Archives For Darrell Bock

The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Greg Strand – December 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Reza Aslan’s book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, published this past July, was a New York Times number one bestseller for nonfiction. There are two problems with that: first, that it was a bestseller, which is too bad since people read it as if it is an accurate account that will overturn the Jesus of history, who is the same as the Christ of faith, and shake the foundations of Christianity. Second, that is it categorized as nonfiction.

Much of what is written is not historical but conjecture. And, like much of this sort of writing, its grandiose claims that it will transform and revolutionize what we know and how we understand the Jesus of history and Christianity are not only overblown, they are fallacious. The sad reality is that many will believe the claims made in this book, and the faith of some Christians will be shaken.

But at the end of the day, it is not the Christian faith that is undermined and found wanting. Instead, it is the book and its claims that are not only problematic, they are incorrect.

Here are a number of excellent reviews, of which I include summary, concluding statements.

Craig Evans: “Reza Aslan Tells an Old Story about Jesus.” Evans summarizes Aslan’s core contention.

Aslan’s core contention might be outlined as follows: The regime change that Jesus and his followers anticipated did not take place. Jesus was arrested and executed, along with two other rebels. Not long after—however it happened—Jesus’ followers became convinced that their master had been raised from the dead and that his mission had not been a failure after all. Unlike other zealot movements that ceased after the deaths of their respective founders, the Jesus movement not only continued, even in the face of severe opposition. It flourished, soon reaching large numbers of non-Jews.

This is where it gets interesting. With the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (who becomes the well-known Paul the apostle of New Testament letters and the book of Acts), the Jesus movement began to be pulled in two directions. One camp remained loyal to the very Jewish roots of Jesus and his family, while the other increasingly came to view Jesus as a divine figure, a figure very attractive to non-Jews who otherwise had little interest in traditional Jewish thinking and living. It was the latter wing of the Jewish movement that eventually won out, thus creating a new religion, one destined to have the most followers around the world. Ironically, what it became was not what its founder proclaimed or intended. Or so Aslan contends.

After noting that the book is “riddled with errors,” Evans concludes:

At points Aslan’s book is informative; it is often entertaining. But it is also rife with questionable assertions. Let the reader beware.

John Dickson: “How Reza Aslan’s Jesus is giving history a bad name.” Aslan, notes Dickson, “takes several false steps, all of which involve as much creativity as history.” He lists four of these steps: (1) exaggerating the historical context; (2) misunderstanding the crucifixion; (3) evidence that is lacking and conspiracy theories; (4) a litany of errors. Dickson’s conclusion:

The Jesus depicted in Zealot is certainly a figment of the imagination of a professor of creative writing, but he is likely to do more concrete damage to the public’s appreciation of a vast and worthwhile academic discipline. Aslan’s Jesus is giving history a bad name.

Darrell Bock: “When Scholarly Skepticism Encounters Jesus Christ.”

Though a well-written narrative with relevant first-century background to the Jesus history, the book rejects the Gospels and relies on one side of the scholarly conversation. So what Aslan presents as likely history is really but one debated reconstruction of who Jesus was and is. It’s just one picture of how Jesus of Nazareth got to be the Christ of God.

Bock notes that to arrive at this conclusion he uses a number of questionable means. First, notes Bock, Aslan “assumes the Gospels are more about constructive theology than history.” Second, he “misreads eschatology on the kingdom of God as well as Jesus’ kingdom teaching, arguing Jesus merely taught about God’s rule what other prophets had already said.” Third, Bock focuses on a “litany of problems.” From which the conclusion follows:

Suffice it to say, Zealot is yet another modern reconstruction of Jesus. It is not fresh and new, as it claims to be, but reflects longstanding debate. That debate is between those skeptical about the Gospels’ portraits of Jesus and those who see them as complementary pictures of Jesus as he was and is. Our culture is attracted to cases against the Gospels’ credibility, which explains the popularity of Aslan’s book and others like it. It’s not at all clear, however, that Aslan understands the history of Jesus better than the Gospel writers did. It’s not even clear that the scholarly consensus he claims to represent stacks up on his side of the debate.

Robert Gundry, “Jesus as a Jewish Jihadist: Reza Aslan’s Zealot.”

Epilogue: Aslan’s apostasy from evangelical Christianity stemmed from his discovery of unhistorical elements in the Bible and having been taught that “every word of the Bible is God-breathed and true, literal and inerrant.” Teachers whose version of biblical inerrancy lacks enough literary sensitivity to acknowledge in Scripture the presence of genres that mix fact and fiction for more than purely historical purposes—these teachers should take warning from the example of Aslan, and of too many others like him.

The Bible and Same-Sex Sexuality

Greg Strand – October 10, 2013 Leave a comment

The past couple of weeks Darrell Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, and Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement, led a discussion on The Table Podcast about the Bible and same-sex sexuality. Joining him were colleagues from Dallas Theological Seminary: Robert Chisholm, Department Chair and Professor of Old Testament; Joe Fantin, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies; and Jay Smith, Professor of New Testament Studies.

Bock opened this two-part series with a reference to The Queen James Bible (2012). This provocative title is related to two issues. Historically, it is a reference to what some claim about King James, viz. that he was gay. Biblically, it is a reference to the intent of this translation, viz. it is a gay-driven translation so that the eight key biblical texts that explicitly address homosexuality are reinterpreted and retranslated. The key texts are the following: Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10; Jude 7.

Here is how the Bible is described:

A Gay Bible

The Queen James Bible is based on The King James Bible, edited to prevent homophobic misinterpretation.

Homosexuality in The Bible

Homosexuality was first mentioned in the Bible in 1946, in the Revised Standard Version. There is no mention of or reference to homosexuality in any Bible prior to this – only interpretations have been made. Anti-LGBT Bible interpretations commonly cite only eight verses in the Bible that they interpret to mean homosexuality is a sin; Eight verses in a book of thousands!

The Queen James Bible seeks to resolve interpretive ambiguity in the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality: We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.

There is much to say in response. But I will first let Darrell Bock and his colleagues from DTS do this, which they do very capably.

Queen James Passages in the Old Testament,” Part 1. 

00:12: Guest introductions and the goals of revisions in the Queen James Bible

04:13: Does Noah’s situation in Genesis 9 contribute to a biblical perspective of homosexuality?

09:03: Does the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 contribute to a biblical perspective of homosexuality?

15:08: Does the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 contribute to a biblical perspective of homosexuality?

23:11: What does the term “abomination” mean in Leviticus 18:22?

29:22: Israel’s call to holiness and the code for serious offenses in Leviticus 20

34:03: Does David’s description of Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:26 contribute to a biblical perspective of homosexuality?

38:33: Responding to the challenge that Jesus did not object to homosexuality


The New Testament View of Same-Sex Sexuality,” Part 2. 

00:13: Homosexuality in the larger Greco-Roman culture

03:50: Paul’s transcultural message in Romans 1

10:07: Is there any doubt about what Paul describes in Romans 1:27?

12:03: The phrase “natural sexual relations” in Romans 1:26

17:20: Jewish, Greco-Roman and contemporary views of homosexuality

23:06: Active and passive terms for homosexual partners in 1 Corinthians 6:9

33:18: Paul’s message of hope in 1 Corinthians 6

34:11: What is the significance of 1 Timothy 1:10 in this discussion?

37:29: Does Jude 7 contribute to a biblical perspective of homosexuality?

Peter J. Gentry and Steven J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

Gentry is professor of Old Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wellum is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This book is an excellent model of the task of systematic theology. Rooted in the Bible, it seeks to understand the biblical teaching, and then formulate and structure it in a way that is faithful to the Bible. It acknowledges other ways in which that has been done in the past, it builds on it and attempts to advance our understanding of the covenants.

Below you will read of an interview with Gentry and Wellum. This is followed by a review/response to the book from three individuals from different theological perspectives: Darrell Bock, Michael Horton and Douglas Moo. Not only is this a good model of how to engage in constructive theology, it also models how to engage discerningly and critically, and you will note charitably, in the work to advance our understanding of the biblical teaching.

Matt Smethurst, “Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical Middle Way?,” (August 20, 2012)

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum set out to carve a new path between dispensational and covenant theology, having concluded that neither hermeneutical approach is sufficiently informed by biblical theology. Regardless of whether you end up agreeing with their conclusions, Gentry and Wellum’s proposed via media—“kingdom through covenant” or “progressive covenantalism”—is a substantial, even groundbreaking, contribution to any discussion about the intersection of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology.

Reformed but not fully covenantal, baptistic but not dispensational, professors Gentry (Old Testament) and Wellum (Christian theology) of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have made a thick and thorough case demanding a response. Of course, it’s up to you to read the book and determine if they have succeeded.

A Review by Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary

A Review by Michael Horton, professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (California)

A Review by Douglas Moo, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College

Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, “‘Kingdom through Covenant’ Authors Respond to Bock, Moo, Horton

“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife,” Really?

Greg Strand – September 20, 2012 4 Comments

You have maybe heard the news that a new manuscript has disclosed the possibility that Jesus was married! Well, at least that is how it is being reported. I am including excerpts from a number of papers: The New York Times, USA Today, and Daily Mail. I am only including some of the more pertinent “facts” and some “interpretation” of those facts. I am also including reports from Christianity Today, in which Darrell Bock is briefly interviewed, and one done by Peter Williams, Tyndale House, and Simon Gathercole, Cambridge. These last reports are evangelical responses to this most recent manuscript disclosure.

Laurie Goodstein, “A Faded Piece of Papyrus Refers to Jesus’ Wife,” The New York Times (September 18, 2012)

The introduction:

A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School [Karen King] has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ”

King’s caution to this fragment she refers to as “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”:

She repeatedly cautioned that this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.

But the discovery is exciting, Dr. King said, because it is the first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of a wife. It provides further evidence that there was an active discussion among early Christians about whether Jesus was celibate or married, and which path his followers should choose.

Michael Winter, “Ancient papyrus fragment refers to Jesus’ ‘wife’,” USA Today (September 18, 2012)

A papyrus fragment from the fourth century contains a phrase in which Jesus refers to “My wife,” which a U.S. scholar says is the first evidence supporting the belief among early Christians that he was married, The New York Times reports.

The fragment consists of eight lines of black ink, written in Coptic, which include the phrase. “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ” Below it is what the Times calls “a second provocative clause” that reportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

Damien Gayle, “‘Proof’ Jesus was married found on ancient papyrus that mentions how son of God spoke of his wife and Mary Magdalene,” Daily Mail (September 18, 2012)

A recently uncovered fragment of ancient papyrus makes the explosive suggestion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were man and wife, researchers say.

The 8cm by 4cm fragment supports an undercurrent in Christian thought that undermines centuries of Church dogma by suggesting the Christian Messiah was not celibate.

The centre of the fragment contains the bombshell phrase where Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says ‘my wife’, which researchers believe refers to Magdalene.

Karen King, Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard University was asked about this.

She told Smithsonian Magazine that the fragment casts doubt ‘on the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’ celibacy.’

She added: ‘What this shows is that there were early Christians for whom … sexual union in marriage could be an imitation of God’s creativity and generativity and it could be spiritually proper and appropriate.’

King added later in the article,

Professor King downplays the fragment’s validity as a biographical document, saying that it was probably composed in Greek a century or so after the Crucifixion, then subsequently transcribed into Coptic.

Its significance instead lies in the possibility that an early Christian sect drew spiritual succour from portraying their prophet as having a wife.

This representation of Jesus as a man with earthly passions and needs has not survived in the doctrines of the established churches, which emphasise celibacy and asceticism as a spiritual ideal.

Professor King’s interpretation of the text are based on the assumption that the fragment is genuine, a question that is by no means definitively settled.

Daniel Burke, “‘Jesus Said to Them, “My Wife…,”’ Christianity Today (September 19, 2012)

A newly revealed piece of papyrus offers evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus was married, according to a Harvard Divinity School professor.

A fourth-century codex in Coptic quotes Jesus referring to “my wife,” Karen King, a scholar of early Christianity, said on Tuesday. It is the only extant text in which Jesus is explicitly portrayed as betrothed, according to King.

King is calling the receipt-sized slip of papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” She believes it was originally written in Greek, and later translated into Coptic, an Egyptian language.

The fragment says, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…,'” according to King. The rest of the sentence is cut off. Another segment says, “As for me, I dwell with her in order to…” The speaker is not named.

The fragment contains just 33 words spread across 14 incomplete lines—less a full-fledged gospel than an ancient crossword puzzle.

Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, noted that the reference to the church being the bride of Christ was quite common, and held by orthodox believers and Gnostic groups.

“In Gnostic Christianity, there was a rite called the bridal chamber in which the church was seen as the bride of Christ,” he said. “The whole thing could well be metaphorical with a disciple representing the place of the church. If that is the case, then it is not even a claim that Jesus was married in real life to a single person.”

If the reference is less metaphorical, Bock said, “It is one speck of a fringe text in a sea of texts that say Jesus was single. It, if authentic, is the exception, to the rule of texts we have on Jesus. Thus, in the end, even if it says what people are suggesting, it tells us only about a fourth century group’s views, not anything about Jesus.”

Peter Williams, “Did Jesus Have a Wife?

Williams, who serves as the Warden at Tyndale House, Cambridge, helpfully asks and answers the following questions: What’s in a name? Genuine or Forgery? What about date? What does it say?

Williams also asked Simon Gathercole, “an expert on apocryphal gospels and Senior Lecturer in New Testament in the University of Cambridge, for his comments.” His conclusion:

Harvard Professor Karen King, who is the person who has been entrusted with the text, has rightly warned us that this does not say anything about the historical Jesus. She is correct that “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century, argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus”. But she is also right that this is a fascinating discovery which offers us a window into debates about sex and marriage in the early church, and the way Jesus could be adapted to play a part in a particular debate. If it is genuine.