Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sam Storms and Convergence

It occurs to me that I haven't ever said any more about Sam Storms' dangerous book 'Convergence' after this.

So here today is a link to a review by the redoubtable Tim Challies.  I share all his concerns, and it has the advantage (some of you will think) of being gentler than I.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews? (3)

It was great on Sunday night to begin a series on 2 Corinthians, not least because no-one wanted to argue with me about who'd written it!  ('Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God...')  

I don't intend to spend the rest of my blogging career talking about who wrote Hebrews, but I thought it was worth one more shot.  Objections 'voiced' to my defence of Pauline authorship seem to be these:

1. Paul didn't say he wrote it, and if the had, he would have done.  Answer: no authorship is claimed in the letter, but someone plainly wrote it!

2. Yes, but 2 Thessalonians 3:17 ('I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters...') says that Paul did identify himself in all the letters he wrote.  Answer: no, actually it doesn't.  He says that he penned a final (not opening) greeting in his own hand.  2 Thessalonians is one of the few places where he draws attention to that (see 1 Cor. 16:21, Col. 4:18, Philemon 19;) and the final greeting in Hebrews may well be 13:22-25.  He does not, for example, draw attention to his own handwriting in 2 Corinthians - but see 13:11ff).

3. Hebrews could have been written with apostolic approval - like the gospels of Luke or Mark - and 'why could Hebrews not have been written by Barnabas, or Apollos, say?'  Well, it could.  But Luke and Mark were included in the canon because they were written with apostolic approval; Hebrews is there because it was believed to be by Paul.  Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla etc; - they're just later inventions to make the (imaginary, in my mind) problem go away, as far as I'm aware.

4. How do I account for the canonicity of James or Jude?  That's a good question; perhaps we can come to it some other time.  BUT for now - note that it is only a peripheral question to this particular issue.  If you're trying to show that apostolic approval is or isn't the criteria for acceptance, then 'How about James and Jude?' is directly relevant.  Otherwise, not so much.

Now, here's another Big Gun:

Who is the letter from?  What was clear to the original readers is not immediately clear to us, because the writer does not give his name.  Paul is the most likely candidate.  There are lots of similarities between his other letters and this one, both in style and content.  Everything is centred on the person and work of Christ.  In addition, the writer has a close and affectionate link with Timothy (13:23).  What seems to clinch it, however, is the fact that the author's final sentence is, 'Grace be with you all' (13:24).  Every one of Paul's letters ends with some sort of similar benediction.  Closing prayers for grace are his unique signature tune (see 2 Thess. 3:18).

The Christian church has had a long history, and the centuries bear witness that most scholars have accepted Paul as the author of Hebrews.  The reason he throws some people off the scent by some changes in style, yet plays his signature tune without signing his name, is probably something to do with the awful persecution going on at the time.  In the Second World War many Allied broadcasts went out to continental Europe using varying wavelengths, but particular tunes were used in the programmes so that discerning listeners could identify their source and pick up hidden messages encoded within them.

In such circumstances those who do not recognise the tune, or who cannot crack the code, are left guessing. Guesses about who may have written Hebrews include Apollos, Aquila, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Philip the deacon and Clement of Rome.  The list is actually much longer than this, but we do not need to pay any attention to it.  The fact is that if Hebrews had not been written by an apostle, or by someone writing under the supervision or influence of an apostle, the early church would never have accepted it as Scripture.  But it accepted it with very little hesitation.  Early Christians hummed tunes which many others have never learned.
(from 'I wish someone would explain Hebrews to me', by Stuart Olyott, Banner of Truth, page 3.)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews? PS

Dr Lloyd-Jones isn't dealing with the question of Hebrews authorship here, but makes a point that I would say requires Pauline authorship:

And in a very interesting way we do know from history that when the early church came to define and to determine the Canon of the New Testament - there were large numbers of Christian writings by then, and the question was what should be put in and what should be left out - we do know that the Holy Spirit led the early church to decide in this way: they said that unless a document purported to be a Gospel or an Epistle and could be traced back to an apostle, either directly or indirectly with apostolic authority, it should not be included.  The test of apostolicity was the text that was employed by the early church in the wisdom given to it by the Holy Spirit in determining the New Testament Canon.  Now all this is indicative of the fact that an apostle is a man with unique authority; he is given the doctrine; he is given the truth.  The Lord gives it to him; the Holy Spirit guides him, and he transmits it.  He is a chosen servant, specifically sent to represent and to speak for the Lord in this way.

So - if you think Paul didn't write Hebrews, what evidence do you have of an apostle behind it?  And if the answer is 'None', then why is it in your Bible?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Who wrote Hebrews?

Who wrote Hebrews – and why it matters.

I promised my September resolution would be to get back to blogging.  One thing I plan to do is get round to writing those posts that, over the years, I’ve promised: the ‘7 habits’ one, the ‘Liz Murray’ one (the video no longer works on this entry - try Youtube) – maybe even the dispensationalist one (but it would be unwise to hold your breath for that!)

But first, a little piece on Hebrews.  I’ve always believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, and I still do – largely because the evidence against it is so flimsy.  The ‘traditional’ view is that Hebrews was written by the apostle Paul, sometime around 55-58 A.D.  This view is now often regarded as outdated and you may come across statements along the line of ‘Nobody nowadays believes Paul wrote Hebrews.’  Well, I do; let me give you some reasons (and you may also like to read Fred's).

1. Why ‘Pauline’ authorship is often denied

Remarkably few reasons are actually given, but they include:

a)      the Greek style is very different

b)      there is no opening greeting from Paul

c)      When Hebrews quotes the Old Testament, it quotes the Greek, Septuagint, version, whereas Paul does not

d)      2:3 seems to suggest that the writer had heard the gospel second-hand; Paul insists that he received the gospel personally from the Lord (see Galatians 1:11-12).

2. Why I still believe Paul wrote Hebrews

Starting with the ones above, then moving on:

a)      Stylistic differences may be easily accounted for.  For example, Hebrews may have been written in Aramaic for its Jewish audience, and then translated into Greek.  Or it may simply reflect different times and circumstances.  The Greek style of John’s gospel, 1,2 and 3 John and Revelation are said to be quite different, but they all come from John’s pen.

b)      The missing greeting is interesting but not conclusive; circumstances may have required it in some way.  It's a strange argument anyway: 'It doesn't say Paul wrote it, so he didn't.'  Hmm.  It doesn't say anybody wrote it - perhaps nobody did?

c)      If Hebrews was first written in Aramaic and then translated (by Paul or someone else) it would have been natural to include Scripture quotes from the Greek Old Testament.  And many writers on the Bible quote different versions at different times.

d)      This is the strongest argument, but is equally easily turned in favour of Pauline authorship.  Galatians tells us that Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus, but that it was confirmed by the other apostles (Galatians 2:5-9).  That’s just what Hebrews 2:4 says!

e)      The writer of Hebrews is very close to Paul’s ‘son’ Timothy – 13:23.

f)        Ancient writers from as early as 150 AD say that Paul wrote Hebrews (Clement of Alexandria, 150-215 AD, Origen, 185-253 AD).  The early church historian Eusebius also attributes it to Paul.

g)      The earliest collection of Paul’s writings, known as the Chester Beatty manuscript and dated about 200 AD, includes all of Paul’s epistles except the Pastorals, but does include Hebrews (between Romans and 1 Corinthians).

h)      Peter says clearly (2 Peter 3:15) that Paul had written ‘Scripture’ to Peter’s (Jewish) readers.  If that’s not Hebrews, we don’t know what it is.

i)        Writings were only accepted as ‘canonical’ by the early church if they had apostolic authorship or approval.

Why it matters

But does it matter?  I’ve always said ‘No’, but I’ve changed my mind.  Let me tell you why.

As I've said, the church decided which of the many writings available were ‘Scripture’ on the basis of apostolic authority: did an apostle write it?  If not, was an apostle behind it (as seems to be the case with the gospel of Mark)?  If yes, it was Scripture, God’s word.  If no, then it wasn’t – full stop.

If Paul didn’t write Hebrews, then there is no evidence at all of an apostle behind it.  If that’s true, it isn’t Scripture.  The comments we sometimes read (‘Oh, it’s so obviously God’s word; anyone can tell that…’) are so subjective as to be worthless.  And they’re effectively the ‘burning bosom’ argument that Mormons use to justify their own rubbish.

If you don’t think Paul wrote it – why is it still in your Bible?

Monday, September 03, 2012

A kind of magic

When they were children, we took Jo and Andrew twice to see Wayne Dobson perform.  Both times I was dragged on stage to be mocked, and to 'witness' this trick's performance.  And yes, I could see how he did it.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Keeping the promise...

OK, let's start September with a little light relief, courtesy of Chris ('I taught him all he knows') Sinkinson and Evangelicals Now:

A girl was being mocked in class by her teacher because of her Christian faith.  'Come on,' said the teacher, 'Explain to us why you're a Christian.'

'Well,' said the girl, 'My Mum's a Christian and my Dad's a Christian and they brought me up to believe in Jesus.  So I'm a Christian.'

'That's just ridiculous,' countered the teacher.  'What would have happened if your Mum had been stupid, and your Dad had been stupid?  What would you have been then?'

'In that case,' said the girl - not needing much time to think about it - 'I guess I'd have been an atheist.'