Evidence OUTSIDE the Bible for Jesus (Updated w/ Bill Maher)

More videos/articles like this:

Shattering the Christ Myth (J. P. Holding) — Buy Holding’s book, Shattering the Christ Myth; Tektonics.org articles on Jesus Mythicism and CopycatsJesus Never Existed?: Give Me a Break! (with Paul L. Maier); Jesus of Testimony (a documentary defending the historical existence of Jesus); Debunking Robert M. Price ~ 6-Part Series (leading Christ Mythicist is refuted by Phil Fernandes); Debunking Richard Carrier ~ 2-Part Series (another leading proponent of the Jesus Myth theory); The God Who Wasn’t There, Refuted (Tektonics); Jesus Legend (by Greg Boyd) — Buy Boyd’s book on the, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition — and his book, Lord or Legend?: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma; Is Jesus a Legend? (Phil Fernandes) — Part 1 and Part 2; Is the Movie Zeitgeist Accurate? ~ Larry Wessels and Steve Morrison || Dr. Mark Foreman || and Michael Boehm.

See my pages on the topic of mystery religion and Jesus:

Here is some information from a wonderful book, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, in my “Evidence” paper:

  • The fact that the early church fathers lived at the same time as these 500 [+] witnesses who saw the resurrected Christ and his ascension (believers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papius, Polycarp, Quadratus.) (Non-believers [some were contemporaries]: Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, Talmudic writings [A.D. 70-200], Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion, the Gospel of Truth, the Acts of Pontius Pilate.)

Even if we did not have the New Testament or Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that: 1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; 2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; 3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; 4) he was crucified under Pontius Pilot in the reign of Tiberius; 5) despite this shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; 6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave and free – worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century (100 A.D.)

Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, eds, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 221-222

This is the MEAT from a larger — must read — article via Stand to Reason:

Hostile Non-Biblical Pagan Witnesses
There are a number of ancient classical accounts of Jesus from pagan Greek sources. These accounts are generally hostile to Christianity and try to explain away the miraculous nature of Jesus and the events that surrounded his life. Let’s look at these hostile accounts and see what they tell us about Jesus:

Thallus (52AD)
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient that his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who had previously tried to explain away the darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)

If only more of Thallus’ record could be found, we would see that every aspect of Jesus’ life could be verified with a non-biblical source. But there are some things we can conclude from this account: Jesus lived, he was crucified, and there was an earthquake and darkness at the point of his crucifixion.

Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)
Early Christians are also described in secular history. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, describes the lifestyles of early Christians:

“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”

This EARLY description of the first Christians documents several facts: the first Christians believed that Jesus was GOD, the first Christians upheld a high moral code, and these early followers et regularly to worship Jesus.

Suetonius (69-140AD)
Suetonius was a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian. His writings about Christians describe their treatment under the Emperor Claudius (41-54AD):

“Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome).” (Life of Claudius, 25:4)

This expulsion took place in 49AD, and in another work, Suetonius wrote about the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 A.D. under the reign of Nero. Nero blamed the Christians for this fire and he punished Christians severely as a result:

“Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief.” (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)

There is much we can learn from Suetonius as it is related to the life of early Christians. From this very EARLY account, we know that Jesus had an immediate impact on his followers. They believed that Jesus was God enough to withstand the torment and punishment of the Roman Empire. Jesus had a curious and immediate impact on his followers, empowering them to die courageously for what they knew to be true.

Tacitus (56-120AD)
Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. He was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia. In his “Annals’ of 116AD, he describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:

“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 Judea, 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.”

In this account, Tacitus confirms for us that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in Christ.

Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Sometime after 70AD, a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. As a matter of fact, Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”:

“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”

From this account, we can add to our understanding of Jesus. We can conclude that Jesus was a wise and influential man who died for his beliefs. We can also conclude that his followers adopted these beliefs and lived lives that reflected them to the world in which they lived.

Phlegon (80-140AD)
In a manner similar to Thallus, Julius Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it:

“Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour.” (Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)

Phlegon is also mentioned by Origen (an early church theologian and scholar, born in Alexandria):

“Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 14)

“And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … ” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 33)

“Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 59)

From these accounts, we can add something to our understand of Jesus and conclude that Jesus had the ability to accurately predict the future, was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar and demonstrated his wounds after he was resurrected!

Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.)
Lucian was a Greek satirist who spoke sarcastically of Christ and Christians, but in the process, he did affirm that they were real people and never referred to them as fictional characters:

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account….You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)

From this account we can add to our description and conclude that Jesus taught about repentance and about the family of God. These teachings were quickly adopted by Jesus’ followers and exhibited to the world around them.

Celsus (175AD)
This is the last hostile ‘pagan’ account we will examine (although there are many other later accounts in history). Celsus was quite hostile to the Gospels, but in his criticism, he unknowingly affirms and reinforces the authors and their content. His writing is extensive and he alludes to 80 different Biblical quotes, confirming their early appearance in history. In addition, he admits that the miracles of Jesus were generally believed in the early 2nd century! Here is a portion of his text:

“Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”

Celsus admits that Jesus was reportedly born of a virgin, but then argues that this could supernatural account could not be possible and offers the idea that he was a bastard son of a man named Panthera (an idea borrowed from Jews who opposed Jesus at the time). But in writing this account, Celsus does confirm that Jesus had an earthly father who was a carpenter, possessed unusual magical powers and claimed to be God.

Hostile Non-Biblical Jewish Witnesses
In addition to classical ‘pagan’ sources that chronicle the life of Jesus and his followers, there are also a number of ancient hostile Jewish sources that talk about Jesus. These are written by Jewish theologians, historians and leaders who were definitely NOT sympathetic to the Christian cause. Their writings are often VERY harsh, critical and even demeaning to Jesus. But there is still much that these writings confirm.

Josephus (37-101AD)
In more detail than any other non-biblical historian, Josephus writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD. Josephus was born just four years after the crucifixion. He was a consultant for Jewish rabbis at age thirteen, was a Galilean military commander by the age of sixteen, and he was an eyewitness to much of what he recorded in the first century A.D. Under the rule of roman emperor Vespasian, Josephus was allowed to write a history of the Jews. This history includes three passages about Christians, one in which he describes the death of John the Baptist, one in which he mentions the execution of James and describes him as the brother of Jesus the Christ, and a final passage which describes Jesus as a wise man and the messiah. Now there is much controversy about the writing of Josephus, because the first discoveries of his writings are late enough to have been re-written by Christians, who are accused of making additions to the text. So to be fair, let’s take a look at a scholarly reconstruction that has removed all the possible Christian influence from the text related to Jesus:

“Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared” (This neutral reconstruction follows closely the one proposed in the latest treatment by John Meier, Marginal Jew 1:61)

Now there are many other ancient versions of Josephus’ writing which are even more explicit about the nature of his miracles, his life and his status as the Christ, but let’s take this conservative version and see what we can learn. From this text, we can conclude that Jesus lived in Palestine, was a wise man and a teacher, worked amazing deeds, was accused buy the Jews, crucified under Pilate and had followers called Christians!

Jewish Talmud (400-700AD)
While the earliest Talmudic writings of Jewish Rabbis appear in the 5th century, the tradition of these Rabbinic authors indicates that they are faithfully transmitting teachings from the early “Tannaitic” period of the first century BC to the second century AD. There are a number of writings from the Talmud that scholars believe refer to Jesus and many of these writings are said to use code words to describe Jesus (such as “Balaam” or “Ben Stada” or “a certain one”). But let’s be very conservative here. Let’s ONLY look at the passages that refer to Jesus in a more direct way. If we do that, there are still several ancient Talmudic passages we can examine:

“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray” (b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)

“Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.” (b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b)

“Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8). (b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah)

And this, perhaps the most famous of Talmudic passages about Jesus:

“It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)

From just these passages that mention Jesus by name, we can conclude that Jesus had magical powers, led the Jews away from their beliefs, had disciples who were martyred for their faith (one of whom was named Matthai), and was executed on the day before the Passover.

The Toledot Yeshu (1000AD)
The Toledot Yeshu is a medieval Jewish retelling of the life of Jesus. It is completely anti-Christian, to be sure. There are many versions of these ‘retellings’, and as part of the transmitted oral and written tradition of the Jews, we can presume their original place in antiquity, dating back to the time of Jesus’ first appearance as an influential leader who was drawing Jews away from their faith in the Law. The Toledot Yeshu contains a determined effort to explain away the miracles of Jesus, and to deny the virgin birth. In some places, the text is quite vicious, but it does confirm many elements of the New Testament writings. Let’s take a look at a portion of the text (Jesus is refered to as ‘Yehoshua’):

“In the year 3671 (in Jewish reckonging, it being ca 90 B.C.) in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing. At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam… Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu (“Yeshu” is the Jewish “name” for Jesus. It means “May His Name Be Blotted Out”). On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee. After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraven the letters of God’s Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten. Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters. He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, “I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’” He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, “David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: ‘The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.’” The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest. When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples, said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and, arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. The Sages bound him and led him before Queen Helene, with the accusation: “This man is a sorcerer and entices everyone.” Yeshu replied, “The prophets long ago prophesied my coming: ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,’ and I am he; but as for them, Scripture says ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’” Queen Helene asked the Sages: “What he says, is it in your Torah?” They replied: “It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: ‘And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’ He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah.” Yeshu spoke up: “Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead.” A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: “This is a true sign.” She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu’s dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him. The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: “Wage no battle.” He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen. She trembled with astonishment. Then the Sages selected a man named Judah Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done. When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu said: “It is spoken of me, ‘I will ascend into heaven.’” He lifted his arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth, to the amazement of everyone…Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover. Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages. Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree.” They buried him outside the city. On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu’s followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, “This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven.” Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.

Now in spite of the fact that the ancient Jews who wrote this did their best to argue for another interpretation of the Life of Jesus, they did make several claims here about Jesus. This passage, along with several others from the Toledot tradition, confirms that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, healed the lame, said that Isaiah foretold of his life, was worshipped as God, arrested by the Jews, beaten with rods, given vinegar to drink, wore a crown of thorns, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto, and had followers who claimed he was resurrected and ascended, leaving an empty tomb!

Biblical Memes

(Updated! This post is now married — ha — to this post of dietary laws in Leviticus. Also, posted some excerpts from a book at bottom.) After posting the above graphic, Jonathan Lewis [I believe Jonathan closed his FB down since last checked] said this in response to a friends post.

Here is his initial post.

The point of this, for me, is that marriage has been something that changes. I hate when people use the bibles example to deny my friends the right to get married when marriage today is nothing like marriage was in the bible. On top of all this, almost all marriages where arranged. Just as it used to be illegal for a black man to marry a white women. That had to change and it did. And people used the bible to try to stop it from changing. It’s just here to show that marriage has changed. And needs to change again to allow the LGBT community rights.

There are a few things wrong with how Jonathan has come at this issue. The first is how one should approach any historical document, this is called Hermeneutics. This way of approaching any document of antiquity pre-dates Christ [by about 500-years] and can be summed up in the “eight rules.”

Rule of Definition.
Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.

Rule of Usage.
Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. What was the common usage in the cultural and time period when the passage was written?

Rule of Context.
Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.

Rule of Historical background.
Don’t separate interpretation and historical investigation.

Rule of Logic.
Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.

Rule of Precedent.
Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which their is no precedent.

Rule of Unity.
Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.

Rule of Inference.
Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.

Another important term that is often missed in a post like Jonathan’s to engender emotional responses and not critical thinking, is Etymology:

  • “the study of the origins of words or parts of words and how they have arrived at their current form and meaning” (Encarta Dictionary).

So, what does a historical thinker say about the above?

They [the critics] start with some improbable presumption; and having so decreed it themselves, proceed to draw inferences, and censure the poet as though he had actually said whatever they happen to believe, if his statement conflicts with their notion of things…. Whenever a word seems to imply some contradiction, it is necessary to reflect how many ways there may be of understanding it in the passage in question…. So it is probably the mistake of the critics that has given rise to the Problem…. See whether he [the author] means the same thing, in the same relation, and in the same sense, before admitting that he has contradicted something he has said himself or what a man of sound sense assumes as true…. The objections, then, of critics start with faults of five kinds: the alle­gation is always that something is either (1) impossible, (2) improbable, (3) corrupting, (4) contradictory, or (5) against technical correctness. The answers to these objections must be sought under one or other of the above–mentioned heads, which are twelve in number.

(Source)

So taking the above from Aristotle and applying this thinking to one area, say, language, will afford us a great deal of help:

LANGUAGE GAP

…Consider how confused a foreigner must be when he reads in a daily newspaper: “The prospectors made a strike yesterday up in the mountains.” “The union went on strike this morning.” “The batter made his third strike and was called out by the umpire.” “Strike up with the Star Spangled Ban­ner.” “The fisherman got a good strike in the middle of the lake.” Presum­ably each of these completely different uses of the same word go back to the parent and have the same etymology. But complete confusion may re­sult from misunderstanding how the speaker meant the word to be used…. We must engage in careful exegesis in order to find out what he meant in light of contemporary conditions and usage.

(Source)

So these are just some quick, higher educational deep-thinking skills/points, to apply to the graph. There is a history gap not mentioned in the graph or following conversations about the graph. For instance, King David in the Old Testament had many wives. Why would someone take this event (fact) and rip it from its historical context and apply modern day thinking to it? If this is done then there is another purpose behind doing so, an agenda. Sure, the Bible states that God “gave David Saul’s wives” (2 Samuel 12:8),but that is just a figure of speech. In ancient times, it was commonplace for a new king to take possession of everything owned by the former king, including his wives. So let’s take the “cultural gap” here and open it up a bit:

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

8. I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives-The phraseology means nothing more than that God in His providence had given David, as king of Israel, everything that was Saul’s. The history furnishes conclusive evidence that he never actually married any of the wives of Saul. But the harem of the preceding king belongs, according to Oriental notions, as a part of the regalia to his successor.

Knowing now that culturally speaking (using the understanding of idioms and ideas as known in a particular time-period) that it was commonplace for a new king to take possession of everything owned by the former king, including his wives, is not the same as God saying go out and take many wives to fulfill the lust of man. In-other-words, just because a great man in the Bible had more than one wife does not mean we should. The Bible faithfully records — as a true history book would — both the advances and the failures of people. Not only that (e.g., ripping something from its historical, cultural, geographic, etymological, and theological understanding), but context is important as well, context in a book recording evil deeds done along side righteous ones, and how to regulate man’s inhibitions.

The only direct command against polygamy is given to the kings that were to rule Israel, as they are told not to “multiply wives” to themselves (Deuteronomy 17:17). It is also interesting to note that polygamous relationships seem to be regulated in the commands Moses gave to the nation of Israel. Leviticus 18:18 instructs that a man should not marry sisters, and Deuteronomy 21:15 talks of assigning an heir to a man with two wives. Many commentators suggest that the passages do not endorse polygamy but rather prohibit it. Deuteronomy 21:15 may also be translated as “has had two wives” in succession rather than at the same time. The sisters in Leviticus 18:18 are understood by some to be any Israelite women. Regardless of the interpretation of these passages, the taking of multiple wives is not in accord with God’s design from the beginning.

(Source)

An analogous understanding is that the Bible gives commands on how to treat slaves, even having an entire New Testament book written with regards to this understanding. Does this mean the Bible supports slavery? Of course not, however, slavery was an institution around almost as long as man, so the Bible treats the reality of this institution in a way that will create the most fair actions of “owners” of slaves towards the humanity of current affairs. The Bible was the first historical document to say such a radical thing as “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And this radical change in direction led to women and slavery being defeated (see my chapter in my book on Feminism, and, Listen to Thomas Sowell’s chapter from his book on slavery).

Now, in Christian thinking, Christ is understood to be God, bringing something new to man. He taught on many aspects of this “something new,” and even dealt with this topic – marriage.

In Matthew 19:4 (and Mark 10:2) we find the Pharisees challenging Him by asking if it is lawful for a man to put away his wife:

(vv. 3-8) Some Pharisees came to him. In order to test him, they said, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the creator made them male and female? And God said, ‘Because of this a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.” The Pharisees said to him, “Then why did Moses command us to give a divorce certificate and divorce her?” Jesus replied, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts are unyielding. But it wasn’t that way from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Christ took it back to Adam and Eve one man one woman as did Paul in 1st Corinthians 7:1-2 ~

(vv 1-2) Now, about what you wrote: “It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman.” Each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband because of sexual immorality.

Oneness is clear here as is it here Malachi 2:14 ~

But you say, “Why?” Because the LORD testifies about you and the wife of your youth against whom you cheated. She is your partner, the wife of your covenant.

Notice how the practice of many wives just does not fit into the passage? Context. We know that God intended for one man, one woman and that this relationship was to be for the duration (Matthew 19:4) the only allowable cause for divorce is fornication God then sought to regulate the polygamous practice (Exodus 21:10). So, again I reference my thinking on the matter of regulating versus abolishing institutions:

In Scripture, God sometimes allowed what was less than ideal because people’s hard hearts made the ideal unattainable (e.g., Ex 13:17; 1 Sam 12:12-13). To be able to exercise some degree of restraint over human injustice, Moses’ civil laws regulated some institutions rather than seeking to abolish them altogether: divorce, polygyny, the avengers of blood, and slavery (Keener 1992: 192-96). Jewish lawyers in fact recognized that God had allowed some behavior (marrying a Gentile captive in Deut 21:11-13; according to some, slavery) as a concession to human weakness (Daube 1959); some of their own rulings, such as the prosbul, conceded human weakness in hopes of improving the situation of justice (Daube 1959: 10). Nevertheless, Jesus’ opponents here assume that whatever the law addressed it permitted (19:7; cf. ARN 24, §49B); Jesus responds that Moses permitted this merely as a concession to Israel’s hard hearts.14 That his questioners exploit this concession thereby implies their own hardness of hearts, a charge ancients would easily enough apply to those deficient in love toward family members (Epict. Disc. 3.3.5). Thus in Matthew (in contrast to Mark), the Pharisees even exploit Moses’ concession as a command (Gundry 1982: 380). Jesus, by contrast, uses Scripture differently (cf. 12:7), here probably seeking to protect an innocent Jewish wife from her husband wrongfully divorcing her….

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rpids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2009), 465.

I wish also to posit another idea completely missed by this chart, or the conversation that insued, and that is “is it wrong?” For instance, Christopher Wolfe makes the point that “arguments about whether homosexuality is biological or inherited are secondary to arguments about whether or not it is moral.” He continues,

Dallas declares that “even if it can be proven that genetic or biological influences predispose people toward homosexuality, that will never prove that homosexuality is in and of itself normal.” I have argued elsewhere that “it is an epistemological error to base value decisions on empirical data alone. For example, parents may reject dishonesty or homosexual behavior on moral grounds, regardless of what percentage of the population happily engages in those behaviors.”

Christopher Wolfe, ed., Homosexuality and American Public Life (Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing, 1999), 83-84.

Not only this, but the chart points out another fact, that is, no where in the Bible or in all religious history and cultural history, that homosexuality was never normalized. Therefore, the radical change is coming from those who support this idea. that is, that homosexuality should be normalized via marriage “rights.” In fact, this is one of the main strains of thought in comparing political worldviews. In the book A Conflict of Visions, Thomas Sowell makes this point in comparing the two models for coming to decisions:

While the constrained vision sees human nature as essentially unchanged across the ages and around the world, the particular cultural expressions of human needs peculiar to specific societies are not seen as being readily and beneficially changeable by forcible intervention. By contrast, those with the unconstrained vision tend to view human nature as beneficially changeable and social customs as expendable holdovers from the past. Ideals are weighed against the cost of achieving them, in the unconstrained vision. But in the unconstrained vision, every closer approximation to the ideal should be preferred….

Continuing Dr. Sowell quotes Hayek and then makes his point:

The growth of knowledge and the growth of civilization are the same only if we interpret knowledge to include all the human adaptations to environment in which past experience has been incorporated. Not all knowledge in this sense is part of our intellect, nor is our intellect the whole of our knowledge. Our habits and skills, our emotional attitudes, our tools, and our institutions— all are in this sense adaptations to past experience which have grown up by selective elimination of less suitable conduct. They are as much an indispensable foundation of successful action as is our conscious knowledge.

In this vision, it is not simply that individuals rationally choose what works from what does not work, but also— and more fundamentally— that the competition of institutions and whole societies leads to a general survival of more effective collections of cultural traits, even if neither the winners nor the losers rationally understand what was better or worse about one set or

the other. Values which may be effective at the tribal level will tend to be overwhelmed by values that permit or promote the functioning of larger aggregations of people. From this perspective, “man has certainly more often learnt to do the right thing without comprehending why it was the right thing, and he still is better served by ‘ custom than understanding.” There is thus “more ‘intelligence’ incorporated in the system of rules of conduct than in man’s thoughts about his surroundings.”

Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (New York, NY: basic Books, 2007), 28, 37-38.

Which explains the almost elitist “I know better than all of human history” mentality:

The following are excerpts are from the following book, click to enlarge:

[….]

Are Miracles Even Possible? David Hume

Here is Hume’s basic premise:

“And certainly, there’s no doubt about it, that in the past, and I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion … And it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts of things come what may.”

~ Ruse, Michael. (1993) “Nonliteralist Antievolution” AAAS Symposium: “The New Antievolutionism,” February 13, 1993, Boston, MA

Video Description Resources:

Are Miracles even possible events in the natural world? Theists claim miracles have happened, but is there any reason to think they could even occur? This video answers these questions.

Sources:

  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume (Article)
  • Lecture 12: Does God Really Act? (Video)
  • The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Book)

Chapter 9 – Kai-Man Kwan
Chapter 11 – Timothy and Lydia McGrew

  • Miracles – CS Lewis (Book)
  • Hume’s Abject Failure – John Earman (Book)
  • Summa Contra Gentiles – Thomas Aquinas (Books)
  • John Lennox – Science And Miracles (Video)
  • Divine Action – Keith Ward (Book)
  • Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview – JP Moreland & William Lane Craig (Book)
  • Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Cosmology and Biological Evolution – Hilary D. Regan and Mark Worthing (Book)

If science is based on the law of causality then do miracles get in the way? Scientist and philosopher John Lennox explores this question, which was made popular by David Hume.

Some quotes:

Professor: “Miracles are impossible Sean, don’t you know science has disproven them, how could you believe in them [i.e., answered prayer, a man being raised from the dead, etc.].”

Student: “for clarity purposes I wish to get some definitions straight.  Would it be fair to say that science is generally defined as ‘the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us’?”

Professor: “Beautifully put, that is the basic definition of science in every text-book I read through my Doctoral journey.”

Student: “Wouldn’t you also say that a good definition of a miracle would be ‘and event in nature caused by something outside of nature’?”

Professor: “Yes, that would be an acceptable definition of ‘miracle.’”

Student: “But since you do not believe that anything outside of nature exists [materialism, dialectical materialism, empiricism, existentialism, naturalism, and humanism – whatever you wish to call it], you are ‘forced’ to conclude that miracles are impossible”

Norman L. Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2001), 63-64.

Christians claim that the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is the central chapter of world history. How do you measure such a one-off event? The writer, C.S. Lewis develops a reliable test: Does this “Grand Miracle” fit in with the rest of the Author’s other work – Nature itself?

The first Red Herring is this. Any day you may hear a man (and not necessarily a disbeliever in God) say of some alleged miracle, “No. Of course I don’t believe that. We know it is contrary to the laws of Nature. People could believe it in olden times because they didn’t know the laws of Nature. We know now that it is a scientific impossibility.”

By the “laws of Nature” such a man means, I think, the observed course of Nature. If he means anything more than that he is not the plain man I take him for but a philosophic Naturalist and will be dealt with in the next chapter. The man I have in view believes that mere experience (and specially those artificially contrived experiences which we call Experiments) can tell us what regularly happens in Nature. And he finks that what we have discovered excludes the possibility of Miracle. This is a confusion of mind.

Granted that miracles can occur, it is, of course, for experience to say whether one has done so on any given occasion. But mere experience, even if prolonged for a million years, cannot tell us whether the thing is possible. Experiment finds out what regularly happens in Nature: the norm or rule to which she works. Those who believe in miracles are not denying that there is such a norm or rule: they are only saying that it can be suspended. A miracle is by definition an exception.

[….]

The idea that the progress of science has somehow altered this question is closely bound up with the idea that people “in olden times” believed in them “because they didn’t know the laws of Nature.” Thus you will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the cause of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancee was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynaecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. No doubt the modern gynaecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St. Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And St. Joseph obviously knew that. In any sense in which it is true to say now, “The thing is scientifically impossible,” he would have said the same: the thing always was, and was always known to be, impossible unless the regular processes of nature were, in this particular case, being over-ruled or supplemented by something from beyond nature. When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancee’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records

[….]

It is therefore inaccurate to define a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t. If I knock out my pipe I alter the position of a great many atoms: in the long run, and to an infinitesimal degree, of all the atoms there are. Nature digests or assimilates this event with perfect ease and harmonises it in a twinkling with all other events. It is one more bit of raw material for the laws to apply to, and they apply. I have simply thrown one event into the general cataract of events and it finds itself at home there and conforms to all other events. If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter He has created a new situation at that point. Immediately all Nature domiciles this new situation, makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it. It finds itself conforming to all the laws. If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin, it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take it over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws, and nine months later a child is born. We see every day that physical nature is not in the least incommoded by the daily inrush of events from biological nature or from psychological nature. If events ever come from beyond Nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested. The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.

[….]

A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow according to Natural law. In the forward direction (i.e. during the time which follows its occurrence) it is interlocked with all Nature just like any other event. Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards, interlocked with the previous history of Nature. And this is just what some people find intolerable. The reason they find it intolerable is that they start by taking Nature to be the whole of reality. And they are sure that all reality must be interrelated and consistent. I agree with them. But I think they have mistaken a partial system within reality, namely Nature, for the whole.

CS Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Touchstone Publishers, 1996), 62-63, 64-65, 80-81, 81-82.

STREAMING IN FROM SPACE, light reaches the human eye and deposits its information on the stippled surface of the retina. Directly thereafter I see the great lawn of Golden Gate Park; a young woman, nose ring twitching; a panting puppy; a rose bush; and beyond, a file of cars moving sedately toward the western sun. A three-dimensional world has been conveyed to a two-dimensional surface and then reconveyed to a three-dimension image.

This familiar miracle suggests, if anything does, the relevance of al­gorithms to the actual accomplishments of the mind; indeed, the trans­formation of dimensions is precisely the kind of activity that might be brought under the control of a formal program, a system of rules cued to the circumstances of vision as it takes place in a creature with two matched but somewhat asymmetrical eyes. David Marr, for example, provides (in Vision, 1982) an extraordinary account of the complex transformations undertaken in the mind’s cockpit in order to allow the eyes to see things stereoptically.

[.…]

CHANCE ALONE,” THE NOBEL Prize-winning chemist Jacques Monod once wrote, “is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in Me biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of  the stupendous edifice of creation.”

The sentiment expressed by these words has come to vex evolution­ary biologists. “This belief,” Richard Dawkins writes, “that Darwinian evolution is ‘random,’ is not merely false. It is the exact opposite of the truth.” But Monod is right and Dawkins wrong. Chance lies at the beat­ing heart of evolutionary theory, just as it lies at the beating heart of thermodynamics.

It is the second law of thermodynamics that holds dominion over the temporal organization of the universe, and what the law has to say we find verified by ordinary experience at every turn. Things fall apart. Energy, like talent, tends to squander itself. Liquids go from hot to luke­warm. And so does love. Disorder and despair overwhelm the human enterprise, filling our rooms and our lives with clutter. Decay is unyield­ing. Things go from bad to worse. And overall, they go only from bad to worse.

These grim certainties the second law abbreviates in the solemn and awful declaration that the entropy of the universe is tending toward a maximum. The final state in which entropy is maximized is simply more likely than any other state. The disintegration of my face reflects nothing more compelling than the odds. Sheer dumb luck.

But if things fall apart, they also come together. Life appears to offer at least a temporary rebuke to the second law of thermodynamics. Al­though biologists are unanimous in arguing that evolution has no goal, fixed from the first, it remains true nonetheless that living creatures have organized themselves into ever more elaborate and flexible structures. If their complexity is increasing, the entropy that surrounds them is de­creasing. Whatever the universe-as-a-whole may be doing-time fusing incomprehensibly with space, the great stars exploding indignantly—bi­ologically things have gone from bad to better, the show organized, or so it would seem, as a counterexample to the prevailing winds of fate.

How so? The question has historically been the pivot on which the assumption of religious belief has turned. How so? “God said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”‘ That is how so. And who on the basis of experience would be inclined to disagree? The structures of life are complex, and complex structures get made in this, the purely human world, only by a process of deliberate design. An act of intelligence is required to bring even a thimble into being; why should the artifacts of life be different?

Darwin’s theory of evolution rejects this counsel of experience and intuition. Instead, the theory forges, at least in spirit, a perverse connection with the second law itself, arguing that precisely the same force that explains one turn of the cosmic wheel explains another: sheer dumb luck.

If the universe is for reasons of sheer dumb luck committed ulti­mately to a state of cosmic listlessness, it is also by sheer dumb luck that life first emerged on earth, the chemicals in the pre-biotic seas or soup illuminated and then invigorated by a fateful flash of lightning. It is again by sheer dumb luck that the first self-reproducing systems were created. The dense and ropy chains of RNA—they were created by sheer dumb luck, and sheer dumb luck drove the primitive chemicals of life to form a living cell. It is sheer dumb luck that alters the genetic message so that, from infernal nonsense, meaning for a moment emerges; and sheer dumb luck again that endows life with its opportunities, the space of pos­sibilities over which natural selection plays, sheer dumb luck creating the mammalian eye and the marsupial pouch, sheer dumb luck again en­dowing the elephant’s sensitive nose with nerves and the orchid’s trans­lucent petal with blush.

Amazing. Sheer dumb luck.

David Berlinski, The Deniable Darwin & Other Essays (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2009), 37, 47-49.

Philosophical Naturalism and the Modern Worldview

The second modern factor that has contributed to the widespread understanding that religious belief is private, practical, and relative, and need not be related to truth and reason is the widespread acceptance of philosophical naturalism as an expression of scientism. Philosophical naturalism is the idea that reality is exhausted by the spatio-temporal world of physical entities that we can investigate in the natural sciences. The natural causal Fabric of physical reality within the boundaries of space and time is all there is, was, or ever will be. The supernatural doesn’t exist except, perhaps, as a belief in people’s minds. On this view, religious beliefs are simply ways of looking at things in our search for meaning and purpose; they are not ideas that correspond to a mind-independent reality.

Philosophical naturalism is an expression of an epistemology (i.e., a theory of knowledge and justified or warranted belief) known as scientism. Scientism is the view that the natural sciencesare the very paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Applied to the question of the historical origins of Christianity, scientism implies that since we live in the modern scientific world where the sun is the center of the solar system, the wireless is available for our use, and the atoms power has been harnessed, we can no longer believe in a biblical worldview with its miracles, demons, and supernatural realities.

Obviously, it is impossible in the brief space of an introduction to critique adequately scientism and naturalism. Still, a few cursory remarks need to be expressed.

(1) Scientism is simply false for three reasons. (a) It is self-refining, i.e., it falsifies itself. Why? Scientism is itself a statement of philosophy about knowledge and science; it is not a statement ofscience itself. Moreover, it is a statement of philosophy that amounts to the claim that no statements outside scientific ones, including scientism itself (because it is a statement of philosophy), can be true or supported by rational considerations. (b) Science itself rests on a number of assumptions: the existence of a theory-independent external world, the orderly nature of the external world, the existence of truth and the reliability of our senses and rational faculties to gather truth about the world in a trustworthy manner, the laws of logic and the truths of mathematics, the adequacy of language (including mathematical language) to describe the external world, the uniformity of nature, and soon. Now, each one of these assumptions is philosophical in nature. The task of stating, criticizing, and defending the assumptions of sci­ence rests in the field of philosophy. Scientism fails to leave room for these philosophical tasks and, thus, shows itself to be a foe and not a friend of science. (c) There are many things we know in religion, ethics, logic, mathematics, history, art, literature, and so on that are simply not matters of science. For exam­ple, we all know that two is an even number, that Napoleon lived, that torturing babies for fun is wrong, that if A is larger than B and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C, and so on. None of these items of knowledge are scientific in nature, and scientism is falsified by their reality.

(2) Philosophical naturalism is false as well. For one thing, philosophical naturalism rules out the existence of a number of things that do, in fact, exist. And while we cannot defend their existence here, suffice it to say that, currently, a number of intellectuals have offered convincing arguments for the reality of universals and other abstract objects such as numbers, the laws of logic, values, the soul and its various mental states (including the first person point of view), other minds, libertarian or full-blown freedom of the will, and so on. None of these items can be classified as mere physical objects totally within the causal fabric of the natural spatio-temporal universe. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that there is not a single issue of importance to human beings that is solely a matter of scientific investigation or that can be satisfactorily treated by philosophical naturalists.

(3) Philosophical naturalism fails to explain adequately the fact that there are a number of arguments and pieces of evidence that make belief in God more reasonable than disbelief. Some of this evidence actually comes from science: the fact that the universe had a beginning based on the Big Bang theory and the second law of thermodynamics, the existence of biological information in DNA that is closely analogous to intelligent language and that cannot arise from the accidental collisions of physical entities according to laws of nature, the reality of the mental and of free will according to a number of emerging psychological theories of the self, the delicate fine-tuning of the universe, and so on.”

Like it or not, a significant and growing number of scientists, historians of science, and philosophers of science see more scientific evidence now for a personal creator and designer than was available fifty years ago. In light of this evidence, it is false and naive to claim that modern science has made belief in the supernatural unreasonable. Such a view can be called ostrich naturalism—a position that requires its advocate to keep his or her head in the sand and not to acknowledge real advances in science. The plain truth is that science itself makes no statements about all of reality anyway, nor does science itself offer any support for philosophical naturalism. What does support philosophical naturalism are the ideological claims of naturalists themselves regarding what science ought to say if we assume philosophical naturalism to begin with.

In sum, it matters much that our religious beliefs are both true and reasonable. Moreover, there simply are no sufficient reasons for not believing in the supernatural, and there are in fact a number of good reasons (including but going beyond scientific ones) for believing in the supernatural. As we have said, space considerations do not permit us to defend this last claim here. But we will list some sources in the bibliography that adequately justify this claim. If you are an honest inquirer about the truth of religion, moral and intellectual integrity unite in placing a duty on you to read these works as a sincere seeker of the truth. It is well past time to rest content with the politically correct, unjustified assertions of scientism and philosophical naturalism. University libraries are filled with books that show the weaknesses of these views, and the fellows of the Jesus Seminar show virtually no indication that they have so much as interacted with the arguments they contain, much less have they refuted their claims.

Regarding Jesus of Nazareth, all of this means the following: Prior to inves­tigating the historical evidence about his life, deeds, sayings, and significance, there is no good reason to bring to the evidence a prior commitment to naturalism. As later chapters will show, such a commitment is Procrustean in that it often forces the evidence of history to fit an unjustified anti-supernatural bias. But when the evidence is evaluated on its own terms, and when such an evaluation is combined with the rigorous case for supernatural theism already available in the literature, then the claims of historic, orthodox Christianity can be reasonably judged to be true.

Michael J. Wilkins, ed., Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 8-10.

FOLLOWING SUPERNATURALISM MAKES THE SCIENTIST’S TASK TOO EASY

Here’s the first of Pennock’s arguments against methodological naturalism that I’ll consider:

  • allowing appeal to supernatural powers in science would make the scientist’s task too easy, because one would always be able to call upon the gods for quick theoretical assistance…. Indeed, all empirical investigation beyond the purely descriptive could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything.

This argument strikes me as unfair. Consider a particular empirical phenomenon, like a chemical reaction, and imagine that scientists are trying to figure out why the reaction happened. Pennock would say that scientists who allow appeal to supernatural powers would have a ready-made answer: God did it. While it may be that that’s the only true explanation that can be given, a good scientist-including a good theistic scientist—would wonder whether there’s more to be said. Even if God were ultimately the cause of the reaction, one would still wonder if the proximate cause is a result of the chemicals that went into the reaction, and a good scientist—even a good theistic scientist—would investigate whether such a naturalistic account could be given.

To drive the point home, an analogy might be helpful. With the advent of quantum mechanics, scientists have become comfortable with indeterministic events. For example, when asked why a particular radioactive atom decayed at the exact time that it did, most physicists would say that there’s no reason it decayed at that particular time; it was just an indeterministic event!’ One could imagine an opponent of indeterminism giving an argument that’s analogous to Pennock’s:

  • allowing appeal to indeterministic processes in science would make the scientist’s task too easy, because one would always be able to call upon chance for quick theoretical assistance…. Indeed, all empirical investigation beyond the purely descriptive could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything.

It is certainly possible that, for every event that happens, scientists could simply say “that’s the result of an indeterministic chancy process; there’s no further explanation for why the event happened that way.” But this would clearly be doing bad science: just because the option of appealing to indeterminism is there, it doesn’t follow that the option should always be used. The same holds for the option of appealing to supernatural powers.

As further evidence against Pennock, it’s worth pointing out that prominent scientists in the past have appealed to supernatural powers, without using them as a ready-made answer for everything. Newton is a good example of this—he is a devout theist, in addition to being a great scientist, and he thinks that God sometimes intervenes in the world. Pennock falsely implies that this is not the case:

  • God may have underwritten the active principles that govern the world described in [Newton’s] Principia and the Opticks, but He did not interrupt any of the equations or regularities therein. Johnson and other creationists who want to dismiss methodological naturalism would do well to consult Newton’s own rules of reasoning….

But in fact, Newton does not endorse methodological naturalism. In his Opticks, Newton claims that God sometimes intervenes in the world. Specifically, Newton thinks that, according to his laws of motion, the orbits of planets in our solar system are not stable over long periods of time, and his solution to this problem is to postulate that God occasionally adjusts the motions of the planets so as to ensure the continued stability of their orbits. Here’s a relevant passage from Newton. (It’s not completely obvious that Newton is saying that God will intervene but my interpretation is the standard one.)

  • God in the Beginning form’d Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable Particles … it became him who created them to set them in order. And if he did so, it’s unphilosophical to seek for any other Origin of the World, or to pretend that it might arise out of a Chaos by the mere Laws of Nature; though being once form’d, it may continue by those Laws for many Ages. For while Comets move in very excentrick Orbs in all manner of Positions, blind Fate could never make all the Planets move one and the same way in Orbs concentrick, some inconsiderable Irregularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual Actions of Comets and Planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till this System wants a Reformation…. [God is] able by his Will to move the Bodies within his boundless uniform Sensorium, and thereby to form and reform the Parts of the Universe….

A scientist who writes this way does not sound like a scientist who is following methodological naturalism.

It’s worth noting that some contemporaries of Newton took issue with his view of God occasionally intervening in the universe. For example, Leibniz writes:

  • Sir Isaac Newton and his followers also have a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to them, God Almighty needs to wind up his watch from time to time; otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.”

Note, though, that Leibniz also thought that God intervened in the world:

  • I hold that when God works miracles, he does not do it in order to supply the wants of nature, but those of grace.

Later investigation revealed that in fact planetary orbits are more stable than Newton thought, so Newton’s appeal to supernatural powers wasn’t needed. But the key point is that Newton is willing to appeal to supernatural powers, without using the appeal to supernatural powers as a ready-made answer for everything.

Pennock says that “Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.” Newton’s own approach to physics provides a good counterexample to this—Newton is a leading contributor to the scientific worldview, and yet he does not bind himself by the assumption of uninterruptible natural law.

Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, (Peterborough, Ontario [Canada]: Broadview Press, 2009), 62-64.

Did Paul Have The Authority To Arrest People in Damascus?

(Per my usual modus operandi, all pics are linked)

For reference, we are dealing with the first four verses of Acts chapter 9, I will include the main story for clarity:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested lettersfrom him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

 “Who are You, Lord?” he said.

I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting, He replied. But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.

The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.

(Acts 9:1-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB])

CHALLENGE

I had an interesting challenge… one that I have never heard before. Here is the challenge:

But Saul (Paul) was an obvious fraud if you understand ancient Roman law. There is no possible way that a Roman ‘provinciale’ citizen of Judea would have any authority to travel to the neighboring province of Syria to extradite religious heretics (also Roman citizens) back to Jerusalem.

The high priest and Sanhedrin in Judea were only allowed to involve themselves in Judean affairs. Even then, there is not a single shred of text in Roman, Sanhedrin, or independent record that supports or even mentions such a bounty hunter practice. Only the bible in Saul’s imagination.

If you are aware of a corroborating source outside the bible, I’d love to see it. I have been searching for one for 20+ years now.

As we will see, he has been searching in the wrong places. Later in conversation the challenge was restated a bit after I said Paul was “arresting Jews who became Christians. In fact, all the early converts were Jewish? He wasn’t arresting Roman citizens?”

RESTATED

All Judeans were considered Roman Provinciale citizens, and taxpayers to Rome. Hence the revolt…. Syrian provincials, also taxpaying Roman citizens. He would not have any legal authority to arrest anyone in Damascus, and there is no record of this practice outside the bible.

(I will build a case for the reliability of Luke before answering the specific charge)

I pointed out of course that this is an argument from silence. There ends up being good evidence of this being a special agreement with Rome and the Jewish religious leaders as part of Rome preserving their version of religious freedom, but my point still stands:

ACTS HISTORICITY

I find it doubtful that most of the historical points in Paul’s life are real… but this is not.

It reminds me of times when archaeologists said there is no archaeological evidence for Abraham, no archaeological evidence for the Hittites, no archaeological evidence for King David, no archaeological evidence for the Pool of Bethesda… etc., etc.

And then walla… all of a suddenly these people who said the Bible was not real because it made up “whole-cloth” these places.

Now there is — an example — an entire museum dedicated to the Hittites.

QUOTES

Besides my example above of the previous VERY SMALL list of attack on the Bible via skeptics arguing from silence and later being proven wrong, to wit:

  • “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.” – Dr. William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religions of Israel (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1956), p. 176.
  • “On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine….Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics. It has shown, in a number of instances, that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development. This is a real contribution and not to be minimized.” – Millar Burrows, Professor of Archaeology at Yale University, What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 1
  • “The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural.” – Professor Millar Burrows (Professor of Archaeology at Yale University), What Mean These Stones? (Meridian Books, New York, NY, 1956), p. 176.
  • “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical description has often led to amazing discoveries.” – Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar, Strous and Cudahy, 1959), 136.
  • “I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.” – Sir William Ramsey (eminent archaeologists who changed his mind regarding Luke after extensive study in the field), (1915), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975 reprint), page 89.

But most importantly about the author of Acts:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of facts trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense…In short this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” ~ Sir William Ramsey (archaeologist), The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, pages 81, 222

(Creation WIKI)

To wit, this external evidence for the reliability of the Bible is immense:

25,000 SITES CONFIRM N.T.

More than 25,000 sites confirm, in clear outline or exact detail, historical statements in the Bible. Archeologist Nelson Glueck wrote, “No archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” Archeologists have found the bones of a first-century crucifixion victim confirming the accuracy of the New Testament writers.

The “Nazareth Decree,” issued by Emperor Claudius between 41-54, threatens tomb robbers with death instead of the usual fine, possibly because rumors were still circulating about the body of Christ being stolen!

Colin Hemer’s text confirms hundreds of archaeological finds that support specific persons, events, and facts presented in Luke and Acts alone. The confirmation of historicity for Acts is overwhelming.

(Christian Medical and Dental Association)

William Ramsay, the skeptical archaeologist and foremost authority of his day on the history of Asia Minor, was converted to faith because of the ACCURACY and historicity of the book of Acts, here is a snippet from a wonderful book entitled, A Zeal For God Not According to Knowledge:

WILLIAM MITCHELL RAMSAY

RAMSAY CONVERTED BY LUKE’S HISTORICAL RELIABILITY

What archeological evidence is there for the New Testament’s reliability generally, and Luke’s in particular? The English archeologist Sir William Ramsay (professor of humanity at Aberdeen University in Scotland, 1886-­1911) had been totally skeptical about the accuracy of the New Testament, especially the writings of Luke. After going to what is now Turkey, and doing a topographical study, he totally reversed his thinking. After reconsidering, he wrote: “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” He had believed, as per nineteenth-century German higher criticism, that Acts was written in the second century. But he found it must have been written earlier, because it reflected conditions typical of the second half of the first century. After having gone to Asia Minor (Turkey) to do archeological and topographical work, Ramsay discovered Luke’s reliability:

It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative [of Luke in Acts] showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with a fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evi­dence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations.

So when Maccoby writes that Luke’s description of Paul’s defense before Agrippa “has the atmosphere of fiction, and is full of unhistorical aspects:’ he is ignoring the implications of the reality that whenever Luke could be checked, he has repeatedly proven to be correct.[66]

[66] W.M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953), 222; William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962), 7-8; McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1:70; Maccoby, The Mythmaker, 171.

Eric Snow, A Zeal For God Not According to Knowledge: A Refutation of Judaism’s Arguments Against Christianity, 2nd Edition (New York, NY: iUniverse Inc., 2005), 82-83.


~ PIVOT ~


Nothing has changed other than MORE archaeological proofs have substantiated Acts since Ramsey’s time. But now we will pivot to a more specific refutation of the challenge by first allowing the honest “what we do not know” into the conversation as well as “what we do know.”

What we do not know is “that we have no certain information as to whether the Sanhedrin had this kind of power.” But what we do know or can question is this:

TEKTONIC

  • a question as to whether Rome was in control of the city at this time or the Nabeteans were
  • We do know that Damascus was known in Jewish history and thought as a place of refuge and exile… it is conceivable that Jewish Christians would flee there.
    • We also know that the Sanhedrin had jurisdiction as a legislative body over Jews throughout the Diaspora
    • collecting the Temple tax abroad
    • and that Jews had the right of internal discipline in their synagogues
  • Therefore, we could conceive of some sort of right of extradition,
  • especially since we know that the Romans granted this right to Judaea as a sovereign state under the Hasmoneans
  • and that this privilege was renewed in 47 BC

(Tektonics)

Tektonics continues in their summation: “But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”

Another site words the challenge thus:

  • It has been claimed there is no historical basis for Paul’s commission from the High Priest to extradite from Damascus to Jerusalem any Jews who had become Christians, and that neither the High Priest nor the Sanhedrin had any jurisdiction in Damascus.

BIBLE APOLOGETICS

And then is the refutation:

  • Peerbolte raises a parallel in the history of the Maccabees, in which a Roman consul ordered Jewish rebels in Egypt to be extradited to the High Priest for punishment according to Jewish law
  • [F.F.] Bruce defends it with reference to a decree by Julius Caesar re-affirming all the previously held rights of the High Priest [quoted below]
  • Kistemaker and Hendriksen likewise believe the High Priest actually had extradition authority [quoted below]
  • Dunn disputes the idea of formal jurisdiction,  [BUT] notes the informal influence of the high priest and Sanhedrin over provincial synagogues was far higher.
  • Wallace and Williams approach the legal-historical background with care. Observing the letters were addressed to the synagogues not local officials, they argue the matter was internal Jewish business in which Roman officials would not become involved…. 
    • Noting the apparent absence of Roman forces in Damascus at the time, they suggest this would have reduced the probability of Roman interference.

(Bible Apologetics)

So we see some great evidence from history and culture that would allow such a practice to have happened… but again to repeat Tektonics,

  • “But the question is really not relevant, because we don’t know whether Saul/Paul would have been successful in his intentions, whatever they were – remembering that he was stopped cold by his encounter with the Risen Christ.”

Amen, and Amen.

20[+] Year Search Answered

So here is effectively how the discussion ended. The skeptic wanted — essentially — paperwork from Paul’s time-period rather than a few years prior showing authority to do this. This is an unreasonable request and show the “enmity” between the natural man and God (including reasonable evidence for their countering their pet peeves ~ Romans 8:7). Why is this unreasonable? Simply because filing, file cabinets, computers, computer server back-ups, copy machines, and the like were not the normal order then.

So all the historian needs to do is show that this happened close to the time, coupled with the dual-citizen Saul knowing that this extradition was still possible under past/current laws. Until a specific “order” of cease-and-desist can be shown, it is REASONABLE to assume the players involved here knew from history that the law was still up-and-running.

This is the reason I included the many commentaries below, because they show basically the following to some extent or another:

  • Extradition from Egypt was granted for Simon the high priest by Ptolemy VII in 142 B.C. (1 Macc. 15:15-21)
  • Julius Caesar formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the high priest in all matters of Jewish religion in a decree of 47 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14. 192-195)

(via John B. Polhill)

Of course, apropos of my presented response the skeptic merely countered with the time between Julias Caesars death and Saul (Paul), and then said “do you know how many laws have changed in America in a similar time-period?” Unfortunately for him, this is not how history is interpreted — that is, by applying 21st Century customes to the B.C. and A.D. shift in rulers and laws in Rome. So the skeptic felt unfulfilled, but I can now teach well on these three verses in a class setting preparing younger (and older) minds to combat secular silliness and encourage them in their faith.

Here are some great commentaries to support this historicity. I include pics because the people I deal with think I “google” stuff, little do they know. (In fact, in referencing my own site they mentioned my site is biased when I merely used my own library to note stats in a post/challenge on “religious wars” from The Encyclopedia of War.)

BTW, much thank to Bible Apologetics for all the work done there (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5). They led me to my own book case (pics added) or my Logos program.


Commentaries


Acts Book FF Bruce

  • F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Willaim B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 180-181.

2. When the Jewish state won its independence under the Hasmonaean dynasty of ruling priests (142 B.C.), the Romans, who patronized the new state for reasons of their own, required neighboring states to grant it the privileges of a sovereign state, including the right of extradition. A letter delivered at that time by a Roman ambassador to Ptolemy VIII of Egypt concludes with the demand: “If any pestilent men have fled to you from their own country [Judaea], hand them over to Simon the high priest, so that he may punish them according to their law” (1 Macc. 15:21). In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar confirmed those rights and privileges anew to the Jewish nation (although Judaea was no longer a sovereign state), and more particularly to the high-priesthood.[5] Luke’s narrative implies that the right of extradition continued to be enjoyed by the high priest under the provincial administra¬tion set up in A.D. 6. The followers of The Way whom Saul was authorized to bring back from Damascus were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples. The charge against them may have been complicity in Stephen’s offense against the temple.

“The Way” is a designation for the new movement used several times in Acts (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; cf. also 16:17; 18:25-26). It was evidently a term used by the early followers of Jesus to denote their movement as the way of life or the way of salvation. Similar words are used in a religious sense elsewhere; a specially close parallel is the use of the Hebrew word for “way” in the Zadokite Work and other documents of the Qumran community to denote the membership and life-style of that community.[6]

The history of Damascus goes back to remote antiquity. It was a city in the days of Abraham, and at the time of the Israelite monarchy it was the capital of the most important Aramaean kingdom. Later it was the seat of administration of an Assyrian province. In Hellenistic times it was com¬pletely replanned, on the Hippodamian grid-system. From 64 B.C. on it belonged to the Roman province of Syria, but had a measure of municipal autonomy in the loose federation of cities called the Decapolis. There was a very large Jewish population in the city,[7] so it is not surprising that there were several synagogues, each exercising disciplinary supervision over its members.


[5] Josephus, Ant. 14.192-95; see S. Safrai and M. Stern (ed.), The Jewish People in the First Century, I (Assen, 1974), p. 456.

[6] CD 1.13; 2.6; 1QS 9.17-18; 10.20-21; see E. Repo, Der “Weg” als Selbst-bezeichnung des Urchristentums, AASF B 132.2 (Helsinki, 1964). The Zadokite Work, discovered toward the end of the nineteenth century in two mutilated manuscripts in the ancient synagogue of Fostat (Old Cairo), and first published in Fragments of a Zadokite Work, ed: S. Schechter, I (Cambridge, 1910), revealed the presence in Damascus of a Jewish group (now known to have been closely related to, if not identical with, the Qumran community) bound together by covenant as a new and purified Israel, devoted to the Zadokite priesthood and a distinctive form of the messianic hope. See L. Ginzberg, An Unknown Jewish Sect (New York, 1976); P. R. Davies, The Damascus Covenant, JSOT Sup. 25 (Sheffield, 1983); also G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Har-mondsworth, 1975), pp. 95-117. If the “Damascus” of this document is to be understood literally, it may be asked what relation the covenanters of Damascus bore to the local disciples of Jesus, but it is probably impossible to answer the question with anything like certainty.

[7] According to Josephus, BJ 2.561, the outbreak of the Judaean revolt in A.D. 66 was marked by the massacre of 10,500 Damascene Jews; in BJ 7.368, their number has risen to 18,000.

Acts Book Kistemaker

  • Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 17, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 329–330.

b. “He went to the high priest.” The high priest served as head of the Sanhedrin, which as a legislative body had jurisdiction over the Jews living in Jerusalem, Palestine, and the dispersion. Thus the high priest had power to issue warrants to the synagogues in Damascus for the arrests of Christian Jews residing there (see 9:2; 22:5; 26:12).[1] Did the Romans permit religious persecution in their provinces? We are not sure whether at that time the Roman government had full control over Damascus. In the fourth decade of the first century, the Nabatean Arabs under the leadership of Aretas IV were exerting their influence on that city and gave the Damascenes temporary autonomy. The Nabateans and Jews probably collaborated because of their anti-Roman stance.

From the New Testament and other historical records we know that the high priest was Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas.[2] Nevertheless, Annas exercised the authority of high priest, as is evident from verse 14, where the plural term chief priests occurs.

c. “And asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus.” That city gave residence to a large Jewish population, so that for centuries Damascus had its own Jewish quarter (compare v. 22).[3] Consequently, Jewish synagogues were common in the Syrian capital. From the annals of Jewish history we learn that at the time of the Jewish war against Rome (a.d. 66), no fewer than ten thousand Jews were killed in Damascus.

Scripture tells us that Damascus already existed in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:15; 15:2), was conquered by David (2 Sam. 8:6), regained independence during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11:24–25), and became a hotbed of hostility toward Israel and eventually dominated it for some time (Amos 1:3–5). During the Roman conquest (64 b.c.), Damascus was the seat of government for Rome’s Syrian province and one of the ten cities in the region known as the Decapolis (Mark 5:20; 7:31). The Nabatean Arabs ruled the Arabian desert area and under the leadership of Aretas IV, who was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19), controlled Damascus for a few years (2 Cor. 11:32).

Damascus is situated along the Abana River, from which it draws water to irrigate the sun-parched landscape in and around the city. In Paul’s day, to journey on foot from Jerusalem to Damascus took about five or six days to cover the approximate distance of 150 miles. The city was a commercial center where caravans converged from all directions in the ancient world and where the Christian faith began to flourish. Paul realized that from Damascus, the gospel of Christ would spread throughout the world. For that reason, he wanted to stop the influence of Christianity and asked the high priest for warrants to arrest Christians, both men and women, in the Damascus synagogues. He knew that among the worshipers in the local assemblies were countless followers of Jesus Christ. Here Paul intended to make multiple arrests.

d. “If he found any persons who belonged to the Way.” In the beginning, Christians used a variety of names to identify themselves. The term the Way is one of the first names that describes the Christian faith (compare the term the Name [5:41]). In Acts it appears a few times (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The term denotes the teaching of the gospel,[4] the Christian’s conduct directed and guided by this gospel, and the Christian community in general. Granted that the believers formed a distinct group, they nevertheless continued to meet with fellow Jews in the Damascus synagogues. As a result, the rulers of these synagogues could readily identify the followers of the Way; Paul intended to depend on the rulers for help in arresting the Christians. He planned to lead Christ’s followers as bound prisoners to Jerusalem, where they would have to stand trial.


[1] Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.—A.D. 135), rev. and ed. Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1973-87), vol. 2, p. 218.

[2] Matt. 26:3; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:13-14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6.

[3] Josephus War 2.20.2 [561]; 7.8.7 [368].

[4] Consult Wilhelm Michaelis, TDNT, vol. 5, p. 89; Günther Ebel, NIDNTT, vol. 3, p. 942.

Acts Book Longenecker

  • Richard N. Longenecker, Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed., Acts, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – John and Acts, vol 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1981), 368-370.

It is, of course, impossible today to speak with certainty about what was going on in Saul’s subconscious mind at the time, for psychoanalysis two millennia or so later is hardly a fruitful exercise. His own references as a Christian to this earlier time in his life, however, do not require us to view him as struggling with uncertainty, doubt, and guilt before becoming a Christian. They rather suggest that humanly speaking he was immune to the Christian proclamation and immensely satisfied with his own ancestral faith (cf. my Paul, pp. 65-105). While he looked forward to the full realization of the hope of Israel, Paul seems from his reminiscences of those earlier days to have been thoroughly satisfied with the revelation of God that was given through Moses and to have counted it his chief delight to worship God through those revealed forms. Nor need we suppose that the logic of the early Christian preachers greatly affected Paul. His later references to “the offense of the cross” show that for him the cross was the great stumbling block to any acknowledgment of Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah—a stumbling block no amount of logic or verbal gymnastics could remove (cf. 1 Cor 1:23; Gal 5:11; note also Justin Martyr, Dialogue 32, 89).

It is probable that Saul took up his brutal task of persecution with full knowledge of the earnestness of his opponents, the stamina of the martyrs, and the agony he would necessarily cause. Fanaticism was not so foreign to Palestine in his day as to leave him unaware of these things, and it is quite possible that he was prepared for the emotional strain involved in persecuting those he believed to be dangerous schismatics within Israel.

More important, however, in days when the rabbis viewed the keeping of the Mosaic law as the vitally important prerequisite for the coming of the Messianic Age (cf. b Sanhedrin 97b-98a; b Baba Bathra 10a; b Yoma 86b), Paul could validate his actions against the Christians by reference to such godly precedents as (1) Moses’ slaying of the immoral Israelites at Baal-peor (cf. Num 25:1-5); (2) Phinehas’s slaying of the Israelite man and Midianite woman in the plains of Moab (cf. Num 25:6-15); and (3) the actions of Mattathias and the Hasidim in rooting out apostasy among the people (cf. 1 Macc 2:23-28, 42-48). Perhaps even the divine commendation of Phinehas’s action in Num­bers 25:11-13 rang in his ears:

Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as jealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.

Second Maccabees 6:13 counsels that “it is a mark of great kindness when the impious are not let alone for a long time, but punished at once.”

The DSS define a righteous man as one who “bears unremitting hatred toward all men of ill repute” (1QS 9.22). They speak of unswerving allegiance to God and his laws as alone providing a firm foundation for the Holy Spirit, truth, and the arrival of Israel’s hope (cf. 1QS 9.3-4, 20-21) and call for volunteers who are blameless in spirit and body to root out apostasy in the final eschatological days (cf. 1QM 7.5; 10.2-5). The Qumran psalmist, in fact, directly associates commitment to God and his laws with zeal against apostates and perverters of the law when he says:

The nearer I draw to you, the more am I filled with zeal against all that do wickedness and against all men of deceit. For they that draw near to you cannot see your com­mandments defiled, and they that have knowledge of you can brook no change of your words, seeing that you are the essence of right, and all your elect are the proof of your truth (1QH 14.13-15).

With such precedents and parallels, coupled with the rising tide of messianic expecta­tion within Israel, Saul could very well have felt justified in mounting a further persecu­tion against the Christians. Probably he felt that in light of Israel’s rising messianic hopes the nation must be united and faithful in its obedience to the law and kept from schism or going astray. In his task, he doubtless expected to receive God’s commendation. According to 1 Maccabees, Judah, Jonathan, and Simeon (the three great Hasmonean rulers) established friendly relations with Rome (cf. 1 Macc 8:17-32; 12:1-4; 14:16-24), a reciprocal extradition clause being included in Rome’s reply to Simeon (cf. 1 Macc 15:15-24). And the decrees of the Roman senate that Josephus records appear to indi­cate that the treaties of friendship between Rome and the Jewish people were renewed in the time of John Hyrcanus (cf. Antiq. XIII, 259-66 [ix.2]; XIV, 145-48 [viii.5]). While the Sadducean high priests of Jerusalem no longer exercised the civil authority of their predecessors, they were, it seems, recognized by Rome as the titular rulers of their people in most internal matters; and evidently they retained the right of extradition in strictly religious situations. Therefore Saul, seeking the return of Jewish Christians, “went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem” (cf. 22:5; 26:12).

Damascus was a large and thriving commercial center at the foot of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. Since 64 B.C. it had been part of the Roman province of Syria and was granted certain civic rights by Rome as one of the ten cities of eastern Syria and the Transjordan called the Decapolis (cf. Mark 5:20; 7:31). It had a large Nabatean Arab population, and possibly was ruled by the Nabatean king Aretas IV (9 B.C.-A.D. 40) at some time during this period (cf. 2 Cor 11:32). It also had a large Jewish population, 10,500 of whom Josephus reports were killed by the people of Damascus at the outbreak of Jewish-Roman hostilities in A.D. 66 (cf. War II, 561 [xx.2]; though in War VII, 368 [viii.7] the figure is 18,000). It was to this city that Saul went with the authority of the Jewish Sanhedrin, seeking to return to Jerusalem those Christians who had fled the city—chiefly the Hellenistic Jewish Christians—in order to contain the spread of what he considered to be a pernicious and deadly contagion within Israel.

While we have spoken repeatedly of the early believers in Jesus as Christians, the term “Christian” (Christianos) was first coined at Antioch of Syria (cf. 11:26) and appears only three times in the entire NT (11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Before being named at Syrian Antioch and during the early existence of the church, those who accepted Jesus’ messiahship and claimed him as their Lord called themselves those of “the Way” (hē hodos, as here and at 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22; cf. also 16:17; 18:25-26), while their opponents spoke of them as members of “the sect of the Nazarenes” (hē hairesis tan Nazōraiōn; cf. 24:5, 14; 28:22). The origin of the absolute use of “the Way” for Christians is uncertain, though it surely had something to do with the early believers’ consciousness of walking in the true path of God’s salvation and moving forward to accomplish his purposes. In the vignette of 9:1-30, it is synonymous with such self-designations as “the disciples of the Lord” (vv.2, 10, 19), “saints” (v.13), “all who call on your [Jesus’] name” (v.14), and “brothers” (vv.17, 30).


Additional Notes:

2 Some have noted that in 9:1-2, 14, and 26:10, 12, it is the high priest (or “chief priests”) from whom Saul received letters of authority, whereas in 22:5 he is shown as saying that he obtained letters from the whole council (i.e., “the high priest and all the council”). The difference, how­ever, is merely verbal and hardly worth commenting on.

3-6 Though the apparition of 2 Macc 3 of the great horse, its frightful rider, and the two accompanying youths who attacked Heliodorus finds a parallel in Luke’s portrayal here, the resemblances are superficial.

Acts Book Witherington

  • Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 315–316.

Probably too much ink has been spilled on whether the high priest actually had such right of extradition during this period. In the first place our text says nothing about a legal right; the impression left is that the high priest was providing letters requesting permission for such actions by Saul. But even if a right is in view here, it is possible that the material found in Josephus, Ant. 14.192–95 is of relevance. There we are told that Julius Caesar confirmed such rights and privileges to the Jewish people and the high priest in particular, even though they were no longer a sovereign or independent state. This privilege may have still existed in Saul’s day.[41]

[….]

Damascus was an important city 135 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem. Lying on the main route from Egypt to Mesopotamia, it became a commercial center. Part of the league of cities known as the Decapolis (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 5.74), it had a considerable Jewish population (cf. Josephus, War 2.561). This city formed part of the Roman province of Syria from 64 b.c. on, but retained its municipal independence as part of the Decapolis.[45] There is perhaps incidental confirmation of Saul’s conversion near or in this city in the reference to a “return” to Damascus in Gal. 1:17.


[41] This is of more relevance than the earlier material found in 1 Macc. 15:21, where a Roman ambassador requests extradition of Ptolemy VII in 138 b.c. with the person in question to be handed over to the high priest. See the discussion in Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 233, and Marshall, Acts, p. 168.

[45] See Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 233, and the discussion of Syria in general by Tracy, “Syria.”

  • Harold Mare, New Testament Background Commentary: A New Dictionary of Words, Phrases and Situations in Bible Order (Ross-shire, UK: Mentor, 2004), 163–164

9:2. to the high priest… for letters. Probably Caiaphas and/or Annas, his father-in-law, and possibly also members of the high priest’s family and the Sanhedrin (cf. 4:5, 6, 15).

the synagogues in Damascus. Damascus was located in the Roman province of Syria and was a member of the Decapolis group of cities (Matt. 4:24; Mark 5:20; 7:31), which were mainly located in Syria and the Transjordan. At this time Damascus was under the rule of the Nabataeans under King Aretas IV (2 Cor. 11:32), and had a large Jewish population. Damascus was 80 to 90 miles north of the Decapolis cities of Abila and Capitolias, and was about 150 miles north of Jerusalem, a distance taking several days to traverse.

Acts Book Keener

  • Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ac 9:1–2.

9:1–2. Official letters of introduction authorizing or recommending their sender were common, and Josephus confirms that Palestinian agents could take orders from the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. Jewish communities outside Palestine respected the high priest, and letters from him authorize Saul to carry out his mission with the full cooperation of synagogues there. Because the high priest had exercised extradition rights over fugitive Judeans when he ruled Palestine under the Romans, local synagogues in Syria likely still recognized this right, although the local ruler would probably not. These synagogue communities could cooperate with Saul in his mission to weed out the Jewish Christians.

The Essene sect at Qumran also described itself as “the way”; this was a natural designation for a group that believed that it alone followed the way of righteousness. Essenes had apparently also settled in Damascus, if their writings on this point are meant literally. Tens of thousands of Jews lived in Damascus (as many as eighteen thousand were massacred there in a.d. 66).

  • C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 350–351.

2) Caiaphas was still the high priest, for not until the year 36 did Jonathan, a son of Annas, and in 37 Theophilus, another son of Annas, succeed Caiaphas; the latter were not sons of Caiaphas (R., W. P.). The authorization Saul desired was not requested from the high priest alone but from him as being head of the Sanhedrin who issued “the letters” on vote of the entire body as we see from 22:5; 26:10.

The middle ᾐτήσατο is not to be understood in the sense that Saul asked these letters “as a favor to himself” (R., W. P.); the middle of this verb is used with reference to business transactions, when business claims are made. So here the great business of persecuting the Christians had been officially delegated to Saul, and in prosecuting this business of his “he asked in due order” for documents that would enable him to execute this business of his also in Damascus. While Saul had his heart and soul in this persecution, it was not a private enterprise of his, could not be in the nature of the case, but an official enterprise of the supreme Jewish court itself with Saul as its head agent. For the persecutions in Jerusalem he had as his assistants a body of Levite police that had been granted him by the Sanhedrin in order to hale men and women to prison (8:3) and he was similarly equipped with police when he was authorized to operate in Damascus.

Damascus, the oldest city in the world (apparently a city already in Abraham’s time, B. C. 1912, Gen. 14:15; 15:2) that still exists as a famous city, had a large number of resident Jews and, as Luke’s plural shows, a number of synagogues. Nero butchered 10,000 Jews in Damascus. It was under the rule of King Aretas three years after the event narrated in this section and must have been strongly Jewish when Saul went there on his errand. The Roman emperors granted the Sanhedrin authority over Jews outside of Palestine, and Aretas was a Roman vassal. What this authority included and in what territory the Sanhedrin might exercise it, is uncertain; but Saul’s expedition to Damascus evidently assumes that arrests could be made there and the prisoners brought to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem for trial. We have “both men and women” as in 8:3.


Additional Resources


  • John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic), 45-47.

Paul’s persecuting (9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:4-5, 9-12). In his two testimonies, Paul began by noting his Jewish heritage. He was brought up in a Jewish family in Tarsus, trained in the law under Gamaliel, zealous for God (22:3; 26:4). He had lived by the “strictest sect” of the Jewish religion—a Pharisee (26:5). Paul’s Jewish background was essential to the argument of his speeches before the temple mob and Agrippa. It was not necessary in the conversion narrative of Acts 9. What was essential there was Paul’s preconversion role of being the ravager of the church. So that is where Luke began. Paul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (9:1). Paul was so intense in his persecution of the Christians that he drew his very breath from the threats and slaughter which he harbored against them. Paul’s testi­monies go into greater detail: he persecuted the Christians “to death,” dragging off both men and women to prison (22:4); when it was a question of the death penalty, he “cast [his] vote against them” (26:10). Paul’s persecuting in Jerusalem is not elab­orated in Acts.’ The only death detailed by Luke is that of Stephen. Paul need not have been a member of the Sanhedrin, even though his testimony would indicate that the chief priests gave him authorization for his persecuting activities (26:10). Paul went into the greatest detail about his persecuting in his testimony before Agrippa. There he noted how he had consistently attempted to make the Christians “blaspheme”; that is, to renounce the name of Christ (26:11a). He added that he extended his persecution “even . . . to foreign cities” (25:1 lb).

The persecution in Jerusalem probably did not last long. It erupted after Stephen’s martyrdom and may have been conducted by the Greek-speaking Jews of Jerusalem who had brought Stephen to trial (Acts 6:8-14). Paul may well have been a member of their synagogue. The main target of the persecution were the “Hellenists,” the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians like Stephen and Philip. Because of the persecu­tion, they quickly were “scattered” away from the center of the persecution in Jeru­salem (Acts 8:1). One of them, Philip, went to Samaria (Acts 8:5). Others went to the coastal cities like Antioch (Acts 11:19). Still others probably went to Damascus. In any event, when they fled from Jerusalem, Paul determined to pursue them wher­ever they might go. All three accounts in Acts mention that Paul went to Damascus on the authority of the high priests. Specifically, he obtained from them “letters” addressed to the synagogues of Damascus, requesting their assistance in bringing back to Jerusalem for trial any Christians whom he might find in the city (9:2; 22:5). This sounds very much like an official right of extradition. There is evidence that the high priest was granted such rights in earlier times, but no indication that the Romans had granted him such power in Paul’s time.[2] It is more likely that the high priest had granted Paul letters of introduction to the Damascus synagogues, requesting their assistance in his persecuting effort. In the Roman period, local synagogues were permitted to discipline their members.[3] Later Paul would experience himself the severe synagogue discipline of the thirty-nine lashes on five separate occasions (2 Cor. 11:24).

Paul’s letters from the high priest may have requested that the Damascus syna­gogues defer their disciplinary prerogatives to the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, allowing Paul to take his Christian prisoners there for trial. At this point in the life of the early church, the Christian movement was still closely identified with Judaism and attached to both temple and synagogue. Luke indicates as much by referring to the Christians as “the Way” (9:2). This term was also used as a self-designation by the Essenes of Qumran. For Essenes and Christians alike, it indicated the conviction that theirs was the true “way of the Lord” within the larger Jewish community.[4]

Why would the Christian Hellenists have fled to Damascus? There was an exten­sive Jewish community in Damascus. Josephus mentions pogroms against the Jews during the time of the Jewish War with Rome. He stated that some 10,500 Dama­scene Jews were slaughtered by the Gentiles of Damascus at that time (War, 2.559-561). In the same passage he noted that “with few exceptions” the Gentile wives of Damascus had become Jewish proselytes. Josephus was prone to exaggerate and probably did so in this account. Allowing for this, he still seems to indicate that there was an extensive Jewish community in Damascus with a significant component of God-fearers and proselytes in their synagogues, all of which would have made the city a prime place for the witness of the hellenist Christians.

Damascus had a close relationship to Israel throughout its history. The oldest con­tinually occupied city in the world, it is first mentioned in the Old Testament in con­nection with Abraham (Gen. 14:15; 15:2). It was within the borders of David’s empire, and he garrisoned troops there (2 Sam. 8:6). In the period of the divided kingdom, it was the main enemy of the northern tribes and like them was eventually captured by the Assyrians. In fact, its political history largely parallels that of Israel thereafter, with subsequent occupation by the Babylonians, Persians, Ptolemies, and Seleucids. In 66 B.C., it came under Roman control and was listed among the cities of the Decapolis. During the Roman period, Damascus had close ties with Israel. Herod the Great built a gymnasium and a theater there. Damascus was on the major north-south trade route, and Israel allied with the city to protect their mutual com­mercial interests, particularly against the Nabatean tribes of Arabia. Jewish client kings like Agrippa I were given small holdings in the vicinity of Damascus by the Roman emperors, who probably felt that the Jewish presence would help contain the Nabateans. Its long history of relationship with Israel, its extensive Jewish commu­nity, and its commercial alliances with the Jews all made Damascus attractive for the missionary work of the hellenist Christians. In many ways, it was a natural extension of their Judaean witness.

There were two main routes between Jerusalem and Damascus in Paul’s day. One led through Samaria and forded the Jordan at Bethsean (Scythopolis). There was a southern ford at Bethany near Jericho, which went directly north through Perea and Batanea. This was the shorter of the two, a six- to seven-day journey of around 140 miles. This is probably the route that Paul followed.[5]


[2] Extradition from Egypt was granted for Simon the high priest by Ptolemy VII in 142 B.C. (1 Macc. 15:15-21). Julius Caesar formally acknowledged the sovereignty of the high priest in all matters of Jewish religion in a decree of 47 B.C. (Josephus, Ant. 14. 192-195).

[3] M. Hengel and A. M. Schwemer, Paul Between Damascus and Antioch: The Unknowns Years (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 50.

[4] S. V. McCasland, “The Way,” Journal of Biblical Literature 77 (1958): 222-230.

[5] D. Smith, The Life and Letters of St. Paul (New York: Doran, n.d.), 47.

Acts Book Bock

  • Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 354-356.

9:1-2 Saul is still (ἔτι, eti) at work against the church (Acts 8:3), breathing threats and murder against its members. This is the only NT use of the term ἐμπνέω (empneō) for “breathe.” It is part of an idiom about breathing out threats and murder (BAGD 256 §1; BDAG 324 §1).’ The expression reflects Saul’s highly hostile attitude toward believers. It may not mean that he seeks to murder them himself, given that execu­tion remains in Roman hands, but it expresses what he hopes will be the result of his arrests (22:4; 26:10; Marshall 1980: 168; Weiser 1981: 222-23). If (ἐάν, ean) he should find them, Saul would deliver them to prison, where they may well be sent on to Rome as troublemakers. The conditional clause is third class and is presented with a touch of uncer tainty (Culy and Parsons 2003: 170). It may also be that Rome already has not decided to give the Jews such authority to imprison, given the scope of the perceived problem. Saul has consented to Stephen’s death already, which indicates that he is accepting of such an outcome for Jesus’s followers (8:1).

Saul pursues the disciples even beyond Jerusalem and obtains author­ity for doing so (probably from Caiaphas; 22:5; 26:10). Bruce (1988a: 180) suggests that Saul models his zeal after Phinehas (Num. 25:7-13; Ps. 106:30-31), Elijah (1 Kings 18:40; 19:10, 14), and Mattathias (1 Macc. 2:23-28). The Maccabean period makes clear that religious zeal often did work its way into Jewish practice. Witherington (1998: 302-3) notes the later activism that led Rome to destroy Jerusalem in AD 70. Paul himself confesses that he was a persecutor of the church (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13).

The letters that Paul asks for concern the right of extradition, if 1 Macc. 15:21 applies. Conzelmann (1987: 71) disputes the genuineness and the relevance of the letter in 1 Macc. 15:16-21, noting that it is too far removed in time to be relevant, even if it were genuine. Barrett (1994: 446-47) has a full discussion and concludes that the more important issue is how the Sanhedrin is related to outside synagogues. Haenchen (1987: 320n2) is also skeptical of such extradition authority. Even though the Maccabean letter is old, however, it might reflect Jewish beliefs and Roman practice that continued into Paul’s time regarding religious is­sues. Josephus in Ant. 14.10.2 §§192-95 describes a later, parallel letter of authorization. Thus the practice appears to span Paul’s time period.

Conzelmann argues that Josephus, J. W. 1.24.2 §474, does not agree with this right of extradition, since it makes a unique claim for such authority for Herod. Conzelmann does not note, however, the Ant. 14 text, which indicates the possibility of such authorization to a Jew. Haenchen calls the Ant. 14 text irrelevant, but it does show the poten­tial for a close relationship like the one Caiaphas had with Pilate. In addition, the subject at hand is the authority over the synagogues of Judaism, a religious-oversight issue. Since this is not so much a matter of legal execution as imprisonment, it is quite likely that the high priest and Sanhedrin had such authority and that with a letter the synagogues of the Diaspora might cooperate if it were a question of the presence of heterodoxy. That the governor under king Aretas sought to arrest Saul in Damascus (2 Cor. 11:32) is not surprising, given Saul’s turn in allegiance and the public destabilization it may well have brought (but Schille 1984: 219 is skeptical); this detail does not indicate a lack of authority of Jews over their faith in Syria (Acts 26:12; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). As a whole, then, the scenario involving letters for Paul seems credible.

Christianity has already spread as far as Damascus, an important city 135 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem. This is the first city outside the land of Israel to be noted as having Christians. Hengel and Schwemer  (1997: 80-90) see it as a small community, something Saul’s own letters in verse 2 suggest by the words “might find” Christians there. They also propose that it was fleeing Jewish Christian Hellenists from Jerusalem who helped found the community, something the juxtaposition of this event with Acts 7 suggests (given that Peter and Philip went in the other direc­tion). These Hellenists may well have pushed steadily north and shared the gospel. If so, Saul is sent to block the advance of the message.

Damascus was a commercial center on the way between Egypt and Mesopotamia. It had a substantial Jewish population.[2]  The mention of Damascus is significant, for Luke has not told us anything about this church yet. In Acts the church has now moved north to Samaria (Acts 8), west and south to the coast, and east to Syria (Acts 9).

“The Way” is the early name for Christians (19:9, 23; 24:14, 22), sometimes referred to as “the way of the Lord” or “the way of God” (18:25-26).[3] It appears to point to the way of salvation as a way of and to life. Later Christian works such as Did. 1-6 may well have borrowed this metaphor in speaking of the two ways, one leading to life, the other to death. Haenchen (1987: 319n2) discusses the various names given to Christians in Acts 9: disciples, those of the Way, saints, those who call on the name of the Lord, brothers, and witnesses. Each name points out a distinct feature of what being a believer means or entails.

Saul will apprehend both men and women, as he must know that the faith is spreading among both genders (Jervell 1998: 279).


[2] Josephus, J. W. 2.20.2 §561, speaks of at least ten thousand being massacred there, but 7.8.7 §368 speaks of more than eighteen thousand killed. Both are estimates and point to a large Jewish population. On the city’s history, see Fitzmyer 1998: 423; details in Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 55-61.

[3] For a similar description at Qumran, see 1QS 9.17-18; 10.21; 11.13; CD 1.13; 2.6; 20.18. In Judaism, see 1 En. 91.18; 2 En. 30.15; T. Ash. 3.1-6.5; Ebel, NIDNTT 3:935-43; Johnson 1992: 162; Fitzmyer 1998: 424 notes multiple references at Qumran. It is also present in the OT: Pss. 1:1, 6; 2:12.

  • Craig S. Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary & 2: Introduction and 1:1–14:28, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012–2013), 1622–1626.

(4) Letters of Authorization (9:2)

Letters from Jerusalem to the Diaspora are attested over a long period.231 Official letters from a person in an office to others also in office were often posted in public locations, which made them a readily recognizable letter form.232 Here, however, the letters are letters of recommendation that Paul carries.

Those who carried letters from a high official acted on that official’s authorization (1 Esd 4:61; Neh 2:7, 9). Letters of recommendation of various sorts reflect a pervasive custom (Rom 16:1–2; 1 Cor 16:15–18; Phil 2:29–30; 4:2–3; 1 Thess 5:12–13; Phlm 8–17; Heb 13:17; 3 John 12);233 thus, for example, leaders in Jerusalem sent letters confirming Josephus in his authority (Jos. Life 310–11).234 Sometimes people of rank sent such letters for their clients or others to provide them “credentials for some activity rather than merely to introduce” them.235 In general, travelers could carry letters of recommendation so that the receiver would know to welcome them.236

Some comments about the context of recommendation letters can illustrate their general function, although many of the specific elements mentioned here (perhaps especially in formal Roman letters) would not appear in the high priest’s letters for Paul. Recommenders placed their own credibility on the line when writing such letters,237 but they socially indebted to themselves those so recommended.238 Appeal to the potential benefactor’s generosity was a natural element in many recommendation letters.239 Further, when two people shared a mutual friend, they became friends, part of the same in-group.240 The receiver of the recommendation would act on the basis of the receiver’s relationship with the recommender, and hence recommendations might spell out the beneficiary’s relationship with the recommender.241 By generosity to the beneficiary, the benefactor displayed friendship with the recommender242 and also guarded the recommender’s honor in the eyes of the beneficiary.243 When the letter’s receiver was of the same (rather than lower) social station as the recommender, the receiver might express or anticipate reciprocity for the favor done.244

Despite conventional forms, writers could prove creative in articulating reasons for receiving the recommendations.245 Powerful writers sometimes claimed that the person on whose behalf they wrote was more deserving than any other (cf. Phil 2:20) or that this beneficiary was a particularly special one—even when they had written many other such letters with superlative claims.246 They could also request that the beneficiary be treated as if the beneficiary were in fact the recommender.247 Or they could simply request that the letter recipient receive well its bearer.248 Sometimes, at least in later times, they might assert that the receiver already knew the worth of the one recommended, or that no letter was really necessary.249

Among Romans of rank, such letters were often only one250 to four paragraphs in length. At least in Egypt, the usual structure of letters of recommendation was as follows:251

  1. Opening
    1. Salutation formula
    2. Formula valetudinis
  2. Background
    1. Identification formula
    2. Background proper
  3. Request period
    1. Request clause
    2. Circumstantial clause
    3. Purpose or causal clause
  4. Appreciation
  5. Closing
    1. Closing formula valetudinis
    2. Closing salutation

The letters usually began by identifying the person recommended and designating the person’s relationship to the sender;252 for Saul, then, it would be a great honor to carry such a letter (cf. Gal 1:1, 14). Later, as an apostle “not from men” but from Christ (1:1), Paul would eschew dependence on such letters of recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–3). (Even when Paul writes recommendations in his letters, the basis differs from that in most other letters of recommendation.)254

(5) Extradition Requests Here? (9:2)

People of higher rank expected subordinates to obey their letters (e.g., 1 Kgs 21:8; Esth 1:22; 8:10; 9:20, 30; 1 Macc 1:44). But is obedience demanded here? Some scholars have argued that the high priest had extradition rights for Judean fugitives that would be respected by rulers in the region.255 This may have been true in the second century b.c.e. if we may trust our sources on this point; the Romans granted Judea extradition rights from Egypt’s ruler (1 Macc 15:21),256 [see] and Julius Caesar presumably reconfirmed these rights in 47 b.c.e. by making the high-priestly family ethnarchs over all Jews and arbiters of Jewish customs (Jos. Ant. 14.189–95). Rome also granted King Herod extraordinary rights for extraditing fugitives from the region of his jurisdiction (War 1.474, acknowledging this situation as unusual).257 [see

In this period, however, Judea had a Roman governor.258 [see Even if Pilate in Caesarea remained aloof from the Jerusalem aristocracy’s affairs, other governors were under no legal or political obligation to another city’s aristocracy. The letters, however, are not to local governments but, as Luke expressly claims, to synagogues (Acts 9:2).259 [see Local Jewish communities retained rights to practice their own customs as ethnic conclaves in foreign cities;260 [see consequently, they would be able to continue practicing disciplines in their own synagogues (Luke 21:12; Matt 10:17; 2 Cor 11:24) so long as no one renounced Judaism and complained of subsequent abuse.261 [see Just as Alexandrian Jews had an ethnarch and Nabateans in Damascus had an ethnarch (2 Cor 11:32), Damascene Jews would possess a measure of autonomy. Most synagogue leaders would have acted out of respect for the high priest.262 [see If conflicts arose, local municipal authorities probably would have (though need not have) chosen to defer to the rights of minority communities in disciplining their own members.263 [see In this case, they may have secured the cooperation of other groups as well (2 Cor 11:32).

But at minimum, the letters could encourage support less forcefully, simply commending Paul (see discussion of recommendation letters, above) and authorizing his mission in more basic ways. Saul and his companions would not have the advantages of travel given to those traveling on Rome’s business,264 [see but letters of recommendation from the high priest would guarantee them aid along the way from local Jewish communities. The objects of Saul’s quest would not be local Jewish Christians (he and his allies may well have hoped there were none) but fugitives from Jerusalem, where the high priest exercised direct civic authority.265 [see

Synagogues appear often in Luke-Acts, but the reference to their involvement in persecution here (cf. Acts 22:19; 26:11) partly fulfills the warning of Luke 21:12: soon after Jesus’s ministry but before predicted wars and earthquakes (21:10–12), his followers would be handed over to synagogues for discipline. “Binding” free people was a terrible insult to their dignity (Polyb. 1.69.5; see comment on Acts 21:33–34). That women were also targets indicates the vicious lengths to which Saul went to eradicate the movement (cf. Val. Max. 9.2.1); see comment on Acts 8:3.


231. Bauckham, “James,” 423–24, cites the Elephantine papyri (fifth century b.c.e.) and 2 Macc 1:1–10.

232. Aune, Environment, 164–65.

233. E.g., Cic. Fam. 7.5.2–3 (with 7.6.1; 7.7.1; 7.8.1; 7.10.3); 13.1–79 (all of Fam. 13 except 13.68); Socratics Ep. 28; cf. Men. Rhet. 2.5, 397.21–24; see esp. Kim, Letter of Recommendation, passim (for nt examples, 119–20; for papyri, 150–238); also Agosto, “Conventions,” 70–117; Keyes, “Letter of Introduction”; Marshall, Enmity, 91–129, 268–71; more briefly, Stowers, Letter Writing, 153–65; Aune, Environment, 166–67; Malherbe, Social Aspects, 102; Keener, Corinthians, 166–67.

234. For a later rabbinic example, see, e.g., y. Moʾed Qaṭ. 3:1, §2.

235. Stowers, Letter Writing, 153. Writers normally interceded for the third party to establish his positive relationship with the receivers or secure him some other favor with them (ibid., 155); they also often identify the sender with the one recommended (Malherbe, Social Aspects, 102–3, citing P.Oslo 55).

236. E.g., Lucian Lucius 2.

237. E.g., Pliny Ep. 2.9.2. Although writing many letters, Cicero assures his receiver that he is sensitive to his reputation and thus does not recommend indiscriminately (Fam. 13.48.1). Thus some letters are worded more cautiously (e.g., Symm. Ep. 1.72).

238. E.g., Pliny Ep. 2.13.9; 3.2.6; 3.8.2.

239. E.g., Cic. Fam. 13.44.1; Pliny Ep. 10.4.1; 10.94.3; 10.120.2; Phlm 14.

240. Malina, Windows, 48.

241. E.g., P.Oxy. 292; Cic. Fam. 13.3.1; 13.5.3; 13.44.1; Dio Chrys. Ep. 2; Pliny Ep. 2.13.7, 10; 3.2.4; 7.16.5; 10.4.1, 4; 10.5.1; 10.11.1; 10.87.1; 10.94.1; Fronto Ad Ant. Pium 9.2. For the papyri, see further Kim, Letter of Recommendation, 37–42. Cf. the recommendee’s readiness to depend on the recommender’s relationship with the receiver of the letter (e.g., Symm. Ep. 1.70; 1.81; 1.106; 1.107).

242. So explicitly in Pliny Ep. 10.4.6; see also Symm. Ep. 1.30; 1.71. In some parts of the world today, such social demands lead to considerable corruption; this was true in Rome as well, but ethical constraints did impose some limitations.

243. E.g., Cic. Fam. 1.3.2. Cicero’s letters of recommendation often ask the benefactor to prove to the recommended person how good a recommendation Cicero had written on the recommended one’s behalf and how influential Cicero had been for good (e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.19.3; 13.20.1; 13.26.4; 13.30.2; 13.35.2; 13.36.2; 13.44.1; 13.45.1; 13.46.1; 13.49.1; 13.58.1; 13.77.2; 13.78.2); cf. also Symm. Ep 1.93; 1.106. For correspondents proving their love, cf., e.g., Symm. 1.14.1; 1.27; 1.43.2; 1.87; 1.98; 2 Cor 8:24.

244. E.g., Pliny Ep. 2.13.1–2; 3.2.1; 4.4.2–3; 7.31.7. If the letter receiver’s status was less, the receiver would respond especially with gratitude (Fronto Ad Ant. Pium 9.1). Gratitude was critical, both for the recommender and for the beneficiary (e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.3.1; Pliny Ep. 4.12.1, 5–7).

245. E.g., Pliny Ep. 3.3.5; 6.8.1–2, 5. Articulating reasons was essential (Dio Chrys. Ep. 1; esp. Pliny Ep. 2.13.11).

246. E.g., Cic. Fam. 3.1.3; 13.1.5; 13.5.3; 13.18.2; 13.19.1; 13.26.1; 13.32.2; 13.34.1; 13.35.1; 13.36.1–2; 13.39.1; 13.45.1; 13.51.1; 13.78.2.

247. E.g., P.Oxy. 32; Cic. Fam. 13.5.3; cf. 1 Cor 16:10; Phlm 17; Kim, Letters of Recommendation, 7, 37–42.

248. See, e.g., P.Grenf. 2.77.34–38 (from the third or fourth century c.e.). Officials could also use public recommendations to commend their friends (e.g., P.Lond. 1912.105–8).

249. E.g., Symm. Ep. 1.22; 1.67; 1.75; 1.81. In Ep. 1.63, Symmachus claims that he recommends one for the letter receiver’s benefit; in Ep. 1.94, he hopes his letter adequate to communicate the recommendee’s merits; in Ep. 1.104, the recommendee is better than the letter is able to convey.

250. For one paragraph, see, e.g., Cic. Fam. 13.45–49.

251. Kim, Letter of Recommendation, 7 (mostly using his words). Paul’s letters do not share this form (128), but most Christian letters of recommendation from Egypt do (99–118); for the eighty-three letters that Kim analyzed, see 156–238.

252. Ibid., 37–42.

253. Paul does send his own recommendations, usually embedded in larger letters; see ibid., 120; Agosto, “Paul and Commendation,” esp. 110–28. But like some philosophers (Diogenes Ep. 9; Epict. Diatr. 1.9.27, 33–34; 2.3.1–2; cf. 4.12.12), he did not want to depend on them for himself.

254. See esp. Agosto, “Paul and Commendation,” 127: Paul commends especially on the basis of work in the church rather than of social connections. But even with Paul, such connections remain; e.g., Rom 16:2; Phil 2:22, 30; Phlm 10–13.

255. E.g., Reicke, Era, 149; Bruce, Apostle, 72.

256. Bruce, Apostle, 72, noting that the author Lucius (1 Macc 15:16) is presumably Lucius Caecilius Metellus, consul in 142 b.c.e. Not all accept as certain the document’s authenticity (Wallace and Williams, Acts, 52, who favor unofficial action here).

257. Bruce, Apostle, 72; idem, Commentary, 193; Johnson, Acts, 162 (providing the information but not committed to the conclusion). Cities normally agreed to extraditions only if they were on good terms (Livy 41.23.1–5; Dio Chrys. Or. 38.41–42).

258. Some argue that Damascus may not have even been under direct Roman rule in this period (see Barrett, Acts, 446); for further discussion, see excursus on Nabateans at Acts 9:23.

259. With Barrett, Acts, 446. Haenchen, Acts, 320–21n3, has therefore misread Acts (in averring that Luke read the Maccabean situation into it) no less than its attempted defenders above. For influential festal letters uniting Jewish communities, see Whitters, “Observations” (citing Esth 9:20–32; 2 Macc 1:1–9; 1:10–2:18; Elephantine’s “Passover Papyrus”; and later 2 Bar. 78–87); for some early encyclical letters from sages, see Aune, Environment, 185.

260. E.g., Jos. Ant. 14.213–16, 223, 227, 242, 245–46, 258, 260, 263; 16.162–65; see discussion in Sanders, Judaism, 212; Rabello, “Condition”; Rajak, “Charter.”

261. For a discussion of proper scourgings as outlined in m. Mak. 3, cf. Gallas, “Fünfmal.”

262. Many scholars doubt that the high priest exercised authority over other Diaspora Jews; others argue the contrary (Bruce, Commentary, 193) or against doubting Luke without firm evidence (Munck, Acts, 81). I doubt that the high priest had in the Diaspora any legal authority recognized by the empire; nevertheless, the effectiveness of the temple tax (Jos. Ant. 18.312) and the biblical and Maccabean roles for the high priesthood indicate the respect and influence that he commanded (rightly, Dunn, Acts, 120–21; Witherington, Acts, 316; Haenchen, Acts, 71). Nevertheless, later rabbinic arguments about the Sanhedrin’s Diaspora influence (m. Mak. 1:10, cited in Rapske, Custody, 101; t. ʿOr. 1:8; Sanh. 3:10; Sipre Deut. 59.1.2; 188.1.2; perhaps y. B. Qam. 4:1, §3; Giṭ. 5:6, §3; cf. negative relations in t. ʿAbod. Zar. 4:6) are uncertain for their own period and certainly cannot be retrojected into Paul’s (see Keener, John, 212–13). And even later rabbis allowed courts outside the land (t. Sanh. 3:10).

263. This may have been especially the case if Damascus’s minority communities had influential ethnarchs, as at least the Nabateans seem to have had; see comment on Acts 9:23–24. Cf. Campbell, Deliverance, 147: “With the permission of the local authorities, the Jerusalem authorities could have claimed jurisdiction over Jews in other regions.… Moreover, the ‘letters’ in question may have been ‘requests’ rather than ‘orders’ and Luke a little hyperbolic at this point.”

264. On which see Casson, Travel, 188; cf. 197. Paul’s companions could have been Levite police delegated to him (e.g., Lenski, Acts, 357) but may have simply been other young and zealous members of the Hellenist synagogue (6:9) who shared his commitments.

265. With, e.g., Lake and Cadbury, Commentary, 100. It is possible that these events occur before the Samaritan and Gentile conversions in Acts 8 and hence too early for many local conversions to have occurred; otherwise, they may occur only shortly later.