Is the Slaughter of the Innocents just a myth?

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AS CHRISTMAS approaches, Christians around the world remember the events leading up to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We celebrate many things: Of course, the love of God in Christ, as well as the beauty of the story, the sanctity of the life of the unborn, the faithfulness of all those who faithfully obeyed (what would I have done if I were Joseph?), and perhaps more things besides these. But Christians are not he only ones preparing for Christmas. In the United States, atheists are spreading the cheer by erecting billboards deriding Christianity as a myth or a fairy tale, and it is one of those times of the year (along with Easter) when proponents of liberal theology or anti-Christian thought seem to get a special pleasure from peddling articles, documentaries (in the loosest sense of the word) and books about the myths Christians allegedly believe.

Most of the things we Christians remember are very nice, traditional Christmas story fodder: The visit of an angel to Mary, Joseph’s dream, wise men from the East with their gifts, Shepherds out in the field and the chorus of angels, and the birth of the Saviour in a manger. But then there’s the “slaughter of the innocents.” That’s not quite as nice. The event is traditionally remembered on the 28th of December. The wise men told King Herod that they were looking for the king who had just been born. Herod was filled with insecurity and asked them to return to him after they had met this new king and tell him where he could go to meet him also. When the wise men did not return to him, Herod flew into a rage and ordered the death of the male children in Bethlehem under the age of two, to make sure he snuffed out this would-be king.

And here is where one of the regular sceptical lines of comment appears in time for Christmas. Surely that would be a massive slaughter. Why didn’t this bloodbath make the news? How come nobody wrote about it? The fact that we have no record of this nasty episode shows that it’s pure myth, just like most of the other stuff in the Gospels. Right? Continue reading “Is the Slaughter of the Innocents just a myth?”

"Most of whom are still alive" – The Apostle Paul on witnesses to the resurrection

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St Paul appealed to the existence of numerous living witnesses to Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead.

Mainstream New Testament scholarship on the Gospels is considerably more conservative than it was, say, forty years ago. For example, the greater number of New Testament critics seemed to agree as a kind of in-house duty that the Gospels were written very late in the first century – the later the better, and if you can find a way of saying that they weren’t finished until the second century, even better! The centre of what is “mainstream” has moved a long way since then. Now it is voices like N. T. Wright, Craig Evans and Richard Bauckham that are setting the pace. Much of the extraordinary scepticism and radical reconstruction of first century Christianity is now seen as simply unwarranted.

But I digress (I got distracted by a certain sense of satisfaction with the sea change that the world of biblical studies has seen). Even those with outdated and extraordinarily sceptical approaches to New Testament studies acknowledge the relatively early date of authorship of the letters written by the Apostle Paul. The first epistle to the Corinthians was composed in the mid fifties, around twenty-five years after the crucifixion. From reading through the letter you can see that one of the theological issues that the church in Corinth was struggling with was scepticism over the resurrection. Continue reading “"Most of whom are still alive" – The Apostle Paul on witnesses to the resurrection”

The death of the Apostles: Why would you?

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What does the death of some of the first followers of Jesus’ tell us about what they knew?

Easter is a time of year that seems to bring sceptics out of the woodwork. The proverbial Grinches (wrong holiday, I know) find this to be a natural time of year to rain on the parade of Christians celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. I still recall listening to the debate between William Lane Craig and Brian Edwards on the resurrection a few Easters ago (gosh, has it been that long? The year 2001 or 2000, I forget). You can check that debate out for yourself – Link to the debate.

It’s only fair, then, that Christians take this opportunity to capitalise on the surprising flimsiness of some of the sceptical arguments out there (hence my last post on the supposed virgin birth of Buddha), and also to continue to illustrate the way that the biblical account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus stands up well to critical scrutiny.

So here’s a brief thought to consider for today: Why were some (although not all, or even most) of the early disciples martyred? What was the reason for killing them? That’s something of a no-brainer. They were killed for their proclamation of their religious beliefs in an effort to convert the local populaces where they lived. They proclaimed the message of the resurrection of their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, and it cost them. Continue reading “The death of the Apostles: Why would you?”