in the work of a creed or a canon of the Scriptures, and no allusion is made to pagan persecution or Gnosticism. [13]

Yet Houck is brazen enough to claim it is a gnostic work without substantive argument or evidence. But elsewhere, passages like John 15:25 where Jesus states, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” testify to the likelihood that Trinitarianism has its roots in the teaching of Jesus Himself and argues for the historical probability of the saying in Matthew 28:19.

Even more, the apostle Paul implies the Trinitarian formula in his benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.(2 Co 13:14)  and so does Peter: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”(1 Pe 1:2)  Did Constantine alter these books as well?

Greek NT Pre-existed Constantine by Centuries

Houck would have us believe the original language of the NT was not Greek, but rather Hebrew. He calls it a papal deception, writing, “Contrary to popular scholarly opinion, I believe there is substantial evidence that the original NT were written in Hebrew and Aramaic with the possible exception of the epistle to the Phillipians.”[14] But the only evidence he cites pertains to Matthew’s gospel – which is hardly controversial. How does he justify the leap from Matthew to the entire New Testament?

He doesn’t.

Houck fails to substantiate his claims that any of Paul’s epistles were not originally in Greek.

Luke who wrote Luke/Acts was a gentile. In Acts 21:40 Luke mentions that Paul addressed them in the Hebrew language – making a distinction.  Again in Acts 22:2 he makes the distinction: “And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet…”(Ac 22:2)  The distinction only makes sense in light of the normal language being Koine Greek the commonly used language.

The book of Revelation makes a similar distinction: “They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.(Re 9:11)  AND “And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.(Re 16:16)  If the original language was Hebrew this would not be necessary.

So I ask, how can Mr. Houck make such radical claims that disagree with the author’s own words? Here is a useful chart showing some of the most important examples. How can he explain away the hundreds of Greek manuscripts that predate Constantine? He doesn’t bother.

Historians are well aware that by the first century even most Rabbis used the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament because Hebrew fluency was so poor.

Alexander the Great conquered the known world and Greek became the common language for most people. In Egypt, under Ptolemy Philadelphus (285–246 b.c.) the Old Testament was translated into Greek. The appearance of this translation indicated that Jewish residents in Egypt were becoming more proficient in the use of Greek than in the use of their native Hebrew. Jewish tradition taught that this translation was the work of seventy-two Jewish scholars. The translation, known as the Septuagint, is commonly designated by the Roman numerals LXX, since seventy is the nearest round number to seventy-two.

Writers of the New Testament frequently used the Septuagint whenever they quoted the Old Testament. In the time of Christ it was used as a standard text, even by the rabbis. The early Church Fathers also drew upon it. Thus a knowledge of the Septuagint is helpful for all students of Scripture.[15]

Houck needs to explain why most of the NT quotations of the OT are from the Greek version, not the Hebrew, “OT scholar Gleason Archer lists 340 places where the New Testament cites the Septuagint but only 33 places where it cites from the Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint.”[16]

An example where the Greek gospels quote the Septuagint is Matthew: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”(Mt 1:23, ESV)

LXX:  Because of this, the Lord himself will give you a sign: Look, the virgin (παρθένος) will become pregnant and will bear a son, and you will call his name Immanuel[17]

.39 παρθένοςa, ου f: a female person beyond puberty but not yet married and a virgin (though in some contexts virginity is not a focal component of meaning)—‘virgin, young woman.’ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει ‘a virgin will conceive’ Mt 1:23.[18]

Masoretic: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman (almah) is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.(Is 7:14)

Because almah is not necessarily a virgin, the LXX version is a very important evidence for the virgin birth not supported by the Hebrew version. Houck’s thesis undermines the best evidence for the virgin birth.

Another example that shows decisively the Greek LXX was used because the words do not appear at all in the Masoretic.

Hebrews: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”(Heb 1:6, ESV)

LXX: “Delight, O heavens, with him and worship him, you sons of God. Delight, O nations, with his people and prevail with him, all you angels of God. For he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will avenge and he will repay the enemies with vengeance, and he will repay those who hate, and the Lord will cleanse out the land of his people.’ ”(Dt 32:43, LES)

But the Masoretic Hebrew text does not contain the reference to angels at all!

Masoretic: “Call for songs of joy, O nations, concerning his people, for the blood of his servants he will avenge, and he will take reprisals against his foes, and he will make atonement for his land, his people.”(Dt 32:43, LEB)

Not only was Greek the language of the NT it was the language for OT as well. Houck is grossly uninformed.

Argument Against the Holy Spirit Fails

His main argument against the personhood of the Holy Spirit is as follows:

1)                  Jesus is described as “the only begotten of the Father” (Jn 1:14, KJV)

2)                   Matthew 1:18  seemingly gives the Holy Spirit the role of impregnating Mary. “…she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”( Mt 1:18)

3)                   If the Holy Spirit is person then Jesus cannot be begotten of the Father but rather the Spirit.

Therefore, “one God in three persons” must be false.

This presumes the Father Son relationship is based on something as mundane as biological procreation and is very close to the Mormon belief that the father physically had sex with Mary. Jesus’ incarnation was a miracle – it was a virgin birth—the Holy Spirit’s personal role would not make him Jesus’ father, the whole line of reasoning is flawed.

Houck’s misunderstanding is due to surface reading of an English translation (and apparently he only checked the KJV). The words “only begotten” comes from the Greek word monogenēs, properly means “one of a kind, unique.”  It does not imply sexual procreation as Houck believes: For example, Hebrews 11:17 uses the same word: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only-monogenes- son,”(Heb 11:17) But we all know that Abraham did have another son, Ishmael, and later sons by Keturah, but Isaac was a unique son in that he was a son born as the result of certain promises made by God. Accordingly, he could be called a μονογενής son, since he was the only one of his kind. John 1:14 is more properly rendered “the only Son from the Father.” Modern translations have clarified and corrected the English for greater accuracy. He could have checked the ESV and seen a more accurate rendering: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(Jn 1:14).

Psalm 2 reveals the Father Son relationship existed before the incarnation; “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.(Ps 2:7)  when we turn to Acts 13  we see that the term “begotten”  refers to the resurrection not physical birth! “this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “ ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’’(Ac 13:33)

The Father and Son status is eternal (John 1:1-3). Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” God Himself spoke of the Son in Hebrews 1:8 and says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Jesus has existed eternally; there never was a time when he was not. His argument against the Holy Spirit fails but his misunderstanding of “begotten” has led him into another grave theological error: Arianism.

Houck is an Arian

A theological dictionary defines Arianism as:

Arianism, Arius. An early heretical teaching about the identity of Jesus Christ. Arianism was founded primarily on the teachings of Arius (d. 335/336). The central characteristic of Arian thought was that because God is one, Jesus could not have also been truly God. In order to deal with the scriptural testimony to the exalted status of Christ, Arius and his followers proposed that Jesus was the highest created being of God. So although Christ was fully human, he was not fully God. Arius’s teaching was condemned as heretical at the First Ecumenical Council (Nicaea) in A.D. 325.[19]

Although he will deny it, Houck is an Arian because he believes that the Son is not eternal but was rather birthed out of the Father.  He asserts that sometime prior to the creation Jesus did not exist and “came forth from God.”[20] Houck writes that, “the Son was birthed out of the plural Father eons before Mary was born, and before the world was created. Furthermore, He was not created out of anything (or out of nothing) as other celestial beings. He was the only one birthed out of the Father.”[21] He knows Arianism is a serious heresy so he tries to have his cake and eat it too. But it is inescapable that Houck believes in a created Christ. If Jesus is not eternal, he is not fully God. The law of excluded middle applies. If there was ever a time, nor matter how many eons past that he did not exist, he is a created being by definition.  How can someone who claims to have a PhD in theology make such obvious errors? The answer is not surprising.

Houck is Unqualified

All of his claimed degrees in biblical studies and theology are from unaccredited internet schools. Even his undergraduate degree is from a school with phony accreditation. He lists a BA in Theology from the School of Bible Theology in San Jacinto, California.  What is interesting is that the president of this school is Stephen T. Anderson (see this at http://www.sbtsu.org/faculty.php), and in his bio, it says that “Dr. Steve also serves as President of the Transworld Accrediting Commission Int’lHe is the president of the accrediting association that accredits the school of which he is also the president. Most would see that as a conflict of interest, to say the least.  With such dubious undergraduate training as a foundation,Houck then claims to have a Masters in Eschatology from Homestead College of Bible and Graduate School in Orlando, Florida that lists no accreditation. Finally, he claims a PhD in Theology from the same unaccredited internet correspondence school. These are not legitimate credentials by any stretch of the imagination. He prominently displays his phony PhD on his Amazon page as “Dr. Russ Houck PhD” a redundant practice not employed by legitimate scholars. While it does not speak directly to the truth of his claims, it suggests reasonable doubt concerning the character and credibility of someone challenging the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Houck and his following have every indicator of new cult along the lines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, their theology is remarkably similar.  One would be wise to steer clear of Houck and those who promote this book. It has all the ear-marks of a new anti-Trinitarian cult.

 


 [2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 347.

[3] Chapter 14. The prayer of Polycarp,  http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0102.htm

[4] Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians Chapter II.—Unity of the three divine persons.  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.xvii.ii.html

[5] Tertullian, On Baptism Chapter VI.—The Angel the Forerunner of the Holy Spirit. Meaning Contained in the Baptismal Formula. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.vi.iii.vi.html

[6] The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 606.

[7]Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 621.

[8] Metzger, Bruce M.; Ehrman, Bart D. (2005). The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (in English) (4th ed.). New York – Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 15–16. http://archive.org/stream/TheTextOfNewTestament4thEdit/TheTextOfNewTestament4thEdit_djvu.txt

[10] Codex Vaticanus, http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript/View/GA_03

[11] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 232.

[12] scholars prefer to speak of “gnosis” when referring to 1st-century ideas that later developed into gnosticism and to reserve the term “gnosticism” for the synthesis of these ideas into a coherent movement in the 2nd century.

[14] Epidemic, 208.

[15] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 15–16.

[16] G. Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, 25-32.

[17]Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Is 7:14.

[18]Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 108.

[19] Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 15.

[20] Epidemic, 382.

[21] Codex Vaticanus

Book Review: To Change the World by James Davison Hunter

By Cris Putnam
toChangeTheWorldBookProbably one of the most important books about Christianity and culture in the last decade is James Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Writing as a Christian and a social scientist, he states his thesis, “I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology.”[1] I agree with his tenet that cultural change is usually “top down” by elites rather than “bottom up” by ordinary citizens and this is problematic for the strategies expressed by Colson and the Truth Project and even worse for those who couple Christianity to politics. He observes, “Speaking as a Christian myself, contemporary Christian understandings of power and politics are a very large part of what has made contemporary Christianity in America appalling, irrelevant, and ineffective—part and parcel of the worst elements of our late-modern culture today, rather than a healthy alternative to it.”[2] In my own conversations and interactions, I have found this to be the case. He suggests most have misunderstood what culture is and how it works. Hunter lists seven propositions concerning culture:

Proposition one: culture is a system of truth claims and moral obligations. For the most part, I agree with his assessment. I acknowledge that various cultures filter their morals through their beliefs, myths and old adages so they are expressed in different ways and, to that extent, I grant the authors hypothesis. However, I am concerned by the implied suggestion that right and wrong are a product of culture rather than a reflection transcendent objective moral law. Although I doubt it is his intention, it seems relativistic.

Proposition two: culture is a product of history. I agree with this one without qualification. It offers a lot explanatory power for why cultural change is so difficult. Cultural behaviors and norms are engrained by tradition and things like nationality which have a rich history.

Proposition three: culture is intrinsically dialectical. Hunter contends, “culture is as much an infrastructure as it is ideas.”[3] I agree with this as well and I think this is his most potent criticism of the worldview approach. For instance, I do not believe evangelical activism through the Republican Party is effective because the infrastructure of the political system is corrupted by influence peddling and what amounts to bribery by lobbyists. If we want policy to move toward biblical values, then the infrastructure should be changed in that direction first. Without a profound revision of political infrastructure, I doubt any meaningful change can occur.

Proposition four: culture is a resource and, as such, a form of power. Hunter talks about “symbolic capital” which represents knowledge, skills, and credentials. The power of symbolic capital like an advanced degree or title is credibility and influence. One of the reasons naturalism gained so much traction in Western culture is the symbolic capital allowed scientists. I agree that this is true but I am unclear as to how this applies to culture ontologically.

Proposition five: cultural production and symbolic capital are stratified in a fairly rigid structure of “center” and “periphery.” This concerns the status or clout of symbolic power in point four. I agree that this is the case. It is also for this reason that culture becomes entrenched and self-reinforcing. If we give the most authority to graduates of ivy-league schools then it should be of no surprise that their values are what are reflected in our politics and laws.

Proposition six: culture is generated within networks. Hunter argues against the “great man” account of history by asserting “that the key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks.”[4] I agree allowing that often an individual, like Jesus of Nazareth, inspires and forms the network. In the end, His influence inspires culture through a network of followers or disciples.

Proposition seven: culture is neither autonomous nor fully coherent. I think this is one of his best points. Culture is not coherent and most people are harboring some degree of cognitive dissonance. This is part of living in a fallen world but it is also where the worldview apologetics along the lines of Francis Schaeffer’s truth divide concept of nature/grace has a lot to offer. For example, I have noticed a lot of professing evangelicals think like naturalists and exclude the supernatural from their analysis of politics and current events.

Faithful Presence rather than a culture war: He offers criticism of the three dominant stances amongst evangelicals toward culture: 1)“Defensive Against” the culture war; 2)“Relevance To” the emergent church; and 3) “Purity From” entailing a withdrawal like the Amish community and offers an alternative: “Faithful Presence Within.” This presence is based on the model of Jesus’ incarnation and the way Jesus as the word was present working out His purposes in a hostile world. Those purposes include: pursuit, identification, and the offer of life through His sacrificial love. God’s faithful presence implies that he pursues us. Thus, in like fashion, Christians should pursue each other and the community at large. He cites Matthew 25:34-40 as an example of how one should act incarnationally. Second, God’s faithful presence is his identification with us and we can extend this in how we treat outsiders. The third quality of His faithful presence is found in the life He offers. Because of God’s faithful presence to us, we should be faithfully present to Him in response. It means that we are to be fully present to believers and fully present to those who are not. Christians should be fully present and committed to their tasks meaning we work “as unto the Lord” (Col 3:24). We work faithfully in our spheres of influence to create conditions conducive to flourishing for all. As Hunter expresses it, when the love of Christ is realized incarnationally through us, in our relationships, within vocations, and within our circle of influence, then we are exercising faithful presence. I think the basic concept is sound and superior to the “culture war” political mentality. Evangelism works better by attraction than promotion. If we live faithfully and genuinely our lives will attract others and promotion is less necessary. This is an important book and I hope Christians leaders will read and sincerely consider Hunter’s advice.

 



[1] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2010), 5.

[2] Ibid, 95.

[3] Ibid, 34.

[4] Ibid, 38.