Why I Believe EVERY Synoptic Gospel was Written Prior to AD 62

So I’ve been reading Brant Pitre’s (Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary) book released last year: ‘The Case for Jesus – The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ.’

I highly recommend this book. It is concise, very accessible and yet extremely insightful, with solid scholarly citations.

I want to share 3 reflections, in 3 separate blog posts, on the back of it.

The first is this –

I am now even more convinced that EVERY Synoptic gospel was written prior to AD 62.

As this is a blog I obviously will not be making any sort of an exhaustive exploration of the infamous Synoptic problem, nor will I even attempt to survey the various arguments for and against early and late dating. I just want to give you the reason for my view and explain why I believe this to be stronger than any case for later dating.

The reason is this – There is both strong internal evidence AND strong external evidence that Luke wrote his gospel prior to AD 62. If this is so it is highly likely that every gospel was in circulation by this time.

Internal Evidence that Luke was written by AD62

The internal evidence from the Synoptics suggests Luke does not know about the destruction of the Temple in AD70. This is most relevant because it is by-and-large the a priori assumption from sceptics, that Jesus could not have legitimately prophesied these events (prophecies that are recorded in all the Synoptics), that direct them into postulating post AD70 dates for them.

But why don’t any of the Synoptics even mention that this prophecy has been fulfilled, if any of them were written after AD70?

Moreover, as Pitre states, consider these verses –

“But when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…Pray that it may not happen in winter.” (Mk.13:14,18)

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…
Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.” (Mt.24:15,20)

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it.” (Lk.21:20-21)

As Pitre points out, what sense does it make for Mark to include the detail of Jesus instructing his disciples to pray that these things do not occur ‘in winter,’ if these events had already taken place…in July which they did?!

Why would Luke add the instruction to not to let others ‘enter the city’, if it had already been destroyed when he wrote this?!

Why would Matthew add the detail to pray that it not take place ‘on a Sabbath’ , if it had already happened?!

Think especially about Luke – if this meticulous historian whose motive in writing Luke / Acts is to ‘write an orderly account of everything he has investigated’ (Acts 1:3), then why, if he knew about the Temple destruction in AD70, and therefore included a prophesy about it which he transferred onto the lips of Jesus in Luke 19 & 21, why would he then omit to even mention the fulfilment of these prophecies within his conclusion to Acts??
Especially as he does feel that a lesser prophesy that was fulfilled is worthy of a mention!

Namely, Acts 11:28 says this –

“One of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius”

And these are not just ‘arguments from silence,’ as some critics claim –

For Luke NOT to mention things like the destruction of the temple, or the death of Paul, or the widespread persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero in the mid AD60’s,
[See here – http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/tacitus_persecution_under_nero.htm%5D
if these events had taken place by the time he wrote Luke / Acts, then it would represent a complete contradiction to both the meticulous nature of his writings and the very purpose for them (a contemporary historiography of the new Christian movement).

Moreover, that Jesus would prophesy the destruction of the temple is not as implausible (even leaving the question of Jesus’ divinity to one side) as many sceptical scholars would presume and suggest. Especially when we properly consider the context. For the temple had already been destroyed in 586BC by the Babylonians, in a very similar fashion to the way in which Jesus describes it happening again (2 Kings 25:8-10).

As C.H. Dodd notes, “there is no single trait of the (Jesus) forecast which cannot be documented directly out of the Old Testament.”

Secondly, this type of prophecy was not unique to Jesus. Josephus recalls a ‘Jesus the son of Ananias’ who, in AD66, drew on the book of Jeremiah (See Jeremiah 7) to also prophesy that the temple would be destroyed. (Josephus, Jewish War, 6.301)

Finally, the vast majority of modern scholars concede that Mark, at least, was written before AD70 for many reasons (personally I believe it was written well over a decade earlier for several reasons, but that is for another time).
The consensus is that Mark was written around AD65. Even if it is as late as that, it still means that Jesus prophesying the destruction of the Temple was recorded years before it finally happened. Therefore, any appeals to Matthew or Luke supposedly knowing about the destruction of the Temple as being ‘evidence’ of their being written post 70AD, are vacuous and redundant, as their accounts clearly mirror Mark and not personal knowledge.

In sum, the whole assumption that the Synoptics and Acts were written after the destruction of the Temple in AD70 just doesn’t stand up to internal scrutiny.

Occams Razor and the conclusion to Acts

Unless there are very good reasons not to, I would always defend the principal of Occams Razor, whether that is in looking at matters of history, science or deduction.
Ie – that, all else being equal, the simplest of any competing hypotheses ought to be preferred.
[https://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/Occam’s%20razor]

When it comes to the ending of Acts the simplest conclusion to draw is that it ends there because Luke’s recounting of events for Theophilus (Lk.1:1-4, Acts 1:1) has pretty much got up to the present. So Acts was completed soon after its narrative conclusion with Paul in prison in around AD62. This is the view that Pitre takes (p.99) and he further cites the work of the great German scholar: Adolf Von Harnack (p.99 – 100) who also takes this view.

Indeed, Pitre also makes the insightful comparison between Acts and Josephus’ Antiquities:
Why does Josephus’ Antiquities finish where it does? – Because, by his own admission, Josephus had got “up to the present day” (Antiquities, 20.267)


Paul, himself, quotes from the gospel of Luke! – This is not mentioned by Pitre, but is what strongly corroborates all of the above and the hypothesis that Luke / Acts was completed by AD62.

For in his first letter to Timothy, Paul writes –

 For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” (1 Tim.5:18)

This latter dictum: ‘The worker deserves his wages’ is a direct quote from Luke’s gospel! (Chapter 10, Verse 7). (Greek – ἄξιος γὰρ ὁ ἐργάτης τοῦ μισθοῦ αὐτοῦ)

Now we know that Paul quoted already existing Christian creeds and oral traditions (eg. 1 Cor.15:3-7)
It’s also no surprise to see him quoting from the OT and calling it ‘Scripture’ (as he does in 1Tim.5:18 by quoting from Deut.25:4 with the muzzling an ox reference).
But quoting from a verse that we have today in Luke’s gospel (the wording is to be found nowhere else) and calling it ‘Scripture’ is more of a surprise at face value.
However, Peter, in his 2nd letter refers to the writings of Paul and remarks that –

“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” – (2 Pet.3:16)

Peter refers to the writings of Paul as being in the same category as other Scriptures.
It should therefore be no surprise to find that Paul quotes Luke’s Scripture: His gospel, in the same breath as older OT Scripture too.

Now the internal evidence points strongly to Luke being a companion of Paul
(See Col.4:14, 2 Tim. 4:11, Philemon v24 and especially the ‘we’ passages of Acts:
Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–28; 28:1-16).
So these passages corroborate the notion that Paul both knows Luke, and well enough to be in a position to quote from what he’s written.

Therefore, if Paul could already be citing from the gospel of Luke in a letter to Timothy sent before he died (around 64-65 AD), then Luke’s gospel, obviously, must have been written before this time.

External Evidence that Luke was Written by AD62

Brant Pitre, in his chapter on the early Church Fathers cites several important documents, but I’d like to draw our attention to 3 in particular –

  1. Irenaeus of Lyons – (writing circa 180AD) – “Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.” http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103301.htm
  2. Origen of Alexandria (circa 220 AD) – “And thirdly, that according to Luke, who wrote, for those who from the Gentiles [came to believe] the Gospel that was praised by Paul.”
  3. Jerome (circa 390) – “Luke, a physician from Antioch, indicated in his writings that he knew Greek and that he was a follower of the apostle Paul and the companion of all his journeying; he wrote a gospel about which the same Paul says, ‘we have sent him a brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches.’ http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm

And what both Origen (see Eusebius, Church History 6.25.3, 6) and Jerome are referring to is a verse from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, where Paul says –

“And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. 19 What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.” – (2 Cor.8:18-19)

So not only do both Irenaeus and Origen confirm that Luke’s gospel represented the oral gospel preached by Paul, but Origen, and later Jerome, firmly believed that Luke wrote his gospel while Paul was still alive. (See Pitre p.47-8)


Various sceptical scholars are forced into some Teflon gymnastics in order to avoid the reasonable conclusions that are to be drawn from the internal and external evidence (and there’s more than can be included here!) that relate to an early dating of Luke’s gospel.
They (like Bart Ehrmann) have no other option but to go down the road that argues things like –

‘oh…umm… Paul didn’t write the patristic letters (even though they say he did and the early church Fathers did not dispute his authorship, and Paul’s authorship was universally accepted for the first 1850 years of Christianity).
Oh…umm… Paul didn’t write Colossians (Even though it says he and Timothy do).
Oh…umm… Jesus couldn’t have predicted the destruction of the temple (even though ‘Jesus the son of Ananias’ also did according to Josephus – Jewish War, 6.301. See Pitre p.92)
oh…umm… the Luke mentioned in Philemon (A Pauline letter that no-one disputes) is ‘another’ Luke.
oh…umm… the ‘we’ statements in Acts are not quite what they seem. They don’t really mean we.
oh…umm… the writer of Acts is not in fact the writer of Luke’s gospel, it’s really another writer who is also writing to Theophilus and just pretending to be Luke. (though the numbers claiming this are thankfully dwindling fast).

And so on, and so on…

I do think it is the duty of any responsible historian or scholar to carefully and (as far as possible) objectively weigh the merits of competing lines of evidence.
And, for my money, whenever there is both strong internal and external evidence to favour a particular hypothesis (in this case a dating of Luke’s gospel to around AD 62 or earlier) such evidence should trump other speculative, stylistic and circular claims that are made to promote a hypothesis of a later (post AD 70) date.

My own presumption – I have focussed on Luke’s gospel in this post because I, like the majority of biblical scholars, believe it to be the last of the Synoptics to have been written.
If this presumption is correct, then the belief that all 3 Synoptic gospels were written and in circulation by AD62 is extremely plausible.
After all, Luke begins his gospel with the concession –

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us…”

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“But I am a good person, I don’t need a Saviour!” – How Should We Respond?

From my experience of evangelistic conversations and having being involved with several introductory Christian courses, such as Alpha, I’ve come to believe that the most common and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the Christian faith is actually the idea that one needs saving.

Very often I have found that even before folk actively weigh up the evidence for Christian claims or start wrestling with questions, such as the problem of evil and suffering, they will counter with the seemingly instinctive objection to Christ: “But I don’t need saving. I am basically a good person.”

It seems to me, in our privileged, secular culture challenging this prevalent mentality could well be the evangelist’s primary obstacle. After all, no-one is ready to give the Gospel of salvation a fair and attentive hearing, if they are not at least open to the suggestion that they need saving in the first place.

In the face of this objection I have found myself, following in the footsteps of others, referring immediately to Scripture to counter the claim (which, incidentally, is borne of the fallen human condition, but I digress). Romans 3:10-12 seems the perfect tonic –

‘There is no one righteous, not even one;
11     there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

And V23 – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Alternatively, we could dive straight into the Beatitudes asking folk to examine just how poor in spirit, pure in heart and merciful they really are. Or we could invoke Ray Comfort’s method and delve straight into the 10 Commandments, asking folk if they have ever told a lie, stolen anything, looked at anyone lustfully, dishonoured their parents or blasphemed etc. etc.

Now all of these and other similar references and responses have their merit and can get through to many hearts. However, they all suffer from the same potential drawback –

They are asking people to trust Scripture… before they actually trust Scripture! Or, as is often alleged within sceptical circles: ‘You are citing the Bible to prove the Bible!’
In other words, the force and power of these citations is, to a certain degree, reliant on the openness of the individual to the words of Scripture in the first place.

Here’s an Alternative –

Ask the person (or group) to think of the best, ‘most good’ person that they know. If they think that they themselves are, then they truly are lost!

Once they have settled on someone (they’ll probably be able to think of several contenders) we can then follow up by pointing out that just by their own human standards, and from a tiny pool of 0.000000001% of the world’s population, they still fall short.

As we allow folk to absorb this realization, the more they are likely to then be open to citations from the Bible to corroborate it. From there, we can finally compound the point with the observation that their own realization – that they don’t measure up very well according to human standards – doesn’t even begin to translate to how we do not measure up to God’s perfect standard. And we could even throw in Mk.10:18 (“No one is good except God alone”) to hammer this last point home!

So next time you’re involved in an Alpha or Christianity Explored course group dynamic, or even in a one-to-one dialogue, give this simple technique a try! God bless!

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The Value of Guilt

Before conversion to Christianity often people will go through ‘the nihilism stage.’ I went through the nihilism stage. What, ultimately, shook me out of it? Grinding me to an abrupt halt… Guilt.

But why should I ‘feel guilty’ as a practising nihilist? How could I even know this feeling? A feeling that went much deeper, and was far stronger, than anything that events in my life or my childhood could have caused? Because, on a nihilistic world-view there is no Guilt! Guilt cannot even ontologically exist. For we are just animals governed by the naturalistic overtures of our genes and environment. Everything just IS. And things would have to have objective value in order for guilt to have any ontology. On a nihilistic world-view there are no objective values to anything, moral or otherwise.

It was obvious – I had always known that life was precious. That people’s lives actually mattered. And certainly not just my own. I could not escape the fact that, unless one is profoundly damaged, the sanctity of all human life remains as ingrained an objective moral value as anything that is in us. As real as anything that we can trust with our own eyes.

When we engage with our guilt, then, we are engaging with something both intrinsic to, and beyond, us. Whether we realize it or not, we are actually engaging with the numinous: a divinely endowed set of values. We are actually seeking God.

I think I may always ‘suffer’ from guilt. If you are like me, I want to encourage you – Do not try to supress feelings of guilt. Acknowledge them and be uplifted by what they actually mean! Then guilt will never defeat you.

God Bless.

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Countering Dawkins & the Atheists: the ‘clarification question’

I’ve just finished reading a good article in last week’s (1st Apr.) English ‘Church Times’ by Rupert Shortt (religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement) in which he responds to what I might call 10 ‘classic Dawkinsisms’ – ie 10 typically polemical anti-theism statements. All of his responses are worthy and well thought out.

But I was struck by the thought that many who read the 10 statements, or who encounter many such statements or provocative questions, might feel uneasy or lack confidence in how they, themselves, would tackle them. So supplementing Shortt’s responses I wanted to make one general point –

There is an underlying (and usually hidden) presumption behind nearly every Atheist assertion and question.

Very often an excellent alternative to bearing the burden of trying to answer the challenge yourself is to pause and simply ask yourself one simple question instead:

‘what is the presumption that my interlocutor is looking to smuggle in here?’

Then simply go after that presumption by calling it out with your own counter, ‘clarification question’!

Rather than you being in the hot-seat, this then immediately passes the buck straight back to the asserter / questioner, and the discussion instantly becomes one where they, first, have to justify their own presumption(s) and so their own Atheism is in the spotlight and in need of defending equally as much as (if not even more than!) your own Theism, that they were previously intent on attacking.

To try and give you a flavour of what I mean, below I have re-posted the 10 ‘Dawkinsisms’ from Shortt’s article, followed by both the (hidden) Presumption and (example) clarification Question(s) –

1.  “We are all Atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us go one god further.”
Presumption – There’s no more reason to believe in the Christian God than any of the others ever purported.
Clarification Question – Are you suggesting there’s no more reason to believe in God than there is, say, Zeus or Thor? – (Most Atheists are then immediately on the back foot because they won’t want to feel like they are conceding any ground, so will feel obligated to say ‘yes.’ Even some of the most basic Christian apologetics here can quickly expose the fallacy of such a position).

2.  “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Presumptions – i) The God of the OT is ‘fictional’.
ii) My Study of the Bible qualifies me to make these judgements.
iii) There exists objective standards of virtue, ethics and morality that substantiate and ratify my condemning judgements.
Clarification Questions – i) What makes you think the god of the OT is ‘fictional’?
ii) How much and what type of study of the OT have you actually done?
iii) By whose or what standard are you measuring the moral and ethical standards from which you can make such condemning declarations of another?
iv) Isn’t this objection really just an objection against the inerrancy of the Old Testament? How does it negate the logical, metaphysical, and scientific evidence for the existence of God or the historical evidence of the resurrection of Jesus?

3.  “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full, and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”
Presumption – Meaning, Value and Purpose are grounded in the attitude of the individual.
Clarification Questions – i) What makes you think that true meaning, value or purpose is something that is just found in one’s attitude?
ii) Doesn’t that relegate any notion of meaning, value or purpose entirely to the subjective? iii) You make it sound like one can just invent meaning, value or purpose as one so wishes. Doesn’t that mean that any sort of self-delusion will do? Where can one find any objective meaning, value and purpose?

4.  “More generally, one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.”
Presumptions – i) All ‘religion’ is the same.
ii) ‘religion’ espouses ignorance!
Clarification Questions – i) Do you really think that all ‘religion’ is the same and teaches the same thing?
ii) Which ‘religions’ do you think teach that not understanding is a virtue?
iii) Being a Christian, I’d want to ask you why you think Christianity teaches that it’s a virtue to not understand? Where have you come across such a ‘teaching’?
iv) Why do you think so many millions of Christians read their Bibles? What is it they’re hoping to not understand by reading it?
v) Wasn’t it Christians, like Galileo and Newton, who founded the scientific method?
vi) Why do you think there have been so many Christian scientists, like Galileo, Newton, Kepler and Faraday, who spent their lives intent on understanding this world and universe – if Christianity taught them to do the opposite?
vii) Doesn’t the Bible seem to teach us to do science? (See Psalm 19:1-2).

5.  “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents. This latter nomenclature, by the way, would be an excellent piece of consciousness-raising for the children themselves. A child who is told that she is a ‘child of Muslim parents’ will immediately realise that religion is something for her to choose – or reject – when she becomes old enough to do so.”
Presumption – A child’s sense of identity is indoctrinated upon them by their parents. Unless they are referred to in a certain way, a child will not realize that they have a choice as to what to believe in, and what not to.
Clarification Questions – i) Do you really believe that most Christians remain Christians because they didn’t realize they had a choice?
ii) How does what you say not also apply to children raised by Atheists?

6.  “Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether they are ‘valid’, let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.”
Presumptions – i) Atheism is the only ‘compatible’ world-view.
ii) It is the ‘incompatibility’ of different faiths that leads to directly to (unwanted, evil etc.) consequences.
Clarification Questions – i) when you say ‘faiths’, I assume you mean ‘world-view’? And that would include Atheism within what you say?
ii) What do you mean by ‘incompatibility’?
iii) Since when did mere ‘incompatibility’ alone lead to the ‘consequences’ that you allude to?
iv) Isn’t ‘incompatibility’ to miss the point? Isn’t the common theme a lot more to do with humanity’s propensity to do evil in the name of a particular world-view…including Atheism?!

7.  “I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.”
Presumption – Rational thought and human understanding can only be achieved through science.
Clarification Question – Yes, I agree, it is thrilling that humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding! Did you know that some of history’s most prominent and influential scientists who pushed the boundaries of our understanding were Christians? (Like Galileo, Kepler, Faraday, Newton etc.) For them, rational enquiry and the pursuit of God went hand-in-hand.

8.  “The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.”
Presumption – This is just a brute presumption of Atheism!
Clarification Questions – i) How do the laws of physics make anything by themselves?
ii) Don’t forces and laws just govern how processes and mechanisms work rather than actually make anything themselves? You also need an intelligent agent or pre-existent matter or energy, too, don’t you?
iii) Do you think something really can come from literally nothing?
iv) Aren’t the laws of physics quite complex and yet ordered and utterly reliable? How do you think such laws permeate from random, mindless, chaos if there is no ‘God’ behind them?
v) If the only ‘watchmaker’ was physics and chemistry, then how do we account for rationality and knowledge? (See – ‘The FreeThinking Argument’ Here)

9.  “Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction).”
Presumption – i) Belief in God is delusional. ii) Atheists are not delusional
Clarification Questions
– i) In your experience are most Paranoid Schizophrenics Christian then? (It’s curious, I’ve never met any!)
ii) Didn’t the Atheist Friedrich Nietszche end up going insane?

10.  Isaac Asimov’s remark about the infantilism of pseudoscience is just as applicable to religion: ‘Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.’ It is astonishing, moreover, how many people are unable to understand that ‘X is comforting’ does not imply ‘X is true.’”
Presumption – Belief in God is just wishful thinking akin to a ‘comfort blanket’.
Clarification Question –
i) In what way does Asimov’s comment not also apply to Atheists? ii) Do you think the Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel understood that ‘X is comforting’ does not imply ‘X is true’ when he wrote – “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that”? – (Nagel, Thomas, The Last Word, pp. 130–131, Oxford University Press, 1997)

Now many will quite rightly think, as a Christian witness my aim is to help ‘win the soul rather than win an argument’. Correct. But it seems to me that, particularly in the privileged secular West, many folk need first-and-foremost to be challenged. They need cajoling by someone to ‘think about what they think they think,’ because in so many ways they haven’t thought things through and have just lived by socio/culturally driven presumptions.

If we as Christian witnesses can be surfacing & challenging these hidden presumptions, that so many Atheists and secular folk just instinctively hold to, then these may well be crucial seeds or ‘stone-in-shoes’ that can, inch-by-inch, dust away the misconceptions that intrude in hearts and minds that leave them closed to Christ and the salvific work of the Holy Spirit.

So, next time you manage to strike up a discussion about your faith and you’re promptly faced with a testing objection, and many of these can come in the form of a question, try thinking, firstly:

what is the presumption that is being smuggled in here?

For more on the importance and use of questions in our apologetic and evangelistic engagements I heartily recommend ‘Tactics’ by Greg Koukl –


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Did Jesus Experience a ‘Divine Abandonment’ at the Cross?



According to the 6th line of Stuart Townend’s popular modern hymn ‘How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,’ “The Father turns His Away.” This lyric depicts Jesus of Nazareth, having been almost universally abandoned by people on Earth, finally, and gut-wrenchingly, abandoned by His father in heaven. Hans Von Balthasar[1], Jurgen Moltmann[2] and William Lane[3] are three influential modern proponents of this ‘divinely abandoned’ view.                                                                                                                                          However, this view appears rooted, almost entirely, in Mark 15:34: ‘Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabatchthani’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)’ Our reading of this verse matters more than many others. An entire depiction of Jesus can be heavily influenced through our understanding of it. Assuming he said it, why? And precisely what did he mean by it?
For Moltmann, ‘every theology which claims to be Christian must come to terms with Jesus’ cry on the cross.’ [4] But he is working on the presumption that Jesus is indeed asking a forlornly desperate, though genuine, question. From this presumption Moltmann concludes that it is not just a cry of despair and dereliction, but it indicated that Christ ‘was not merely assailed by fear and suffering in his human nature, as scholastic tradition would have it. He was assailed in his person, his very essence, in his relationship to the Father—in his divine sonship.’[5]                                                                                                                               In this post, I shall briefly discuss some of the problems associated with such a ‘divinely abandoned’ view, before sketching an alternative take on the verse that addresses these problems and thereby brings greater explanatory power and scope to our Christological and historical understanding of Jesus.

Problems with the Existing Interpretation: Theology and Metaphysics

 If we are to maintain a theology that posits God as the being of ‘maximal greatness,’[6] then the notion that in His perfect love He has ‘turned-away’ from His uniquely begotten Son remains problematic. How do we reconcile God’s perfect love with this?                                            Moreover, thinking both metaphysically and theologically, how does one person within the triune Godhead ‘turn away’ from another person within the triune Godhead, whilst maintaining a perfect, ontological Trinity? For orthodox Christian Theology dictates that Jesus is a consubstantial, co-existent person within a divinely aseitic Trinity, that permeates, necessarily, in perfect, immutable, harmonious unity. But for Moltmann, God, while still being God, turns away from God and in so doing undergoes suffering in some way and, therefore, has properties capable of change.                                                                                        Such conundrums impact our perceptions, and very understanding, of the Trinity and ‘God.’ From a theological perspective, the above orthodox Christian doctrines have been formulated after careful exegesis of the entire Biblical narrative. Moltmann’s Trinitarian view, meanwhile, relies heavily on an interpretation formulated predominantly from Mk.15:34 and speculative eisegesis of one documented event.

Exploring an Alternative Interpretation: Psalm 22

Exploring an alternative interpretation to Moltmann’s ‘divine abandonment’ theory begins with the recognition that Jesus was not just addressing God (The Father). For if he were we should almost certainly expect to see Jesus refer to God (The Father) as ‘My Father’ or even ‘Abba’ rather than ‘My God,’ an idiom that he just does not use anywhere else in the Gospels. This strongly suggests that he is quoting or referencing something.                     Moreover, Mark makes it even clearer that Jesus is specifically quoting Ps.22:1 and indeed Jesus is ‘appropriating it,’[7] as Mark gives the phrase in its original Aramaic, which indicates that Jesus recounted it in this language (his own) rather than just reciting it in its original Hebrew.
Therefore, we can be assured: it’s not a mere phrase that Jesus is using, he is clearly quoting the first line of Psalm 22, which is ultimately a Psalm of steadfast faith, of hope, deliverance and glory. It is a messianic psalm that vividly describes the desolate agony of an enduring suffering servant (V1-18); The strength of faith in God: ‘The Lord,’ that this servant draws on (V19-24); before heralding an ultimate victory in which a new universal and unending dominion of God is inaugurated (V25-31).                                                                 So if Jesus were looking to draw people’s attention to the whole Psalm rather than just its opening line then ‘the verse would be the ultimate expression of Jesus’ commitment to the Lord despite the causes for despair that surround him.’[8]                                                                            But are there reasonable grounds to think so? Well, if I sang, “God save our gracious Queen,” or said, “Our Father who art in heaven,” most people could either finish the verses or prayer, or at least have an awareness of how they continue because certain quotations in our culture, whether secular or religious, are known and even memorized because of their importance. According to Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm this was especially true of the psalms in Jesus’ time. He needed only say the first line, and most Jews would have known the rest:

“In the Jewish tradition up to this day, the books of the Pentateuch, or weekly portions of it, or some prayers, are cited by the first major word or sentence. Some psalms are also still cited by the first words or sen­tence. For instance Ashrei (Psalm 1), or Al naharot Bavel (Psalm 137). It is likely that at the time of the first Gospels, Psalm 22, in analogy to this usage, was also cited by its first major sentence. In other words, the Gospel tells us that Jesus, when he was dying, recited Psalm 22. This being so, there is no problem to be solved. As we have seen, the psalm begins in despair, but it ends in an enthusiastic mood of faith and hope.”[9]

As our social, cultural and anthropological knowledge has increased, so contemporary scholarship has continued to corroborate Fromm’s view and uncover further cultural ‘recital’ and ‘memorization’ norms. According to Dan Wallace: ‘These Middle-Eastern cultures and the Ancient cultures and especially the Ancient Jewish culture, learned how to memorize and lived by memorization extensively.’[10] Craig Keener’s research into the practice of ancient memorization has uncovered the same thing, and he argues that such practices were universal regardless of education and background.[11] Richard Bauckham notes that, ‘Memorization was universal in education in the ancient world. Learning meant, to a significant degree, memorizing…Books existed not so much to be read as to be heard and their contents to be held in the memory and transmitted orally.’[12] He adds, ‘In a Jewish context Scripture would certainly be memorized verbatim.”[13] Indeed, this practice is ‘still very much alive in the Middle East’ today.[14] All of this strongly corroborates Fromm’s proposition that Jesus was, indeed, referencing Psalm 22 in its entirety.

 Biography and Historiography

Modern scholarship now accepts that the Gospel’s belong to the genre of ancient Greco-Roman biography.[15] As such, they should be no more overlooked as historical sources than any other such works from the period, from writers like Plutarch, Tacitus or Lucian. Bauckham insists that the Gospel’s go back via carefully passed on oral traditions to sources of direct eye-witness testimony.[16] In treating them as such we can explore the collective contextual narrative that they portray in the way that any historian or investigator would do in reconstructing an event or scene. One might find this an all too ‘Tatian’ approach. However, just as there was one resurrection, and one assassination of Julius Caesar, so there was one event of ‘the cross.’                                                                                            When examined, the gospel accounts reveal a plethora of overlapping corroboration. And not just the ‘lifting’ of a Markan account by Matthew. Rather, much that is mentioned in one testimony is either expanded upon or ‘compressed’ by another.[17] This is exactly what we should expect to find in ancient biographical accounts, and even eye-witness accounts today.
The latter gospels: Luke and John, primarily seem to be supplementing the earlier Markan passion narrative (see Lk.1:1-2) and leaving certain details out that were already well known from that existing account. Every gospel references time (Mk.15:25, 33-34; Mt.27:1, 45; Lk.23:44; Jn.19:14). This is a signature detail of something that is demanding to be received as (evidential) testimony. Luke states that he has conducted his own thorough investigation (Lk.1:3) and John insists that he was an eye-witness to the event himself (Jn.19:26, 35). So they would have been read as additional testimonies to the one event.

Jesus: Context of the Cross

              In a gospel reconstruction of the cross we see that Jesus was crucified alongside two others (Mk.15:25-27). This is corroborated by both Matthew (27:38) and John (19:18) and Jesus’ interaction with these 2 men is expanded by Luke (Lk.23:32, 39-43) which concludes with Jesus telling one that on that day they will be with him in paradise (Lk.23:43). All three Synoptics mention the soldiers drawing lots and dividing up his clothes (Mk.15:24, Mt.27:35, Lk.23:34) which is then expanded upon by John (19:23-24). This echoes Psalm 22:18. Onlookers then mock and insult him (Mk.15:29-31 Mt.27:39-41, Lk.23:35-36) which echoes Psalm 22:6-7. And the mocking sentiment of Psalm 22:8 foreshadows Mk.15:31-32, 36, Mt.27:43, Lk. 23:35). Before noon Jesus both asks His Father to forgive his enemies who are having him crucified (Lk.23:34) and lovingly declares to his mother and John that they are now as mother and son (Jn.1926-27).
The Synoptics then recount a ‘darkness’ (Mk.15:33, Mt.27:45, 23:44) coming over the land at noon, which remained until Jesus’ death at 3pm. At this point (3pm) Mark and Matthew record Jesus’ Psalm 22:1 ‘cry.’ But, by this time, much of the content of the whole Psalm had already unfolded: including (historically) verses 3-5 and concurrently, V6-8 and 12-18.                                                                                                                                                                                    Therefore, two immediate possibilities spring to mind: Either all the gospel accounts were written with Psalm 22 in mind, or Jesus was fully aware that Psalm 22 was unfolding prophetically and he vocally declared it. The latter possibility clearly coheres with our ‘alternative’ interpretation.

Moreover, Jesus neither appears to be suffering perplexed, anguished abandonment prior to 3pm – as we can surmise from his praying to his Father for his enemies; his loving exchange with Mary and John; and his promise of impending paradise to a crucified man alongside him. Nor does he seem to be in such a helpless mental state immediately after offering this Psalm 22:1 ‘cry’ either. For Luke’s crucifixion account concludes with Jesus praying again to His Father: from another Psalm, this time Psalm 31:5 (Lk.23:46), also notably a Psalm of faith, hope and redemption rather than despair. This hardly seems to cohere with the idea that Jesus is ‘cut-off’ from His Father at this point. And John’s account concludes with Jesus, at the point of death, declaring ‘tetelestai’: a declaration of triumphant accomplishment (Jn.19:30). And either of these could well be what Matthew had condensed in 27:50. John 19:30, in particular, is a remarkably similar exclamation to the ‘he has done it!’ exhortation at very end of Psalm 22 (and Is.44:22-3).

Thus, the idea that Jesus is merely crying out in hopeless anguish and questioning despair on the cross just doesn’t fit an overall context for the Jesus that is portrayed around it. We can legitimately ask why, in the face of these clear portraits, not only of Christ’s suffering on the cross, but also his display of strength, grace and resolve, does Moltmann insist on bracketing Mk.15:34 as a ‘cry of despair’?[18] For even he recognizes that Christ’s other sayings on the cross convey a sense of ‘comfort and triumph.’[19]

Jesus: In His Broader Context

On this ‘divine abandonment’ view, the ever present self-understanding and autonomy that Jesus has of Himself and His mission, that is consistently portrayed throughout Mark (and all other Gospels), suddenly seems turned on its head at Mk.15:34. From chapter 8 onwards Mark portrays a Jesus who knows and embraces his mission and destiny: the cross and resurrection, alongside his forlorn attempts to explain this intentional destiny to his disciples, who do not understand. (See Mk.8:31-38, 9:12, 9:31-32, 10:33-34 and 10:45)
In Mk.14:21 and Jn.5:39 Jesus declares that the OT Scriptures were written about him and the gospels clearly reveal a Jesus who is intimately acquainted with them. He cites Isaiah a multitude of times. It is therefore highly likely that Jesus identified himself as the suffering servant of Isaiah 52/3. Jesus also identifies himself as the Son of Man figure prophesied in Daniel 7, as he associates himself to it in Mk.8:38, 13:26 and, finally when interrogated by Caiaphas in Mk.14:62. Dunn argues that Daniel 7 implies a suffering servant, as the representative of the suffering and oppressed ‘Saints of the most high.’[20] According to George Eldon Ladd, “Jesus poured the content of the Suffering Servant into the SoM concept.’[21]

Similarly, in the same response to Caiaphas, Jesus also refers to Himself as ‘the Lord’ depicted in Psalm 110. For the Psalms are another genre of OT Scripture in which Jesus saw himself and his destined mission. In the parable of the tenants, for example, Jesus self-identifies as being the ‘rejected cornerstone’ of Psalm 118. For Jesus believed his sacrificial mission and destiny lay in his fulfilling prophetic scriptures (see Matthew 5:17, 26:52-54; Mark 14:21, 14:49; Luke 18:31, 24:7, 25-27, Luke 4:17-21). According to Casey, ‘Jesus saw his own fate in the scriptures.’[22]

Indeed, the Last Supper (Mt.26:17-30, Mk.14:12-26, Lk.22:7-39) brings the Isaiah prophecies and Jesus’ intention to, Himself, be the Passover Lamb sharply into focus.             This portrayal is not just confined to the Synoptics. Jn.3:14-15 and 12:32-33 present a Jesus who fully intended to be crucified. John begins his Gospel by directing His readers to this intention (Jn.1:36). John 10, similarly, depicts Jesus alluding back to Ezekiel 34 but, in perceiving himself as the shepherd, he clearly and unequivocally announces his intention to sacrifice his life for his sheep (Jn.10:11) and, strikingly, Jesus declares that this intended sacrificial death is the ‘reason his Father loves him’ as ‘commanded’ by The Father. (Jn.10:17-18).

Jesus then declares that ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn.10:30). Whether Jesus means in homoousios, or merely, in will is a matter for debate. John indicates that his onlookers took this to be a claim to be God (V33) a theme that echoes back to Jn.5:18. However, even if Jesus meant in terms of mission and will, as against full-blown ontology, such divinely missional self-awareness is all a far cry from an interpretation of Jesus crying out in perplexed, anguished abandonment on the cross. As Torrance insists, “there is a oneness of mind between the Father and the Son, revealed supremely in the cross.”[23]
The dual themes of mutual Father/Son glorification, in both ontology and in the mission of the cross, is also distinctive in Jn.12:23, 28, 29; 13:1, 3; 13:31-32; 14:10-11, 13. The latter is certainly a major juxtaposition to the theological ideas of Moltmann et al. of a cosmic, Trinitarian rip at the cross and postulating a divine Son abandoned by His Father.[24]

Furthermore, John 12:28-33 strongly juxtaposes such a view on its own. For this is the third occasion in the Gospels where we are given an account of the literal voice of God (The Father) being heard. The first is at Jesus’ baptism (Mk.1:11) and the second at the Transfiguration (Mk.9:7). On both occasions the Father affirms and declares His love for ‘His Son.’ But, on this third occasion in John 12, as the impending ‘hour’ of his crucifixion approaches, both the Son and the Father cry out in glorification for one another and this hour of crucifixion. Moreover, Jn.12:30 echoes back to the previous chapter at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn.11:41-42) where Jesus says something that was ‘for the benefit of the people,’ just as God’s voice was at Jn.12:30. But in the previous chapter Jesus had gone on to declare that ‘I knew that you always hear me.’ (Jn.11:42)

Thus, it has deeply troubling ramifications if, following this public, vocal affirmation of the Father and Son in a mutual, mission of glorification via the cross, Jesus, just hours later cries out in perplexed, anguished abandonment during the ‘glorious’ event itself. At most, we might hypothesize that, in penning his gospel, John (and perhaps Luke too) was seeking to re-dress this idea already in circulation: that Jesus had died in weakness and despair that a certain interpretation of Mark’s gospel had wrought. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus praying that the cup may be taken from him in Gethsemane (Mk.14:36) and then crying out in (supposed) abandonment on the cross (Mk.15:34) is strikingly replaced by Jesus praying resolutely for His disciples (Jn.17) and then with final words of triumphant accomplishment at the cross in John (Jn.19:30).

Moreover, Luke’s gospel (Lk. 24:25-27), post-cross, spells out how the ‘Messiah’s suffering’ was an integral part of the prophetic mission. So in all the Gospel accounts we see a pre and post-cross Jesus who is of one missional mind. Positing, then, a mid-cross Jesus who is utterly perplexed and abandoned just does not seem to fit.

Most historians and theologians would agree with E.P Sanders that, as far as escaping his execution, Jesus ‘seems not to have tried.’[25] For his self-understanding and mission was far further reaching than his earthly life.[26] Rather, at the will of God, (See Isaiah 53:10; John 3:16, 18:11; Acts 2:23; 1 Corinthians 2:7-9) Jesus intended to die.[27] Should we really, then, regard it as pure coincidence, that Psalm 22 uniquely seems to allude to Jesus’ own self-understanding as the (Isaian) suffering servant, including the nature and finer details of his mission, and his ultimate victory?

On a ‘divine abandonment’ view some troubling questions remain: Are we to believe that Jesus is actually asking ‘why?’ Because he’s crying out in anguished bewilderment and is seeking divine answers? Is it a genuine question: ‘why have I been abandoned, because I don’t know?’ Given the effort it would have required to say this (whilst in agony he would have had to muster the energy to push himself upwards on the cross and expel invaluable amounts of the precariously little oxygen he had left in order to say this) why would he bother? For if he knew this was all coming (including divine abandonment) then why go through this pain of publicly exclaiming it? Or, is it that he did know, but he’s announcing his abandonment for some other reason? On this view the victorious content of the suffering one contained in the second half of Psalm 22 remains curiously coincidental if Jesus were not looking to draw people’s attention to the whole Psalm.

Or did Jesus not realize he was to be abandoned by His Father? If so, this has problematic repercussions for our understanding of the Trinity & even Christ’s divinity, if this ‘oneness’ that he has proclaimed all-along, wasn’t in fact the case at the cross, to Jesus’ despairing surprise. If Jesus was in such a state doesn’t this, in at least some sense, suggest the Father is a deceiver or manipulator, if Jesus experienced this abandonment in a way that he was not expecting? Cue Steve Chalke…

A Contextual Interpretation

With our contextual understanding in mind, if Jesus was referencing (all of) Psalm 22: then our reasons for concluding God-The-Father has completely abandoned His Son in his Son’s suffering quickly dissipate.
In fact, other possibilities immediately present themselves: Jesus may well have been praying the Psalm to His Father, but in hope and assurance rather than abject despair of abandonment. This view is taken by Joachim Jeremias[28] and William Lane Craig.[29] And although R.T. France insists that Jeremias ‘does not support’ it,[30] I would suggest that our developing contemporary understanding of memorization customs, recital patterns and the oral culture of Judaism and the middle East, does.
Alternatively, by quoting this psalm, Jesus might have been announcing himself to be the fulfilment of prophecy, that he would be vindicated and victorious, which is evident in the psalm’s triumphant ending.

Or, perhaps even, Jesus was principally announcing this Psalm to his immediate hearers (see Jn.11:42), which included the Chief Priests and teachers of the law, in all probability, the very same people that were present at his ‘trial,’ including Caiaphas. This possibility presents us with the same Jesus that was stood before Caiaphas defying him just hours earlier during his trial (Mk 14.62). Perhaps, even on the cross, Jesus remained defiant to all those that did not understand and believed they were having him killed. For in Mk.14:62, Jesus, in one verse, had declared himself to be the embodiment of the eschatological Son of Man figure depicted in Daniel 7, and the embodiment of ‘the Lord,’ sitting at God’s right hand, depicted throughout Psalm 110. Then, just hours later on the cross, Jesus, in similar fashion, in one verse, declared himself to be the embodiment of the suffering, yet victorious saviour depicted in (the whole of) Psalm 22. As if he’s still telling them, just as he did during his trial: ‘I know what I am doing, I am fulfilling my mission!’

It could, in fact, be the same ‘and you will see…’ (Mk.14:62) Jesus that was stood before Caiaphas just hours previously. That with some of his final words, he was again citing Scripture to inform his gathered conspirators and persecutors (Mk.15:31) that he was far from cursed (Deut.21:23) and defeated, but was, in fact, in the throes of victory. And this interpretation coheres with an overall picture that the cross narratives paint of Jesus collectively: Not of a man emotionally desperate, destroyed, broken and utterly abandoned. But one who died victorious and duly declaring it (Jn.19:30 / Ps.22:31)

For if Jesus were merely crying out in perplexed, anguished abandonment then why did he cry out Psalm 22:1? Why this verse from this Psalm and not, say, a verse from a Psalm that only speaks of abandonment or desperation, like Psalm 142 for instance? Or, moreover, Psalm 88 where many of the verses, particularly v14 (‘why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?’), would seem to be immensely more appropriate if that is what he was feeling or wanted to convey? But, on the contrary, Jesus cites Psalm 22 which is ultimately a Psalm of hope and victory through a time of great suffering and darkness. And 22:24 (‘he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help’) says the complete opposite to Psalm 88:14 and, indeed, this ‘tradition’ that says God ‘hid his face’ from Jesus on the cross!



                Lest I be misunderstood, this essay does not seek to downplay the excruciating physical agony of the cross, which Jesus took upon himself. What it does seek to argue is that this physical torment did not lead to, or include, a ‘spiritual abandonment’ or ‘cutting off’ of the Son from The Father, within the ontological interconnection of The Trinity.
The problem with the ‘divine abandonment’ hermeneutic is its conflation of the stark depictions of Mark and Matthew’s gospels of Jesus’ rejection, suffering and abandonment by man, and far too swiftly superimposing this rejection and abandonment onto Jesus by God Himself at the cross.

Indeed, that Jesus would cite this Psalm because of its depiction of both his suffering and final victory, entirely coheres with the considerable insight into his extensive self-understanding and sense of mission portrayed by every gospel. This, and the overarching narrative of the cross that we have, when all of the Gospel testimonies are examined side by side, present us with a very different Jesus than a man wretchedly toiling in hopeless, Spiritless abandonment.

We should therefore be extremely cautious about interpreting Mk.15:34 as Jesus declaring his complete and total abandonment by His Father, and then constructing ad-hoc Trinitarian theologies around it, as perhaps, Moltmann and others have done. On the contrary, far from utterly abandoned by God-The-Father, he may never have lost sight of their impending goal. It may even be this that he was declaring more than anything else.



Anselm, Proslogion http://www.stanselminstitute.org/files/AnselmProslogion.pdf
Bailey, K.E. ‘Informed Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels’ in Asia Journal of Theology 5 (1991)
Bauckham, R. Jesus A Very Short Introduction  (Oxford: OUP, 2011)
— — (Personal Interview) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHSoovmy4cw
— — Jesus and the Eye Witnesses (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 2008)
Burridge, Richard A Four Gospels, One Jesus 2nd edn (London: SPK, 2005)
Carey, H. Jesus’ Cry From the Cross: Towards a First-century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark’s Gospel (London: T&T Clark 2009)
Casey, M. The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem (Bloomsbury: London 2009)
Craig, W.L. ‘Do the Gospels Support a Muslim View of Jesus?http://www.reasonablefaith.org/do-the-gospels-support-a-muslim-view-of-jesus
Crossley, J. The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (T&T Clark: London 2004)
Dunn, J.D.G. ‘The Son of Man in Mark’ in Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift D. Bock & J.H. Charlesworth eds.(T&T Clark: London 2013)
France R.T. The Gospel of Mark: The New international Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2014)
Fromm, E. You shall be as gods: A radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967)
Goodacre, M. Scripturalization in Mark‘s Crucifixion Narrative in Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006): 33-47
Gundry, R.H. Commentary on Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker 2010)
Hooker, M. The Son of Man in Mark (SPCK: London 1967)
Hurtado, L.  ‘A New Take on Jesus’ Cry from the Cross’
Jeremias, J. New Testament Theology (Norwich: SCM 2012)
Jesus of Testimony (documentary) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR7Ns2u2FOM
Keith, C. ‘Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross (according to Mark and Matthew)?’ http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/did-god-forsake-jesus-on-cross.html
Ladd, G.E.  A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1974)
Lane, W.L. The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1974)
Marcus, J. Mark 8-16 The Anchor Yale Bible Commentary (Yale University 2009)
— — The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster 1992)
— –‘The Role of Scripture in the Gospel Passion Narratives’, in John T. Carroll and Joel B. Green (eds.), The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendricksons, 1995)
Moltmann, J. The Crucified God (tr. John Bowden & R.A. Wilson; London: SCM, 1974),
— — The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (tr. Margaret Kohl; London: SCM, 1981)
Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus (Allen Lane 1993)
Stanton, G. The Gospels and Jesus  2nd edn (Oxford: OUP, 2002)
Torrance, J. B. ‘Worship – Unitarian Or Trinitarian?’ In: Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. (Carlisle: Paternoster 1996)
Von Balthazar, H.U.  Mysterium Paschale (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990 second edition)
Wenham, D. and Walton, S. Exploring the NT (vol1) 2nd edn (London: SPCK, 2011)
Wilmhurst, S. Mark: A ransom For Many (Darlington: EP Books 2011)
[1] See Von Balthazar, H. Mysterium Paschale

[2] See Moltmann, J. The Crucified God

[3] Lane, W.L. The Gospel of Mark,pp.572-3

[4] Ibid,p.152

[5] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God,p.77

[6] See Anselm, Proslogion

[7] Bauckham R.,(personal interview 38mins-38.33mins)

[8] Keith, C. ‘Did God Forsake Jesus on the Cross (according to Mark and Matthew)?’(Blog)

[9] Fromm, E You shall be as gods: A radical interpretation of the Old Testament and its tradition,p.232

[10] Wallace, D. Jesus of Testimony(40.17mins-40.27mins)

[11] Keener, C. ibid,(40.27mins-41.52mins)

[12] Bauckham, R. Jesus and the Eye Witnesses,p.280

[13] Ibid,p.281;

[14] Bailey, K.E. ‘Informed Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels’,pp.5-6

[15] Burridge R. Four Gospels, One Jesus,p.8;cf. Stanton G. The Gospels and Jesus,p.17

[16] Bauckham R. The Jesus of Testimony(1.13mins-1.22mins) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR7Ns2u2FOM

[17] Such literary devices were commonplace within the genre of Greco-Roman biography. For example, see Plutarch:Life Of Antony Chapter 12 to Plutarch:Life of Caesar Chapters 60 and 61.

[18] Moltmann, Trinity,p.77

[19] Moltmann, Crucified God,p.146

[20] Dunn,J.D.G.‘Mark’,pp.24-5

[21] Ladd,G.E. A Theology of the NT,p.157

[22] Casey,M. The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem,p.129

[23] Torrance, J.B. Worship – Unitarian Or Trinitarian?P.12

[24] See Moltmann-‘the first person of the Trinity casts out and annihilates the second’ The Crucified God,p.241

[25] Sanders E.P.The Historical Figure of Jesus,p.267

[26] Ibid,p.248;cf. Wenham & Walton Exploring the NT,p.165

[27] Wenham & Walton Exploring the NT,p.170;cf. Bauckham,(personal interview 38mins-38.33mins)

[28] Jeremias J. New Testament Theology,p.189

[29] Craig, W.L. ‘Do the Gospels Support a Muslim View of Jesus?

[30] France R.T. The Gospel of Mark,p.652

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The First Recorded Words of Jesus Inform Us of His Divinity

I want to suggest that there’s another point that we can make in our apologetic efforts with Jehovahs Witnesses, Muslims and anybody else that doesn’t believe that Jesus’ divinity is implied by the Gospels: The first recorded words of Jesus inform us of His Divinity!

Today, when we refer to or talk about praying to, ‘the Father’ or ‘our Father,’ we  think no more of such phraseology than the fact that we are just referring to God: our creator and sustainer.
It is from such a backdrop that I think we can sometimes miss the power and importance of Jesus’ very first recorded words, as recorded by Luke –

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”[a] 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. – (Luke 2:46-51 NIV)

Commentators have long-since seen V49 as the central verse here. But, for me, what’s really significant is not whether the verse should be read: ‘in My Father’s house’ or ‘about My Father’s business.’
What is significant are the two little words ‘My Father’s.’ (Greek – patros mou)

Today, our instinct might be to give scarcely more weight or significance to Jesus using that phrase than if you or I say were to say, ‘Our Father.’ But He really is saying much more than that! To see why we need to look at John’s Gospel  –

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18)

According to the UBS Greek NT it is the same 2 words that Jesus uses in both the Temple courts in Luke 2 and before the Jewish leaders in John 5:- ‘patros mou’ – ‘My Father’.

The phraseology does not have to be as such. Either / or account could have said, for example,  tou patros (The Father) or simply Ho Theos (God), but they don’t.

And John 5:18 spells out the enormous significance of the phrase in first century Judaism: It was an outrageous blasphemy – ‘making Himself equal with God‘.

It seems to me this is exactly what Jesus is doing in Luke 2 – our very first recorded words of Jesus!
His divinity was not invented at Nicaea!! From His very first recorded words, and from then on throughout His life, Jesus was declaring His divinity and mission!

This understanding also helps us make sense of Luke 2:51 too. Because, ‘Mary treasured this in her heart,’  looks odd at first. We go from her lamenting: ‘son, why have you treated us like this,’ to her not understanding his response, to then ‘treasuring these things in her heart,’ as they went back to Nazareth.

It is worth noting that the same phrase: she ‘treasured all these things in heart,’ was used earlier in Luke 2, in verse 19. But there the context is clear that she had been ‘treasuring’ what she had heard from the shepherds: that her newborn son would be the Saviour and Messiah.

At first glance in verse 51 it’s not quite so clear. But I think she has just realized what Jesus meant: Just as the later Jewish authorities (in John 5) would know what He meant, and just as the shepherds had previously told her at his birth:-

Jesus, Himself, has now told her and confirmed the same thing: That He is ‘The Unique Son of God!’ This is what she treasures in her heart!

We can treasure it in ours too!!

For much more on the Divinity of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels I strongly recommend ‘Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ’ by Rob Bowman & Ed Komoszewski –


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The misnomer of the ‘God of the Gaps’ claim.

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