Tag Archives: New Testament

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We pick up from part 1 of this post to see why Paul could not have invented a version of Christianity foreign to Jesus’ teachings.

McFarland continues making his case:

The point is this:  the key teachings of the Gospel (Jesus is the sinless Son of God; He died for our sins and rose again; we receive Him as Savior through repentance and faith) pre-date Paul.  Paul taught these things, expounded on these things, and was used by God to write much of the New Testament.  But the core of the Gospel was being widely spread even before Paul was a believer.  In the final words of I Corinthians 15:8, Paul seemed to acknowledge that he was late getting to the party!

Look at Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, found in Acts 2:14-40.  Peter presents the core facts of the Gospel, including Jesus’ Deity, death, and resurrection.  Peter preaches the same truths again in Acts 3:12-18.  In Acts 5:29-33, Peter addressed Jewish leaders, and again gives the key facts of the Christian message.  By Acts 5:42, we read, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

So what can we conclude?  The core teachings of Christianity predated Paul’s conversion and his later writings.  Paul did not invent Christianity.

But there is one more important point to be made.  If Paul’s teachings contradicted those of the other disciples, the disciples that spent 3 years under Jesus’ tutelage, then surely they would have called him out.  In fact, just the opposite occurred.  The apostle Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest companions and a recognized leader of the early church, had this to say about Paul in 2 Pet. 3:15-16: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Take note of the fact that Paul is a “dear brother” and that his words are compared to “other Scriptures.”  Peter is effectively endorsing Paul’s teachings, so the idea that Paul hijacked Christianity from the true followers of Jesus is refuted.  We can be confident that the entire New Testament, including Paul’s writings, were inspired by one and the same God.

Did Paul Invent Christianity? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I’ve run across people who believe that the apostle Paul effectively hijacked Jesus’ teachings and invented most of what we today call Christianity.  Even though this seems to be a view with few advocates, it is still an important charge that is being made.  How do we answer this question?

Southern Evangelical Seminary President Alex McFarland wrote about this very topic in a December 2009 newsletter.  I will quote heavily from his article, as he did an excellent job of analyzing this issue.  McFarland’s approach is to show that the essential truths of Christianity were established before Paul began to write his epistles.  McFarland begins:

Saul of Tarsus–a passionate persecutor of the church–became Paul the believer about AD 35.  The book of Acts (written by Luke) records Paul’s salvation experience in chapters 9, 22, and 26.  In his own writings, Paul also explains his conversion to faith (I Corinthians 9:1, 15:3-8, and Galatians 1:11-18).  From about AD 48 until his death around AD 68, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books.

The fact that Paul had originally opposed and persecuted the church proves that he could not have “invented” Christianity.  Paul’s use of the words “received” and “passed on”–rabbinical terms for the handing down of teachings–is significant in I Corinthians 15:3-8.   In relating these facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying that what it presents is existing truth that he himself had received.  Scholars recognize that this passage contains an early church creed (or statement of belief) that was recited by believers in the days before the New Testament had been written down.  Other Scriptures that preserve the early, verbal Christian creeds include I John 4:2, Philippians 2:6, II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4.  Another notable passage is I Timothy 3:16.  Not only is this a confession of belief, it may have actually been part of a hymn that was sung by early believers.

In part 2 of this post, we will conclude McFarland’s argument and look at some additional evidence that he does not cover.  See you next time!


Where Does the English New Testament Come From?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians are often confused about this question, so I want to give a quick summary.

The 27 books of the New Testament (NT) were originally written in the common Greek language of the first century.  They were all hand-written, likely on papyrus.  These hand-written manuscripts were then copied, by hand, for hundreds of years by various Christian laypeople, professional scribes, and even monks.  In the middle of the 15th century, the printing press was invented and the NT, from that time onward, was primarily copied on printing presses.

All of the original NT documents have been lost, mostly because papyrus decays rapidly, and must be stored under dry conditions to last more than just decades.  However, we have many hand-written copies of the words of the NT that were produced between about A.D. 100 and A.D. 1450.

The words of the NT were preserved in three ways.  First, we have copies of partial and complete NT books written in Greek, the original language.  We have discovered about 5,800 of these.  Second, we have copies of partial and complete NT books written in Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and other ancient languages.  These manuscripts number around 19,000 and were produced starting in the late second century.  Third, we have the writings of church leaders from the first few centuries.  We have enough quotes from the NT in the church fathers (thousands of them) that we could reconstruct a good bit of the NT with just this material.

Modern scholars (called textual critics), using these three sources, then construct a Greek New Testament.  Since there are textual variants among the manuscripts, textual critics must apply tests to determine which variants likely represent the original writing of the NT authors (more about these tests in a future blog post).

There are a couple major versions of this Greek New Testament that are used by scholars and Bible translators today: Nestle-Aland (NA 27th edition) and United Bible Societies (UBS 4th edition).

The publishers of an English Bible will use these Greek New Testaments to create their particular translation.  Each translation also must decide how they will translate — word-for-word or thought-for-thought or something in between.

Typically a large committee of scholars will actually create the English translation.

It is important to understand that most English translations are using the same Greek New Testament as their source, so the differences among English versions come down to the method of translation employed by the translation committees.

That’s it in a nutshell.  Now you know the basics!

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  The sixth way is that Jesus Claimed to Be God by Requesting Prayer in His Name. Again, I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series.

Nobody before Jesus, among Hebrew prophets, ever insisted that people pray in his name.  But that would all change when Jesus entered the scene in ancient Judea and Galilee.

Jesus not only asked people to believe in Him and obey His commandments, but He also asked them to pray in His name: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name.… You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14). “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). Jesus even insisted, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The disciples responded by doing just what Jesus told them.

The disciples not only prayed in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 5:4) but also prayed to Christ (Acts 7:59). Jesus certainly intended that His name be invoked both before God and as God in prayer.

This ends the series of evidences for Jesus claiming both directly and indirectly to be God.  We have yet to cover all of the words of his apostles about his deity.  That will follow in another series of posts.

But before going there, it is fitting to end this series with some words from C. S. Lewis about Jesus’ deity.

Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God.  He claims to forgive sins.  He says He has always existed.  He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.  Now let us get this clear.  Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it.  But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God.  God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who made it and was infinitely different from anything else.  And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

You either believe Jesus or you don’t, but please don’t think that you don’t have to make a choice about him.  If he really is God, then you owe him your very life.

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  The fifth way is that Jesus Claimed to Have Equal Authority with God. Again, I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series.

In the New Testament, Jesus places his words on an equal footing with God’s.  Following are several examples:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago … But I tell you” (Matt. 5:21–22) is repeated over and over again. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18–19). God had given the Ten Commandments to Moses, but Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus promised, “Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law” (Matt. 5:18), while later Jesus said of His words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Speaking of those who reject Him, Jesus confirmed, “That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).

Taken as a whole, there is no question that Jesus  understood his own words to have authority equal to the words spoken by God in the Old Testament.

Put yourselves in the place of the people who heard Jesus speak these words in first century Palestine.  It was shocking and inconceivable for  a Jew to say these things.  Think of all the times that Jesus’ opponents tried to kill him before they finally succeeded.  This mere man, in their mind, continuously equated himself with God, in a way that had no precedent.

You may not believe Jesus is God, but you should be able to understand why his followers and his opponents thought that he was claiming to be.

There is one more line of evidence in this series to consider.  Stay tuned…

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  The fourth way is that Jesus Claimed to Be God by Accepting Worship.  Again, I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series.

The Old Testament clearly forbids worship of anyone except God (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9).  The New Testament likewise reiterates this fundamental teaching of Scripture (Acts 14:13-15; Rev. 22:8-9).

But in direct defiance of this command, Jesus accepted worship on several occasions.  Why would he do this?  The obvious answer is that he considered himself equal to God.

A leper worshiped Him before he was healed (Matt. 8:2), and a ruler knelt before Him with a request (Matt. 9:18). After He stilled the storm, “Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’ ” (Matt. 14:33). A Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:25), the mother of James and John (Matt. 20:20), and the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:6) all bowed before Jesus without one word of rebuke. A blind man said, “ ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped Him” (John 9:38). Thomas saw the risen Christ and cried out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Did Jesus rebuke Thomas and correct him?  Did he deny that he was Lord and God?  No, he did not.  The message he was sending was clear.  Only someone who considered himself God would accept worship like Jesus did.

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  The third way is that Jesus Claimed to Be Messiah-God.  Again, I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series.

There are indications in the Old Testament that the prophesied Messiah would be divine.  When Jesus, therefore, confirmed that he was the Messiah, he was also equating himself to God.

Even the Qur’an recognizes that Jesus was the Messiah (Sura 5:17, 75). The Old Testament teaches that the coming Messiah would be God Himself, so when Jesus claimed to be that Messiah, He was also claiming to be God. For example, the prophet Isaiah (in 9:6) calls the Messiah “Mighty God.” The psalmist wrote of the Messiah, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever” (Ps. 45:6; cf. Heb. 1:8). Psalm 110:1 records a conversation between the Father and the Son: “The Lord says to my Lord [adonai]: ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” Jesus applied this passage to Himself in Matthew 22:43–44.

But there is even further evidence of the connection between Jesus, Messiah, and God.

In the great messianic prophecy of Daniel 7, the Son of Man is called the “Ancient of Days” (7:22), a term used twice in the same passage of God the Father (Dan 7:9, Dan 13). Jesus also said He was the Messiah at His trial before the high priest. When asked, “ ‘Are you the Christ [christos, Greek for “Messiah”], the Son of the Blessed One?’ ” Jesus said, “ ‘I am … And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses? … You have heard the blasphemy’ ” (Mark 14:61–64). There was no doubt that in claiming to be Messiah (see also Luke 24:27; Matt. 26:56), Jesus also claimed to be God.

There are three more ways that Jesus claimed to God:

  1. Jesus Claimed to Be God by Accepting Worship.
  2. Jesus Claimed to Have Equal Authority with God.
  3. Jesus Claimed to Be God by Requesting Prayer in His Name.

We will cover these in the next few posts.

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  The second way is that Jesus Claimed to Be Equal with God. Again, I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series.

Jesus claimed the prerogatives of God several times in the gospels.

He said to a paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5ff.). The scribes correctly responded, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” So to prove that His claim was not an empty boast, He healed the man, offering direct proof that what He had said about forgiving sins was true also.

Jesus also claimed the prerogative to raise the dead and to judge the dead, things that only God could do, according to the Old Testament.
“I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live … and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:25, 29). He removed all doubt about His meaning when He added, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21). The Old Testament clearly teaches that only God is the Giver of life (1 Sam. 2:6; Deut. 32:39) and the one to raise the dead (Ps. 2:7) and the only Judge (Joel 3:12; Deut. 32:36). Jesus boldly assumed for Himself powers that only God has.
Jesus also claimed that he should be honored as God.
He said that all men should “honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23). The Jews listening knew that no one should claim to be equal with God in this way, and again they wanted to kill Him (John 5:18).
We continue to build the case for the deity of Jesus.  We have four more lines of evidence to present, so please stick with us.

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are at least six ways that Jesus claimed to be God.  First, Jesus Claimed to Be Yahweh, or the God of the Old Testament.  I will draw heavily from Norman Geisler’s Volume 2 of his Systematic Theology series, so when you see quotes, that is where they are from.

So how did Jesus claim to be Yahweh?  First, let’s look at the background of the Old Testament usage of “Yahweh.”

Yahweh (YHWH) or Jehovah is the special name given by God for Himself in the Old Testament. It is the name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, when God said, “I am who I am.” While other titles for God may be used of men (adonai [Lord] in Genesis 18:12) or false gods (elohim[gods] in Deuteronomy 6:14), Yahweh is only used to refer to the one true God. No other person or thing was to be worshiped or served (Ex. 20:5), and His name and glory were not to be given to another. Isaiah wrote, “Thus saith Jehovah … I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6 ASV), and, “I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images” (42:8 ASV).

So, the name of God in the Old Testament was exclusive to him.  He did not share it with anyone else.  How, then, did Jesus refer to himself?

Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5—this is an obvious claim for Christ’s deity, for Jehovah of the Old Testament said, “My glory will I not give to another” [Isa. 42:8 NKJV]).

Jesus also declared, “I am the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17)—precisely the words used by Jehovah in Isaiah 44:6.

He said, “I am the good shepherd,” (John 10:11), and the Old Testament said, “Jehovah is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1 ASV).

Further, Jesus claimed to be the judge of all men (John 5:27ff.; Matt. 25:31ff.), and Joel quotes Jehovah as saying, “There I will sit to judge all the nations on every side” (Joel 3:12).

Likewise, Jesus spoke of Himself as the “bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1f.) while the Old Testament identifies Jehovah in this way (Isa. 62:5; Hosea 2:16).

While the psalmist declares, “Jehovah is my light” (Ps. 27:1 asv), Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Perhaps the strongest claim Jesus made to be Jehovah is in John 8:58, where He says, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” This statement claims not only existence before Abraham, but equality with the “I am” of Exodus 3:14. The Jews around Him clearly understood His meaning and picked up stones to kill Him for blaspheming (cf. John 10:31–33). The same claim is also made in Mark 14:62 and John 18:5–6.

Again and again and again, Jesus compared himself to Yahweh, the one and only God of Israel.  If we stopped here, this would be strong evidence that Jesus thought of himself as God, but we are only through the first of six sets of evidence.  Stay tuned for more!!

Did Jesus Claim to be God? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

A foundational issue for Christianity is the question of whether Jesus claimed to be God and whether his disciples understood him to be claiming he was God.  This series of posts will examine the first question and we will follow this series with the question of the disciples.

Here are the topics we will cover:

  1. Jesus Claimed to Be Yahweh.
  2. Jesus Claimed to Be Equal with God.
  3. Jesus Claimed to Be Messiah-God.
  4. Jesus Claimed to Be God by Accepting Worship.
  5. Jesus Claimed to Have Equal Authority with God.
  6. Jesus Claimed to Be God by Requesting Prayer in His Name.

We will cover passages that expound upon each of the above claims and try to build a solid basis for the deity of Jesus.

Why is this topic important?  Because it is a central teaching of Christianity, and if it is not true, then Christianity is false.  But worse than that, the deity of Christ is one of the key elements of our salvation.  If Jesus is not God, then we have no reconciliation with God.  If a mere man died on the cross and was resurrected, then our sins are not forgiven and we will perish.

The gospel that the early church taught, in its simplest form, was the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Without the deity of Jesus, there is no gospel.

I hope you’ll follow this series and be astounded at all the ways the NT claims Jesus is God.  It should be eye-opening!