Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

The Historical Jesus: Recommended Reading

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment


With the rise of interest in studies of the historical Jesus and the increasing presence of mythicism on the internet, Bible believers are advised to be well informed on the subject of Jesus historicity. This article provides a balanced reading list of resources presenting the evidence for Jesus’ historicity and the authenticity of the Jesus tradition, and addressing mythicist claims.

Works by Christians

This is a select list of recommended works on the historical Jesus by Christian scholars. There are too many to describe in detail, but it is worth noting the authors who are considered most useful and authoritative in the field; Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Gary Habermas, Craig Keener, John Meier, Stanley Porter, and Robert Van Voorst.

  1. Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997).
  2. Darrell L Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: Baker Academic ; Apollos, 2002).
  3. Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
  4. Ronald K. Craig, William Lane; Lüdemann, Gerd; Copan, Paul; Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
  5. Tom Evans, Craig A. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days (ed. Troy A. Miller; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008).
  6. Bruce David Chilton and Craig A. Evans, Authenticating the Words of Jesus (Brill, 1999).
  7. Michael R. Cosby, Portraits of Jesus: An Inductive Approach to the Gospels (Westminster John Knox Press, 1999).
  8. Pieter F. Craffert, The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective (vol. 3; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008).
  9. Markus Cromhout, Jesus and Identity: Reconstructing Judean Ethnicity in Q (vol. 2; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007).
  10. Donald L. Denton, Historiography and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies: An Examination of the Work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer (vol. 262; London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004).
  11. John P. Dickson, The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know about Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
  12. James D. G Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003).
  13. James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research (Eisenbrauns, 2005).
  14. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).
  15. Craig A Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (ed. Bruce David Chilton and Craig Alan Evans; Brill, 1998), 443–78.
  16. David Flusser and R. Steven Notley, Jesus (The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2001).
  17. Joel B. Green and Max Turner, Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus And New Testament Christology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994).
  18. I. Howard Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, ed., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992).
  19. Leonard J Greenspoon, M. Dennis Hamm, and Bryan F LeBeau, The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000).
  20. Brian Han Gregg, The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q (Mohr Siebeck, 2006).
  21. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996).
  22. Tom Holmén and Stanley E Porter, Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011).
  23. Leander E Keck, Who Is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2000).
  24. Craig S Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009).
  25. John S. Kloppenborg and John W. Marshall, Apocalypticism, Anti-Semitism and the Historical Jesus: Subtexts in Criticism (vol. 275; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series; T&T Clark International, 2005).
  26. Leif E. Kloppenborg, John S.;Vaage, ed., Early Christianity, Q and Jesus (vol. 55; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).
  27. J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006).
  28. Clive Marsh and Steve Moyise, Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition (Continuum, 2006). Criteria of authenticity.
  29. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1991-2009). Published in four volumes, criteria of historicity and authenticity.
  30. Stanley E. Porter, Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004).
  31. Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).
  32. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (trans. W. Montgomery; 2d ed.; London: Adam and Charles Black, 1911).
  33. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).
  34. Robert E Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000).
  35. Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (2nd ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
  36. Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
  37. Thomas R Yoder Neufeld, Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007).

Works by non-Christians

These works are useful because they provide non-Christian scholarly perspectives of the historical Jesus, and cannot be dismissed by non-Christians as biased in favour of Christian beliefs. Naturally these works give no credence to the gospels’ accounts of supernatural events such as Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection, and their assessments of how Jesus was viewed by his disciples does not always agree with our own. Nevertheless, they are important witnesses to the extent to which Jesus’ historicity is well established within mainstream secular scholarship, proving it is not merely a fringe view confined to Christians

Bart D Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Assesses the New Testament evidence for the life and work of Jesus, applying criteria of authenticity. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of authenticity are applied, and for understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperCollins, 2012). Describes the historical evidence confirming the existence of Jesus, and addresses a range of mythicist arguments and books, from the scholarly to the populist. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of historicity are applied, understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and understanding and answering standard mythicist arguments.

Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (Harper Collins, 2014). Explains the process by which Jesus became known as God. Whilst agreeing with the scholarly consensus that Jesus did not consider himself divine or teach his followers that he was divine, Ehrman believes that at least some of the early first century Christians (including those who contributed to the New Testament), were already starting to see Jesus as a divine being in some way. This book is useful for learning how later Christians developed the doctrine of the Trinity, and provides excellent evidence that neither Jesus nor his disciples considered him to be divine.

Michael Grant, Jesus. (New York NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977). Very useful as an account of Jesus by a secular professional historian, and still considered a standard work in the field.

Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth an Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching (London; New York: T & T Clark, 2010). Focuses on the language of the gospels to reconstruct the historical Jesus in the context of 1st century Judaism, with a particular emphasis on identifying authentic Aramaic sayings of Jesus behind the Greek text of the gospels. On the basis of this approach, Casey dates Mark’s gospel extremely early (c. 40 CE), earlier than the earliest of Paul’s letters (1 Thessalonians, c. 51 CE). Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions have been recognized as shedding important light on the historical Jesus, even though they have not all been accepted. His very early date for Mark has not been widely accepted, but is considered possible by mainstream scholarship.

Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014). Casey’s last work on the historical Jesus (Casey died in May 2014), addressing specifically the typical mythicist arguments. A strongly worded book, Casey identifies numerous weaknesses in the mythicst case, which he characterizes as a fringe view held almost exclusively by non-scholars, or by a very small number of scholars without directly relevant professional qualifications. This work is useful as a resource for a scholarly consideration of recent mythicist arguments typically found online rather than in print publications.

James G. Crossley, Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches (Routledge, 2010). A valuable work explaining how standard professional historical methodology is applied to New Testament research and the subject of the historical Jesus. Crossley describes the various forms of historical analysis applied to the gospels, and explains in detail the criteria of authenticity used in the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Crossley dates Mark’s gospel to around 35 CE, even earlier than the date proposed by Casey, but although his case for this date has not been accepted, it is still taken seriously by mainstream scholarship and is considered within the bounds of possibility.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Jesus Outside the Gospels (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984). Hoffman’s early work on the historical Jesus concluded that very little could be verified about his life, and cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of the gospel records. Nevertheless, he concluded in favour of the historicity of Jesus. This book is mainly useful as a contrast to his late work, demonstrating how his views shifted over time.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2010). Edited by Hoffman (who wrote most of the chapters), this book contains essays from atheist members of The Jesus Project, a secular investigation of the historical Jesus which started in 2008 and was terminated in 2009 (despite having been planned to run for five years). The book received mixed reviews from atheists, and even from members of The Jesus Project itself. It is useful as an introduction to typical arguments made against the historicity of Jesus by writers such as Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, and Robert Eisenman.

How did the early Christians baptize?

March 13, 2013 5 comments

The Challenge

In the 19th century many scholars denied that immersion was the original mode of baptism.[1] McKay and Rogers wrote influential interpretations of the archaeological evidence,[2] and Dale’s linguistic study became the standard lexical resource for the anti-immersion position.[3]

The Facts

The Greek word for baptism refers to dipping, plunging, or immersion in both the Septuagint and the New Testament.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] 

Major studies by Lothar Heiser (1986), Sandford La Sor (1987), Jean‐Charles Picard (1989), Malka Ben Pachat (1989), and Everett Ferguson (2009), all agree the archaeological and textual evidence indicates full immersion was the earliest normal Christian practice.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The earliest Christian record of baptism outside the New Testament,[19] [20] proves 1st century Christians normally baptized by immersion.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

The scholarly consensus is that full immersion was the normal practice of the earliest Christians.[27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]  [34]  [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]


[1] Among many others, Thorn, ‘Modern Immersion Not Scripture Baptism’ (1831), Kerr, ‘A Treatise on the Mode of Baptism: showing the unfounded nature of the assumption, that immersion is the only proper mode of administering the ordinance and that pouring or sprinkling, is the most scriptural and significant, and by far the preferable mode of its administration’ (1844), Beckwith, ‘Immersion Not Baptism’ (1858), Kerr, ‘The Heavenly Father’s Teaching: a pedo‐Baptist’s reply to immersionists shewing that Baptism is not immersion, and that immersion is not Baptism, for they are direct opposites’ (1874), Bush, ‘Bible Baptism Never Immersion’ (1888).

[2] McKay, ‘Immersion Proved to be Not a Scriptural Mode of Baptism but a Romish Invention’ (1884), Rogers, ‘Baptism and Christian Archeology’ (1903).

[3] Dale, ‘Inquiry Into the Usage of Baptizo’ (1824‐1879).

[4] ‘In the Sept.: 2 Kgs. 5:13, 14 we have loúō (3068), to bathe and baptízomai. See also 28, 40;&version=ESV; Lev. 11:25, 28, 40, where plúnō (4150), to wash clothes by dipping, and loúō (3068), to bathe are used. In 19;&version=ESV; Num. 19:18, 19, báphō, to dip, and plúnō, to wash by dipping are used’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[5] ‘In Mark 7:4 the verb wash in “except they wash” is baptízomai, to immerse. This indicates that the washing of the hands was done by immersing them in collected water. ‘, ibid.

[6] ‘The sevenfold dipping of Naaman (2 K. 5:14) perhaps suggests sacramental ideas and illustrates the importance of the Jordan. In the later Jewish period טבל (b. Ber., 2b of the bathing of priests; Joma, 3, 2ff. etc.)’, Kittel, Bromiley, & Friedrich (eds.), ‘Theological dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 1, p. 535 (electronic ed. 1964–c1976).

[7] ‘Βαπτίζω+ V 0‐1‐1‐0‐2=4 2 Kgs 5,14; Is 21,4; Jdt 12,7; Sir 34,25 M to dip oneself 2 Kgs 5,14; to wash Jdt 12,7′, Lust, Eynikel, & Hauspie (eds.), ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the Septuagint’ (rev. electronic ed. 2003).

[8]  ‘baptizō 77x pr. to dip, immerse;’, Mounce, ‘Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’, pp. 1104‐1105 (2006).

[9] ‘In Gk. lit. gener. to put or go under water in a variety of senses, also fig., e.g. ‘soak’ Pla., Symp. 176b in wine)’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.) ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 164 (3rd ed. 2000).

[10] ‘1. In the LXX baptō usually translates the OT Heb. ṭāḇal, dip (13 times; on 3 occasions baptō represents other vbs.). baptizō occurs only 4 times: in Isa. 21:4 it is used metaphorically of destruction, but in 2 Ki. 5:14 it is used in the mid. of Naaman’s sevenfold immersion in the Jordan (the only passages as equivalent for Heb. ṭāḇal).’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 1, p. 144 (1986).

[11] ‘Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizō, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant “immerse”, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of the term for cleansing vessels (as in Lev. 6:28 Aquila [cf. 6:21]; cf. baptismos in Mk. 7:4) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water. The metaphorical uses of the term in the NT appear to take this for granted, e.g. the prophecy that the Messiah will baptise in Spirit and fire as a liquid (Matt. 3:11), the “baptism” of the Israelites in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:2), and in the idea of Jesus’ death as a baptism (Mk. 10:38f. baptisma; Lk. 12:50; cf. Ysebaert, op. cit., 41 ff.).’, ibid., p. 144.

[12] ‘Lexicographers universally agree that the primary meaning of baptizo G966 is ‘to dip’ or ‘to immerse”, and there is a similar consensus of scholarly opinion that both the baptism of John and of the apostles was by immersion’, Jewett, ‘Baptism’, in Murray (ed.), ‘Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible’, volume 1, p.466 (rev. ed. 2009).

[13] ‘The philological evidence is technical and inconclusive. But the archaeological and Mishnaic evidence seems to support the argument for immersion., Sanford La Sor, ‘Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism’, Biblical Archaeology Review, (13.01), 1987.

[14] ‘The conclusions of Lothar Heiser on the administration of baptism after examining the literary and pictorial evidence accord with mine: the water customarily reached the hips of the baptizand; after calling on the triune God, the priest bent the baptizand under so as to dip him in water over the head; in the cases of pouring in the Didache and in sickbed baptism the baptized did not stand in the font.’, Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: history, theology, and
liturgy in the first five centuries’, p. 860 (2009).

[15] ‘Either bending his knees, kneeling, or sitting, an adult could have been totally immersed as required in fonts from 1.30m to 60cm deep.’. ibid., p. 852.

[16] ‘The express statements in the literary sources, supported by other hints, the depictions in art, and the very presence of specially built baptismal fonts, along  with their size and shape, indicate that the normal procedure was for the administrator with his head on the baptizand’s head to bend the upper part of the body forward and dip the head under the water.’, ibid, pp. 857‐858.

[17] ‘The Christian literary sources, backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions, give an overwhelming support for full immersion as the normal action. Exceptions in cases of lack of water and especially of sickbed baptism were made. Submersion was undoubtedly the case for the fourth and fifth centuries in the Greek East, and only slightly less certain for the Latin West.’, ibid., p. 891.

[18] ‘Later church practice in this regard led artists to the strange fantasy of Jesus standing waist deep in water while John poured water on his head (such pictures do not occur until medieval western times).’, ibid., p. 202.

[19] ‘It contains details of the church life of the earliest Christians, their preference for baptism by immersion, their fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, the forms of their eucharistic prayers.’, Manion & Mudge, ‘The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church’, pp. 42–43 (2008).

[20] ‘In the Didache 7 (a.d. 100–160), the oldest baptismal manual extant, triple immersion is assumed,’ (Silva & Tenney (eds.), ‘The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 1, pp. 494‐495. (rev. ed. 2009).

[21] ‘Baptism is by *immersion if possible” (Cross & Livingstone (eds.), ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 482 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[22] ‘One witnesses the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably by immersion in flowing water.’, Milavec, “Didache”, p. ix (2003).

[23] ‘According to the Didache (1st century), baptism should be done by a triple immersion in running water.’, Lacoste, ‘Encyclopedia of Christian Theology: G‐O’, p. 1607 (2005).

[24] ‘The argument of the section is clear: while adhering strictly to the preference for flowing water and baptism by immersion, necessary concessions are made to local circumstances.’, Draper, “The Didache In Modern Research”, p. 47 (1996).

[25] ‘As a rule, it involved immersion in running water (see Acts 8:38; Did. 7).’, Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘Encyclopedia of Christianity’., volume 1, p.184 (1990‐2003).

[26] ‘Baptism is by immersion in the threefold name, but sprinkling three times on the head is allowed in an emergency.’, Vokes, ‘Life and Order In An Early Church:The Didache’, in Haase (ed.), ‘Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Romischen Welt’, volume 2, p. 221 (1993).

[27] ‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the early church baptized by immersion.’, Wiersbe, ‘Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament’, pp. 466‐467 (1997).

[28] ‘Most scholars agree that immersion was practiced in the NT, and it is likely that both of these texts allude to the practice, even though baptism is not the main point of either text.’, Schreiner, ‘Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ’, p. 81 (2007).

[29] ‘Furthermore, modern NT scholars generally concede, regardless of denominational affiliation, that Christian baptism in NT times was by immersion, as it was and still is in Judaism.’, Helyer, ‘Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period’, p. 481 (2002).

[30] ‘The baptism commanded by Jesus in the making of disciples is an immersion in water. The topic formerly was warmly debated, but in these days there is general scholarly agreement. Several lines of evidence converge in support of the baptismal action as a dipping.’, Ferguson, ‘The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today’, p. 201 (1996).

[31] ‘It seems also that the profession was articulated in responses that the one being baptized made to the questions of the one baptizing during the baptismal rite, which in general was required to take place through total immersion, in total nudity, in running water.’, DiBerardino, ‘We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, p. 88 (2009).

[32] ‘Baptism in the Bible was by immersion, that is, the person went fully under the waters,’, Lang, ‘Everyday Biblical Literacy: the essential guide to biblical allusions in art, literature, and life’, p. 47 (2007).

[33] ‘The earliest preference was for baptism in running streams or in the sea (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:36; Didache 7). Next in preference was total immersion in a fountain or bath‐sized tank (Tertullian, Baptism 4).’, Flinn, ‘Baptism’, in ‘Encyclopedia of Catholicism’, Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 52 (2007).

[34] ‘Baptism was normally by immersion either in the river or in the bath‐house of a large house’, Dowley (ed.), ‘Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity’, p.10 (1977).

[35] ‘There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was adult baptism by immersion’, Grimes, ‘Deeply Into the Bone: Re‐Inventing Rites of Passage’, p. 50 (2002).

[36] ‘Our study has not attempted to demonstrate that affusion rather than immersion was the practice in New Testament times, since it is clear that immersion was the general rule;’, Marshall, ‘The Meaning of the Verb “Baptize”’, in Porter & Cross (eds.), ‘Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies’, p. 23 (2002).

[37] ‘We can be fairly sure that early baptism was not normally by sprinkling. Other possible alternatives were pouring (affusion) and immersion. Probably immersion was the norm.’, Guy, ‘Introducing Early Christianity: A
Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs, and Practice, pp. 224‐225 (2004).

[38] ‘In the early days of the Church, total immersion, often in streams or rivers, seems to have been most commonly used (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:3).’, Tischler, ‘All Things in the Bible: A‐L’, p. 59 (2006).

[39] ‘Saunder and Louw comment, ‘Obviously the phrases “going down” and “coming up” are used to focus on the two processes involved in immersion.’ Clearly the evidence from such accounts favors strongly the notion that baptism was by immersion.’, Ware, ‘Believers’ Baptism View’, in Wright (ed.), ‘Baptism: Three Views’, p. 22 (2009).

[40] ‘Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 25, argue similarly for understanding the prevailing practice of the early church to be that of immersion from several other citations of various church fathers and documents, included among them Aristides of Athens, Clement of Alexandria (p. 31), Tertullian (pp. 36‐37), Hippolytus (p. 42), and Basil the Great (who practiced tri‐immersion, p. 82).’, ibid., p. 22.