The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Does the Israelite religion as portrayed in the Old Testament mirror the faith of its ancient Near Eastern neighbors, or is it unique and exceptional? Recent scholarship trends toward the former, but Oswalt argues for the latter. The Bible’s historical claims, he says, cannot be divorced from its theological claims. To mythologize the history is to neutralize the theology. This clash in perspectives, he claims, is rooted in a secular hostility toward revelation, which presupposes a world beyond the senses and assumes the existence of a realm that one cannot control. Yet the distinctive worldview of the Old Testament, says Oswalt, actually strengthens the claim to historicity:
“When we ask the Israelites where they came up with these fantastic concepts, they tell us they did not ‘come up’ with them. They tell us God broke in upon their lives and dragged them kicking and screaming into these understandings. They tell us that they did their best to get away from him, but that he would not let them go.”
“There is a sad irony in the seeming success of many Christian churches and schools. The irony is that the more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive. Which means that what looks like success in the short run, may, in the long run, prove to be failure. If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you don’t get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception.
“One of the results of this kind of ‘success’ is that sooner or later the world wakes up to the fact that these so-called Christian churches look so much like them and the way they think that there is no reason to go there. If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth that alone can set them free. Continue reading →
O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder,
That the Father’s only Son
Now is buried yonder!
O Ground of faith,
Laid low in death!
Sweet lips, now silent sleeping:
Surely all that live must mourn
Here with bitter weeping.
– Würzburg Gesangbuch, “O Darkest Woe, Ye Tears Forth Flow”
In this final post of our series, “The Death of Jesus,” we will explore several aspects of the post-crucifixion burial. Some have claimed that the story we have in Scripture is not credible, and therefore the entire Passion account is untrustworthy. In response to these claims, we will organize our presentation around five questions:
1. What is the New Testament account of the burial of Jesus? 2. Were the victims of crucifixion really buried? 3. Was Joseph of Arimathea a fictional character? 4. Were there really guards present at the tomb of Jesus? 5. What does the archaeological record tell us about 1st-century tombs? Continue reading →
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
– Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
Jesus is crucified by Roman soldiers and heckled mercilessly by the crowds. The biblical account is sparse in its details and matter-of-fact in its presentation. New Testament scholar Martin Hengel—after an extensive examination of the practice of crucifixion in the ancient world—concluded, “It was an utterly offensive affair, ‘obscene’ in the original sense of the word. . . . No ancient writer wanted to dwell on the subject too long.” Hence the New Testament writers give greater attention to the significance of the cross than to a physical description of it. Continue reading →
The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.
– Edward Shillito
After his trials, beatings, flogging, and mock worship, Jesus receives back his own clothes and is led out to the crucifixion site. It was customary for criminals to be paraded through the streets, sometimes naked, so the return of Jesus’ clothes may reflect a Roman concession to the Jews for the shame they felt in being exposed in public.
The execution site is called Golgotha, which is Aramaic for “Place of the Skull.” Our more familiar term “Calvary” (which derives from the Latin word calvaria) also means “skull” and was used in the Vulgate (Latin) version of the Gospels. The route of the procession has become known as the Via Dolorosa (“the Way of Suffering”), and we should note—given our hymnody—that there is no specific biblical reference to Golgotha being located on a hill, although it is certainly possible that it was. Continue reading →
O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown;
– Bernard of Clairvaux
As we continue our series, it is important to keep in mind what we mentioned in the first post: To ponder the death of Jesus is to probe the loving heart of God. Indeed, it was Jesus himself who connected the two: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16a). This divine giving encompassed the cross.
During the season of Lent, believers around the world give deep thought to the sufferings of Christ. Our purpose in doing so is not to be macabre but to increase our gratitude and enhance our generosity. It’s part of our discipleship. It’s one of the ways we renew our minds.
Believers are especially challenged when we realize that Jesus was tortured by religious people as well as irreligious people. Believers and unbelievers alike totally missed the fact that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19). Therefore, it is the believer more than anyone else who needs to contemplate the cross and relinquish any self-righteousness in the process. Continue reading →
He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:5
After his trials before Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus is ordered by Pontius Pilate to be flogged (Matt 27:26 || Mark 15:15 || John 19:21). Flogging (or scourging) was the normal preliminary to crucifixion, and it was a horrible torture in itself. Josephus, the 1st-century Jewish historian, wrote of a certain man who was “flayed to the bone with scourges” (War 6.304). Men sometimes died under flogging, or, at the very least, they were severely weakened by the punishment.