Tag Archives: Darrell Bock

Paul’s Early Visits to Jerusalem: Does Acts Conflict with Galatians?

In Acts 15, the first great church council meeting counts as the third visit Paul paid to Jerusalem, after his conversion, according to a face value reading of Acts. But Galatians records only two visits to Jerusalem by Paul. Is the chronology within the Bible in conflict?

Skeptics of the Bible like to point out things like this as “errors,” but that judgment is premature. There is much scholarly debate, but historically there are two main theories as to how the problem could be resolved. But without descending into too much detail, there is also a more recent proposal that might better explain the difficulties.

Acts records a first visit of Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 9:26-30, following his escape from Damascus, in a basket, lowered by his friends (Acts 9:23-25). The second visit is commonly called the “famine” visit, when Paul and Barnabas are sent from Antioch to deliver help to the church in Jerusalem, in Acts 11:27-30. The third visit, in Acts 15:1-29, Paul has a “public” meeting with the church leaders in Jerusalem, to try to resolve the conflict regarding the status of welcoming the Gentiles into the then Jewish-dominated church. Paul makes at least one more visit later to Jerusalem in Acts, but that visit is not relevant to this chronology problem.

Compare this to what we read in Galatians, Paul’s letter to the church there, intended to resolve the dispute over the Judaizers, who wished to impose circumcision on the Gentile believers in Jesus. Paul appeals to his authority as an apostle, called directly by God, to overrule the legalism of the Judaizers.

To make his case, in Galatians 1:11-24, Paul tells of being converted by a personal revelation from the Lord Jesus. After spending three years in Damascus, Paul goes to Jerusalem, only visiting the apostles Peter and James, meeting them for the first time.

Then, in Galatians 2:1-10, Paul writes of returning again to Jerusalem, “after fourteen years” (Is this fourteen years after his conversion, or fourteen years after his first visit to Jerusalem? We do not know). Paul took Barnabas again, along with Titus, to address the circumcision issue with the Jerusalem apostles (Click on the image below, to expand the image).

The evangelical apologist Norman Geisler champions the traditional view, namely that this second meeting in Galatians corresponds to the third meeting found in Acts; that is, Galatians 2 = Acts 15. Geisler admits some problems here: (a) Galatians 2 records a private visit, whereas Acts 15 describes a public visit, (b) Galatians mentions nothing about any council decree, whereas Acts 15 specifically mentions a council decree. On the flip side, there is evidence favoring this solution: (a) Luke in Acts 15 is emphasizing the public decision regarding Paul’s message, whereas Galatians is interested in private affirmation of Paul’s call to ministry among the Gentiles;  (b) Paul and Barnabas faced stiff opposition in both Galatians 2 and Acts 15; and (c) the persons mentioned in Galatians 2 and Acts 15 more clearly match, as well as the overall timing of the events.

The main obstacle with Geisler’s solution is that it suggests that Paul simply omitted the mention of a third visit to Jerusalem, as described in Acts. Yet Galatians specifically spells out a total of two visits to Jerusalem by Paul, and no more. Omitting the description of a third visit would probably raise some suspicion by Paul’s critics, and does not adequately remove from the reader the specter of error in the Bible. After all, Paul’s driving point is that he gets his apostolic calling directly from revelation, and not from any man, not even the Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 1:11-12). He was basically unknown to the churches of Judea, prior to the meeting in Galatians 2 (Galatians 1:22). If Paul were to ignore yet an extra visit to Jerusalem, it would tarnish Paul’s credibility.

Dallas Seminary and New Testament scholar Darrell Bock champions a different solution, associating the Acts 11:27-30 visit with the Galatians 2:1-10 visit; that is, Acts 11:27-30 = Galatians 2:1-10. He cites three main reasons to support this view: (a) In Galatians, Paul’s second visit is instigated by a “revelation” (Galatians 2:2), and this could tie in with the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11; (b) Paul mentions that he desired to “remember the poor” in the second visit of Galatians (Galatians 2:10), and this affirms the reason mentioned in Acts 11 for that visit to Jerusalem, namely to offer a gift to the church there, to aid in famine relief; and (c) the problem being addressed in Galatians 2 concerns having table fellowship with Gentiles, whereas the controversy in Acts 15 is about circumcision, making it less likely that the incidents are the same.

Bock’s solution does have its difficulties. It assumes that Galatians was written before the events described in Acts 15, and in general, it moves up the time table traditionally associated with the movements of Paul. Combined with some skepticism over the interpretation of the positive points of evidence mentioned by Bock, not all scholars find the assumptions proposed by supporters of Bock’s solution to be agreeable: (a) Paul’s revelation may not be related to the prophecy of Agabus. As in much of Paul’s writings, Galatians indicates more that the “revelation” had to do with Paul himself, and not necessarily something to do with another person, like Agabus; (b) there is no requirement to assume that the call to “remember the poor” be limited only to one visit; and (c) the issue of table fellowship with the Gentiles derives directly from the controversy over circumcision, as well as the Jewish food laws. It need not be separated.

More recently, Duke University New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre proposes a newer solution that should be taken seriously, in view of the difficulties associated with the previously proposed solutions. To understand Goodacre’s solution, it requires the student of Scripture to have a better understanding of the genre of the Book of Acts.

According to New Testament scholar, Michael Licona, most scholars today recognize that the Gospels, as well as the Book of Acts, can be shown to take the literary form of Greco-Roman biographies, the “bios” genre. Greco-Roman biographers were concerned about chronology, but not in the same manner as modern biographers and historians are today. Unlike modern biographies, Greco-Roman biographies do not share the same degree of precision when it comes to narrating the chronology of historical events. Greco-Roman biographies were known at times to sacrifice certain precise details of chronology, in order to achieve other literary aims, namely, to highlight the character of the person or persons being studied. In other words, the writers of the Gospels and Acts were not required to follow the literary standards of doing biography and history that we would require today. Instead, they would follow the literary standards commonly accepted in the Mediterranean cultures of the first century.

Licona’s thesis in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography gives examples of how the New Testament authors would use various compositional devices in order to achieve the literary aims of those authors. Perhaps there is a Greco-Roman compositional device associated with Acts that can help relieve the chronological problems reconciling Acts and Galatians.

Mark Goodacre finds agreement with the positive case, presented by those like Norman Geisler, that the so-called third visit in Acts  to Jerusalem, in Acts 15, is the same as the second visit in Galatians, in Galatians 2. There is a long history of accepting this view, going back as early as the church father of the 2nd century, Irenaeus.

However, Goodacre proposes that the first visit in Acts (Acts 9) is actually the same as the second visit in Acts (Acts 11). In other words, Acts 9:26-30 and Acts 11:27-30 are in reality the same visits to Jerusalem, narrated twice. This is the proposed chronology that is offered by Goodacre’s solution, starting from the end of Paul’s time in Damascus:

  • Paul (then Saul) escapes via the basket from Damascus (Acts 9:23-25).
  • Paul then makes his way to the area of Tarsus, his home town, and eventually arrives in Antioch, to receive the gift of the believers there, to be given to the elders of the Jerusalem church to aid in famine relief (Acts 11:25-30).
  • Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem, the first visit described in Galatians 1:11-24.
  • This is also the same visit described in Acts 9:26-30.
  • Paul is then brought to Caesarea, and then sent off to Tarsus, per Acts 9:30.
  • Years later, after Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas, along with Titus, go to Jerusalem for both a private meeting with the apostles, to affirm Paul’s call to ministry, as well as to participate in the public church debate over the Jewish/Gentiles controversy, leading to the decision of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Therefore Acts 15 and Galatians 2 describe the same incidents.

Goodacre describes Acts 9 as a type of “flash forward” of the events described in Acts 11. But it might be better to think of Acts 11 as a “flashback” to the events of Acts 9, which might fit in well with the use of such compositional devices found in other Greco-Roman biographies.

It would be reasonable to suggest that Luke effectively repeats the story of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem, between Acts 9 and Acts 11, to tie those passages together. In the interim, Luke in Acts 9:32 to Acts 11:18 picks up the story of Peter, specifically focusing on the story of Cornelius, the Gentile Roman military officer, and his conversion to Christ. Once done with the story of Peter and Cornelius, Luke recalls where he earlier stopped off with telling Paul’s story, and to bring things back to Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem.

Why does Luke do this? We can not be completely certain. It is quite possible that Luke’s objective in Acts is to narrate how the church grew from being a Jewish-only movement to becoming a Jewish-Gentile movement, centered around the mission of Paul, a converted Jew to Christ, to share the Gospel with the Gentiles. In other words, Luke selects material from the history of the early church, to focus first on Peter, and then to transition to the character of the apostle Paul. It would only be fitting for Luke to build up the story of how the church overcame the problems between Jew and Gentile, by temporarily highlighting the background and story of Peter’s interactions with Cornelius, before returning to his main narrative, following the apostle Paul.

Those who object to this solution might complain that Acts 9 only makes mention of Paul’s movements from Damascus to Jerusalem, with no intervening travels. But this objection is no more a difficulty than the fact that Luke also makes no mention of Paul’s time in Arabia in Acts 9, while operating out of Damascus, as mentioned in Galatians 1:17. It simply was not a concern of Luke’s to mention all of those precise details in his narrative.

But perhaps the biggest objection to be raised is the assumption that Luke is rearranging, if not repeating, his chronology in Acts, with respect to Paul’s travels in Acts 9 and Acts 11. It is true that a face value reading of Acts would suggest the presence of three visits to Jerusalem, by Paul, by the time of the Acts 15 Jerusalem council, and not two. Nothing in Acts specifically would indicate otherwise. It is only the desire to reconcile the chronology of Galatians that causes concern.

On the other hand, if indeed the Book of Acts is a good example of the Greco-Roman biographical genre, then it should not surprise us to find Luke using compositional devices often associated with that genre. In fact, we should be surprised if Luke did not use such compositional devices in his writing.

Mark Goodacre’s solution is not without criticism, and it would be wrong to dogmatically assert this as the only possible answer to this chronological difficulty. The other proposals have their strengths as well. But in light of the growing scholarly consensus as to a common understanding of the first century, Greco-Roman literary context of the Book of Acts, it might be well worth considering Goodacre’s approach as a legitimate solution.

This situation causes frustration for some contemporary readers, who desire a resolution to chronological problems, for the sake of preserving biblical inerrancy. For those who wish to defend the Scriptures, some probably wonder why the Scriptural text does not spell things out more clearly. Some might complain that if Luke really wanted us to believe that the so-called first (Acts 9) and second (Acts 11) visits of Paul to Jerusalem were really the same, then the Bible would explicitly come out and say that!

The problem with this way of thinking is that it assumes the narratives of the New Testament should behave in the same manner as modern histories and biographies. Sadly, this misguided expectation mirrors a type of cynical and crass skepticism, that encourages critics to dump all of the Bible, simply because the Bible supposedly fails to measure up to “our” modern expectations of what good history and biography should look like.

When we are reading the Bible, we must keep in mind a basic principle of Bible interpretation: The Bible was written for us, but not to us.  “Face value” readings of Scripture often ignore the context in which the biblical writers originally wrote. Confusion over what interpretation of the Bible is best, often arises, because not enough attention has been paid to literary and historical context. The presuppositions of believers and critics alike must take into account the evidence for the prevailing literary practices of the first century, and resist the tendency of anachronistically imposing certain standards on the Gospel writers, that they had no conscious intention of ever meeting.

Norman Geisler’s views are published in his Galatians introduction, as found in A Popular Survey of the New Testament. Darrell Bock’s views are published in his Act: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Aside from his New Testament blog, I am not aware of where/if Mark Goodacre has put his ideas into print.

 

 


Truth in a Culture of Doubt: Brief Book Review

Still looking for that perfect gift book, for a high school graduate, off on their way to college? Consider Truth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible, by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw.

Young people growing up in the church today face immense challenges from a culture skeptical to the Gospel. Leading the charge towards encouraging doubt is popular author and University of North Carolina religion professor, Bart Ehrman.

If you have never heard of Bart Ehrman before, you need to get out from underneath your rock, and learn about him. Ehrman grew up going to church and attending Christian colleges, but eventually lost his faith in the process. He has since authored five New York Times Bestsellers, and dozens of other books, all aimed at undermining confidence in the reliability of the Bible and its message.

What makes Ehrman’s skepticism so caustic, is that he knows his facts really, really well. He knows his Bible better than most Christians do, and he remains one of the world’s top textual critical scholars of the New Testament. The problem is that the conclusions he draws from his research are not always warranted. There are indeed very good answers to the issues he raises, that affirm the trustworthiness of the Bible.

In Truth in a Culture of Doubt, Köstenberger, Bock, and Chatraw, all evangelical and believing scholars themselves, tackle each of Erhman’s challenges in a very engaging manner, issues that every thoughtful Christian will face, as they seek to share their faith with their informed neighbors:

  • Is God Immoral Because He Allows Suffering?
  • Is the Bible Full of Irresolvable Contradictions?
  • Are the Biblical Manuscripts Corrupt?
  • Were there Many Christianities?
  • Are Many New Testament Documents Forged?

A nice little extra is a quick question and answer guide at the back of the book, that summarizes the basic arguments. Truth in a Culture of Doubt is an updated, more in-depth version of an earlier book by these evangelical scholars, Truth Matters, that I reviewed a few years ago. Though Truth in a Culture of Doubt was itself published back in 2014, the information packed in it is still relevant today, as the issues dealt within are not going away any time soon. Ehrman is still himself writing books, but more and more, any new issues that he writes about move further away from his area of expertise.

In many ways, the topics that Ehrman has been writing about for over fifteen years are not new. They are no more than popular distillations of scholarly, critical views in the history of Christianity, that have been taught in secular departments of religion at private and public universities for nearly a century now. Sadly, it has taken a barrage of these skeptical writings, in popular form, to force the evangelical church to better inform her people, and give better answers.

Read a brief excerpt from Truth in a Culture of Doubt here, then go buy the book for that young person you know, who is facing challenges from a skeptical culture.


The Wrong Jesus for the Right Young Graduate

Greg Monette, a young scholar with Logos Bible Software and the Navigators, has written the perfect book to curious minds to sort out fact from fiction regarding who was and is Jesus.

Greg Monette, a young scholar with Logos Bible Software and the Navigators, has written the perfect book for curious minds to sort out fact from fiction regarding who was and is Jesus.

The Internet. YouTube. Your NewAge neighbor. The History Channel. Morgan Freeman’s The Story of God. Youth pastors. Skeptical friends. Parents. College professors…. Our world is simply bombarded with an untold number of conflicting voices, all telling us who Jesus really was. How do you figure out who the right Jesus is from the wrong Jesus?

If you know of a Christian young person graduating high school or college, you should know that they will be facing challenges to their Christian faith in college, the secular workplace, or just with their iPhone, scrolling through the Internet. Would not the best gift to such a person be something that will help to prepare them to better understand and defend their faith?

I recently picked up a copy of Greg Monette’s The Wrong Jesus: Fact, Belief, Legend, Truth . . . Making Sense of What You’ve Heard. Monette helps the reader to navigate many of the challenges to what the Bible teaches about Jesus, including questions about His existence, His divinity, and His message to a skeptical world.

In past years, I have recommended Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World, by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, Josh Chatraw. This is another excellent book along the same line (Hey, if Veracity co-blogger, John Paine, had dinner with co-author Andreas Köstenberger, it has to be good, right?). In Truth Matters, the authors focus on the popular writings of former evangelical scholar turned skeptic, Bart Ehrman. However, Monette’s book is broader in focus, looking also at archaeological issues, the miracles of Jesus, and how Jesus treated women.

Monette brilliantly defends the faith, but he is also refreshingly candid. The Bible is historically reliable, but the truth of Christianity is not dependent on our ability to figure out every detailed Bible discrepancy and fitting it in with some simplistic view of inerrancy.1 What ultimately matters is that if Jesus really is resurrected from the dead, then this changes everything.

A healthy perspective. A highly recommended book.

Notes:

1. I have written about this topic before, but I feel like this point needs to be repeatedly stressed.


Marcus Borg: Friendly Liberal Critic

One of the most well-known liberal critics belonging to the Jesus Seminar died on January 21, 2015, Marcus Borg. Marcus Borg was an influential writer in liberal Protestant circles, such as in my late father-in-law’s church in the last years of his life, but with respect to Borg’s conservative evangelical critics, like Dallas Seminary’s Darrell Bock, Borg was a respectful and friendly dialogue partner.

My first encounter with Marcus Borg was in a highly recommended book he co-wrote with Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. N.T. Wright defended an evangelical orthodox position affirming the virgin birth of Jesus, the divinity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of the Lord. Marcus Borg denied ALL of these doctrines of the faith, but he nevertheless endeavoured to identify himself as a Christian, something that most evangelicals find incomprehensible. Borg aligned himself with the Jesus Seminar, which was notoriously known to gather together regularly to “vote” on which statements in the Gospels were actually authentic or inauthentic. Evangelical critics of the Jesus Seminar noted that was basically like using a democratic system of decision-making in order to establish what is true versus what is false, relying on the wisdom of man as opposed to the wisdom of God as revealed in inspired, sacred Scripture. Nevertheless, Borg was always rather cordial in his disagreements with his conservative evangelical dialogue partners.

Gospel Coalition author and blogger Derek Rishmawy best describes the Protestant liberal mindset as of “those who can at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed. Having embraced the various presuppositions of Enlightenment and postmodern thinking, they are skeptical of supernatural claims and often doubt the very idea of objective truth.” Those who identify themselves as “liberal Christians,” like Marcus Borg, can say that they believe in Jesus, but when honestly challenged, their doubts regarding the supernatural get in the way of them having a full confidence of the genuine reality of a personal Lord and Savior in their lives…well, maybe the theologically sophisticated like Marcus Borg can somehow convince themselves, but in my experience the typical pew sitters in a liberal congregation under the influence of Borg and his followers find it difficult to overcome their doubts.

I, on the other hand, contend that there are other ways to address the question of doubt, as opposed to the way Borg sought to do it. While I am sympathetic that doubt is always something that challenges us in our faith, we can nevertheless move through our doubts and have the confident assurance that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirt who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) … and this is no mere “spiritual” resurrection. It is bodily full and real! Seeking to move through our doubts is part of the journey of personal discipleship behind the purpose of this Veracity blog.

In honor of this friendly liberal critic, it might be worth observing this classic debate between William Lane Craig and Marcus Borg on the topic, “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Though I do not agree with Marcus Borg, it is nevertheless important to learn from this exchange how to challenge this way of thinking in a manner that is gentle and respectful.

 

 

 

 


More on Newsweek‘s Misunderstanding of the Bible

Plumb LineMy Veracity blogging colleague, John Paine, recently referenced New Testament scholar Dan Wallace’s response to Newsweek author Kurt Eichenwald’s Christmas tirade against Christian “misunderstandings” of the Bible.  Sadly, despite some of the genuine substance Mr. Eichenwald displays to the reader, it is the Newsweek piece itself, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” that bears most of the misunderstanding.

The article has generated A LOT of responses, so many that I think it would be best to list out some of the more prominent ones. The original Newsweek article is extremely long, but it is worth taking some time to go through it as it adequately illustrates many of the most common objections and confusions regarding Christianity and the Bible that you will encounter today among secularly-minded thinkers, or those thinkers who wish to reshape Christian faith to look more “modern.” But you should also read a few of the responses as an aid to help you develop an informed response to Eichenwald’s many complaints. It is great way to get an education on some critical issues in doing Christian apologetics in a skeptical world.  Some of what Eichenwald says presents challenging difficulties for the Christian, while much of what he says, if not the bulk of it, can be answered in a manner that effectively communicates an honorable confidence in God’s Word:

  • Michael Kruger (Reformed Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.) has two articles (#1 and #2 ), but what is most valuable is that Mr. Eichenwald offers some rejoinders to Kruger’s critique in the comments section.
  • Ben Witherington (Asbury Seminary, Kentucky) offers a response from an evangelical Wesleyan perspective.
  • For a response from the more conservative wing of mainstream Protestantism, this detailed response from Robert Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) fills in some of the gaps left by others in their critiques.
  • Kurt Eichenwald has repeatedly said that some of the responses to his Christmas essay from Christians were loaded with “vitriol” and “name calling.” Perhaps Eichenwald has this series of video responses in mind ( you have to scroll past much of the unedited chatter in places, but you can look here: #1 and #2)by Reformed apologist James A. White (Alpha-Omega Ministries), but I will let the viewer be the judge of that.
  • In addition to the well-known agnostic Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Mr. Eichenwald leans heavily on the critical views of Jason David BeDuhn, professor of Comparative Study of Religions, at Northern Arizona University. BeDuhn, in this essay, responds to a critique of the Newsweek article by Southern Baptist Seminary head, Al Mohler.
  • If you want to know what the more progressive end of Christianity is thinking about this, read this by blogger Rachel Held Evans, or this from Old Testament scholar Pete Enns.
  • In my view, the best and most thorough response is from Darrell Bock (Dallas Seminary). If you only have time to read one of these, pick either the Dan Wallace one linked above or this one by Bock.
  • The latest response from Newsweek itself is that they agreed to publish the following rejoinder by messianic scholar Michael Brown. In Newsweek’s introduction to Dr. Brown’s essay, they still stand by Eichenwald’s original story, in an effort to promote discussion. Furthermore, they announced that Dr. Brown has invited Mr. Eichenwald to be on his Line of Fire radio program the week of January 19.

 


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