Tag Archives: Apocrypha

The Crucible of Faith, by Philip Jenkins. A Review.

The so-called “inter-testamental” period, that 400-year period between completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, is nothing but a black-box to the majority of evangelical Christians. As the story goes, Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was the last of the great Jewish prophets, before John the Baptist appears at the dawn of the New Testament period. Israel was without an inspired prophetic voice during this 400-year void.

The problem with this narrative is that it suggests that nothing of any substantive theological value was happening during that time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was during the era of Second-Temple Judaism, after the Temple was rebuilt following the Babylonian exile, when the subsequent invasions by the Greeks, the Seleucids, and the Romans, completely reshaped the world inhabited by the people of the Hebrew Scriptures. Respected Baylor historian, Philip Jenkins, has written a popular-level, sweeping history of the time, Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World, that necessarily fills in the gap. Crucible of Faith makes for a fascinating read, but it can be unsettling at certain points. Jenkins’ work both strikingly illuminates the radical, Judeo-centric and often neglected developments of thought that created the theological culture that Jesus of Nazareth lived in, while inadvertently at times casting a shadow of doubt over the inner workings of progressive revelation in the Bible (if one is not careful).

Jenkins has written widely on topics related to Christian history, including a book that I highly recommend and that I read a few years ago, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. Lost History is a fascinating survey of the much ignored churches of the Christian East, extending from the Middle East to Africa and Asia, during the first millennium of Christianity, that once dominated the Christian world, only to be crushed underneath the rise of Islam, and other Christian-opposing elements in Asia.

Jenkins’ more recent book from 2017, on the era just prior to the birth of Jesus, Crucible of Faith, was one of the last books I finished reading in 2020, and it has left me thinking more and more about it. Aside from my review of Tom Holland’s Dominion, this is my most in-depth book review of the year, … and the most challenging to write.


Continue reading

Irresistible, by Andy Stanley, A Review

Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. Pastor Andy Stanley overstates a central theme in his argument, but his critics should learn something from him as well.

A little backstory, as to why I decided to read this challenging book: I am not really the type of guy who would be naturally drawn to a pastor like Andy Stanley. At least, that is what I thought a few years ago.

Andy Stanley is the son of the well-known Atlanta pastor, Charles Stanley, who for years has been an example, par excellence, of classic, traditional Bible Belt preaching. When I think of the oft repeated phrase, “The Bible says… the Bible says…,” I think of Charles Stanley.

But I must confess. While he has had a profound, positive impact on the lives of many, and I am sure he is a wonderful man, Charles Stanley’s teaching never thrilled me personally.

About twenty years ago, I was teaching a Sunday school class on church history. I love studying and teaching church history. It helps deepen my love for God. The history of Christianity is often neglected in evangelical churches, so I was thankful for the privilege to try to fill in the gap, at our church. After a few weeks of examining how God has moved in the lives of influential Christians, across the centuries, one dear, elderly woman confronted me and asked, “It is all about history to you, isn’t it?

Apparently, this woman did not understand why anyone in a Bible-believing church needed to waste their time learning about church history. I responded by saying something along the lines of, “Yes, I do believe that God works in history. Jesus did not just stop working in the world after the completion of the New Testament, and He continues to work in our world today.” This genuinely sweet woman then had that “I-have-no-clue-what-you-are-talking-about” look on her face.


The following week, the same woman walked into class, and handed me a whole set of resources from Charles Stanley’s InTouch Ministries to look at. I gulped. In particular, she pointed me to a cassette tape, with a title, something to the effect of why “the Bible alone is the Word of God.”

I got the message: Just stick with the Bible, and forget about this history stuff. “The Bible says” is good enough.

I thanked the woman, as she was kind and well-intentioned, and while I did eventually listen to the tape, and agreed with the teaching message, I was still flustered. For if this woman, who evidently was a big fan of Charles Stanley, was learning that we should disregard the lessons of God’s working over the past 2,000 years, since the closure of the New Testament, then I was not really impressed with what she was being taught.

My less-than-enthusiatic encounter with my less-than-enthusiastic church history student pretty much poisoned me. Frankly, Charles Stanley’s son, Andy, had never been on my radar, at all, until a few years ago. When I learned that Andy Stanley, a former youth pastor, now a mega-church pastor himself, started to rise in prominence, I really had no interest in learning anything from him either. Like father, like son, I supposed. Life is short, and since I can not read or listen to every resource article or sermon someone gives to me, I just left the ministries of the Stanleys at that.

That was until son Andy began making waves among his fellow Southern Baptist, conservative evangelical constituents. Though Andy Stanley continues to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, he no longer thinks that the old evangelical mantra of “the Bible says” really works any more in an increasingly post-Christian society. We simply can not assume today that people believe the Bible.

That is a pretty big shift in message from the elder Stanley…. and it got my attention, because that is the world I live in.

My interest was sparked. Perhaps the younger pastor Stanley has something important to say after all. As it turns out, he does. I am chagrined to think that I never paid attention to this before. Continue reading

What is the Apocrypha? (In Six Minutes)

Why are Protestant Bibles shorter than Roman Catholic Bibles? Bible scholar Bill Mounce explains why in less than six minutes. I have to note one small correction to Dr. Mounce in the video, in that while much of the Apocrypha was written in Greek, not all of it was. Some books of the Apocrypha were written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic, and some we do not know for sure. But those Apocryphal works in the Septuagint were all translated into Greek. Either way, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., most Jews rejected the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament as being on par with the rest of Scripture.

Benedictus, Hanukkah and Jesus

Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanies persecuted the Jews, which later triggered the Maccabean revolt, remembered today during Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (source Wikipedia: Altes Museum, Berlin)

Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanies persecuted the Jews, which later triggered the Maccabean revolt, remembered today during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (source Wikipedia: Altes Museum, Berlin)

Following on last week’s post on the Magnificat, from our church’s Advent sermon series on the “Gospel in Song,” we now consider the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, from Luke 1:68-79. The Benedictus is the great prophecy given by Zechariah regarding the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1).

In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, in the very last few verses, we read:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).

After this, the prophetic voice found in sacred Scripture is silent for some four hundred years. When would this “Elijah the prophet” come and prepare the way for the Lord?

Readers of the New Testament understand that this new “Elijah” is none other than John the Baptist.  Zechariah, the boy’s father, would sing of the “blessing”, or “benedictus”, in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, of the coming prophet who would announce that the Lord “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (verse 69), where the “horn” is a reference to the deadly weapon and tremendous power of Jesus, the coming Messiah.

However, it is important to set the Benedictus within its proper historical context. Many Christians assume that since there is a Scriptural gap between Malachi and the New Testament, that nothing of significance happened here. But this would be terribly wrong.

A body of Jewish writings, primarily written in ancient Greek, did appear during this four hundred year “silent” period. Many of these writings found their way into the Septuagint, a collection of Greek translations of the Old Testament that effectively became the “Bible” for the early Christian movement. These writings that were not of Hebrew origin are typically known as the Apocrypha. In Roman Catholicism, the Apocrypha are considered to be deuterocanonical, or “second canon,” whereas for Protestants, these writings are simply known for being useful in terms of spiritual edification, but not sufficient for establishing doctrine. Consequentially, the lesser status of these writings has meant that the significance of these writings are often forgotten in our churches today.

But one very important incident, the Maccabean revolt, is preserved for us in the apocryphal writings of 1 and 2 Maccabees. When the Syrian Greeks led by Antiochus Epiphanes took over the land of Israel, they desecrated the Jewish temple and forbade the worship of the one True God. In response, Jewish revolutionaries led by a Judas Maccabeus resisted and successfully defeated the pagan invaders, against tremendous odds. This remarkable incident in Jewish history became the foundation for the celebration of Hanukkah.  Jesus Himself celebrated Hanukkah during his earthly ministry (John 10:22-23).

Some scholars have even suggested that the Benedictus, and perhaps the Magnificat, as well, have their historical roots, in some way, as Maccabean war songs. One might be able to see a connection here when Zechariah sings “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us “(verse 71). Whether or not these scholars are correct, is not so important. What is important is that we can surely appreciate how the early Jewish followers of Jesus saw that the message of Christmas was not simply about a sweet boy lying in a manger. Rather, they could see that the message of the Gospel, as announced by Zechariah, was a bold cry for light in the midst of a dark and hopeless world, which dovetails in rather nicely with the celebration of Hanukkah. Zechariah ends his song with:

To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79).

May we better understand that revolutionary message today, too.

The following 4-minute video from a Messianic Jewish community in Israel sums up the connection between Hanukkah and Yeshua (Jesus) rather well.

The Septuagint and the Original Old Testament?

The first part of the Book of Genesis, from the Septuagint, the early Old Testament Greek translation used by the early Christian church.

The first part of the Book of Genesis, from the Septuagint, an early  Greek translation of the Old Testament, which served as the “Bible” of the early Christian church before the completion of the New Testament.  Is this translation the closest thing we have to the “original” Old Testament?

I noticed sometimes the quotes of the Old Testament passages in [the Book of] Hebrews do not exactly match the wording when I go back and look up the verses in the Old Testament. I am just wondering what is going on.” This was a question sent to our pastors for our summer Bible study series on the Book of Hebrews. I do not know who asked the question in our congregation, but I want that person in my small group. What an awesome question!

The problem is that when you read a number of Old Testament citations in the New Testament, the New Testament writers are actually quoting from the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Most of the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew, so it comes as a shock to people to learn that this ancient Greek version of the Old Testament is referenced quite a bit in the New. Critics of Biblical faith will ask if the New Testament writers are at best sloppy when quoting from the original Old Testament, or are they downright fraudulent and terribly mistranslate the Old Testament by relying so much on the Septuagint instead of the original Hebrew?

Get your thinking caps on. This is really a good question.
Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: