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Sanctification and Holiness (Part 2) – Theology Unplugged

Tim Kimberley: Fellas it’s great to be back with you guys. We had a lively discussion last week around sanctification, around holiness and we’re narrowing in…

Michael Patton: Tim, Tim how are you? Are you more sanctified today than you were a week ago?

Michael Patton Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Michael Patton Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Tim Kimberley: Alas. You know what brother. I think based on our discussion I’m not sure because I do feel like when I look at my life it doesn’t feel like it’s a trajectory going up, but JJ gave the yo-yo. So I think my yo-yo has kind of… its on its way up maybe but hopefully the Lord walked up the stairs.

Michael Patton: I think…

Tim Kimberley: Is that obscure enough?

Michael Patton: …you look better.

Tim Kimberley: Thank you. I feel like I’m just going to start crying and mumbling stuff here any moment.

Sam Storms: I think people…we left them last week crying and mumbling. I think they were pulling their hair out.

Tim Kimberley: That’s right.

Michael Patton: I think everybody needs a hug.

Tim Kimberley: Well, God though throughout church history and many of us are lovers of church history, it seems like He puts signposts along the way. That the Holy Spirit works through people who love Jesus, love the Bible, and put sign posts along the way that say don’t go this way, don’t turn here, stay the course, stay the course. It seems like he puts ditches and sometime uses scripture to build ditches to say don’t fall this way. But then if you go to the other side of the road He says don’t fall into this ditch either. And so in this issue we’re in agreement that there are ditches and their are signpost that have been laid out that say as you think about what it means to grow in Christlikeness throughout a lifetime don’t think this way.

JJ Seid: In the words of Martin Luther the church is like a drunken peasant who in order to save himself from falling off one side of his donkey promptly falls off the other.

Michael Patton: I interrupted Tim earlier and we are talking about sanctification. We are talking about growing in the Lord.

JJ Seid: What’s that word mean? That’s a $10 word.

Michael Patton: To become more Christlike.

JJ Seid: Except when it means something else.

Michael Patton: To become more set apart. To become more holy.

JJ Seid: And what’s the other way it’s used in the Bible? Two senses right?

Michael Patton: I don’t know.

JJ Seid: We used the word positional and progressive last time. So it’s good for people to know that in a sense…

Michael Patton: I wasn’t listening.

JJ Seid: …we’re drilling down into looking at progressive sanctification. Progressive sanctification is something that can only happen to somebody who’s already been, in the past, positionally sanctified. They’ve been made holy in one sense, where their status before God is holy, righteous, and blameless, and yet in another sense they’re being called to act what they are. To steal a phrase from one of my professors.

Michael Patton: That doesn’t sound like what Sam said last time. Sam really messed me up and I am less sanctified this week than I was last week because of Sam. And I’m… just been struggling with his statement…

Sam Storms: I am the Holy Spirit in your life buddy. I am there to probe and to convict and to unsettle your soul.

Sam Storms Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Sam Storms Recording Theology Unplugged at Credo House

Michael Patton: Well there are certain things that we’re gonna, maybe, disagree about later but there are things that we agree about that are really, as we said, Tim or JJ said, ditches that we need to avoid. What is the primary ditch that I think everybody in the church would agree we avoid. And I’m talking Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, some Protestants, all agree, avoid this ditch.

Sam Storms: I think the one that I would immediately identify is this idea that I can exert power from within my own self by my own will independently of and without assistance from the grace of God. This kind of pull yourself up by your bootstraps, self help transformation, that one of the biggest, as well all know, one of the biggest controversies in the history on the church was between a man named (everybody known) Augustine and Pelagius. Back in the later part of the fourth early part of the fifth century. Pelagius basically said when Jesus made this statement in Matthew 5:48 You must be therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He said that necessarily implies that I can be perfect and I don’t need the internal…

Michael Patton: That’s what you sounded like.

Sam Storms: Yea… that I don’t need the internal grace of God to help me do that.

Michael Patton: So you are not Pelagius.

Sam Storms: Here’s the illustration, a guy said, what Pelagius would argue is this, we’re at a track meet and a guy is running let’s say the mile and he’s on his third or his fourth lap and God plays the role of the coach and all he can do is stand on the sidelines and cheer you on and tell you how you’re not running in good form and you need to change your stride, and you need to lift your arms, and you need to slow down your pace or increase the pace, but that’s all that God can do. He’s pretty much an external coach or cheerleader. As over against the idea that God can actually enter into the very body and soul and sprit of the athlete and energize him to finish the race and win. And so what Augustine said in sanctification God is actually in us. Grace is an internal energy and power than enables our wills to make right choice. And propels us forward in conformity with Christ. Pelagius and those who followed him in the history of the church said “No. We don’t need that. We’re not so bad off in our fundamental moral nature that we require God function within us. All we need him to do is give us his law, tell us what to do, and then it’s left up to us to figure out how to obey it.”

Tim Kimberley: That has massive ramifications in the church I would say because, in the illustration I use, I mean I think the track illustration is amazing, but I think like when I think Pelagius I think of like of like the soul aisle at Home Depot. And Jesus has built that aisle. God has stocked that aisle up. And you can go down that aisle when you need to. What Pelagius would tell you if you say “I want to look more like Jesus” he’d say well go down to that aisle and you do that stuff. And, you know, do it. Just do it. But Augustine, I think probably something that frustrated Pelagius was when Augustine wrote command what you will, will what you command. So God, whatever you ask me to do you’re going to have to do it. Whatever you want me to do there’s no chance I’m going to be able do it unless you actually do it through me.

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Sanctification and Holiness (Part 1) – Theology Unplugged

Tim Kimberley: Well fellas it’s great to be back together again. And this week we’re talking about something that I think is probably something that hits us all in the very core of who we are. And it’s something that I don’t think we talk about that much in the church actually and that is sanctification or holiness.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward.

Michael, do you talk about holiness and sanctification very often when you teach would you say?

Michael Patton: Well you know

Tim Kimberley: I’m puttin’ you on the spot here.

Michael Patton: No. From a theological perspective, you know, using those words to introduce sanctification/holiness I think is something maybe we don’t talk about in theory, the way we may here today as we go through different views of sanctification.

But I think whenever we’re talking about living the Christian life there is of course an assumption behind it of how much we can be, in this life, be Christ like, how holy we can be, how much, this side of heaven, how much we can be, like we will be, on the other side of heaven.

Sam Storms: Well Tim’s already there.

Michael Patton: Tim is.

Sam Storms: We’ve already conceded up front that the other three of us are still struggling. Tim has arrived.

Tim Kimberley: I didn’t want to say anything but, Thank you Sam.

JJ Seid: I bet you we already have some listeners that are already entering the fog because we’ve already talked about holiness and sanctification. Those are two bigs words and they’re used different ways in Scripture. So somebody help us out here because most people don’t realize that sanctification and holiness are sort of interchangeable terms. And two, there is positional holiness and then there’s progressive holiness and it’s really important that you know which one you’re talking about.

Tim Kimberley: Yea. Okay so I would give a very quick definition that I would give is that God is holy. Which means that he is pure and he is the only holy being, like truly holy being that we’ve ever seen. He’s perfectly holy but we are not and we never will be.

Now I’m showing my cards there a little bit but one of the things that’s very strange I would say and I’m going to use that word “strange” I think, very strange in a very humbling way, is that God wants us to look more like him. And he wants us to look like Jesus. And so when we believe, when we becomes believers, as we follow Jesus, we’re not merely following Jesus, he is, from the inside out, making us look more like his son. And I would say that is what’s called sanctification. And when you describe what’s happening, look that person is living in holiness in one sense.

JJ Seid: Well, and I like to, people say, “In what way and what part of your life?” I like to say, you know, progressively making us look more like him in what we think, say, do and desire. Kind of giving people a concrete illustration of the areas in which there’s change, and movement and progress. But there’s something else, our status, which isn’t related to those things. Somebody help me out here

Sam Storms: Well, let’s get back, you already drew the distinction that’s important. When people read their Bibles they’re going to come across this word, sanctification, in the New Testament. They need to understand that it’s used in two very clear senses. The word “sanctify” sometimes means “to set apart” or “to consecrate as unique.” God sanctifies us in the sense that he sets us apart unto himself. We become his possession. There’s actually a book written on sanctification called “Possessed by God.” This author actually argues that the primary meaning of sanctification in the New Testament is what JJ referred to as “positional.” It refers to our relationship with the Father that is unchanging. It doesn’t fluctuate, it doesn’t alter from day-to-day, it isn’t effected by whether we sin or whether we live in holiness. It means that we have been purchased, bought by God, set apart unto him, we are his unique possession, we belong to him, we’re possessed by him.

And then it’s used of course, in a few places, to refer to as you used the term “progressive” what we would kind of call an incremental, daily, transformation in what we desire, what we long for, what we hate, what we say, what we do, that we hope–by God’s grace–is more and more like how that was revealed in the life of Jesus.

Michael Patton: You know. Speaking of this in a couple ways. And I know we’re kind of shotgunning at the beginning to give people an idea of what we’re talking about and maybe we’ll further talk about in other broadcasts. But there’s a couple things that I have that are questions, very persona questions because whenever I think of sanctification the first person I go to is myself and you know, how sanctified am I and am I being sanctified.

Sam Storms: Are you asking us for an evaluation?

Michael Patton: No, no, no. Please this is not a counseling session.

Tim Kimberley: Also I think that there’s probably proving that you need more sanctification when you always think of yourself because you’re so selfish.

JJ Seid: Man Tim’s just taking shots.

Michael Patton: He is and I’m going to take some further shots at myself. At one time in my life I did feel like because of the things that I was doing, the things that I’d changed in my life, the outward appearance, that I had become, and very very important vestiges and sins that I’d gotten ride of in my early twenties, that I was really looking sanctified, that I was really feeling sanctified, that I felt like I was more like God, and I was holy. And, you know, that I was a pretty good chap and pretty close to what I was supposed to be.

But as I’ve grown in the Lord, I think, you know this is kind of a weird thing, as I’ve grown in the Lord I’ve felt less and less sanctified. Every year I don’t feel like I’m more sanctified than I was the year before even though in some ways I should, and in other ways it’s not as if there are vestiges that I am picking up. You start to feel the corruption more and more.

JJ Seid: I love J.I. Packer said, “Growth in the Christian life is growth downwards.” It was many years before I heard that but the minute I read it I said oh man that sounds right that makes sense.

Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.[1]

Listen to the full episode using the player below…

  1. Packer, J. I. (2014–01–31). Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Kindle Locations 570–571). Crossway. Kindle Edition.  ↩

Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources

In late 2013 Dr. Craig Blomberg taught a thirty-session class for Credo Courses on the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. This blog is a transcript (with some organizational elements and graphics added) of the first session of that course.


Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources

This class is about the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels. This first session is “Widely Held Myths About Ancient Sources.”

In just about every period of time in our modern world there are popular events, claims, rumors, legends that become well know throughout the country and the world but are not based on the best historical evidence.

Perspectives Unrelated to Any Real Historical Evidence

And this is especially true when it comes studying Jesus, when it comes to studying Christian origins, when it comes to studying the Gospels of the New Testament. We can categories these in several ways.

One is to begin with perspectives that are unrelated to any real historical evidence. In just about every era of history one finds a handful of scholars and a lot of lay people who come up with the notion that there is not support even to believe that Jesus of Nazareth ever existed.

And in one of the later segments of this course we will look at the support outside of Christian circles, from non-christian authors in the ancient world, that demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Jesus really existed.

Legendary, Mythical, and Hypothetical Perspectives

More commonly what we find are legendary, mythical, hypothetical suggestive stories. Some of these have been around from the ancient world on.

The New Testament Apocrypha

Shortly after the New Testament was completed in the first-century there were Apocryphal gospels. Apocrypha is simply a word that means hidden. And different kinds of legends, stories, myths were created, often attributed to some famous early Christian figure. And because they were supposedly revealed to just a handful of people or maybe just one person they could try to pawn themselves off as truth that had been hidden from the majority of the Christian world. Even though, in fact, there was no historical reliability to them.

These books in the ancient New Testament Apocrypha and books that were added to them in the middle ages covered such topics as:

  • Jesus the boy wonder who turned clay pigeons into living birds and they flew away.
  • Who got made at a playmate who kept taunting him and stretched out his hand and withered him up until his father was so upset that he begged Jesus’ dad Joseph to convince Jesus to undo the miracle.
  • These legends covered the so called hidden years of Jesus as a teenager and as a young adult.

The Gospels and the New Testament have one story of Jesus at age twelve teaching in the temple and otherwise we know nothing about him from his earliest years until he is about thirty and begins his public ministry.

So perhaps as was often believed in the middle ages, Jesus went off to India to study with eastern sages and gurus. Or maybe he became an Essene that monastic group of Jews that lived in the wilderness or lived in special neighborhoods almost ghettos in major cities.

Islam’s Misunderstandings of Jesus

All kinds of issues come up in Islamic circles. And Islam was birthed in the seventh-century with Mohammed in Arabia. In Islamic circles there is something called the Gospel of Barnabas, that we have:

  • A sixteenth-century manuscript in Italian
  • A fourteenth-century manuscript in Spanish

…nothing older than that. And Jesus in this document is portrayed as merely a prophet and not the Messiah even though the Quran, the holy book of Islam, does at least grant that Jesus was Messiah, but not son of God. That’s considered blasphemous in Islam.

So there are contradictions between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Quran that many muslims are not aware of. But the biggest issue is that this is a document of medieval fiction. There is no evidence to show that it is any older than the fourteenth-century. Probably based on various misunderstanding of the nature of Judaism and Christianity that circulated in Muslim circles beginning from the time of Muhammed onward.

Historians tell us that he [Muhammed] meet various Jews and Christians, that he was first sympathetic to because they were monotheists like he. But they were not entirely orthodox Jews or Christians. And it’s interesting the only miracle of Jesus that’s recorded in the Quran is that same story from one of the New Testament Apocrypha about Jesus breathing life into clay birds and them flying away.

The Modern Fiction of Dan Brown

When we move to the modern period there are all kinds of fictitious novels. None in recent years coming close to having the impact as Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code published in 2003 and translated into countless languages of the world and for a year or two period of time one of the world’s best selling books. A movie was made out of it and, ironically, it was the fact that the movie didn’t do all that well that doomed books sales to finally begin to tail off.

The Da Vinci Code: A Novel by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code: A Novel by Dan Brown

And yet, amazing things have resulted. Amazingly horrifying if you’re an educator. Prior to 2003 in would have been unheard of in lay circles to say nothing of the academy, university circles, for a reputable person to talk about the council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 that had something to do with the establishment of the canon, the books of the New Testament.

For people who have grown up in a liturgical church context they’re probably familiar with what is called the Nicene Creed. It’s an ancient and very respected statement of faith that is organized around the persons of the Trinity. It affirms that we believe in God the Father, that we believe in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord, that we believe in the Holy Spirit. The council of Nicaea was all about understanding and discussing trinitarian theology.

An Eastern Orthodox Icon of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.

The First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. / Courtesy of Coemgenus on en.wikipedia.

It’s true the new Christian Emperor Constantine did commission fifty new copies of the Bible to be penned and to be circulated to representative portions of the Roman Empire. But there is no evidence that there was any discussion about what books should be in a New Testament. We will come to that topic as well in a later lecture.

But because Dan Brown in the DaVinci Code fictitiously made up the claim that part of the council of Nicea was about discussing the canon, and that Constantine in a politically heavy-handed way imposed his will on the bishops gathered there so that in essence the winning side of a massive debate is what created the New Testament. Now here’s the scary piece. University professors quote that, teach students that that is how the New Testament canon was formed and there’s not a shred of historical truth to it.

Distortions of Recently Discovered Evidence

A second category is a bit more subtle. Here we speak of the distortion of “recently” discovered evidence. And I put recently in quotation marks because I’m thinking of the last sixty or seventy years, recent in comparison to the length of the history of the Christian church.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Probably the most famous of all of this recently discovered evidence involves the Dead Sea Scrolls. Shortly after World War II in the late 1940’s in very out of the way caves tucked into the side of cliffs in the Judean wilderness in Israel were discovered ancient pottery jars containing literally thousands of fragments and fortunately a handful of well preserved texts written almost all in Hebrew that included, on the one hand, more than two-hundred copies of parts or all of the various Old Testament books (the Hebrew scriptures) every book represented except for Esther.

A Fragment of Enoch from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Fragment of Enoch / Curtesy of the Library of Congress

But equally and perhaps for some people more fascinating were the scrolls that represented the literature of what appears to have been a community of Essenes (the monastic Jews to which we referred earlier) living near the Dead Sea (hence the name Dead Sea Scrolls) at a site in Israel known as Qumran.

The Dead Sea Scrolls containing these two kinds of documents on the one hand affirmed how well the Old Testament had been copied because some of these texts were nearly a thousand years older than any previously known existing Hebrew Bible. And in many cases the amount of changes that had occurred over the centuries was quite minuscule.

But for our purposes more interesting were the sectarian documents, the literature presumably composed by the members of this monastic community. And here is where we get distortion of true evidence. All kinds of information emerged from these texts about the nature of this one branch of Judaism largely in the decades and even a couple of centuries leading up to the time of Christ and the formation of the New Testament.

The Leviticus Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Leviticus Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls / Curtesy of the Library of Congress

But you can find books, you can find blogs, you can find claims that say the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Christian documents. They do not. You can find claims that what information emerges from these documents completely undermines the foundation of Christianity. It doesn’t. All of the texts are now available, have been translated, into many modern languages including English. Get a copy. Read it for yourself. Check my claims out.

What we learn about is prolific detail about one sect of Judaism that:

  • Bore some interesting similarities to some of the teachings of John the Baptist.
  • Saw themselves as preparing the way for the coming of not one but two Messiahs, a royal and a priestly one since the assumption was they would come from different tribes and different lines of the house of Israel.
  • We find messianic hopes attached to some of the same texts that Christian New Testament writers appeal to.
  • We find information about titles like the “Son of God.” It doesn’t always mean a divine being but can, in some contexts in Judaism, just be a synonym for messiah.

We finds all kinds of interesting information about the diversity of first-century A.D. and B.C. Judaism but nothing that is Christian and nothing that contradicts Christianity.

Gnostic Literature

Then there is the famous gnostic literature. And we will be saying more about this topic in coming talks as well. Gnosticism was a second-century A.D. mutation, if you like, or synthesis of various Greek philosophical ideas with bits and pieces of Christianity.

Gnostics were radically dualist. That is to say they believed the world of matter, the material world, and the immaterial world should be kept sharply differentiated. In their mythology about the creation of the universe matter was inherently evil, an emanation from an original godhead rebelled against the fulness of deity, in gnostic thought, by creating a material world.

And so redemption in gnosticism is not forgiveness of sin, as for Christians, it is liberation from the material world. Gnostics don’t look for a bodily resurrection they look for the immortality of the soul, freed from the fetters of the body and the material world and encouraged people to anticipate that experience in this life through oftentimes very ascetic world denying practices, extreme fasting, the promotion of celibacy and the like. Although somewhat paradoxically a minority of gnostics swung the pendulum to the opposite direction and said in essence, if matter doesn’t matter let’s indulge it as much as we can in this life since it won’t be around for eternity.

The Nag Hammadi Literature

At about the same time the Dead Sea Scrolls were being discovered and therefore very much overshadowed by that discovery, gnostic literature in Egypt at a site known as Nag Hammadi was emerging also in the late 40’s. And like the Dead Sea Scrolls it took several decades for the most fragmentary of all of its works to finally be translated and be available in modern languages including English. We will talk, as I mentioned, about some of the most significant documents later but here let’s talk about some of the most sensationalized ones.

The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas emerged as recently as the mid 2000’s. We knew about this text from the ancient second-century Christian writer Irenaeus, but we had never found a copy of any portion of it. It’s not an entire gospel. It doesn’t tell the entire story of the life of Christ but only of his last week. And it turns Judas into the hero. After all, it argues, somebody had to betray Jesus if he was to be executed as the atonement for the sins of the world. So Judas agree to do it, looking like the horrible person that he is portrayed as but secretly promised by Jesus that he would still get to go to heaven to make up for his treachery.

We have known since the early church that there was a sect of gnosticism, the Cainites, we don’t know for sure that they produced the Gospel of Judas but it certainly fit there milieu, that took most of the heros of the New Testament and turned them into villains and vise-versa. This teaches us nothing about the Jesus of the first-century but a lot about one gnostic sect perhaps in the late second-century.

The Gospel of Jesus Wife

Even more recently, in the fall of 2012, the Internet was abuzz with what was entitled, hence the quotation marks, “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” Did you know, Jesus had a wife? He didn’t. But a professor, Karen King, at Harvard University revealed to the world that she had been given a document on ancient parchment, apparently dateable to the fourth-century, in the Coptic language (one of the languages of ancient Egypt where many of these gnostic finds occurred) and it was very fragmentary, it had snippets of text with lots of things missing. But one line that included, possibly translated this way, the words, “And Jesus said, my wife…” nothing more in the context to determine what that was all about.

Well, scholars immediately pointed out that the same word for wife can mean woman and there is no guarantee that this was even talking about someone Jesus had married. Karen King herself made it clear that if this should turn out to be a genuine find all that it would prove was some belief in one branch of fourth-century gnosticism that Jesus had a wife. But of course that’s not what the media focused on in their reporting. They focused on the probability that Jesus had a wife.

It wasn’t more than two weeks after that find however that Francis Watson of the University of Durham in England proved convincingly to almost all scholars that this was a complete modern forgery comprised of snippets of a genuinely ancient gnostic gospel called the Gospel of Thomas literally cut and pasted together to make it say things and then seamlessly produced on fourth-century parchment to say something that was never intended and was never written in any ancient context.

Jesus’ Family Tomb

Yet one further example of distortion of recently discovered evidence also from the mid–2000’s. As a result of a famous book by an archeologist popularized on a Discovery channel television show of quote-unquote Jesus family tomb.

If Jesus was buried and then reburied in an ossuary (a small bone box that Jews used after a corpse had rotted or decayed 9–12 months after burial partly to conserve space in a small country in underground or cave like tombs) well then he obviously couldn’t have been resurrected from the dead the third day afterwards now could he?

The Lost Tomb of Jesus Documentary

The Lost Tomb of Jesus Documentary

And a tomb was discovered in the Talpiot neighborhood of south Jerusalem (as bulldozers were clearing the way for more modern buildings) that included these ossuaries, ornate bone boxes, of people with names like Jesus and Mary and Joseph and James and some others that corresponded to some of the disciples. Never mind that there would have been no reason for disciples to be buried with Jesus as family but okay maybe they created such tightly knit relationships.

The trouble is that all of the signs suggest that this was a Maccabean date tomb from the second-century B.C. and that the ornateness suggested a very wealthy family. None of which corresponds to Jesus’ circumstances. Why then the coincidence of names? Ancient Judaism did not have the range of names that many modern culture have. For women, Mary (after Miriam Moses’ sister) was by far the most common women’s name. Simon (as in Simon Peter), Joshua (which gets anglicized to Jesus by way of Greek), James, Joseph, and several other men’s names disproportionately accounted for a large percentage of the male population. If you actually do the statistics, look at the number of people in Israel over one century and the likelihood of having multiple burial sites with this cluster of names suddenly the coincidence doesn’t seem to be that significant.

Exercise Patience When Coming to Conclusions

We need to come to some conclusions for this first lecture. There are all kinds of claims and as time goes by there will be new claims that we can’t even anticipate. Be skeptical of every new claim. Maybe there will be some discoveries that are genuine. They do occur. But they are comparatively rare compared with exaggerated claims. And even genuine evidence that is discovered is often spun, is often skewed as it is reported by people in the first flush of enthusiasm for discovering something new. In an age in which we don’t like delayed gratification try to wait a few months or maybe even years for the scholarly community to settle out what some new discovery really means.

There are a lot of myths about historical evidence for the Gospels and for the events that they contain. But nothing has emerged in recent days that in any ways undermines the classic Christian claim for the credibility for the gospels from these various documents.

The Canon of the Bible Is 66 Books Enough?

On this episode of Theology Unplugged we talk about the canon. In this context canon refers to the collection of books that make up the Bible. Did you know that Bibles used by protestants and catholics have slightly different collections of books? Jump to the end of this post to play the podcast or subscribe via iTunes.

The First 5-Min Transcript

Tim Kimberley (TK): Fellas, it’s good to be back in the studio with you guys. It’s great having you join us here on Saturdays on BOTT Radio. And we are talking about not really a problem passage in the Bible but we are zooming way out but I will start it with II Timothy…

(Christopher) Michael Patton (CMP): It is a problem passage.

TK: Well it’s more of just a problem.

CMP: It’s a problem passage that’s not in the Bible.

TK: That’s right. Okay. But let me read II Timothy 3:16 because it says, all scripture is breathed out by God. Okay, all scripture is breathed out by God. But here’s the problem. How do we know what scripture is breathed out by God? How do we know for sure that the 66 books that I have in the Bible that’s in my hands right now was breathed out by God.

CMP: Table of contents. Go to the table of contents.

TK: How do I also know that what if on the nightly news tonight some archeologist in Jerusalem just was digging in the palace of David and just found a whole new collection of writings, should we add that and maybe now there’s 67 books…

The Apostle John Writing the Canon

Editorial Credit: Renata Sedmakova /

CMP: Table of contents.

TK: And then II Timothy 3:16 will apply to those things that were just discovered.

JJ Seid (JJ): Well yea, Paul’s always talking about all these other letters we don’t have. You know what if we find one of them, you know. What about the letter to the Laodiceans he mentions that right? Where’s that? What if someone finds it next week?

CMP: Table of contents. What’s the matter with that?

Sam Storms (SS): Well, I don’t know. I’m just thinking about all the things that I’ve written. I’d like to slide one of my books in after Revelation.

TK: I object. Sam, they were good books but they’re not that good.

JJ: Classics, but I don’t know if they’re timeless classics.

SS: But we can laugh about it but the question is, why or why not. What criteria, to what are we appealing when we exclude Michael’s new book, Now That I’m a Christian. Free advertising there buddy.

JJ: Let’s make this even worse. I walked over to my Roman Catholic friend’s house last week and we were looking up some verses together and he has a different table of contents than I have. Now what do I do with that? We got two different tables of contents?

TK: Well, and let me add this. What do you say, what do you mean when you say “table of contents?” Are you talking about Athanasius’ easter letter from the 365 A.D. where he says here are the books of the Bible and he doesn’t include Esther and he does include Baruch which is in the Roman Catholic table of contents but not in the Bible I have in my hands[1].

CMP: Melito’s table of contents, the table of contents from the council of Hippo.

JJ: We apologize to our listeners. This is a nerd alert.

CMP: The table of contents from the council of Carthage in 389, 393, 402. All of these ones that came together and established a table of contents.

SS: So wait a minute Michael. So are you saying that men in the early church decided what was going to be in the canon? Did the church create the canon that I have sitting on my knee right now called the English Standard Version?

CMP: English Standard Version, where does that table of contents come from? Where does the NIV table of contents come from? Where does the NAS, where does the King James table of contents come from?

JJ: Okay this is starting to sound like a comedy sketch show.

CMP: People may not know this but they are not common… I mean… the table of contents are not inspired.

JJ: Well, and you keep asking questions, we want answers. But now you’re making me even more nervous because you’re throwing out dates that are hundreds of years after Jesus ascended into heaven. What took… what took the church so long?

TK: Yea, well, and I think, I mean, one answer that I would give you of what took the church so long is the church was suffering incredible persecution. And so they were in survival mode. They were reading scripture. We know that books of the Bible were being translated. We’ve found, we own manuscript of scripture that are way before… from the 100’s A.D. And so, I can make a case to say well it took until the 300’s until Christians weren’t being murdered at such rates that they could actually reflect a little bit and say, hey it’s been a while here are the books of the Bible.

JJ: Yea. Here’s my list let me see your list. Let’s see if our lists match up, or overlap, or contradict in any way. Sam do this, because you’re going to say it better than me, but talk about that dynamic of how there were sort of differing lists of what should belong in the canon in various parts of the geographical early church and those lists didn’t necessarily contradict one another but…

MP: No, no I have a better question for Sam first.

SS: Why are you asking me? Both of you.. I think Tim should be put on the spot.

CMP: No, no, no, no, no… this is a question. We’ll get to your question, but Sam, it says in Revelation (22:18–19a)(NIV):

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life…

Isn’t that the end of the canon? Aren’t we done? I mean, revelation has been complete. You’ve written a book on prophecy, you should know this. Is this the end?

Click “Play” below or subscribe via iTunes to get the entire episode.

Related Resources: Canon

  1. Wace, Henry, and Athanasius of Alexandria. “St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters.” Ed. Philip Schaff. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Trans. Henry Burgess and Jessie S. Payne. New York: Christian Literature, 1892. 552. Print. Second Ser.  ↩

The Death of the Apostles (Video) from Coffee and Theology

Lectures from Coffee & Theology

Every Tuesday at 6:30 PM the main room here at Credo House is filled with people who want to know more about Christianity.

Those who come likely have a variety of motivations. Maybe they want to strengthen their own faith through education. Maybe they’re going through a season of doubt and need encouragement. Maybe they disbelieve and are looking for more ammunition for their unbelief. Whatever the reason, everyone is welcome and questions are encouraged.

A couple weeks ago Michael Patton spoke about the historicity and importance of the death of the apostles. It just so happens (or not) that the article about this is our most viewed blog post of all time.

What might we learn from the death of apostles? Why would it matter if a group of people died for their beliefs? Don’t people do that for beliefs that Christians deny? You’ll just have to watch the video to find out.

Past recordings from Coffee & Theology are available in the members area.

Infographic on the Death of the Apostles

A big “thank you” to Brian Cragin from for creating this infographic for us.

How the 12 Apostles Died

Top 25 Theology Blog Articles from 2014

Top 25 Most Popular Theology Blog Posts from 20142014 was an amazing year for the Parchment and Pen. To wrap it up with a nice bow we’ve curated a list of the 25 most popular theology blog posts from 2014.

Theology blogs are a curious thing. They have to strike the right balance between advocacy and disinterested reporting. But when you hit this balance you risk drawing fire from all sides which makes it an interesting pursuit.

We’re always fascinated to see what piques the interest of our readers. This year was no different.

In any case, we’re very excited about what we have planned for 2015 but please check out this list to see if you missed any of the popular gems from 2014.

Top 25 Theology Blog Posts from 2014

  1. Taking the Lord’s Name in Van – What Does it Really Mean?
  2. 21 Things Christians Say That Hurt Their Credibility
  3. Eight Diagnostic Questions I Ask of those Who Are Doubting their Faith
  4. 5 Ways to Be a Better Atheist
  5. Six Factors that Do Not Affect Inerrancy
  6. The Creation Debate in a Nutshell
  7. How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response
  8. Avoid Every Appearance of Evil
  9. Can I Reject an Eternal Hell and Still Be Saved?
  10. How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist
  11. Are We Really Held Guilty for the Sin of Another?
  12. Why I Am Not Completely Certain Christianity is True
  13. Another Protestant Converts to Catholicism – Why?
  14. Scared
  15. More Young Foolish Leaders Please
  16. Seven Reasons Why Christians Doubt
  17. How to Blow Any Theological Conversation?
  18. My Second Round with Depression
  19. Can Homosexuals Be Saved?
  20. Suicidal Thoughts on Suicide
  21. 3 Mistakes Our Definition of God Must Address to Avoid Atheism
  22. Will God Protect My Children?
  23. When We Misinterpret God
  24. Five Views of Tradition’s Role in the Christian Life
  25. Theism, Atheism, and Rationality: Some Reflections

Santa Claus – The Modern vs Historical Figure (Video)

Portrait of Santa ClauseTim Kimberley joined us at Credo House for Coffee & Theology recently to dispel common myths around Santa Claus.

If you like the movies which cover the “origin story” of your favorite superhero you’ll enjoy this video.

The real Santa Claus bears little if any resemblance to the St. Nicholas of church history.

As with so many aspects of church history the reality of who St. Nicholas was far more inspiring than the modern conception of a jolly fat man who gives presents to everyone.

Episodes of Coffee & Theology are only made available in the members’ area of Credo House online. We’ve made an exception for Christmas.

Santa Clause and Christmas Articles

Christmas is the biggest holiday in America (measured economically). Beyond it’s economic impact it’s also a time when Christian families set aside time to reflect on “the reason for the season”.


A Credo Testimony from Timothy Berg

Portrait of Timothy Berg for His Testimony BlogMy Testimony and Early Years of Bible Study

This is my testimony of the impact Credo has had and continues to have on me. I was saved as a small boy in Kansas, and became deeply committed to Bible study as a teenager.

I had little in the way of resources for Bible study. I had Vine’s Dictionary, a Strong’s Concordance, and had quite accidentally discovered a copy of Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (although I had no idea how to use it). While in a class on Biblical Hermeneutics, I was asked to read Craig Blomberg’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation and was immediately introduced to a whole new world of Biblical studies. I remember as I was reading through the book often weeping while sitting at a Burger King (or other embarrassingly public places) because of how much the Bible was becoming clearer to me, and how much the principles of sound interpretation resounded in my heart.

See: Your Credo House 2014 Year in Review

Moving to Oklahoma

I moved to Oklahoma as an adult in order to attend a Bible college because somewhere along the line, I had fallen in love with the Jesus revealed in the Bible and had discovered that it was only as I learned more about Him that I could love Him more for who He is. At some point towards the end of my time in Bible College, I came across the Parchment and Pen blog online. From the first post I read I was amazed at the carefully balanced, exegetically sensitive, and theologically accurate teaching it contained. It was among the most excellent treatments of theology that I had ever seen. I became a regular reader, and was continually enriched.

When I realized that the ministry responsible for this “theological treasure trove” was local, and to top it off, served some of the best coffee in town, I could barely contain my excitement! I immediately visited the Credo House in Edmond to see it first hand.

Support Credo House with a One-Time Donation

My First Visit to Credo

I well remember that first visit to Credo House. Church history, books, commentaries, and theology were literally on every wall. Great minds of the past looked down at me from the “wall of theologians.” The baristas made great coffee and loved to talk theology, the Bible, and Jesus.

I was hooked, and Credo House became my regular hangout. I enrolled in the Introduction to Theology course of The Theology Program, and was immediately blown away. In one course, I learned more theology and better theology than I had learned in 15 years of personal study.

The Theology Program

The Theology Program courses made constant references to theologians from the past. Great minds from the annals of church history were quoted often. They were spoken about as if they were dear friends. Statements like, “Here’s how Augustine saw original sin, and here’s what drove him to his theology of sin,” or, “That conception of a triune Godhead is like what Turtullian envisioned when he wrote…” or, “Listen to what Luther said in regards to this issue…” were common fare. Somehow, I felt I had been cheated by knowing nothing of these men.

Credo House hosted a “Coffee with Scholars” session with Justo Gonzalez, and I bought his Story of Christianity and read it while I watched the Church History DVD’s from Credo Boot Camps. I was introduced to the broad range of church history for the first time in my life, and they became my guide.

The recommendation at Credo House was always to read the primary sources. This was a new idea to me, but I followed the advice.

I read confessions and wept. I read the Apostolic fathers and couldn’t put my highlighter down. I read the Ante-Nicene fathers, and felt I was meeting old friends for the first time. These great figures of my own Christian heritage that I somehow never knew, I met them for the first time at Credo House. I continue to study our history, and have come to love such “meetings.” As I learned of their love and sacrifice for the Lord, my own love for our God is strengthened.

Credo Courses

When Credo House Introduced Credo Courses I began one of the greatest experiences of my life. Dan Wallace came and taught a course on Textual Criticism. While sitting in the course, I found questions about the text of the New Testament that I had buried deep in the back of my heart, never daring to utter aloud, brought to the surface. These questions were not only confronted honestly but answered and dealt with fully and with a scholarly precision I had never dreamed of before. Nothing in my life had ever strengthened my faith in the Bible more. Later courses would provide me opportunity to sit and listen to Gary Habermas passionately share about the resurrection, Craig Keener teach through the whole gospel of Matthew, and Craig Blomberg show us the historical reliability of the Gospels. I was able to not only meet, but to talk with and sit under, some of the men most influential in my own life and pursuit of biblical studies, men I consider my “heroes.” And I look forward to many more such courses. (Rumor has it there are around 100 Credo Course planned over the next 10 years!)

The Unique Ministry of Credo

I have never in my life experienced anything like what I’ve experienced at Credo House. I have been a student of the Bible and theology for over 15 years, and have even been through some formal theological education, but I can honestly say that nothing I have encountered before has made as deep an impact on my own faith. Because of Credo House my faith is deeper, my love for God stronger, and my ministry to others bolder than ever before. So if you’re in the area, (and if you’re not in the area it would be well worth your time to make a special trip to be in the area) stop by for a visit to Credo House. Chat with the baristas and you’ll meet some of the most amazing Christians you’ll ever know. Pick up a book off the shelf, and you may meet an old friend you never knew you had. (You might even find them looking down at you from where their picture hangs on the wall.) Enroll in the Theology Program and take your faith deeper than it’s ever gone before. Order a Credo Course and get “full blast” training at a more scholarly level than you ever imagined possible.

You can’t go wrong by supporting such a ministry. A ministry that has such potential and is making such an impact for the kingdom deserves to be supported. So get involved, and watch your faith grow!

One-Time Donation