Category Archives: History

C H Spurgeon’s conflicting views on the gifts of the Spirit

Compiled by Spencer D Gear PhD

A cessationist has the theological view that the gifts of the Spirit ceased when the canon of Scripture was completed. Dr Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London (where Spurgeon preached for 38 years) states:

We believe … that the ceasing of revelatory and sign-gifts in the time of the apostles is very plainly taught in God’s Word, so plainly, in fact, that the opposite view has only seriously appeared in the last 100 years or so.1

A continuationist is a person who is convinced from Scripture that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, as in 1 Cor 12-14, continue into the twenty-first century. Sam Storms explained:

All the gifts of the Spirit, whether tongues or teaching, prophecy or mercy, healing or helping, were given (among other reasons) for the edification, building up, encouraging, instructing, consoling, and sanctifying of the body of Christ .2

C Peter Wagner’s definition of a spiritual gift is …

a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the body.3

1. Spurgeon the cessationist

Spurgeon preached:

“I have little confidence in those persons who speak of having received direct revelations from the Lord, as though He appeared otherwise than by and through the Gospel. His Word is so full, so perfect, that for God to make any fresh Revelation to you or me is quite needless. To do so would be to put a dishonor upon the perfection of that Word”.4

C. H. Spurgeon the prominent 19th century Baptist preacher and pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, for 38 years, wrote that …

those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us.… As you would certainly inquire whether you had the gifts of healing and miracle-working, if such gifts were now given to believers, much more should you inquire whether you have those more permanent gifts of the Spirit which are this day open to you all, by the which you shall work no physical miracle, but shall achieve spiritual wonders of the grander sort.5

In my preparation of an article on my homepage, Truth Challenge – ‘Cessationists through Church History’,6 I engaged in email discussion with my friend, the late Philip Powell of Christian Witness Ministries.7

2. Spurgeon the contuationist

Philip alerted me to several incidents in the life of Spurgeon which indicate he was not a consistent cessationist. Spurgeon provided these descriptions and an explanation, as supplied by Philip Powell (I have located the following quotes from other sources):

Spurgeon (1834-92) was the prominent Baptist preacher in England during the 19th century, who spoke of a “sermon at Exeter Hall in which he suddenly broke off from his subject and pointed in a certain direction. This incident is told in C H Spurgeon’s Autobiography (1856-1878), vol 3, compiled by his wife and private secretary:

“At the Monday evening prayer-meeting … Mr. Spurgeon related [an]

Incident [from] the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and, pointing in a certain direction, said, “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for; you have stolen them from you,’ employer.” At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Mr.Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief.” The preacher had drawn the bow at a venture, but the arrow struck the target for which God intended it, and the startled hearer was, in that singular way, probably saved from committing a greater crime’.8

“I remember quite well, and the subject of the story is most probably present in this congregation, that a very singular conversion was wrought at New Park Street Chapel. A man, who had been accustomed to go to a gin-palace to fetch in gin for his Sunday evening’s drinking, saw a crowd round the door of the chapel, he looked in, and forced his way to the top of the gallery stairs. Just then, I looked in the direction in which he stood,—I do not know why I did so, but I remarked that there might be a man in the gallery who had come in there with no very good motive, for even then he had a gin-bottle in his pocket. The singularity of the expression struck the man, and being startled because the preacher so exactly described him, he listened attentively to the warnings which followed; the Word reached his heart, the grace of God met with him, he became converted, and he is walking humbly in the fear of God.”

Spurgeon gave further examples of his word of knowledge ministry:

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, `There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took nine pence, and there was four pence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for four pence!’

“A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, `Do you know Mr Spurgeon?’ `Yes,’ replied the man `I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place: Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir.

“I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took nine pence the Sunday before, and that there was four pence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’”.9

2.1 How does Spurgeon explain this revelatory ministry?

“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, `Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, `The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.’”10

3. Conclusion

How are we to conclude concerning C H Spurgeon’s ministry in London in the 19th century? Was he a cessationist (he makes statements to confirm this view) or a continuationist – his experience supports the latter view.

Sam Storms makes a helpful conclusion:

My opinion is that this is a not uncommon example of what the Apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Spurgeon exercised the gift of prophecy (or some might say the word of knowledge, 1 Cor. 12:8). He did not label it as such, but that does not alter the reality of what the Holy Spirit accomplished through him. This information could not be found by Spurgeon from reading the Scripture. But surely we do not undermine the latter’s sufficiency by acknowledging that it was God who “revealed” this insight to him. If one were to examine Spurgeon’s theology and ministry, as well as recorded accounts of it by his contemporaries as well as subsequent biographers, most would conclude from the absence of explicit reference to miraculous charismata such as prophecy and the word of knowledge that such gifts had been withdrawn from church life. But Spurgeon’s own testimony inadvertently says otherwise! 11


See Sam Storms (2014); Why I Am a Continuationist. (The Gospel Coalition).

For an opposing view, see Thomas Schreiner (2014), Why I Am a Cessationist (The Gospel Coalition).

4.   Notes

1The Sword & Trowel 2011, issue 2. Cessationism — Proving Charismatic Gifts have Ceased (online). Available at: (Accessed 21 August 2018).

2 Sam Storms 2014. Why I Am a Continuationist. The Gospel Coalition (online). Available at: (Accessed 21 August 2018).

3 C Peter Wagner 2017. Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (rev ed). Bloomington, Minnesota: Chosen Books, ch 2.

4 Spurgeon from sermon No. 3336, ‘Beauty for Ashes’, published 9 January 1913, delivered by C H Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington UK). It also is available in C H Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 59: Sermons 3335-3386.

5 “Receiving the Holy Ghost”, sermon no.1790, vol. 30, Year 1884, p. 386, available at: (Accessed 20 June 2010).

6 Spencer D Gear 2010, Truth Challenge (online), Cessationists through Church History, 20 June. Available at: (Accessed 29 July 2018).

7.  72759 Logan Road Eight Mile Plains, Brisbane, QLD 4113, Australia. See: (Accessed 21 August 2018).

8 C H Spurgeon’s Autobiography, vol 3, Chapter 60, p. 59, Prince of Preachers (online). Available at:,-37,552. (Accessed 29 July 2018).

9  C H Spurgeon 1899, The Autobiography, vol. 2, pp226-227.

10  Charles H. Spurgeon 1973. Autobiography: The Full Harvest , 1860-1892, vol 2. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, p. 60.

11  Sam Storms 2013. When a Cessationist Prophesies, or, What are We to Make of Charles Spurgeon? (online), 25 October. Available at:–or–what-are-we-to-make-of-charles-spurgeon (Accessed 21 August 2018).



Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 23 August 2018

Crossan’s buddies are his scholarly support

11 08 6972 John Dominic Crossan.jpg

(John Dominic Crossan, courtesy

By Spencer D Gear

John Dominic Crossan, eminent historical Jesus scholar, has a one-eyed view of calling on those who principally are his ‘intellectual debt’.

Crossan is clear (at least to me) about his view of which scholars he should call on for support and critique of his views. It is important to note Crossan’s perspective regarding those who offer a contrary opinion: In quoting ‘secondary literature, I spend no time citing other scholars to show how wrong they are’. Instead, he only quotes those who ‘represent my intellectual debts’ (Crossan 1991:xxxiv; emphasis in original). Why would he want to preserve his opinion and scholarship and retain it in-house? Is there a possible presuppositional bias coming through??[1]

However, he breaks with his scholarly ideal by citing the ‘secondary literature’ of people such as N T Wright (Crossan 1998:44, 49, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, 258), Luke Johnson (Crossan 1998:30-31, 103, 114) and Dorothy Sayers (Crossan 1998:91, 92, 93, 98, 99). He doesn’t practise what he preaches on this principle he advocates in his writing.

Is this being unfair to Crossan?

One responded:

I think this is unfair. He’s explaining why he includes the references he does. There are several approaches to references. The ones I see in scholarly work are (1) acknowledging the source of information and arguments that appear in the text, and (2) citing everyone relevant. The second tends to lead to extensive footnotes, because if citations go beyond the views shown in the text, many authors feel the need to talk about what’s in those sources. After all, a long list of references isn’t that useful unless you give the reader an idea of what the position of each is.
I don’t think it’s showing bias to use the shorter approach, where you show only the sources actually used in the text. If a viewpoint is important enough that you really have to engage with it, presumably it will be discussed in the text, in which case there will be appropriate footnotes.[2]

My reply[3] was that that was a false assertion and one of my PhD examiners agreed with my assessment of Crossan’s bias towards his own ilk. In fact, this examiner considered that I was somewhat gentle in exposing Crossan’s biased approach to sources. My examiner is one with an international reputation in historical Jesus’ studies.
When one favours only those of his own persuasion and does not want to get into discussion of secondary sources that disagree with him, one can see he is going uphill with scholarship. This is especially so when he cannot consistently maintain his position. N T Wright gave him a fair run for his money and he dared to violate his own persuasion of referring only to those who are his intellectual debt.
I asked: Are you a supporter of J D Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of Jesus?

Is this being semi-popular?

This fellow’s comeback was:

No. I’m closer to Wright.[4] But my problem with him isn’t his footnoting policy, with which I’m sympathetic. I’d rather see people engage with other scholars in the text, rather than putting half the book in footnotes. So for me, the issue is what appears in the text. Partly because he doesn’t really review a very full range of scholarship, I think of “The Historical Jesus” (the work you’re citing) as a semi-popular synthesis of his position, not a real scholarly work like Wright’s Christian Origins series. A similar work, Wright’s “How God Became King,” has virtually no footnotes, with a very selective bibliography. I haven’t read much of Crossan, so I don’t know whether he has written something more scholarly or not.[5]

[6]I would not regard Crossan’s, The Historical Jesus (1991), as ‘a semi-popular synthesis of his position’. This is what Crossan states in the book:

I knew, therefore, before starting this book that it could not be another set of conclusions jostling for place among the numerous scholarly images of the historical Jesus currently available. Such could, no matter how good it was, but add to the impression of acute scholarly subjectivity in historical Jesus research. This book had to raise most seriously the problem of methodology and then follow most stringently whatever theoretical method was chosen (Crossan 1991:xxviii).?

That is hardly a ‘semi-popular’ approach to the historical Jesus. I’ve spent 5 years analysing Crossan in my PhD dissertation-only research (503pp, 1.15 spacing) and his 1991 publication is not meant for the popular level. For the general populace, you’ll need to go to Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Crossan 1994), which is a popularised, abridged edition of Crossan (1991).

After this kind of challenge to him, at least he acknowledged that he had not fully re-read Crossan (1991) ‘to see where I might have gotten the impression that it was a summary presentation’. Then he adds: ‘When Crossan begin to build his picture of Jesus, he uses lots of historical background, but I don’t see him seriously considering alternative pictures and showing how his methodology leads to his conclusion. (This is close to your own objection, except that my concern is with the text, not the footnotes.) In some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail.’ Then he spun off on a tangent of Crossan’s view of the ‘kingdom of God. [7]

Crossan is ‘almost entirely wrong’

NTWright071220.jpg(N T Wright, courtesy Wikipedia)


How would another eminent historical Jesus’ scholar evaluate Crossan’s contribution to historical Jesus’ studies? N T Wright’s assessment of Crossan (1991) was:

John Dominic Crossan is one of the most brilliant, engaging, learned and quick-witted New Testament scholars alive today. He has been described by one recent friendly critic as a “rather skeptical New Testament professor with the soul of a leprechaun”. He seems incapable, in his recent work at least, of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph….

It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book [Crossan 1991] is almost entirely wrong (Wright 1996:44, emphasis added).?

‘Almost entirely wrong’ is a stunning assessment by an eminent historical Jesus’ scholar (Wright), with which I have to agree, as Crossan’s presuppositional postmodernism causes him to engage in question begging fallacies where his conclusion agrees with his starting premises.

Since you [Hedrick] admit you haven’t read much of Crossan, I suggest that you take a read of larger chunks of Crossan (1991; 1998) to realise that these two publications are meant to be serious scholarly works. I consider that Wright (1992; 1996; 2003) has annihilated Crossan’s postmodern interpretation of the historical Jesus.
Crossan’s, The Birth of Christianity (1998), is a 651 page examination of ‘what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus’ (sub-title of book) but it lacks substantive historical precision when his postmodern presuppositions so dominate his premises and conclusions.

Crossan’s definition of history fails

This is Crossan’s definition of history and he repeats it in several of his publications: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original). However, he doesn’t consistently apply this definition throughout his publications. He mixes it with a traditional approach to history like that described by Wright: ‘History, I shall argue, is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretations”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions‘ (Wright 1992:82, emphasis in original). Wright admits that this involves a point of view by historians (they cannot be ahistorical observers), ‘a massive programme of selection’, and ‘such a process inevitably involves a major element of interpretation. We are trying to make sense of the world in which we live‘ (Wright 1992:82-83, emphasis in original).

1. Crossan’s use of a logical fallacy

How does one respond to a person who claims that Crossan uses ‘lots of historical background’ and ‘in some cases his arguments are obviously missing necessary detail’?[8]

This writer’s lack of exposure to Crossan, in my view, has led to this selective and imbalanced perspective.[9]

When Crossan starts with this definition of history: ‘This is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse…. History as argued public reconstruction is necessary to reconstruct our past in order to project our future’ (Crossan 1998:20; emphasis in original), and then concludes with his reader-response, interactive content of history, this is a begging the question logical fallacy in its historiography, especially in light of the consensus of historians that I examined in my PhD dissertation. Crossan’s statement points to a worldview of postmodern deconstruction that imposes another perspective on the historical data that so skews the data to accommodate Crossan’s reader-response philosophy.

Crossan wrote that ‘by historical study I mean an analysis whose theories and methods, evidence and arguments, results and conclusions are open, in principle and practice, to any human observer, any disciplined investigator, any self-conscious and self-critical student…. The historical Jesus is always an interpretive construct of its own time and place but open to all of that time and place’ (Crossan 1994:199, emphasis in original). He was pointed in his challenge that historians should say, ‘This, in my best professional reconstruction, is what happened; that did not’ (Crossan 1995:37).

So, his postmodern interpretation of history as the past recreated interactively has these ramifications. How this works for Crossan is that the description of the historical Jesus will vary with each generation as ‘an interpretive construct’. The view of Jesus is open to all that that time and place provides. In other words, we create our view of the historical Jesus, based on what is happening in our time, city, country and world. This is nonsense historically.

Could you imagine the history of George Washington, the pilgrim fathers, Captain James Cook and Captain Arthur Phillip being based on Hedrick or my ‘interpretive construct’ in the USA or Australia in the 21st century? Did George Washington and James Cook say and do what is recorded or is that open to your or my interactive, deconstruction? That’s what we are dealing with in examining Crossan’s approach to history. Imagine doing that with the ‘facts’ contained in Crossan’s autobiography (Crossan 2000)? Did he grow up in Ireland or is that only a metaphor to be deconstructed by me in the 21st century – deconstructed with inventions I want to make?
Imagine reading Crossan’s other books with that view. Surely he wants me to read his books so that I understand the content of what he means with English grammar and syntax, rather than imposing 21st century Brisbane environment and my reader-response on his texts. If I read the Brisbane Times (BT) like that and passed on my postmodern, reader-response, interactive, contemporary interpretation of today’s BT stories to the people in my church on Sunday, they would think I was going over the edge mentally.

Since Hedrick provided no references to which parts of Crossan’s works he referred, regarding the “Kingdom of God”, I have no way of checking if what you are saying is correct or not.

However, he did admit he had not read much of Crossan.

2. Crossan teams up with an archaeologist

To overcome some of this historical imbalance (in my view), Crossan teamed up with archaeologist, Jonathan L Reed, in writing (1) Excavating Jesus (Crossan & Reed 2001), and (2) In Search of Paul (Crossan & Reed 2004). However, both authors have a presuppositional bias towards postmodernism in their interpretations.

This proves nothing more than a postmodern deconstructionist can be found also among a historical Jesus scholar and an archaeologist. This is how this postmodern philosophy overwhelms their interpretations with these kinds of explanations:

  • Resurrection is not equivalent to resuscitation, apparition or exaltation.
  • Rather, ‘to say that God raised Jesus from the dead was to assert that the general resurrection had thereby begun. Only for such an assertion was “resurrection” or “raised from the dead” the proper terminology. That is very clear from a reading of 1 Corinthians 15, a commentary by Paul on an earlier and presumably second or traditional layer of text’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:259-260, emphasis in original).

Crossan & Reed push the lack of uniqueness about Jesus’ resurrection with emphasising two directions in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘If there is no Jesus resurrection, there is no general resurrection; if there is no general resurrection, there is no Jesus resurrection’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260). There authors are correct in showing the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection, but this is where the damage enters with this kind of assumption, ‘The resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection, that is to say, with Jesus’ resurrection the general resurrection has begun’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:260, emphasis in original). They claim that this ‘proclamation is stunningly creative and profoundly original’ on at least four counts which involve a choice among alternatives. One of those differences is that ‘it is profoundly original in its distinction between the general resurrection as instantive moment or durative process in apocalyptic consummation’ (Crossan & Reed 2001:161).

a. Let’s check the evidence from 1 Corinthians 15

Does 1 Corinthians 15 teach that Jesus’ resurrection is the start of the general resurrection and there is a distinction between instant moment versus durative process (the Crossan & Reed view)? Paul was dealing with a particular objection in Corinth: ‘Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?’ (1 Cor 15:12 ESV). To that question his response was: ‘But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor 15:13-14 ESV).

Note that 1 Cor 15:12-14 does not teach what Crossan & Reed state that the resurrection of Jesus is the start of the general resurrection. What these verses do teach is that there will be a resurrection of dead people because Christ has been raised from the dead. Yes, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor 15:20). When will this resurrection of the dead take please? It is in the future as indicated by this language: ‘So also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end….’ (1 Cor 15:22-23).

The evidence is convincing from 1 Cor 15 and it is not in agreement with Crossan & Reed. There will be a general resurrection of the dead at ‘the end’, at the Parousia when ‘the last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor 15:26). So, Crossan & Reed have imposed their own postmodern interpretation on 1 Cor 15 to make it fit with their agenda.

b. Postmodern performance by Crossan & Reed

The essence of resurrection, according to N T Wright, is: ‘What the creator god did for Jesus is both the model and the means of what he will do for all Jesus’ people’ (Wright 2003:216; emphasis in original). Crossan & Reed’s emphasis on I Corinthians 15:12-13, 15b-16 is that ‘the argument is very clear: no Jesus resurrection, no general resurrection; no general resurrection, no Jesus resurrection’. They continue with interpretation of I Corinthians 15:20, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died’ (NRSV) as meaning, ‘Jesus’s resurrection is to the general resurrection as first fruits are to the rest of the harvest. There is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ (Crossan & Reed 2004:342-343).

It is true that this passage teaches that Jesus’ resurrection and the general resurrection are connected, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised…. If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised’ (1 Cor 15:13, 16). However, Crossan & Reed’s statement that ‘there is no possibility of Christ’s resurrection as a special, unique, peculiar privilege accorded to him alone’ needs challenging because of these facts:

(1) Preaching is vain and faith is futile ‘if Christ has not been raised’ (1 Cor 15:14). This verse does not say, ‘If Christ has not been raised and there is no general resurrection, your preaching is without content and ineffective and your faith is pointless’.[10] Christ’s resurrection is unique in order to provide content and foundation to preaching and faith. This is related to another unique necessity of Jesus’ resurrection,

(2) ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (1 Cor 15:17). This is explained further in Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification’. The unique, peculiar, and special mission of Jesus’ resurrection was to provide justification for sins so that people are no longer in their sins. They are declared righteous (justified) before God. Of this verse, Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘In order to complete the work of our salvation: because, just as for this reason did He endure evil things in dying that He might deliver us from evil, so was He glorified in rising again in order to advance us towards good things’ according to Romans 4:25 (Aquinas 1947:3.53.1). The death of Jesus ‘for us’, as articulated in Romans 4:25 and 5:10 includes both justification and sanctification and ‘they are inextricably bound together with his resurrection’ (Fee 1987:743-744). For Crossan to denigrate this unique role of the resurrected Son in salvation is to deny an essential Christian doctrine. The uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be detached from eternal salvation itself. Crossan’s reconstruction of Jesus’ resurrection to exclude its uniqueness is tantamount to a denial of Christian existence for the sake of a postmodern view of human beings and reconstruction of the meaning of the resurrection.

Crossan & Reed continue with their metaphorical imposition on the text in pursuit of a postmodern agenda:

Recall the discussion of Jewish and of Christian-Jewish “resurrection…. Those who claimed Jesus had begun the terminal moment of apocalyptic climax would have to present some public evidence of a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace. It would not and could not suffice to claim one or many empty tombs and one or many risen apparitions. That might all be well and good, but where was the evidence, any evidence, of a transformed world? For that they had only their own communal lives as evidence. This is how we live with God and on this basis we seek to persuade others to do likewise. This is our new creation, our transformed world. We in God, God in us, and both together here below upon this earth.

Paul claimed in 1 Corinthians that, “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” 15:14). As stated, that comment is true for Christianity, but so also is its reverse. If Christian faith has been in vain, that is, has not acted to transform itself and this world toward the justice of God, and if Christian proclamation has been in vain, that is, has not insisted that such is the church’s vocation, then Christ was not raised. Christianity could certainly still claim that Jesus was exalted and had ascended to the right hand of God. But resurrection [the argument of this chapter] presumes the start of cosmic transformation, not just the promise of it, not just the hope of it, not just talk about it, and not just theology about it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher can be easily seen in all its marbled past and disputed present within today’s Jerusalem. But the Church of the Blessed Resurrection can only be seen in a world under transformation by Christian cooperation with divine justice and by Christian participation in divine justice (Crossan & Reed 2001:270).

This is a Crossan & Reed metaphorical deconstruction of Christ’s resurrection to make it mean what they want in the 20th century – resurrection meaning a world transformed from injustice and evil to justice and peace, a Christian participation in divine justice.

The biblical evidence is that Jesus’ death and resurrection make justification by faith possible for all who believe in Jesus for salvation. This is affirmed by Romans 4:25, ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification’ (NIV). For a further explanation, see R C Sproul on ‘Resurrection and justification’.

This unique resurrection was the firstfruits, guaranteeing that there will be a resurrection of the dead at Christ’s second coming. There is no postmodern deconstructionist agenda in that view. It is based on the plain meaning of the biblical text.

If history does not involve postmodern deconstruction by deconstructionists like J D Crossan and Jonathan Reed, what then is it?

3. What is history?

By contrast, eminent Yale University professor of missions and oriental history, Kenneth Scott Latorette, defined Christian history this way:

The distinctively Christian understanding of history centers upon historical occurrences. It has at its heart not a set of ideas but a person. By a widespread convention historians reckon history as b.c. and a.d. They are aware of many other methods of recording dates and know that this particular chronology has acquired extensive currency because of the growing dominance during the past few centuries of a civilization in which Christian influences have been potent. To the Christian, however, this reckoning of time is much more than a convention. It is inherent in history. In Jesus of Nazareth, so the Christian holds, God once for all disclosed Himself and acted decisively. The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate (Latourette 1948).

(Kenneth Scott Latourette, courtesy Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity)


This definition is parallel with that of N T Wright, a scholar of the historical Jesus and early Christian origins in the 20th and 21st centuries, whose understanding was that ‘history is neither “bare facts” nor “subjective interpretation”, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’. Wright stresses that ‘for statements to be made about the past, human beings have to engage in a massive programme of selection’ along with ‘a major element of interpretation’ (Wright 1992:82-83 emphasis in original).

By way of methodology, Wright is of the view that the ‘historical method is just like all other methods of inquiry. It proceeds by means of “hypotheses”, which stand in need of “verification”. A good hypothesis in any field must,

(a) ‘Include the data’;

(b) ‘Construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture’, and

(c) Mean that the proposed explanatory story proves to be fruitful in other related areas (Wright 1992:98-100).

Crossan adopts Wright’s view of history in his autobiography, A long way from Tipperary (Crossan 2000), in which Wright defined history. This was the meaningful narrative of events in the life of J D Crossan in Ireland, along with interpretations and his intentions. One example can be seen in Crossan’s own words, ‘“I am curious,” the doctor said. “How can you as a Catholic theologian undergo a vasectomy?” “Because,” I replied, “I am a bad Catholic, but a good theologian, and that makes a vast difference”’ (Crossan 2000:79). What about this evaluation, ‘I maintain that the mode of authority, the style of leadership, the primacy of obedience demanded by the Roman Catholic hierarchy is a crime, if not against humanity, then at least against divinity’ (Crossan 2000 199)?

Is that meant to be a literal or metaphorical statement? Does it contain facts that Crossan considers to be true and his intentions to expose his theological understanding of Roman Catholicism? It sure doesn’t sound like his definition of history: ‘This, then, is my working definition of history: History is the past reconstructed interactively by the present through argued evidence in public discourse’ (Crossan 1998:20; 1999:3 emphasis in original).


A scholar who only wishes to include the views of his intellectual buddies (mates is the Aussie language) is engaging in a biased view of history – but all in the name of scholarship.

This investigation has found that it doesn’t matter whether Crossan is writing alone or in conjunction with an archaeologist, Jonathan Reed, he imposes a postmodern understanding on the text. This is in harmony with his presuppositional bias of a postmodern approach to history. When he concludes with his premise – a postmodern explanation of history – he is using a question begging logical fallacy.

History that doesn’t deal with the facts of the past is not history. However, these facts need interpretation, not with a presuppositional, postmodern imposition on the text, but with consideration of the cultural and other issues taking place in that society. That’s exactly what Crossan did in his autobiography. It was not a postmodern exposition of his life but an account that involved facts, intentions and interpretations from his earlier life.

So Wright’s view that history involves ‘the meaningful narrative of events and intentions’ of the past is realistic and does not come with Crossan’s presuppositional understanding of imposing a postmodern interpretation on the facts.

Works consulted

Aquinas, T 1947. Summa theologica (online). Tr by the fathers of the English Dominican Province. Available at Sacred Texts: (Accessed 1 February 2013).

Brown, C 1975. kenos, in Brown, C (ed) The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3, 546-549. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Crossan, J D 1991. The historical Jesus: The life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1994. Jesus: A revolutionary biography. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D 1999. Historical Jesus as risen Lord, in Crossan, J D, Johnson, L T & Kelber, W H, The Jesus controversy : Perspectives in conflict, 1-47. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Crossan, J D 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2001. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the stones, behind the texts. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J D & Reed, J L 2004. In search of Paul: How Jesus’s apostle opposed Rome’s empire with God’s kingdom. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The first epistle to the Corinthians (The new international commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Latourette, K S 1948. The Christian understanding of history. American Historical Association (online). Available at: (Accessed 23 October 2015).

Oepke, A 1965. kenos, in Kittel, G (ed) Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 3, 659-660. Tr and ed by G W Bromiley. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).

Wright, N T 1996. Jesus and the victory of God. London: SPCK / Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 2).

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 3).


[1] I included this in Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, Do I have a ‘Flawed’ library of study material? September 20, 2015. OzSpen#6, available at: (Accessed 23 October 2015).

[2] Ibid., Hedrick#24.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#25.

[4] He’s speaking of N T Wright, the British historical Jesus’ scholar.

[5] Christian Forums, Hedrick#26.

[6] This is my response at ibid., OzSpen#27.

[7] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[8] Ibid., Hedrick#28.

[9] The following is my response to him in ibid., OzSpen#29.

[10] The Greek is kenos, for which Arndt & Gingrich provide the meaning, ‘without content, without any basis, without truth, without power’ of preaching and faith for 1 Cor 15:14a (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:429). Albrecht Oepke’s study concluded that it meant ‘”empty”, “futile”’, that is, ‘without content and also ineffective’ (Oepke 1965:659-660). Colin Brown’s understanding was that ‘under certain circumstances certain things would be pointless, fruitless, or in vain’ and that applies to preaching and faith in I Corinthians 15:14 (Brown 1975:547).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2015.

Josephus: Women unacceptable witnesses (Josephus – From William Whiston’s translation of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Public Domain)

By Spencer D Gear

When someone makes this assessment of an historian, his writings are worthy of further pursuit: ‘In spite of his limitations, Josephus conducts us through that strange time and world which was home to Jesus and the Evangelists and so enables us better to hear and see the Word in the world in which it appeared’ (Scott 1992:394).

Who is this Josephus?

Josephus (ca. AD 37-100), a wealthy Jew, attempted to justify Judaism to cultured Romans through his writings (Cairns 1981:46) but he was called ‘a Jewish historian’ who ‘when measured against his own canons of objectivity and truthfulness, often failed to be a good historian’ (Herrick 2015 n. 16). He was ‘a historian writing principally about the Jewish people’ (Herrick 2015).

He also provided the earliest reference to Jesus outside of the New Testament and he also wrote of ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James’ (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).

In the foreword to one edition of Antiquities of the Jews, William Sanford LaSor wrote:

Josephus, or more accurately Joseph ben Matthias, was born the year Gaius acceded to the throne of the Roman Empire, A.D. 37, and died sometime after A.D. 100. He was born of a priestly family and through his Hasmonean mother could boast of royal blood….

In brief we can divide his life into two parts, each about thirty-three years in length: the first half could be described as the life of Joseph ben Matthias, Jewish priest, General, and prisoner; the second half, with some reservations, as the life of Flavius Josephus the Roman citizen and author….

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus was given a tract of land near Jerusalem, a number of books, and a chance to retire to a life off quiet contemplation. He chose, to return to Rome with Titus, where he became a client of the Flavian family, received Roman citizenship, and was commissioned to write a history of the Jewish people….

Josephus’ first literary work was the Wars of the Jews, published in the closing years of the reign of Vespasian. Since at that time Josephus was not confident of his ability to write in good Greek style, he composed the work first in Aramaic…. The Wars of the Jews was written under the commission of the Emperor, and can be looked upon as a bit of propaganda, designed to deter others who might have been tempted to revolt (Wars of the Jews III, v, 8). The title, on the analogy of Caesar’s Gallic War, is probably to be understood from the Roman viewpoint: the war against the Jews, rather than the Jewish War against Rome. It is Josephus’ most carefully written work.

His Antiquities of the Jews was published about fifteen years later (A.D. 93 or 94)….

The Life was written … shortly after the year A.D. 100, principally as an apology for his own life, to defend himself against charges made by Justus of Tiberias concerning Josephus’ conduct during the war in Galilee.

Against Apion is an apology for Judaism in which Josephus evaluates the ideals of Hellenism and shows its deficiencies while at the same time showing the excellencies of the Jewish religion (LaSor 1960:VII-IX).

Josephus and Jesus

Of Jesus he wrote:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,[1] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day;[2] as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3).

This passage is often regarded as containing Christian interpolations, but ‘most scholars agree that this basic information … is most likely a part of the original text. Josephus was not a friend of Christianity, and thus his mention of Christ has more historic value’ (Cairns 1981:46). However, this statement is found in all of the Greek manuscripts from the 11th century and is in Eusebius in a couple of places (Ecclesiastical History 1.11.7 and Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5.124).[3]

I have found Greg Herrick’s article helpful in coming to a better understanding of ‘Josephus’ Writings and Their Relation to the New Testament’ (Herrick 2015).

His view of female witnesses

There is an unusual emphasis in Josephus for the 21st century. He has a major problem with women as witnesses. Josephus, in his major work, Antiquities of the Jews, stated: ‘But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex‘ (4.8.15, emphasis added).

The editor of this edition of Josephus stated after the citation about women, ‘I have never observed elsewhere, that in the Jewish government women were not admitted as legal witnesses in courts of justice. None of our copies of the Pentateuch say a word of it. It is very probable, however, that this was the exposition of the scribes and Pharisees, and the practice of the Jews in the days of Josephus’ (4.8.15, n. 21).

Even though he seems to have stated that Jesus ‘appeared to them alive again the third day’ (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3), with his attitude towards women as witnesses, he would encounter major difficulties with the NT emphasis of the first witnesses of Jesus after his resurrection being women. Matthew 28:1-10 (NIV) gives this description:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me”.

Imagine it! The greatest event in world history, the physical resurrection of the crucified Jesus from the dead, was found by two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. These women met the risen Jesus, clasped his feet, worshipped him and went to tell the brothers to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus. That kind of information should blow Josephus’ mind as he was a contemporary with Jesus.

See the article by Ben Witherington, Why Arguments against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical.

The reliability of Josephus

The accuracy of Josephus as a Jewish historian has been questioned because ‘he is self-serving in his accounts, overly gracious and generous in his presentation of the Romans, and molds the facts of Jewish history to suit his own ends. He is notorious for his exaggeration of numbers’. This is seen when his works are examined in parallel and they ‘have unreconcilable variants’ (Scott 1992:393).

However, new data were found in the 1960s with the excavations of Masada and these ‘add credibility to Josephus’ handling of at least the major features of his subjects’ (Scott 1992:393).

Herrick essentially agrees with this assessment:

It is no mystery that many scholars hold that Josephus is woefully inaccurate at times. And, it would appear from the work of Schurer, Broshi, Mason, Mosley and Yamauchi that such a conclusion is fairly warranted.[4] Yet this skepticism does not need to be thorough-going, for there are many places where it appears that he has left for us a solid record of people and events—especially as regards the broad movements in history at this time. These might include facts about the Herodian dynasty, the nature of the Jewish religious sects, Roman rule over Palestine and the fall of Jerusalem. Boshi agrees that in many places Josephus errs, regarding numbers and names, but this is no grounds for dismissing all that he said as without foundation. Once again, the historical trustworthiness of Josephus, is perhaps not a flat declaration, “he is” or “he is not” but rather it proceeds on a case by case basis[5] (Herrick 2015).

Works consulted

Broshi, M 1982. The Credibility of Josephus, Journal of Jewish Studies 33, 379-384 Spring / Autumn. Now available at: (Accessed 26 September 2015).

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Herrick, G 2015. Josephus’ Writings and Their Relation to the New Testament. (online). Available at: (Accessed 26 September 2015).

LaSor, W S 1960. Foreword to Josephus: Complete Works 1867, VII-XII. Works tr W Whiston. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications.

Mason, S 1992. Josephus and the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Mosley, A W 1965. Historical Reporting and the Ancient World, New Testament Studies, October, 10-26.

Schürer E 1973. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.D. – A.D. 135), 3 vols, rev & ed G Vermes & F Millar. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Scott, J J 1992. Josephus, in J B Green & S McKnight (eds) & I H Marshall (cons ed), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 391-394. Downers Grove, Illinois / Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

Yamauchi, E M 1980. Josephus and Scripture, Fides et Historia 13, Fall, 42-63.


[1] The footnote here stated, ‘A.D. 33, April 3’.

[2] The footnote at this point was, ‘April 5’.

[3] The 124 is in the text as (124).

[4] Here the footnote was: ‘Cf. Scott (1992:393); Schurer, 57, 58. He says, that the War is superior in accuracy to the Antiquities in the recording of details and therefore of greater [historical] value; Broshi (1982:383, 84); Mason (1992: 81, 82); Mosley (1965: 24-26) and Yamauchi (1980:58). [Note: Schurer is possibly referring to Schürer (1973) as in the bibliography on the article about Josephus by Scott (1992:394)].

[5] The footnote was: Broshi (1982:383, 84). It should be Broshi (1982:383, 384).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.

Science becomes scientism

Image result for clip art science public domain

(courtesy Open Clip Art Library)

By Spencer D Gear

John Ashton and Michael Westacott provided this warning of the danger of science becoming scientism:

It is important to note that science, unlike scientism, should not be a threat to religious belief. Science, to be sure, advocates a “naturalistic” rather than a “supernaturalistic” focus, and an empirical verification method for determining truths about the physical world and the universe. Yet the proper mandate of science is restricted to the investigation of the natural (physical, empirical) dimension of reality. It is this restriction that scientism has violated, replacing proper science with an illicit ideology that not only seeks to explain all things naturalistically, but assumes – without proof – that the spiritual realm is irrelevant, indeed non-existent. This unproven assumption is based on the mistaken belief that nothing exists unless it can be verified by the empirical scientific method. Such a belief is an invalid reductionism that reduces the explanation for all reality to physicality. This “physicalism” overextends the method and capabilities of science (Ashton & Westacott 2005:16).

There are obviously disciplines in our world that cannot be tested empirically. I’m thinking especially of that which has happened in history. It cannot be examined according to the empirical system of current experimentation and repeatability. It also can apply to the disciplines of sociology and cultural anthropology.

What happens with history?

Image result for clip art history public domain


What is the method for historiography? N T Wright in asking about ‘the proper method for the historian’, explained that the ‘historical method is just like all other methods of enquiry. It proceeds by means of “hypotheses”, which stand in need of “verification”. He considered that ‘a good historical hypothesis … is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena, and offers an explanation of them’ (Wright 1992:98-99). He considers that there are three things that make for a good hypothesis in any field. They are:

(1) All the data must be included;

(2) ‘It must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture’;

(3) ‘The proposed explanatory story must prove itself fruitful in other related areas’.

He admitted that when these criteria are applied to Judaism, Jesus, and the origin of Christianity, the problems are more complex than examining a city fire because of these three criteria:

(a) ‘The stack of data to be included is vast and bewildering’.

(b) ‘The construction of an essentially simple historical hypothesis is … a major problem’.

(c) ‘The wider jigsaw of the first century as a whole’.

He takes New Testament scholars to task who evolve ‘highly sophisticated ways of getting off the horns of the dilemma posed’ by criteria (a) and (b). What some of these scholars do in dealing with ‘recalcitrant data’ is ‘to show that it comes, not from Jesus himself, but from the later church. The data thus disappear from the picture of Jesus, but at a cost’ (Wright 1992:100-101).

Works consulted

Ashton, J F & Westacott, M J 2005. The big argument: Does God exist? Twenty-four scholars explore how science, archaeology, and philosophy haven’t disproved God. Green Forest, AR: Master Books Inc (partly available online HERE)

Wright, N T 1992. The New Testament and the people of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 1).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 November 2015.


Women in ministry in church history



A female Quaker preaches at a meeting in London in the 18th century (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Is there support for this kind of statement that I picked up on a Christian forum:

If we go by what the Scripture says, how the earliest Christians that actually read and wrote in Koine Greek interpreted, and how Christian tradition for nearly 2,000 years interpreted until people 50 years ago thought they knew better than all those people read the same Bible, then know women should not be ordained pastors.[1]

Carolyn Osiek’s research has uncovered support for silence and non-silence of women in ministry in the early church fathers. See:

Image result for clipart small arrow public domainThe Ministry and Ordination of Women According to the Early Church Fathers‘.

Image result for clipart small arrow public domain See also her assessment, ‘The Church Fathers and the Ministry of Women’.

Elizabeth Hooton (1628-1671) was the first Quaker woman preacher.

How do you think that that person would respond to the first article by Carolyn Osiek? Here goes:

Did you actually bother reading that link? It provided no evidence that within the catholic/orthodox tradition that there have ever been female preachers. There were heretical female preachers, however, as the link points out…

Quakers had heretical beliefs. Then you have Quaker offshoots called Shakers who believed that the second Jesus already came, and its a woman. If all you have are a few odd occurrences amongst the vast preponderance of Christian practice, it does not help your case.

Again, you probably don’t really care about how the vast majority of interpreters for all time have viewed the subject. You are more concerned about modern notions of egalitarianism than the view that is in simple terms presented in the Bible.[2]

My response was:[3]

Yes, I did read the link, but it seems that you have missed this part of the link that does not support your view:

In support of the second interpretation, i.e., that deaconesses did receive an actual ordination, are three additional pieces of evidence. First, they appear with other members of the clergy, for example in the distribution of leftover gifts from the offerings of the faithful; even though they are mentioned last, they are the only group of women included in a list that stops with rector or cantor.(27) Second, a later Epitome or summary of this part of the Apostolic Constitutions entitles the two sections on deaconesses (Ap. Const. 8.19-20) “About the Ordination (Cheirotonia) of a Deaconess” and “Prayer for the Ordination (Cheirotonia) of a Deaconess.”(28) Third, Canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) directs that a woman shall not receive the ordination (cheirontonia) of a deaconess until she is at least 40 years of age, and she must remain unmarried.(29) Here in an independent source from approximately the same period the ordination of deaconesses is taken for granted.

This person provided not one example of Quaker ‘heretical’ beliefs. I don’t take generalised statements as an indicator of heresy. I need specifics. Then we can discuss them when compared with Scripture.

Extreme examples do not define the regular

As for mentioning Shakers as an offshoot from the Quakers, have you not heard of offshoots from evangelical Christianity today? I’m thinking of the Pensacola & Toronto ‘blessings’ within Pentecostalism. Do these invalidate the legitimacy of evangelical and/or Pentecostal beliefs? I think not. Extremists should not be used to redefine the norm.

Are the actions of Rick Warren and the Pope meant to contaminate evangelical Christianity? It represents one leader and his actions.
See Carolyn Osiek’s assessment: The Church Fathers and the Ministry of Women
Why did he make this kind of false allegation against me?

You probably don’t really care about how the vast majority of interpreters for all time have viewed the subject. You are more concerned about modern notions of egalitarianism than the view that is in simple terms presented in the Bible.

When tradition is allowed to dictate

I am not the slightest bit interested in ‘modern notions of egalitarianism’ – a secular approach to egalitarianism. I’m interested in the equality of all people before God (see Galatians 3:28 NLT).

I support a high view of Scripture and I’m interested in careful exegesis of the biblical text, including consideration of culture and context. When I pursue this approach, I come out with a version of women in ministry that is different from the one this person promoting on this Forum.

(Painting of Martin Luther, courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image004I’m very concerned that God’s gifts should be allowed to function and not closed down by faulty hermeneutics. I find it interesting that you claim that I’m interested in modern notions of egalitarianism. I wonder what the interpreters of the traditional way would have thought about the history of interpretation when Martin Luther promoted justification by faith and nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. I wonder what had been taught in the centuries preceding Luther about justification by faith.

I’m not going to allow the traditional teaching against women in ministry in the centuries prior to my lifetime to stop me from carefully examining the biblical text to find what it states in the inerrant text (in the autographa). I’m excited about what I’m finding from the biblical text that contradicts the traditional view. It gives me insights into how Martin Luther might have felt after he discovered in Scripture, justification by faith, after centuries of a different interpretation.

This is a range of my articles on women in ministry (there may be a repeat of information in some of them):

Related image Anti-women in ministry juices flowing

Related image Women in ministry in church history

Related image Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages

Related image Women in ministry in I Corinthians: A brief inquiry

Related image Women wrongly closed down in ministry

Related image Amazing contemporary opposition to women in public ministry

Related image The heresy of women preachers?

Related image Women bishops – how to get the Christians up in arms!

Related image Are women supposed to be permanently silent in the church gathering?

Related image Must women never teach men in the church?


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, Women’s pastors, abacabb3#155. Available at: (Accessed 18 December 2014).

[2] Ibid., abacabb3#169.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#170.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 July 2019.

The Bible: fairy tale or history?

Bible closed by crisg - closed Bible book with bookmark     magical by evaline02 - Two princesses in fairy tale illustration style, with a slug and grass in front.

(images courtesy Openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

I asked a fellow on a Christian forum on the Internet: ‘Why are you not taking Jesus seriously and the challenge of what happens at death?[1]

His reply was: ‘I don’t take fairy tales seriously’.[2]

When I asked him to provide evidence that The Bible contains fairy tales, there was a total silence. He likes assertions but not evidence.

Secularists think that way

That is not an uncommon response from unbelievers. There’s a webpage that asks, ‘What is your favorite bible fairy tale?’ On this page, people name their favourite Bible fairy tales as including: ‘An all-powerful perfect being creates the world, but he screws it up so bad, he wipes it out with a flood and starts over’; Noah’s Ark, creation, Daniel & the lions, those who live to be over 600 years old, Jesus lets people kill him, and unbelievers tossed into the Lake of Fire. Another is titled, ‘Fairy tales in the Bible’.

How does one know if the Bible contains fairy tales or is of some other genre?

How to assess the Bible as history

This is how I responded to the fairy tale assessment:[3]

With that kind of statement, you obviously do not know how to study history. I’m writing my PhD dissertation on an aspect of ‘the historical Jesus’ – not an aspect of the ‘fairy tale Jesus’. I’ve had to develop an entire chapter on methodology for investigating history and that included what is in the NT.

When you get out of your presuppositions and into an examination of how to do historical study, then we’ll have an opportunity to examine the Scriptures from an historical perspective.

Dr Paul Barnett (photo courtesy Patheos)

Ancient historian and Christian exegete, Dr Paul Barnett, who has taught history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, has written:

Provided that we accept the limitations in the Gospel of Mark, in its brevity and single focus, we have good reason to believe it provides a historically credible account of Jesus’ activities in Galilee, the regions of Tyre and Sidon, Ituraea-Trachonitis, and the Decapolis. The words of Jesus, which are weighty and wise, are singularly applicable to the pericopes in which they occur. The parables in Mark as well as in Matthew and Luke are arguably authentic, based (in particular) on the cogent double criteria of similarity and dissimilarity. In any case, we argue that the gospel writers would neither invent nor omit a word of the Lord, though they felt free to adapt a word appropriately.

The narrative of Mark and the synoptics is set within the complex jurisdictions of the thirties, but not those as they would be altered in the decades following. As the narratives unfold we note the inconspicuous ways in which Jesus’ movements cohere with the political realities of those times. Furthermore, Jesus’ own path crossed the paths of the notables of that time, whether John the Baptist, the tetrarch Antipas, the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, or the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. In the course of the narratives we encounter those who were eschatologically excited (‘the men of violence’) as well as the ‘sinners’ with whom Jesus aligned himself as a lawbreaker. Furthermore, we see Jesus as the worker of mighty deeds, including in those towns where most of his mighty works were done.

In brief, we have in Mark a gospel that is a useful source of information about Jesus’ words and actions in Galilee and adjacent regions in the north (Barnett 2009:247).

I’m sticking with the assessment of a long-time university ancient historian (and a Christian to boot) who knows his product about ancient history and how to assess historical documents.

And I’m not going with Matt and his throw-away line, ‘I don’t take fairy tales seriously’.

What qualifications do you have to assess any historical document? I find it disappointing that you are the one engaging in trifling mass media style sensational lines, instead of an examination of the biblical documents from an historical perspective – using historical criteria.

Jesus, logic and history

Paul Barnett, in examining the logic regarding Jesus and history, has stated that there are at least two senses in which Christianity is a historical religion. These include firstly, ‘that it has been continuously part of world history for a long time’, and secondly, because ‘Jesus was a real man who was born, lived and died at a particular time and place’ and this can be demonstrated by the same methodology used to investigate other significant persons from history (Barnett 1997:11).

Jesus’ resurrection as myth, fairy tale or history

There has been academic and popular controversy over whether the resurrection of Jesus should be regarded as an historical event. Should the NT records of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus be regarded as historical or of some other genre?

At the popular level, there are people like Joel Hoffmann who have written for The Huffington Post,

Some stories in the Bible were meant to be history, others fiction. But modernity has obscured the original distinction between the two kinds of biblical writing, depriving readers of the depth of the text.

Perhaps surprisingly, this confusion lies at the heart of the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible,” which continues the pattern of blurring history and fiction, and thereby misrepresenting the nature of the Bible to its viewers (Hoffmann 2013).

Notable German, liberal, Lutheran theologian Rudolph Bultmann, had this view that was a supposed academically respectable way of evading the historicity of the resurrection:

If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the risen [sic] of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history. All that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection. The historian can perhaps to some extent account for that faith from the personal intimacy which the disciples had enjoyed with Jesus during his earthly life, and so reduce the resurrection appearances to a series of subjective visions. But the historical problem is not of interest to Christian belief in the resurrection. For the historical event of the rise of the Easter faith means for us what it meant for the first disciples – namely, the self-attestation of the risen Lord, the act of God in which the redemptive event of the cross is completed (Bultmann 1953).

However, another German theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, took a very different view. He claimed that Jesus’ resurrection needed to be investigated as a historical event. He stated that ‘whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead is a historical question insofar as it is an inquiry into what did or did not happen at a certain time’ (Pannenberg 1967:128). Craig Nessen’s assessment of Pannenberg’s view was,

Wolfhart Pannenberg powerfully contends for the historical character of Jesus’ resurrection based on the sources that commend it, both the testimony of original witnesses to the risen Jesus and the tradition of the empty tomb. Jesus’ resurrection has more credible historical evidence than many ancient events whose occurrence we don’t question, for example, some incidents in Julius Caesar’s life (Nessen 2004).

Leading NT historian and scholar on Jesus’ resurrection, N T Wright, considered that ‘we can and must discuss the resurrection as a historical problem’ and that there is no reason in principle why what happened at Easter ‘cannot be raised by any historian of any persuasion’. His view was that even from a Christian perspective, it ‘does not mean that there is no access to Jesus and his death and resurrection in the public world. Peter did not need to appeal to Christian writings when reminding the crowd of what they already knew about Jesus’ – see Acts 2:22 – and Wright suggested that ‘historical knowledge about the resurrection’, without presupposing the Christian faith, ‘cannot be ruled out a priori’ (Wright 2003:14, 21-22).

For a fuller explanation of the historical nature of both Old and New Testaments and how to establish their historical credibility and reliability, I recommend:

  • Craig B Blomberg 2009. The historical reliability of the Bible, 2nd edn. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
  • Walter C Kaiser Jr. 2001. The Old Testament documents: Are they reliable & relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
  • K A Kitchen 2003. On the reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

See my other articles on Christianity and history:


Those with a flair for the sensational and speculation may call the Bible a book of fairy tales.

Those like Bultmann who are committed to a liberal and sceptical worldview do not want to acknowledge the Bible as history but a metaphorical event.

Nevertheless, there are substantive Christian theologians and historians such as Pannenberg, Barnett and Wright who are prepared to conclude that the Bible can be investigated as an historical document.

Works consulted

Barnett, P 2009. Finding the historical Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press.

Bultmann R 1953. The mythological element in the message of the New Testament and the problem of its re-interpretation Part 2. In Bultmann, R (and five critics), Kerygma and myth (e-book). Tr by R H Fuller. London: SPCK. Available at religion-online: (Accessed 17 September 2013).

Hoffmann, J 2013. The Bible isn’t the history you think it is. The Huffington Post (online), 3 April. Available at: (Accessed 15 March 2014).

Nessen, C L 2004. The reality of the resurrection. The Lutheran magazine, Augsburg Fortress, beliefnet (online), available at: (Accessed 15 March 2014).

Pannenberg, W 1967. The revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, in Robinson, J M & Cobb Jr., J B, New frontiers in theology: Discussions among Continental and American theologians, vol 3, 101-133. New York: Harper & Row.

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. (Series in Christian origins and the question of God, vol 3).


[1] Christian Fellowship forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Why I avoid discussing life after death’, ozspen #267, March 10, 2014, available at: (Accessed 15 March 2014). When checked on 5 August 2019, this forum was no longer available online.

[2] Ibid., Matt #268.

[3] Ibid., ozspen #270.

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 5 August 2019.

Secular historian confirmed Christian martyrs by Nero in first century

Wien- Parlament-Tacitus.jpg

Modern statue representing Tacitus
outside the Austrian Parliament Building

(courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

Secular historian, Tacitus (ca. AD 56-120)[1], wrote his Annals and included details of the Neronian persecution in AD 64.[2] This writing was ‘perhaps fifty years after the event, and therefore not to be accepted without question’ (Latourette 1975:85). Tacitus wrote:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed (Tacitus, Annals 15.44).

How many Christians were martyred in the city of Rome during the Neronian persecution of AD 64? It was an ‘immense multitude’, according to a secular historian, Tacitus.

Works consulted

Latourette, K S 1975. A history of Christianity: To A.D. 1500, vol 1, rev ed. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.


[1] Lifespan date from N S Gill, ‘Tacitus’, Ancient/Classical History, available at: (Accessed 18 January 2014).

[2] Latourette wrote that ‘the most famous of the early persecutions [of Christians] was that in Rome in A.D. 64…. Tradition, probably reliable, reports that both Peter and Paul suffered death at Rome under Nero, although not necessarily at this time. Peter’s remains are supposed now to lie under the high altar in the cathedral which bears his name in what were once the gardens of Nero. It may have been that the persecution of Nero spread to the provinces’ (Latourette 1975:85).

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 November 2015.

Can Jesus Christ’s resurrection be investigated as history?


(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon for some to say that Jesus’ resurrection cannot be investigated as history because nobody was there to see the actual resurrection.

Please follow this discussion I had on Christian Forums with Armistead14. I’m OzSpen. Armistead14 wrote, ‘I like theology, I believe in it, but I know it’s not science or history’.[1] My response was, ‘So was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in history or not? Can the discipline of historiography be used to investigate the actions of Jesus or not?’[2] His reply was:

Certainly historiography {I assume you mean the bible} can be used in reference to his life, possibly death, but not the resurrection. The question remains what are the historical sources. The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus’ death, not by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, not by people who were eyewitnesses, but by people living later. The Gospels were written by highly literate, trained, Greek-speaking Christians of the second and third generation. They’re not written by Jesus’ Aramaic-speaking followers. Also, the Gospels terribly contradict the death and ressurection (sic) process. Now, this may not be a problem with theology, but it certainly raises historic issues. Yes, we have other later secular sources and beliefs, but none prove historically that Jesus was in fact dead or his resurrection.
Certainly, you can’t use historical sources to prove the resurrection, that is theology, it is an act of God, one we accept based on faith.[3]

My response was, ‘Your statements are loaded with your presuppositions. I don’t have the time to challenge them at this point. Richard Bauckham has challenged your view on eyewitnesses in his magisterial publication, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans 2006)’.[4]

He came back: ‘I’ve actually read it, but I still find it based on theology and it’s historical aspects lacking authority. We have several “saviors” in history that had followers claim they rose from the dead. Apillonius (sic) appeared to his followers after his death, do you believe their historical accounts? Anyway, take care until later’.[5]

I also stated:

Don’t you understand how dishonest this is? Luke’s Gospel directly contradicts your view on eyewitnesses as Luke tells us from where he obtained his information in Luke 1:1-4 and that incorporates

‘those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word’ (Luke 1:2 ESV). What causes you to create your own information when the Gospel of Luke directly contradicts you?

In addition, John makes it very clear who wrote his Gospel. John the apostle is identified in John 21:20-23 and then John, the writer of the Gospel states, ‘This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know his testimony is true’ (John 21:24 ESV).

I find your explanations to be as misleading as some of the theological liberals I am currently reading with regard to the content of the Gospels (Crossan, Borg, Mack, Funk and the Jesus Seminar).

Why are you pumping this scepticism out on this Forum? Your assertions, without proof, amount to nothing more than your opinion.[6]

I asked him at another point, ‘So are you trying to convince me that Apollonius of Tyana is on the same level as Jesus Christ as Saviour and provided eternal salvation for you and me? Or are you yodelling?’[7] His reply was that ‘No, I’m saying how can you prove or disprove the claim of his followers that he rose from the dead. The question is one of historical claim, not based on faith’.[8] I replied:

So have you used the criteria of historicity to examine the claims of the historicity of the resurrection of Apollonius of Tyana to determine that they are equal to or superior to the claims for the historicity of the Gospel records?

We use the criteria of historicity to determine the reliability of a historical claim. Down through the years, a number of researchers have used these criteria to demonstrate the reliability of the Gospels. One example is Craig Blomberg, a solid historian and NT researcher, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (1987, IVP).

You are sounding more and more like a cynic towards the historicity of the NT Gospels. The facts are that Jesus was crucified, buried in a tomb, the tomb was empty on the Sunday morning, and then Jesus appeared alive and talking to people. Are you doubting this sequence?[9]

Armistead14’s response was:

I don’t doubt it based on theology and faith. I can accept the historical validation that Christ existed and died, but the resurrection is theology, not historical fact. God raising Christ is a miracle, they’re are no historical validation test to prove miracles.[10]

How does one reply to the claim that the resurrection is theology, not history, and there is not a historical way to test if miracles happened? This was my response:

You are providing your positivist bias that has been followed by some historians who have attempted to investigate Christ’s resurrection historically. You say that Christ’s resurrection is theology and you reject the resurrection as “historical fact” (your language).

Tom (N T) Wright in his massive historical investigation of the resurrection (2003) has refuted your kind of positivistic thinking . Wright, writing of a positivist historian (Marxen), stated:

‘In standard positivist fashion, it appears to suggest that we can only regard as “historical” that to which we have direct access (in the sense of “first-hand witness accounts” or near equivalent). But, as all real historians know, that is not in fact how history works. Positivism, is, if anything, even less appropriate in historiography than in other areas. Again and again the historian has to conclude, even if only to avoid total silence, that certain events took place to which we have no direct access but which are the necessary postulates of that to which we do have access. Scientists, not least physicists, make this sort of move all the time; indeed, this is precisely how scientific advances happen [he cited Polkinghorne 1994; Alden Smith]. Ruling out as historical that to which we do not have direct access is actually a way of not doing history at all’ (Wright 2003:15-16).

Wright cites Via (2002:82), saying that Via

is right to say that history moves from fragmentary evidence to full-blown reconstruction, but wrong to imply that this takes place in a kind of neutral zone free from all theological or religious presuppositions (Wright 2003:16, n. 30).

Are you telling me that an examination of historicity of an incident does not include interpretation, including theological? It is common in historical assessment to know that a record of an historical incident also includes interpretation of that incident.

As to the resurrection of Christ, while nobody was there to see the actual resurrection, there is enough evidence from the historicity of Christ’s death and being placed in the tomb, an empty tomb on the first day of the week, and the resurrection appearances of Christ to people, to conclude that he was raised from the dead.
Your view that there is “no historical validation test to prove miracles” is a positivistic statement for which there is the above rebuttal.[11]

Prior to this last post, he wrote:

For instance, all the differing stories about the women at the tomb. The woman at the tomb purchased spices in anticipation of annointing (sic) a dead body, not finding a resurrected man, but this is obvious foolish, why would they expect they could put spices on a body in a tomb whose covering stone they couldn’t remove? This makes no sense to me. The visit of the women looks like literary invention designed to create witnesses to the Empty Tomb. Maybe this is why we have so much confusion between the gospels regarding which women, number of women, what time of day, numerous issues.

The problem is all these issues make possible eyewittnesses (sic) impossible to historically validate with any probability.[12]

Here he is on his positivist bandwagon again. If we required eyewitnesses to every historical event, we would give up writing history as Tom Wright has clearly stated. This was his response:

Wright is a NT conservative scholar, not an historian, although I would imagine he has some training in the field, but like Craig he wants to insert theology as proof, that is worse than Positivism.

Positivism states that the only authentic knowledge is that which allows positive verification. It is more a belief that a model. I think you misunderstand how modern historians work. Historians for the most part

NEVER claim absolute knowledge or verification, they work based on probabilities. Historians can deem what probably happened. Sure, the more authentic info you have, the higher the probability an event happened. Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources. Historians can pretty much positively agree Caesar existed. Compare that to Socrates, historians can’t say with high probability he existed.

Science and history validation use different methods for validation, not sure what your point is. Science can test over and over, history cannot. Historians can only study the people and their beliefs. Historians will use all info, including the bible, but they look for consistency to a story, if the story is full of contradictions, then they often conclude a story was made up, so the event may not have happened. For instance, the example I gave of the women coming to prepare Christ body with spices, but the tomb was sealed. It would take many men, tools and animals to unseal the tomb. The story makes no sense, so historians would dismiss these women as witnesses.

Certainly historians consider theology of the people, but to study the actual people. Again, numerous beliefs have the same claim as Christianity, risen saviors, miracles, etc. The most history can do is prove that the people existed and believed what they did. Just because a group believes something, that doesn’t make it true. If that were the case all religions could be claimed truth.

Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?[13]

I replied:

N T Wright, as a NT scholar, has to deal with history. He provided historical information that refutes your positivistic view.

Nowhere have I ever stated that historians seek absolute knowledge. NEVER. Please do not try to put words in my mouth. That is a false accusation against me.

His words were, “Do you know of one scientific or historic validation test you could use to prove a past miracle such as the resurrection?” That’s your positivism again! You can’t get around the fact that historians have done this for years and years but reporting things for which there have been no direct eyewitnesses, but the evidence surrounding the situation leads to historical probability.

You are on your one-way track and you do not want to apply what Wright has stated about historicity and verification when there are no eyewitnesses.

This is an example of your bias when you state: “Compare Julius Caesar, we have a mass of real information from a mass of unbiased sources”.

ZERO historical sources are unbiased. You are living in unhistorical fairyland if you want unbiased sources.[14]

Australian historian and exegete, Dr. Paul Barnett[15], in his publication, Jesus & the rise of early Christianity, after doing the research for his book, stated:

I express my surprise at the degree to which the story of the New Testament can be recovered by standard methods of research and analysis even though the whole narrative, of course, is lost to us forever because of the unbridgeable distance of time and culture that separates us from those critical decades of the first century that witnessed the rise of Christianity (Barnett 1999:10).

An ancient historian deals with Jesus’ resurrection and miracles

At the time he wrote the following, Dr. Paul Barnett was a visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Barnett was also the evangelical former Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia. Barnett (1999:22-23) wrote about ‘history and myth’ as he examined the New Testament:

Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity

InterVarsity Press

Are miraculous events within the New Testament to be understood as historical or as mythological? If it is understood as historical, are such miraculous events to be given the same factual weight as are the nonmiraculous events in the New Testament? For example, are we to regard as equally factual Jesus’ journey to the lakeside and the feeding of the five thousand after he arrived there?

Were all miracles in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the letters (Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12) to be regarded as mythological, whether in line with Jewish or Greco-Roman myths? Alternatively, was there a small core of miracle-events to which many others have been added in embellishment? Or did Jesus perform acts that at that time were genuinely regarded as miracles but that people today would explain in more naturalistic ways?

First, any inquiry into this subject must begin as a historical investigation. Pannenberg’s remark about the resurrection of Jesus applies also to miracles. ‘Whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead is a historical question insofar as it is an inquiry into what did or did not happen at a certain time’ [Pannenberg 1967:128].

This inquiry in turn depends on a number of factors. How many and of what quality are our historical sources and how uncorrupted have they remained through the intervening years? What is their character? Are they intentionally written as history, or, to be preferred, is their information incidental and gratuitous to other authorial intent? How extensive is the accompanying detail of person, time and place? Can the sources reliability be crosschecked at other points? In short, the same investigative methodology ought to be applied to Jesus and the rise of early Christianity as to Alexander the Great and the eastward spread of Hellenism.

Next, miraculous events should be reflected upon in terms of stereotypicality or originality. If the details are similar to the stock-in-trade descriptions within existing contemporary mythological genres of that culture, serious questions will arise. On the other hand, if the accounts are atypical, the possibility of historicity is enhanced. Thus, for example, if the miracles of Jesus were described in the same terms as the miracles of Jewish “holy men” like Hanina ben Dosa and Honi “the circle-drawer,” there would be some cause for critical caution regarding the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ miracles. In our view, however, this is not the case. The Jewish hasids Hanina and Honi are portrayed as merely devout individuals within the Judaism of their repective (sic) times. By contrast, Jesus is presented as the intensely intentional fulfiller of the end-time purposes of God.

Only when the question of historical probability is determined does it become a philosophical issue.[16] Do I believe in a supernatural being who is capable of intruding his will into the otherwise “natural” appearance of the course of events? If my answer is negative, then I will dismiss the miracles in the New Testament as unhistorical and account for them in terms of myth. On the other hand, if my response is positive, then I may well conclude that the strength of historical evidence demands acceptance of the historicity of the events.

The view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them.

‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Pet. 1:16).

For a useful discussion on ‘Jesus and the practice of history’, see Barnett (1997:15-28).

Note the emphasis by Dr. Paul Barnett, an ancient historian, when he stated that

the view taken by this author is that the miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed. Those authors were convinced of the truth of the miracles and wrote their accounts out of that conviction. Those accounts, when subjected to the tests of rigorous historical inquiry, stubbornly resist our efforts to discredit and remove them (1999:23).

Professor of history, Dr. Earle E. Cairns, wrote:

Rationalists and empiricists have denied their possibility [the miracles of Christ] and have sought to explain them by natural law or to explain them away as myths. The latter necessarily involves a denial of the records as historical. Miracles may be defined as phenomena not explicable by known natural law but wrought by a special intervention of Deity for moral purposes.

The possibility and probability of miracles is demonstrated by the supernatural, creative Christ and by the existence of historical records that give accounts of such miracles as historical facts. The person and work of Christ received authentication in the eyes of many in His day because of the miracles He wrought (Cairns 1981:52)

Eminent professor of church history, Philip Schaff, has assessed the historical understanding of the resurrection of Christ:

The Historical view, presented by the Gospels and believed in the Christian church of every denomination and sect. The resurrection of Christ was an actual though miraculous event, in harmony with His previous history and character, and in fulfilment of His own prediction. It was a re-animation of the dead body of Jesus by a return of His soul from the spirit-world, and a rising of body and soul from the grave to a new life, which after repeated manifestations to believers during a short period of forty days entered into glory by ascension to heaven….

Truth compels us to admit that there are serious difficulties in harmonizing the accounts of the evangelists, and in forming a consistent conception of the nature of Christ’s resurrection body…. But these difficulties are not so great as those which are created by a denial of the fact itself. The former can be measurably solved, the latter cannot (Schaff 1882:109-110).

These historians affirm the historicity of Christ’s resurrection and miracles. They can be examined with the normal means of historical investigation. We can say, as an extension of Pannenberg’s understanding, that whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead, whether or not Jesus and others performed miracles, with these matters we are dealing with a historical question if we are examining what did or did not happen at a certain time in human history.

This is not to say that there may not be some difficulties in examining this historical data, but, as Paul Barnett has stated above, ‘Miraculous events in the New Testament are factual. The Gospels and Acts make little sense historically if the miraculous is removed’ (Barnett 1999:23).


Barnett, P W 1997. Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester, England: Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press).

Barnett, P 1999. Jesus & the rise of early Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the centuries: A history of the Christian church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Pannenberg, W 1967. The revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth, in J M Robinson & J B Cobb (eds), New frontiers in theology, vol 3, 101–33. New York: Harper and Row.

Schaff, P 1882. History of the Christian church (online), vol 1, CCEL. Available at: (Accessed 20 July 2012).

Via, D O 2002. What is New Testament theology? Minneapolis: Fortress.

Wright, N T 2003. The resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘William Laine Criag (sic)’, Armistead14 #49, available at: (Accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #50.

[3] Ibid., Armistead14 #51.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen #52.

[5] Ibid., Armistead14 #53.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen #62.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen #57.

[8] Ibid., Armistead14 #58.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen #61.

[10] Ibid., Armistead14 #75.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #98.

[12] Ibid., Armistead14 #97.

[13] Ibid., Amistead14 #99.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen #103.

[15] The rear cover of this publication states that at the time of its writing, ‘Paul Barnett is Anglican bishop of North Sydney, Australia, visiting fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, and research professor at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia’.

[16] At this point Barnett’s footnote states, ‘For useful discussion on miracles and history, with particular but not exclusive interest in the resurrection of Jesus, see Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1993), pp. 1-42’ (Barnett 1999:26, n. 41).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 February 2018.


A Martin Luther quote is not from Luther

(Martin Luther, Wikimedia)

By Spencer D Gear

This quote has been widely attributed to have come from Martin Luther:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however, boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point”.

I picked it up while reading John MacArthur’s article, ‘Truth in the Crosshairs‘ (Accessed 22 December 2011). MacArthur introduces the quote with, ‘Let me start with a quote from Martin Luther’. I found this quote attributed to Luther at these sites that I Googled:

I went searching for the exact location in Luther’s writings of this quote. Nowhere on the Internet could I find this quote with a footnote reference to Luther’s works, so pursued in a wider circle and came across this article by Dr. Carl Wieland of Creation Ministries International, 4 February 2010, ‘Where the battle rages – a case of misattribution‘ (Accessed 22 December 2011).

Dr. Wieland’s research indicates that this is a quote from a fictional character and ‘it comes from a 19th Century novel by Elizabeth Rundle Charles, called The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family (Thomas Nelson, 1864)’.

The view that this quote is not from Luther also is in Bob Caldwell’s article in a Lutheran journal, ‘”If I profess:” A Spurious, if Consistent Luther Quote”, Concordia Journal 35(4):356–359, 2009 (Accessed 22 December 2011).

I find that it is always wise to require a primary source reference for any quote. Perhaps it is my academic study that has encouraged me to always reference material. It was this desire for a primary source that caused me to search and find that a popular quote that is attributed to Martin Luther is not from Luther at all.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.