Celebrating (No) Palm Sunday in Luke 19

This year, Year C in the lectionary, Palm Sunday is cancelled, so you need to do away with your palm crosses, and change the choice of hymns. The reason is that we are reading from Luke 19.28–40, and Luke makes no mention of ‘palms’ during Jesus’ ‘triumphal entry’ in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Instead, we only get mention (Luke 19.37) of people spreading their cloaks, or outer garments (himatia) on the road. So this year we celebrate Cloak Sunday. (If you are part of the tradition which keeps the palms and burns them for next year’s Ash Wednesday, I would advise against doing this with your coats.)

But Luke’s account raises another question for us: what kind of king do we want reigning over us? I am not here referring to questions of succession to Queen Elizabeth (if there is one!)—but to the kind of authority that we are ready to submit to. There are many authorities which exercise influence over our lives, both formal and informal—and in fact all those around us exercise some kind of power over us, through their opinions, personalities and evaluation of us, as we exercise power over them.

The reason Luke raises this question for us is that this whole section of his gospel is shaped to relentlessly press home the question for his readers: who is Jesus?

It starts in this passage with the mention of Jerusalem. Although Jesus must have visited the city many times before, Luke has been arranging his narrative since chapter 9 around this, climactic visit (Luke 9.51, 13.22, 17.11). Why does Jerusalem form such a vital focus? Certainly because this is the place where prophets are killed (Luke 13.33–34), but also because Jerusalem was the centre of spiritual, religious and political power. It was from Jerusalem that the influential Jewish leaders had come (Luke 5.17) and where people expected the kingdom of God to be revealed (Luke 19.11)—not least because it is the City of the Great King (Matt 5.35, Psalm 48.2). We might also note (as we have seen before) that Luke’s writing appears to be oriented to a non-Jewish readership who have received the gospel—and he wants to make it clear that, whilst the gospel is for the gentiles, it comes from the Jews and Jerusalem (compare John 4.22)

We will find in this passage many motifs pointing to the identity of Jesus as the longed for Davidic king, and so a key question is how Jesus will be received in Jerusalem, the city of the king. Although there is a physical coming and going in and out of the city (since it is too dangerous for Jesus to remain in the city overnight), from a theological point of view, Jerusalem is Jesus’ destination, and Luke writes in these terms. David Gooding (According to Luke, 2013, p 320) notes that there are two entries made into the city by Jesus—this one in public, and then one in private in Luke 22.7ff, when Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. In both cases, Jesus send two disciples ahead to make preparations, and gives careful instructions for them to follow. These two entrances represent the paradox of Jesus’ kingship; on the one hand, there is public acclaim, and Jesus is welcomed as the coming king.

Jesus is a king—but not the kind of king that the crowds so desperately desire (Mikeal Parsons, Paideia, p 284).

There is a desire for the kind of political king who will liberate the nation from Roman rule, and fulfil national expectations; this is so deeply rooted, that the disciples still think in this way after the resurrection before the Spirit is given (‘Will you restore the kingdom to Israel?’ Acts 1.6). But the second entrance, in secret, points to the way that the kingdom of God will come—not as a political and national idea, but as a new covenant that will transform the heart, in fulfilment of other prophetic promises (Jer 31.33–34).

As Jesus approaches the city, Luke slows down the narrative dramatically; Bethany and Bethphage are just a couple of miles from the city, and the Mount of Olives just several hundred metres away, with a panoramic view over its walls and temple—glistening in the sun with its limestone, marble and gold decoration. Up till now we have covered mile after mile with Jesus; now we slow right down so we can trace his every footstep.

Luke and Mark mention both the villages of Bethphage and Bethany, where Matthew only mentions the first of these. Bethany is well known to us from the Fourth Gospel as the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, and it is clearly a place that Jesus knows and in which he has friends. The site of Bethphage is not accurately known (despite the fact that you can locate it on Google maps!), but perhaps it is the name of the village (‘house of unripe figs’) that is significant, given Jesus’ blasting of the fig tree as a symbol of the unfruitfulness of the temple in Matthew 21 and Mark 11; Luke talks of judgement in quite different terms. Luke links the whole episode to Jesus’ prior teaching about both delay and judgement in the parable of the minas, and revisits the question of judgement on Jerusalem in the pericope that follows our passage, where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. (Mikeal Parsons believes that Jesus is contrasting the tyrant in the parable with his kind of kingship, but I am not sure the repetition of judgement really supports that interpretation.)

Luke’s focus on detail doesn’t tell us some things we would like to know—like which disciples go ahead to find the colt, exactly which village the colt comes from, who the owners are, or what they felt when the colt was taking. But it does tell us about the colt being untied—five times! The disciples (who might or might not be from the Twelve; note how Luke uses the term much more broadly in v 37) will find a colt that is tied up; they are to untie the colt; they might be questioned about the untying; they did untie it; they were asked about untying. Why all the focus on untying?! Because, according to Gen 49.10–11, this is the sign of the Coming One who is the true ruler of Judah, to whom the nations of the world will submit, and he is the one who ties and unties the donkey. As Joel Green comments, ‘the whole process is wrapped in the interpretive cloth of eschatological expectation and scriptural allusion.’ Uniquely in Luke, it is the colt’s ‘lords’ (in most translations, ‘owners’) who question the disciples (Luke 19.33); they respond to these ‘lords’ that the colt is needed by the Lord.

Although the two disciples have followed Jesus’ instructions in fetching the colt, they appear to act on their own initiative in putting their cloaks on it, and then setting Jesus to ride on it. It is as if they look at the colt, look at Jesus, and remember the scriptures—and know just what to do! We also need to remember that Jesus riding on an animal approaching the city will be highly conspicuous; pilgrims universally walk, and in any case, riding an animal would be the preserve of the wealthiest (which is why Mary did not ride a donkey to Bethlehem in the nativity narrative).

The colt hasn’t been ridden on before, because that is what is required for the king’s mount. And the format of the entry into the city follows the pattern of other examples from Scripture and from culture. What is most striking is that such events do not mark the crowning of the king, but the recognition of the king who has already won his victory. Matthew and Mark hint at this in the way they record the acclamations of the crowd. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the Coming One…!’ (Matt 21.9); ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ (Mark 11.10). But Luke makes it explicit: ‘Blessed is the coming King!’ (Luke 19.38), adding to the quotation from Ps 118.36.

Ps 118 is the last of the Hallel psalms which were sung by pilgrims as they approached Jerusalem—and it has the significance of being the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. It was originally associated with the coming of the king to Jerusalem, and the symbolic action of throwing cloaks on the road is associated with welcoming the conquering king, as Jehu is welcomed in 2 Kings 9.13. The psalm only later becomes associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, which is when leafy boughs (Matthew and Mark) or palms (John) were associated with it. By omitting any reference to palms or other branches, Luke is taking us back to the first meaning of this psalm.

Luke notes that the acclamation takes place ‘as he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives’ (v 37). This is an accurate topographical reference; the hillside of the Mount of Olives forms a steep drop into the Kidron Valley which must be crossed before climbing up again to enter the city. But it also emphasises that Jesus is very close to the city, and has a good view; he is heading on this downward path to his own death in full awareness of what this will all mean, as he has done from the beginning.

Luke is quite clear that those who are cheering Jesus are ‘the whole multitude of his disciples’, that is, the pilgrim crowd that has been following him, many of whom will be Galileans. The crowd that then calls for his crucifixion are the local Jerusalemites and Judeans; the contrast is between two crowds with two sets of loyalties, not (as claimed in the hymn ‘My Song is Love Unknown’) a single crowd who prove fickle.

The Pharisees, mentioned for the last time in this gospel here, and representing those who challenge Jesus’ claims to kingship, address him as ‘Teacher’, a title used of Jesus in Luke only by those challenging Jesus or demanding answers to their questions. The idea of the stones crying out might point to Jesus’ kingship over nature—but I wonder whether there is a Hebrew or Aramaic pun here, since the Hebrew for ‘son’ is ben and the Hebrew for stone is eben. The inanimate stones would be better sons of God than the sceptical Pharisees.

So Jesus is coming to the city of the king; he comes in the manner of a king; and he is acclaimed by the crowd of his disciples as the king who hope the kingdom will now be announced. But what kind of king is Jesus? And what does his kingdom look like?

First, he is a king who brings peace. Luke also records the crowds as acclaiming: ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Do you recognise that acclamation? I hope so; we heard it at Christmas on the lips of the angels as they made their announcement to shepherds in the field (Luke 2.14). When Zechariah celebrates the birth of his son, John the Baptist, he anticipates that his ministry will ‘give light to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and guide our feet into the way of peace‘ (Luke 1.79). Peace is a major feature of the theology of both Luke and Paul, so much so that Paul begins every letter not just with the customary greeting of ‘grace’ but also with ‘peace’.

Secondly, Jesus is a king who merits praise and brings joy. This is not just true for people, but the whole of the creation. If the people stop praising, then the very stones themselves (on the road? of the temple building?) will cry out (Luke 19.40)! Celebration is a consistent theme in Luke, not least in the parables of the lost who are found (in Luke 10).

Thirdly, Jesus is a king who brings power. The disciples welcoming Jesus celebrate the ‘works of power’ they have seen him doing (Luke 19.37). Luke has a distinctive interest in the question of power; when the Spirit comes on Mary, then power from on high rest upon her, the same power that will rest on the disciples when the Spirit comes in Acts 1 and 2. And Jesus himself, who goes into the temptations in the desert ‘in the Spirit’, returns in the ‘power of the Spirit.’ But this power is not to be used to control, manipulate or restrict, but to bring down the proud ‘in the imagination of their hearts’ (Luke 1.51) and to give ‘freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free’ (Luke 4.18).

This is a different kind of king to any you’ve met before. And the reason for that is that the journey up to Jerusalem is not a journey to power and glory, but (as Paul makes very clear in Phil 2.5–11, the other lectionary reading for (No-)Palm Sunday), it is a journey down in obedience to death. Jesus does not come to conquer the city; he comes to be conquered, and in this great reversal to win an even more profound victory. This is why he brings peace: he has turned us from enemies of God to friends through his death. This is why he brings praise and joy: because his death and resurrection have dealt with the things which separate us from God and from one another. This is the power he offers: power to know forgiveness and peace of mind.

Jesus…sees his reign not as nationalistic but as universal. His mission includes not only proclaiming release to the captives but also recovery of sight to the blind and good news to the poor…His crown is crown of thorns; his throne, a splintery cross. His exaltation does not come in riding a horse-drawn chariot amid the cheers of family and friends; rather, he finds his glory in being raised up on a cross amid the jeers of the masses. Through his death and resurrection this one who refuses to be an earthly king makes his royal entry by way of a cross and empty tomb (Parsons, Paideia, p 285).

And this presents each of us with a challenge. Will we stand with the disciples and welcome this king of peace, praise and power? Or will we stand with the Pharisees who are like the resentful tenants who ‘will not have this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19.14)?

The video discussion of this passage is now online:

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77 thoughts on “Celebrating (No) Palm Sunday in Luke 19”

  1. Palms seems to indicate a direction from Jericho. Did Jesus come up that way but then go via the Ghion spring to retrace Solomon’s accession?

    • I am not sure why. I don’t think the Fourth Gospel suggest that the pilgrims carried the branches all the way from there. There are palm trees in Jerusalem…

  2. I thought Psalm 110, not 118, was the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. Ps 118 is not an easy psalm to interpret and an original association with the coming of the king to Jerusalem does not strike me as at all obvious.

    • Hi Steven,
      I was in the dentist’ waiting room when I texted my thoughts. I thought I’d written ‘Palm’. It looked like psalm, so I wrote again and then noticed I had actually written ‘palm’ as intended.
      My thought is this: Did Jesus come up from Jericho to the adulation of the palm throwing crowd (without the city), then go round via the Gihon spring where only garments were thrown before him? Thus one eye witness noted the palms and another the garments in the narrow alleys within the city. I would like to think Jesus reenacted Solomon’s procession. 1 Kings 1.
      But all this aside, I’m intrigued by the untying of the donkey…or perhaps Jesus swapped the poor, tired donkey at the spring and mounted the colt for the final ascent?
      Also, if the alusion to Solomon is correct who in Jesus time were celebrating a different King? Was Caiaphas dining with Herod that day?

    • Hi Steven

      I agree Ps 118 is not obvious – especially in the small print. Is the picture that of messiah defeating his enemies (though the writer is not said to be a Davidic King). Or is it a reference to Israel/the remnant/the people of God and their spiritual struggles. Perhaps both are in view.

      • The psalmist, probably the king (it sounds like David), rejoices in being delivered from his enemies. In the name and power of Yah/Yahweh he defeated them militarily when he was surrounded. The experience reminds him (v. 17) that at the end of his days he will not give him over to death, but he will walk through the gates of righteousness and God will give him life.

        David thinks of himself as a stone rejected but becoming the cornerstone of a new house (cf II Sam 7:13-16). Prophetically, he anticipates in his own experience the triumph of the Messiah over death. The Messiah’s enemies rejected him, but God saved him. In this way he became the psalmist’s salvation; he became the cornerstone of a new, spiritual temple.

        On Jesus’s return to Jerusalem to reign over all the nations, the Jews, once his enemies, will say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh” (Ps 118:26, Luke 13:35). The acclamation in Luke 19:38, unbeknown to the multitude itself, is a prophetic foreshadowing of that day.

        ‘Festal sacrifice’ is clumsy in English. The monosyllabic Hebrew word means ‘feast’, in the sense of solemn remembrance or celebration (Feast of Unleavened Bread etc). Ps 118:27 is the only instance of the word’s being used, by a very bold metaphor, to mean ‘sacrifice’. Prophetically, it refers to the Lord’s sacrifice.

  3. Compare Matthew 21:9 with Psalm 118: 24 – 27; “Hosanna = O Lord save us”[25]. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord [26]”. Hosanna is there a shout of praise.
    In Matthew’s account and elsewhere in the synoptics “he who comes” is an alternative to “Messiah”. In Matthew 11 : 2, John the Baptist (in prison) asks through his disciples, “Are you the one *who is to come* or should we expect someome else?”
    Psalm 118 is one of the Hallel (praise) psalms (113 – 118), sung at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, and not forgetting the Passover!

    • Apologies for repeating to some extent what has already been said, but I think that, in order to eliminate any uncertainty about the importance of Ps 118, it’s worth repeating!

  4. Thanks – as ever much to ponder. However I am not sure why you feel so sure that there are two crowds, one from Galilee and one more local. It seems a possible reason, but I don’t know what the evidence for this is, let alone of a sufficient strength to argue it as forcefully as you do. I realise that the Galilean context is different from the Judean, and quite possibly also the rural from the urban if such terms are not too anachronistic.
    Crowds are fickle and change in composition and view. I am not saying that the crowd was made up of the same people each time, over several days the crowds will swell and change, and the priests etc may well have sown some agitators to help get them going. I wonder how big the crowd was on “Palm” Sunday – maybe rather more modest than the crowd later in the week.
    Minjung Theology from Korea has a particular interest in the crowd, the people, and offers good insights into the “crowd” as a character in the gospels.
    I think crowd is probably a more complex, fluid and multivalent word; I don’t think there is one homogeneous crowd in Holy Week, nor two distinct crowds, but something in between; people are easily swayed and / or cowed by a crowd which has vocal ringleaders.

    • Thanks Peter. Yes, crowd dynamics are complex. But here I am just noting that Luke is unambiguous: those shouting out praise to Jesus are ‘the multitude of his disciples’.

  5. Peter, I’m not sure who you are replying to, but you might find this useful:

    Matthew 21: 10 and 11 : ‘ When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked , ” Who is this?” . The crowds answered , ” This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” . ‘

    • Thanks Colin,
      I was commenting on something Ian had put, and has put in a number of his posts, about the composition of the crowds in Holy Week. I am not doubting that there was a mix of Galilean followers and more Jerusalem-based people in the crowds, but if Jesus has been back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem as John indicates he was not a total stranger. The response in Matthew to the citizens in the city shows that the crowds link Jesus to a prophetic role and a home in Nazareth; the crowds that went ahead and behind at his entrance (just a few verses earlier) link Jesus to the Davidic King. It is not obvious quite what we should read into this, nor whether we take it as a journalist with a notebook making contemporaneous notes and/ or a theological retelling of the event for the readers 40 years plus later. Matthew peppers his account with OT references and quotes!

      • No, historically he was not a total stranger to Jerusalem, as the Fourth Gospel makes clear. But it is interesting that the synoptics draw quite a sharp distinction between Galilee and Judea, both in terms of Jesus’ ministry and the response to it.

  6. While I don’t have books to hand, I think a deeper look into the Feast of Tabernacles, Festival of Booths, tracing its scriptural imperatives and principles and meaning and application at the time of Jesus and with some reference to King Solomon could shed some light on this passage.
    Indeed, palms would have been plentiful in the building of the temporary booths and waving.
    On the final day there’d be the prophetic Great Hosannah, for the “coming in the name of the Lord.” A prophecy now been realised, enacted.

    While laying down clothing could be seen as laying down temporary bodily covering, protection and status and honour, (akin to humbly living in temporary tabernacles for a week).

    Stones crying out. We as “living stones” (of the Temple) cry out in song and worship.

    Two themes of the Festival were – a season of joy and – of ingathering, fruitfulness, (beyond Israel, to include gentiles)

  7. Thanks Ian. I found your distinction between the public and private entrance to Jerusalem insightful. Like Steven, I understood Ps 110 to be the most quoted psalm.

    One thing I find frustrating is adherence to a liturgical calendar. It has become more common now in non-established churches too. I can see Christmas and Easter but beyond that it seems to me to be a bit of an unhelpful bondage… not too far from observing days etc.

    Did donkeys need to be broken in to take a rider?

    I know the fickle crowd is well trodden ground but the older I get the deeper the impression these things seem to make on me. I look at the radical change in our society’s values and attitude to Jesus in my lifetime and it seems hard to grasp. The crowd is definitely fickle.

  8. Peter,
    Re * the crowds” in verses 10 and 11: there is a certain ambiguity. However there does appear to be a distinction between *the city” and *the crowds*. The former group does not know who he is; the latter recognises Jesus as a prophet. However, the crowds referred to in verse 8 clearly recognise him as the Messiah ! It’s possible though that there is some overlap between those of verse 8 and verses 10 and 11.
    Whatever, over the years, I’ve grown weary of hearing the bog-standard “evangelical”sermon: the *crowd* (singular) loved Jesus, he fulfilled their hopes. But when they witnessed his “failure” they deserted him – a case of not reading the script!

  9. This probably is not the place, and it may not seem to be a need or cause for concern, and while I’m not a scholar, to me, there appears to be an underlying thick seam of entrenched Biblical Criticism in comments I perceive as frequent sniping and carping seeking to undermining the authority and reliability of scripture, sourced from streams of Higher Criticism ( redaction criticism; form criticism; source criticism; historical criticism – literary criticism) along with Lower Criticism (textual criticism).
    It is probable that ministry training will have been dominated by these influences.
    It also seems that the main ideas could be reasonably succinctly set out in an article and could be countered (with scholar referencences.)
    I have two books which do this both approx 20 year old ( but I doubt that the main ideas have changed). They are both by Josh McDowell, (1) The New Evidence that Demands A Verdict and (2) He Walked Among Us (freely available on the internet). Both cite scholar references.
    I see how biblical criticism has been substantially employed by the likes of Chalke in the vigorous promotion of biblical revisionism.

    • I have not found Josh McDowell the most persuasive voice here. But there is plenty of contemporary scholarship which questions the dogmatic assertions of nineteenth-century ‘Higher Criticism’ (what a loaded, patronising term!).

      There is no doubt that the gospels have a relationship to one another, and there is little doubt (where there is identical wording) that this relationship is literary. But there is a lot more going on as well, and the relationships are evidence neither of historical unreliability nor contradiction nor a long period of oral transmission.

      • One thing that strikes me as a rabid non-scholar: the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are so profound that it is very difficult to imagine anyone else with a big enough brain making them up.

        If (for example) John 17 does not give us the precise words of Jesus, then who came up with them?

        If the words attributed to Jesus weren’t actually uttered by Jesus, then they were made up by someone else who was truly Messianic.

        I don’t see any reason why Jesus shouldn’t have known both Aramaic and Greek. After all, Greek was the `lingua franca’.

        Also – if we take (for example) the view that the parable of the prodigal son wasn’t a parable of Jesus, but instead an invention of Luke in order to communicate the theology that Jesus taught, then it at the same time does two things: (a) makes Luke a hugely more profound and brilliant writer than anybody else in the last 2000 years (excepting other gospel writers) and (b) utterly fails in its objective, since theologians have disagreed for centuries on the finer points of the meaning of this parable.

        I’d say that the scholars need a different model – perhaps one where people had taken good notes of what Jesus said and did, the gospel writers used this material and communicated with each other about what they up to, deciding between themselves which nuances and emphases the various gospels should have and – importantly – I don’t see any reason why there was long delay between the ascension and publication of the gospels.

        They would have been aware that getting the good news out was extremely important – and it’s difficult to imagine that they waited until long after Paul had penned all his letters before publishing.

        I have looked at some scholarly material, although I do get thoroughly put off by it – so I haven’t read so much of it – but none of them have given a serious answer to the question `if Jesus didn’t say these things, who had a big enough brain to make it up?’ and noting that, if the gospel writers really did put words into the mouth of Jesus, then these gospels were written by truly exceptional people, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the last 2000 years.

        • Yes Jock. Your question is a good one. I accept that there is a degree of ‘reporting’ which allows for a degree of transition and interpretation. However, how does the gospel ‘invite’ us to think? Does it invite us to think that actual words or at least truths of Jesus are being reported. If it does then if critical questions point in another direction they are wrong. Time seems to have proven many assured critical conclusions to be wrong. Like C S Lewis I have little confidence in some of these methodologies though unlike Lewis, I speak largely from a position of empirical ignorance. Nevertheless its obvious that some forms of criticism are tenuous at best.

          I find I largely trust the judgement of evangelical scholars who have interacted with critical issues and often found them wanting. I find there is nothing more withering to the soul than getting caught up in these kind of issues. I’m glad of those who do so on our behalf and pray they may be kept from the cynicism and unbelief that marks much criticism. I have been pleased that narrative/literary criticism and the like have become more popular. It is productive ‘lower criticism’ asking not did John write this gospel but what did he mean by what he wrote.

          It’s probably already been discussed but I assume Jesus retold his teaching in different places and to different people, I assume the gospel writers used edited versions of what he taught to convey the truths they were emphasising.

          These kinds of studies are no doubt complex. The tragedy is when we lose sight of the message (even man) because we’re preoccupied with the method.

          There is a sense in which we hear Christ because we know he has the words of eternal life and we shelve for another life what we don’t fully understand about incarnation. The gospels (as with Christ) are self-authenticating to the ears of faith.

        • All these things are possible, but if your object is to name things that are possible then you have scarcely begun, nor could you ever end.

          You are mentioning not things that are possible but things that are simultaneously possible and congenial, and any bias to the congenial is a red light.

          A priori arguments are also ruled out. There are plenty of things that will seem reasonable *before* one starts investigating. Not all of these will remain reasonable *after* because more factors will then be seen.

          As mentioned, it is illegitimate to speculate while freely admitting that you have not begun much to explore the work of those who see more factors than you and are also better versed in the background. It is like a little-travelled man holding forth about America rather than simply asking those who have been there.

          • Yes, I was aware of that danger of pontificating from ignorance Christopher. It is why I mentioned my willingness to depend on scholars whose grasp of Scripture is sound and whom I am willing to trust on these critical issues.

            My main concern is that some become so enamoured by critical type issues that they place their souls in danger. If enough ‘doubts’ are allowed to occupy our minds for many ‘doubt’ will replace faith.

            Regarding ‘knowledge’ of critical issues (or many fields of learning) I’m long enough in the tooth to realise that ignorance for those who ‘know’ is simply a few steps further down the road. I respect those who are a little more learned in these areas but only a little; I reserve the right to a fair level of skepticism. I respect and trust much more those that can open up Scripture to me and from the text as opposed to constructed backgrounds, show me the truth. That’s something I can see and grasp.

          • Peter (PC1)
            It doesn’t have to be either/or. McDowell covers over 300 pages and I’ve honed in om one particular point on which insufficient weight seems to have been given. It is far more wide ranging, touching on things such as seeing for example Ananias and Sophia as parable rather than reportage of an *act* in space time and place.
            It also deals with what is described as fallacies of the Higher critical methods.
            It cites RT France, Howard Marshall, DG Dunn and a plethora of biblical scholars in all sides.
            I can only say, take a look at the book.

          • Hi John

            First, define ‘whose grasp of Scripture is sound’.

            Second, you’re of course aware that ‘critical’ has two meanings, and that these 2 meanings are very different from one another. The critical misanthrope bears no relation to the analytic-thinking bod.

            Framing things in terms of doubt and faith (both words used intransitively as though the grammatical object were obvious, which it is not – suggesting that what we really have is a tribal means of working out who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, a shibboleth) cannot possibly have a meaning for a truthful investigator. To do so is to begin (before any investigation) with a list of things that ought to be believed. But it is investigation that would yield that list in the first place, so how can it exist prior to investigation?

            Far from doubt and belief being opposites, they are 2 sides of the same coin: the same thing that is 68% believed is also thereby 32% doubted. The former way of thinking is binary and therefore suspect (see previous para; you are, impossibly, talking basically in terms of 100% belief and 100% doubt being the only 2 options when in reality neither of these is even a likely option); the latter is truthful and honest about evidence. So it is clear which we should choose.

            As to backgrounds, it is a choice between text-only and text-plus-background. Once again it is obvious which is better.

          • Hi Christopher

            The person whose grasp of Scripture is sound for me is the person who teaches the faith as I have come to understand it from Scripture. We all start from believing what our church or someone important in our life has taught us. In time others influence us and above all Scripture influences us. We gain an increasing grasp of the apostolic deposit and we test the beliefs of others by this light and we are right to do so.

            I am aware that examining the biblical text critically is important to you Christopher and I really don’t want to be insensitive to the importance you place on it and the time you have given to more critical studies. I am not in the business of evaluating your engagement in critical studies nor the benefit to you and others. My concerns are more general.

            I see Scripture as a unity. I see it as being internally consistent and hold to the ranalogy of faith that says one Scripture interprets another. I think a very safe principle of inquiry involves allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Many of the critical tools we value today were not available to previous generations and are not available in any practical level to most today. Has this prevented a deep knowledge of God and his word? I don’t believe it has. While these critical tools have a place it is not as big a place as is sometimes thought.

            I agree ‘critical’ has two meanings. Critical thinking is important for any who try to understand the meaning of the text, There is the critical thinking that sits ‘under’ the text and the critical thing that sits ‘over the text’. In the past the former was dubbed ‘lower criticism’ and was concerned with interpretative questions that arose from literary analysis.

            ‘Higher criticism’ was generally deemed by evangelicals to be more suspect since it asked critical questions that were considered suspect. The question moved from ‘what did Paul mean in Ephesians when he said’… to ‘did Paul write Ephesians’. Of course, in the early days of these forms of criticism (form, source, redaction etc) it was German liberals who held sway and the results were utterly destructive of the faith of many. It is from there the decline of the church can be traced. These critical tools did not have a good beginning.

            Things have moved on and evangelicals and others with greater loyalty to Scripture are now part of the discussion (though I wonder how influential they are). I’m thankful for the insights gained yet I cannot help but wonder whether the venture is a net gain or loss. The problem is it seems to me some of these critical tools are a more inexact science than is sometimes ceded. Things that are heralded as assured results are a few years later discredited.

            I also think there is a strong drive to construct backgrounds that back the theology preferred. I see this in efforts to undermine patriarchy and promote the leadership and preaching of women. Unless the constructed background compliments the grammatical-historical meaning of the text it is more of a hindrance than a help. All too often the theology is shaped by speculation to fit the manners of the age.

            There is of course in these ‘higher’ critical tools/skills also the ability to place the person skilled in them about contradiction. A scholarly guild is created that takes the Bible away from the common person and preacher.

            These are my concerns. I say this as someone who has consulted many commentaries over the years and been grateful for them. I do find I get most from those that a) carefully unpack the writer’s argument b) reveal connections to other texts. The more the commentary leans on constructed backgrounds and other scholarly speculations the less useful it is.

            Re faith and doubt I don’t believe them to be two sides of a coin. Doubt is faith in two minds. It creates instability. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief is a confession of doubt’s root. Doubt is not commendable. Tennyson was wrong when he said there was faith in honest doubt. In my view doubt is at the very best a wavering of faith and at worst a masked unbelief.

          • Hi John

            Regarding doubt you are certainly wrong. Is it not right to doubt that there is a crocodile under my bed? Surely you can see that everything that is 94% believed is *also* thereby 6% doubted, and vice-versa.

            So then it seems that (like pro-choicers when they use the word ‘choice’ as though the grammatical object were obvious) you are using the words ‘faith’ and ‘doubt’ as though their grammatical object were obvious. Which it is not. I imagine it is ‘faith in that which is too obvious to name’ which is too close to ‘faith in that which we are told we ought to believe’ or ‘faith in that which is culturally unquestionable’. In fact progress is often made precisely by examining presuppositions, and in my discourse with secularism it is very regularly the presuppositions that are not put up for discussion that are where the flaws lie.

            ‘CRITICALLY’ – I am not sure that examining anything critically is important. The meaning of the word ‘critically’ (in the scholarhip-related sense) is unclear to me. But examining things analytically is important. We cannot examine at all unless we analyse. So we restate this as: examining things is important. With which everyone agrees.

            EMPIRICISM – To examine things we have simply to see what is there and to analyse things we have to discern patterns. That is why science has been so successful. It would not have been otherwise. Your model by contrast begins with that which we start by believing (bad move, because different cultures start by believing different things, many of which are bound to be inaccurate), and these are things we believe on authority (second bad move, because the authority fallacy is a well known and agreed philosophical fallacy – X said it so it is true). A third bad move is to say ‘We all start’ – this is probably true, but is it good? Just because our lives start in a certain way, that is not ipso facto a good thing. For example, those whose lives start unchristian will have their lives improved by becoming Christian.

            SCRIPTURE – ‘I see Scripture as a unity’. Yes, but that is of no weight, because you have not argued for it. So again it looks like your position is determined by unexamined presuppositions, and will thereby be inferior to that of people who do indulge in examination.

            HIGHER CRITICISM AND LOWER CRITICISM – As I do not understand the word criticism (as opposed to the word analysis) this is of no relevance to me, and nor is the history (in Germany especially), by which no-one is bound. The thing is simply to analyse things as they are, as we see them rather than as we impose them. For this, science and empiricism are appropriate words, and higher/lower criticism is not an appropriate description.

            LOYALTY – Loyalty can be psychological rather than warranted. Just as always sticking with things as we first learned them can be psychological rather than warranted.

            SCHOLARLY GUILD – There will always be people who know more and people who know less on any topic. But only on this topic is that being held to be a bad thing. Usually (e.g. in car mechanics) it is held to be a good thing that there are experts, and that is a position one can understand. The other position one cannot understand. It is like sitting on something and refusing to allow others (including others better equipped) in to share it and illuminate it.

            CAREFULLY UNPACK THE ARGUMENT AND EXPLORE CONNECTIONS TO OTHER TEXTS – Exactly. A commentary like Cranfield’s on Romans is something beautiful, and what do we see in it? Precisely what I said above. Analysis and/or the discerning of patterns.

        • Jock,
          It is apparent that Ian isn’t a fan of McDowell, but I see in your something that is readily supported in his framework to answer some Biblical scholarship, even citing as he prodigiously does, many scholars. So I see his books, not necessarily his own voice, but frameworks for the voices of others, which I think would corroborate and expand on your position on scripture.I would recommend the freely downloadable, He Walked Among Us – Evidence for the Historical Jesus, by Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, replete as it is with citations.
          I’d link it but it may not pass Ian’s moderation of links.
          It is s recomendation from me not as a scholar, but a former solicitor with some familiarity with the laws and rules and gathering of evidence, its reliability and admissibility. I came across McDowell as I studied as a local preacher, * on trial* in the Methodist Church and it was there I first encountered (as a 47 year old convert to Christ) the scholastic undermining of scripture, scripture I approached as a believer.
          One chapter in the book covers the area of concern you raise: The Gospel Before The Gospels.
          How the Gospels came into existence.
          “How was the information preserved?”
          It still was an oral-tradition based culture, where unlike our literary culture “where our memories have become anemic and stiff, but it is not so among many eastern peoples who make more demands on it.
          ” It was not so in the time of Christ. To learn by heart and to recite were the two noormal operations for the transmission of a text.

          There is more in a similar vein.
          Considering for example memory techniques.
          “Strong admonishons against forgetting included; Every man who forgets a single word of his Mishnah ie what he has learned, Scripture accounts iit unto him as if he had forfeited his soul.
          “If a teacher forgot what he once knew, for example because of bad health, he had to return to his own pupils to relearn what he had forgotten.
          One almost wonders why Jesus need to send the Holy Spirit to bring to remembrance.”
          It is taboo in an oral culture to embelish stories as they are told, passed on.
          There is much more dealing with the Synoptics, Q and two source theories and a the length of the formative period.
          (I think Ian does not support Q theory and does support a short formative period from an oral to written form.)
          Nevertheless, although Ian might not find the voice of McDowell convincing, he may be able to supply recommendations.

          • It may have been an oral culture in general, but Judaism was very much of the written word. God didnt rely just on memory, He told them to write it down!

            As such, I wouldnt be surprised at all, given the variety of followers, that some were noting down at least some of what Jesus was teaching over the 3 years. Though of course such notes are long gone.

          • Thanks PC1 and Geoff.

            Noting the reply from Christopher Shell – well, since the gospels attribute words to Jesus, the onus is clearly on scholarship to disprove this (rather than on the `plain man’ to prove it).

            The scholars don’t seem to have interacted much with the idea that perhaps people *were* taking notes (as PC1 points out, this could well have been part of the culture. Even if it wasn’t, they were well aware that this was the `once for all’ event; they were looking for a Messiah at that time in accordance with the prophesies of Daniel). With a `once for all’ event, the point where God meets us at a specific time point in human history (the lowest point – `crucified under Pontius Pilate’) any lack-of-note-taking would be very strange.

            What about Nicodemas? He seems to have been a learned man. Did the evangelist make up the words of Jesus in that encounter? Or did Nicodemas perchance communicate them to the evangelist? Or is Nicodemas another one of these mythical characters?

            Also, the burden of proving to subsequent generations that the once for all historical event had taken place was clearly in the minds of the evangelists (Luke explicitly says so); making up something that is part mythology (e.g. trying to say that the transfiguration didn’t really happen and that Jesus couldn’t have met Moses because Moses was a mythological figure) goes wholly against the self-proclaimed agenda of the evangelists.

            The elephant in the room (of course) is the commandment not to bear false witness – and this is where Geoff’s observations as a trained lawyer are very important, about the nature of what the evangelists were trying to do.

            The other issue that the scholars (e.g. C.S. above) totally failed to address is the question of `if these words weren’t spoken by Jesus, then who was the absolute mega-brain, the likes of whom we have never seen again in the last 2000 years, who actually wrote them’?

            It is one thing being gifted in selecting the material to put into the gospel, quite another order of magnitude actually making it up.

            This was an idea I got from Bertrand Russell’s `History of Western Philosophy’, where he thinks that the whole of the Old Testament was made up by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He points out that there weren’t many people who *could* make up such a body of work, but he thinks that these two were gifted enough to do it.

            The sayings of Jesus have widely considered to be the most profound to be uttered in the last 2000 years – even by non-Christians. So are we to believe that there was a concentration of 4 incredibly brainy guys, the likes of whom we have never seen again?

            The gospel writers attribute to Jesus the words they claim that Jesus uttered; the onus is on the scholars to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is not the case; we should not `butt out’ of their brainy discussions and meekly accept whatever they hand down from on high and `exchange the truth for a lie’ (as the apostle Paul would describe such `scholarship’).

          • Hi Jock

            (1) Is Nicodemus another of those mythical characters? You are referring to some former list of mythical characters. I did not see any list of that nature.

            (2) For Nicodemus see Bauckham on the family of Naqdimon ben Gurion.

            (3) The word ‘mythical’ is vague and imprecise. What are you meaning by it? If you mean nonexistent, why not say so and thereby become more precise?

            (4) The onus is on nothing. You are saying that people can work out what is more likely before they even start investigating. Er – no, though wouldn’t it be lovely if the world was like that. The time when they can work out what is more likely is in proportion to the amount of investigation they have done. There are people who try to take short cuts. I came across them when I was a teacher. They are the lazy ones.

            (5) On notetaking, your argument is a priori, and is also a priori likely. But it is a methodological error to introduce anything a priori when we have actual evidence. Particularly when we have actual evidence to which you do not refer.

            (6) The megabrain idea is in danger of being subjective. And secondly you provide no calculus for determining where a megabrain is actually present. Things can be influential because of the degree of their exposure. Or secondly because people have read very little else.

            (7) Jeremiah and Ezekiel – shows the peril of venturing outside one’ specialism. Those who are specialists do indeed point to the exile as a seedbed for OT writings, and dating is an intricate science on which much progress has been made, some of it quite recently.

            (8) 4 incredibly brainy guys? This is the point where it is clear that you have not been reading. Much of Mark’s oeuvre is clearly dependent on Peter’s reminiscences of Jesus. John is an acknowledged genius, so no controversy there either. Particularly if like me you think the evangelist was also the prophet of the apocalypse. You can call Matthew brainy if you like, but one of his main jobs is reproduction of Mark, which is not a brainy job. Luke may well have been a gifted parabolist. Different people have different gifts.

            (9) In order to distinguish scholarship from ‘scholarship’ you would need first to be capable of scholarship. Otherwise it is a hubristic case of scoffing ‘Einstein Schmeinstein’.

        • ‘One thing that strikes me as a rabid non-scholar: the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are so profound that it is very difficult to imagine anyone else with a big enough brain making them up.’

          Yes, I think that is the most important historical critique of critical scepticism. If Jesus was not the origin of both miracle working (Tom Wright’s historical point) and teaching, then for some inexplicable reason we have the most profound and dynamic movement in the history of the world originating with a group of ordinary Jews. It is most odd.

          • I think Jock is writing as though (a) there were only 2 options, and (b) those two options were that everything attributed to Jesus in the gospels was spoken by him and that nothing was. Obviously (a) must be rejected, from which the rejection of (b) follows. (c) The idea that all-or-nothing is ever a likely perspective (it is actually being presented as the only one) is not hopeful. But unless other options than all or nothing are considered (i.e. any options at all that are not extremely extreme) then the point is not being addressed.

          • (Tom Wright says something that is universally accepted: that Jesus worked miracles and also was the source of great and preserved teaching. From which there is a sort of syllogism that still does not follow : Jesus was a miracle worker / great teacher. X is a miracle / great saying. Therefore X was done / said by Jesus.)

        • Jock, I think the main thing that must not be allowed to stand is that you are speaking of ‘the words attributed to Jesus’ as an amorphous mass. Leaving aside duplications Jesus said 31426 words. Your approach is that if even one of these is questioned there is a case of hopeless scepticism. So if someone cast question on one and agreed to 31425, then you would be crying foul? Noticing the 1 and treating the 31425 as though they did not exist? Because that looks to be the logical conclusion of your approach.

          In any case, we could have every one of Jesus’s formal teachings, 100%, and that would still not prevent later writers supplementing them. In fact it is very difficult to see how one could prevent that.

          • Which stance requires zero thought, and is then used to inferior-ise those who *have* put in the thought, who can scarcely be inferior here by any stretch of the imagination. It also abrogates the need for scholarship. And scholarship which either comes to totalitarian conclusions or comes to conclusions before doing the investigation is not ideal. it is all about nuance and the nuance is then portrayed as extremism, when in reality it is its opposite.

          • Yes, facts of dating, authorship, relationship between 2 documents, historical background etc are legitimate questions, but they are not ones that should get in the way of the actual content and communicated message of the documents, and how one approaches them depends on how one discerns the documents, which is a spiritual question. Facts of dating etc are questions because we don’t have clear or obvious answers, and whether one thinks the texts are inspired and dependable or not will therefore have a bearing. If you don’t think they are, then a date of composition a century after the events is just one of several options. By contrast, a scholar who thinks they are inspired and dependable will consider a late date very improbable, because the texts were purportedly written by people closely associated with the events described.

            I made the simple factual point that the traditional/orthodox view is that God himself, by the Holy Spirit, prevented additions by later writers. You took that as an occasion to allege that such a view entailed the abnegation of intelligent thought and inquiry, and commended yourself, by contrast, as someone intellectually and philosophically superior, one who *has* put in the thought and who, on being reminded of the orthodox view, feels personally slighted.

            The idea that the texts, once finalised by the original writers, were likewise considered final by everyone else (not least because they recognised that God was in the writing of them) is something you find inconceivable. I find that bizarre.

            I have just published a commentary which took me three years to write and on which I imagine myself to be expending a great deal of thought and scholarship. All rubbished by you – without your having read it, just as Jock has not written the works of scholarship you rate so highly – a priori, because of my belief that the one who gave the prophecy is faithful and true, that the words are faithful and true, and that the solemn warning not to add to the prophecy was to be heeded both by people at the time and by scholars now.

          • Steven Robinson – could you give the co-ordinates for the commentary you have published? I’d like to buy it and read it.

          • Hi Steven

            Congratulations on writing and finishing your commentary. That is magnificent. But you say I have regarded it of no account. In truth, of course, things are different: I did not know of it, nor have read it, so can have no opinion of it yet.

            HISTORICAL QUESTIONS SHOULD NOT GET IN THE WAY OF THE CONTENT AND MESSAGE. But they don’t, so I don’t understand the point. When we are discussing the content and message we are not speaking chronologically. To say that one kind of analysis prevents or inhibits the other is like saying that fishmongers by being fishmongers prevent bakers being bakers.

            Historical analysis aids overall understanding, which will then be helpful as we analyse the message or content, which is the real and more important (if not always more fundamental) thing.

            You speak of ‘the texts’ but first there had to be a process of selection of the texts. That there was a selfevident group called ‘the texts’ is not selfevident at all, though it was certainly not usually a particularly difficult task to separate first-importance texts from second-importance in the formation of the NT canon.

            EARLY AND LATE DATES – This has been dealt with before and is quite wrong, and could be evidence that you are speaking ideologically or tribally. ‘Early’ and ‘late’ are not dates. 66, 79 and 103 are dates. Never can lesser precision be anything but inferior to greater precision.

            ‘REMINDED OF THE ORTHODOX VIEW’ – I had never forgotten it. But when regimes impose thought control how do we think of them? For something to be judged ‘orthodox’ is at times a misuse of power, at others a neutral description. Where it is a misuse of power it also prejudges the question, which is not intelligent – so obviously we prefer that which is intelligent. Likewise things that are traditional have not the slightest authority merely by virtue of being traditional. They may have *become* traditional in the first place by having a lot to be said for them.

            ABHOR – For all you know I may love it – it is more to do with the way it is arrived at. I would be right to abhor the idea that people should arrive at stances (which means settled positions) without having done the work to warrant that – given that the temptation to stick in a congenial position is so great – and all the more so if they thought this was better (rather than worse) than having examined one’s position.

            HOLINESS (John’s point) – exactly. People like Paul combined holiness with rigour. Holiness is the chief sine qua non. What we have seen in recent church leadership is that a combination of holiness with rigour is the best and a lack of rigour from the top leads to problems. That is why Temple and Coggan were the finest archbishops (Rowan Williams combines both too, though is perhaps also partly a product of turning 18 in 1968, since I believe he does not take account of the evil nature of much secularist thought nearly enough) and why John Paul and Benedict, both academics, were admirable in the ways in which they were admirable. Then we look at Hugh Osgood among the Pentecostals – and so on.

            You say: ‘You mean the need for a particular kind of ‘scholarship’ – No, that is not what I mean. I mean empirical analysis. I never judge scholarship by its conclusions (which is a facile and often ideologically-motivated shortcut) but only by its method. This point it seems to me you have not grasped, and therefore you end up saying something which is not true. But to tell another person what they mean is to say that you know the contents of their head. Which is well known not to be the case – none of us knows such a thing.

            A DATE OF COMPOSITION A CENTURY AFTER THE EVENTS – You are talking here imprecisely and wildly. The way in which we found that NT documents are first-century and not (as some Victorians said) partly second-century was precisely by historical-critical analysis.

            I can see several stereotypes in what you write, and stereotypes are by their nature an impediment that actively works against clear thought and clear sight.

          • Jock, the psephizo software blocks the web address, but you will find it if you go to the Wipf and Stock website and search for When the Towers Fall.

          • 1 Hello Christopher,
            1.1 I’d be fascinated how you would arrive at any decision, as a jury member in a trial, where in general expert opinion is inadmissible and where there is a separation between burden of proof and standard of proof, a standard that is beyond a reasonable doubt; that is, it requires being sure that a defendant is guilty of both a criminal act with criminal intent.

            1.2 It certainly can not be decided on mere methodology, as method may be central, or of the only importance, in gaining a doctorate, or academic credibility, but the conclusion may be off.

            1.3 For what it is worth, I think you are over egging the pudding in what, in matters of legal evidence, can be described as having a purpose of your own to serve, in defending what some may describe as scholasticism.

            1.4 Do you really accept the results of all scholarship as long as the methodology is unquestionable? And I’m unsure of the place, if any, of proper *disinterested* peer review in biblical scholarship. Of course there will be some that consider themselves not trammelled nor trapped by *received theology* all the while disparaging what they’ve embarked on, set out to do, within the confines of the scope of their dissertations. Starting from their present theological view-point: influences, positive and negative, that have brought them to that start line.

            An example would be the employment in a University in England to a created position of Professor of Constructive Theology, a post it could be suggested involves, admits of Deconstructive Theology, without considering, analysing the sources of the espoused ideology and at the same time avoiding clear definitions and employing, indeed *constructing,* obscurantist -slippery language.

            1.5 Why do think that a truth seeker will hate ideology, if the ideology is formed as a result of truth seeking as opposed to a priori?
            Is Jesus an ideology? A philosophy?
            The creeds are forms of ideology. Do you hate them?
            Mere Christianity itself?

            1.6 Is truth only a principle?
            1.6.1 Is it related to is and ought? Is there a correspondence aspect to truth: objective reality?
            1.6.2 Does it emanate from God, the Person of Jesus?
            1.6.3 What does it mean to be enlightened by Jesus the Christ, by God the Holy Spirit, in the darkness of Christless understanding, in the darkness of the Enlightenment and its post-modern deconstructionist offspring.?

            1.7 From your comments over the time I’ve visited this site, where you have revealed some aspects of your faith, through the people you’ve mentioned, and the hymns you had at your wedding, it appears to me that you accept the Christian faith as described in Apostles and or Nicene Creeds. And that you lean towards the charismatic side, no matter your scholar’s or academic qualifications.

            1.8 I like the way Gavin Ashendon has described himself as a recovering academic. And that, by no means, involves setting aside all his learning.

            1.9 You pitch-in firmly in matters of morality, sexuality, gender, abortion, based on your theology. You appreciate the longitudinal Biblical Theology of GK Beale. So, I think, at some level you appreciate a good argument; but it seems at times, just for argument’s sake.

            1.10 And behind that self-defending scholar is a committed Christian, ideologist, and I apologize for how patronizing that may sound, but it is not always clear with all biblical scholars, not that you need my support.

            2 And Jock, if you are listening in, aren’t you being narrowly selective in supporting your favourite biblical and other scholars: Barth, Torrance, Russell (literary scholar? Dostoevsky, who seems to have had some significant influence on your theological formation).

            3. John T. The whole of scripture shows, does it not, that God uses unholy as well as holy ones to advance his Kingdom, to reveal the Gospel of Jesus? Some were transformed, some not.

            4 What seems to be missing in some commentators, that conceding on a point is a sign of weakness, rather than strength.

            And while some see concession as an opportunity, an opening, to strike a well aimed blow, riposte, at underpinning and whole case argumentation it often proves the intransigence of their position, that in fact undermines their own case.

          • Hi Geoff

            Correct – I am not at all a fan of the jury system. Not that there would not be several kinds of system that are worse – but I do not think it is the best. There are sophisticated ways of assessing probabilities which are sidelined. Jury members may judge according to how smart or how plausible a person is. They may employ prejudice or stereotyping. They may be swayed by their foreman. Or by a strong character among the jurors. They may want the case to finish quickly for myriad reasons.

            Scholars disagree, but at least they have employed scholarship – which most of the time does not happen at all.

        • Which stance requires zero thought.and is then used to inferior-ise those who *have* put in the thought.
          You’re evidently “inferiorising” those who hold the stance you abhor, which after all is no more than an extension of Paul’s conviction that all scripture is God-inspired. There are many scholars who have with complete intellectual integrity operated within that framework. That approach towards Scripture has been the hallmark of Christianity from its inception. The question is not whether the stance ‘requires zero thought’ but whether the stance – the conviction that the Bible is God’s uniquely authorised revelation of himself and message for you and me – is true.

          It also abrogates the need for scholarship.
          You mean the perceived need for a certain kind of scholarship, from scholars who think that they know better and they are the arbiters of truth. You may be wise in your eyes, but to my mind you are just solipsistically creating a reality of your own making. You think you are being objective when in fact you are just unwittingly introducing a lot of preconceptions of your own and imagining that a sceptical stance towards the honesty and inspiration of the texts is more nuanced, more open-minded and free-thinking.

          This has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, and without the Holy Spirit interpreting the text to your soul (I Cor 2:14, Heb 4:12), judging and speaking to you, nurturing spiritual maturity, not you judging it, the vital thing that makes Christianity what it is is absent. The wisdom of the ‘scholar’, the scribe, the debater of this age, is sheer folly so far as God is concerned – and he should know.

          • The texts you mention are to do with things that are spiritually discerned. Facts of dating, authorship, relationship between 2 documents, historical background are not spiritually discerned but are searched out by informed investigation.

            THis is cldear from the fact that many spiritually advanced people have not a clue about the latter types of question, nor need they have. These are, however, the types of question about which we are now speaking.

            If someone said ‘The Holy Spirit told me that…’ we immediately have to be discerning and to test what they say. But if someone said ‘The Holy Spirit told me that Hebrews was written in 49 AD’ we would be befuddled. Hard facts are for the scholar, spiritual enlightenment is for the Spirit.

            If you met a holy person, would you immediately think that they were the prime candidate to solve the synoptic problem?

          • Christopher

            Is it not holy people that are the key people God uses in Scripture to advance his kingdom? He rarely places a premium on intelligence. Faithfulness and obedience are what he prizes. This may be found in the intellectually able or less able.

  10. I’m not sure if I am going over the old ground again. I am not arguing for one crowd, all of whom change their mind, but I also don’t think there are two separate crowds.
    Popular hopes for a Messiah, or a Prophet, or a King were plentiful and somewhat varied; Horsley’s Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs gives us a good overview. Prophet is not the same as Messiah or King!
    Jesus did not fulfil these popular views, just as he did not fulfil Peter’s view that the Messiah would not suffer. Some of the crowd may well have felt let down: Jesus was not showing any signs of removing the Romans – he had been captured.
    Demagogues can manipulate crowds, and maybe some of those who were enthusiastic on the Sunday were cowed into silence by the aggression they now saw towards Jesus. Would I have the courage to stand up if the crowd were against me?
    My concern is that in moving away from a simplistic ‘one crowd who all see Jesus as a failure and choose Barabbas’ we can end up with a ‘two separate crowds, one good one bad’ model which is equally simplistic. If the Sunday crowd really were so positive about Jesus where have they disappeared to, where did the Galileans go and why so silent?
    It is much more likely that there were a whole range of views and allegiances both on the Sunday and later in the week, and by then the mood of the dominant crowd had changed, maybe because the make-up of the crowd was different, and / or maybe because the situation had changed – Jesus is now a prisoner; the leaders may have planted some agitators etc. The whole context is one that is edgy, violent, turbulent, not like our liturgies.

    • As Ian said, Luke refers to ‘the multitude [plethos] of the disciples’ (Luke 19:37) who accompanied him on (the final leg of) the journey to Jerusalem. When Jesus was arrested they dispersed. The ‘crowds [ochlous]’ (Luke 23:4) who wanted him crucified were a different group of people, non-disciples. I really don’t see the problem.

  11. Peter, There is little I would quarrel with in what you have said. But why this preoccupation with the crowd(s) reaction(s)? “The whole context is one that is edgy, violent turbulent —-“. Yes – that’s usually the case with crowds! What I believe you need to focus on here, what you need to concentrate on, is *Jesus ‘ response* to the crowd [see vv 41 – 44]. Focus on the Messiah, not his *flock*.

    Geoff I confess my guilt in employing *criticism* in biblical study! However by criticism I mean it in its Greek sense of *judgement* and here I must be careful. I do *not* mean sitting “over” the text, but sitting *under* the text; wrestling with it under the grace of God to discover its meaning. There may be some contributing to this blog who think differently, but I am convinced that a great many share my view.And at my stage in life, I am not prepared to be sidetracked!

    • Hi Colin,
      If we don’t consider the context we are likely to misinterpret the conversation. Those of us who live in relatively stable, affluent and safe times and places may well not have understood the Scriptures which are mostly written from and in a context that was much less stable, affluent or safe for the writers and for the hearers and for (in the gospels and epistles) the principle “character”, Jesus. Some talk about the epistemological privilege of the poor, their privileged position in understanding the invitation of God.
      one question I ask, is where would I have been during Holy Week – how might I have responded? I would not have liked the edge or the aggro; I have faced aggressive police and seen their aggression on others. That much power disparity is scary. On a related note I am reading the psalms and wondering how they read for Ukrainian Christians at the moment, but that is a different thread maybe.
      I am always worried when people say they restrict their reading to particular writers – I have learnt much from those with whom I disagree, and have changed my understanding in light of challenges that I find strong and compelling. And I have found the godly actions of Christians whose views I might not agree with sometimes far more Christ-like than the actions of those who might hold a more ‘orthodox’ theology.

      • Peter,
        Could it be suggested that it is not either/or belief or behavior, it is both/and, otherwise there is a risk of of employing the * no true Scotsman fallacy.
        You ask about Ukrains and Christianity, as did Jock.
        Who knows where our faith will be in the testing of the fires of affliction.
        Tortured for Christ, by a one so tortured, Richard Wurmbrand is a tough read.
        You ask where you would be in the crowd. I have the impression, that I would have been, as an unbeliever, hammering the nails in, without any realisation he was doing it for me, without any enlightenment, revelation, of who Jesus is.
        There were two neighbours of Jesus … on the cross. One was enlightened, into eternity with Christ in the pitch darkness of the crucifixion of the Christ, one died in the darkness of unenlightened understanding, in unbelief
        Testing will draw us to Christ, or away from Christ.
        In John’s Gospel, when disciple were deserting Jesus because of his *hard* sayings, Jesus asked the twelve if they also wanted to leave. Simon Peter answered to the effect where would we go – “you have the words of eternal life..the Holy one of God.
        That is the crux. When life is on the line, where, or to whom do we go? When all is stripped away, where is our naked belief?

        • I feel the weight of your Wurmbrand reference. We were just talking about him today and his stand and feeling our own fears. One things for sure, if we don’t stand firm in faith now we won’t stand firm when the test comes.

          Isaiah 7

          If you are not firm in faith,
          you will not be firm at all.’”

      • Peter,

        I couldn’t agree more with your opening sentence, and neither for that matter with your observation on restricted reading. Far too much of my past life was spent in what was essentially a form of evangelical idolatry; absorbing the ideas of the cult figures without exercising my own (limited) faculties. Nowadays I still read, more or less, for reference mainly, but occasionally for the purpose of drawing red lines through long-cherished shibboleths.
        Incidentally, re the Psalms and Ukraine: I am hoping to write an essay on the value of the imprecatories. I have the silly feeling that they might have more sustenance and comfort for those poor, persecuted people than our usual platitudinous, perfunctory paeans of *peace*! Best wishes. C

        • Colin,
          Imprecatory Psalms were ok for David but I don’t think introducing them as a framework for a prayer meeting is a good idea. Like Richard’s imprecation that inadvertently caused the death of Thomas Becket, the same could think happen, someone could decide to be God’s avenging angel. Right wing Christians are a growing minority, what might you inspire them to do in Jesus’ name?
          I don’t even see Jesus fulminating agains injustice in the same way.
          As we are in Christ, we too should be circumspect …even though we might use the imprecatory Psalms in private prayer.
          Or, can we use imprecations without naming names? Would that work?

          • Steve,
            Are not imprecatory prayers to God, for God to deal with, in his justice. Anglican scholar Alec Motyer, to me, has some wise words, in various writings about them. They are completely open and honest heart cries to God, for protection, deliverance and at times a result of being aggrieved at God being dishonoured. But this is somewhat simplistic, generalisations that need context.
            Maybe, just maybe, we’ve not had tanks on our lawns, family killed, raped house blown up.
            Volf speaks to a western way of life that has not such experience, such evil.

        • Colin – well, I suppose that Ukraine is now an object lesson in why-pacifism-doesn’t-work.

          I’m reminded of someone at a bible study once, who proudly announced to us that somebody had struck him during the week – and that he had turned the other cheek. He then added that after he had turned the other check, the other fellow was flat on the ground. It seems that, in the process of turning the other cheek, he had unleashed a powerful left hook …

  12. Colin,
    If you can be fussed, you just need to glance over your shoulder at the previous article ( starting from the botton up) to see what I’m getting at – trained disciples of the
    tenets, dogma, ( the exclusion of God’s authorial involvement in production of scripture) , of Higher Criticism. It is the polar opposite of what you describe.
    It is boringly, tediously, wearisome, but seems to remain deeply influential in the CoE and ministry training, an absolute necessity. From some of the comments,
    it seems to have something of a free rein, (that is, unopposed by scholars). Even though it is rarely apparent in comments on Ian’s scripture, liturgy, articles. (Though I recall one comment doubting that Jesus said *that* ; to me, in that there are strong
    echoess, reiterations, down the centuries of, “did God really say?”
    Scripture is what it is: unchangeable, even by specious unbelieving, sometimes anti-supernatural, starting and end points (and sometimes believing) supposition.
    I appreciate your contributions, thanks.

  13. Geoff

    Part of the frustration is that often those on the theological left sit lightly on truth. By this I mean that those of a more conservative ilk are likely to aim at being meticulous with truth and especially the truth of Scripture because they believe it to be the word of God. Those on the left do not give this level of credibility to the word of God. If it doesn’t suit it can easily be dismissed. I think too they are much more likely to employ it in ways that they know it doesn’t mean because it suits an apparently higher purpose.

    Thos on the right misinterpret and get Scripture wrong but it is unintentional and they are trying to get things right. I don’t think that kind of honesty exists in the theological left.

    • Oh I think some on the ‘right’ are quite apt on ‘interpreting’ the truth of Scripture based on their own tradition.

    • It is wrong to be part of any ‘ilk’ at all. That is tribal. Worse, it is also binary, splitting everything into a culture-war right/left binary. It was people like Mao that first did that.

      This is indeed what we find in popular discourse alas. But why would anyone listen to it? It is obvious that the presuppositionless nuanced are the ones we should be listening to.

      Given that tribes and ilks are liable by their nature to be ideological, then what would anyone expect? Life is short. Why would anyone give ideology the time of day in the first place?

      • Much as I abhor the present surge of identity politics nevertheless the church is a tribe. And it is binary. And it is the pillar and ground of truth. By theological left I meant those of a liberal persuasion that I don’t consider to be believers at all.

        Since creation, there have been binary categories: light and darkness; earth heavens; dry land and sea; male and female. Binary categories may be wrong but they are not always wrong.

        • Yes of course plenty of things are binary, by which we often mean that there are precisely 2 extremes.

          I do not know how you justify the simplistic left/right discourse. It suggests that everyone who believes in families likes fatcats and guns.

          But there is a more fundamental point. Anyone who is a truth seeker will hate ideology. You discuss the whole discourse as though everyone was ideologues tribe A and ideologues tribe B. That is not only wrong but 100% wrong – in the debate proper no-one can possibly be either of these. It is fundamental that if someone is captive to an ideology rather than actually doing research, we have time only to listen to the people who do research. The other lot are actually oriented in the wrong direction anyway, so not only have they not got anywhere they are not going anywhere either.

          This is why I think your perspective is not only imperfect but seriously imperfect.

  14. Thanks for the video and blog. During the discussion between you and James on the differences of opinion as to whether the crowd was crowd or compromising two different groups – pilgrims/Jerusalemites, I was reminded of Luke’s Emmaus road account and the consistency of views/hopes for Jesus from the Pilgrim perspective after his death, which also includes their “othering” the chief priests and rulers who possessed the opposing view.

    Luke 24:20 “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

  15. Knots Untied
    There are many good points in this post , but there are some issues that require opening up and elaboration:
    First The paragraph beginning “There is a desire for a kind of political king ——–.”
    In presenting an argument based upon Acts 1:6 with the intention of showing that the disciples misunderstood the signs of the times, it omits (and not for the first time) *Jesus response* :” It is not for you to know the dates and times the Father has set by his own authority [1:7]”. This is followed by the reference to the Holy Spirit. But notice: Jesus rebukes the disciples *not on the basis of misinterpretation but “playing God” with the *timing* of future events!
    And even if the disciples were mistaken, then cannot the same be said of The Song of Zechariah (see Luke 1: 69 -75) ? Was he mistaken also? In his IVP commentary on Luke’s gospel, Leon Morris insists that “the song is *religious* rather than political” . However, the fact is that these verses are political. Are we then to exorcise the political from the script in order to make them acceptably *religious*? Are we then to tamper with canonical Scripture in order to make it conform to a preordained theological pattern?
    Perhaps the answer to this conundrum lies in the final part of the same paragraph: — – – “the kingdom of God will come – *not as a political idea*, but as a new covenant *that will transform the heart* in the fulfilment of other prophetic promises Jer 31:33 – 34).
    But this only raises two other problems: (a) By what criterion do we disassociate the other promises of Jeremiah which *are* political in orientation? Because it’s located in the OT? If we look at two statements later in this post, one says :” This is the power he(Jesus) offers : power to know forgiveness and peace of mind.” Of course he does! Yet in the previous paragraph we read: ” — this power is not used to control, manipulate or restrict but to bring down the proud –[Luke1:51] — to give freedom to the prisoners , recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free [4:18]”. But this begs the question: is this power simply *religious* or, if you like from the “transformed heart” or is it not greater than this ? Jesus the Messiah is a ruler – and rulers govern! Surely this means therefore that the term “political” must have great bearing on his calling.
    Secondly: re the clause quoted above (beginning “the kingdom will come —) : it quotes Jeremiah 31: 33 – 34 as evidence for the kingdom “not as a political and national idea”. In the first place Jeremiah’s introduction of the New Covenant is taken up by the writen of The Hebrews who in turn makes two salient points: first it is a *new* covenant’ not a regurgitation of the old; the old is obsolete[ 8:13]. But secondly, it still makes reference to the Jeremiah passage virtually verbatim *but* without altering the reference to *Israel and Samaria”! Whatever the interpretation of this entails, it cannot mean that “the political and national idea ” has been superceded; otherwise why did he not replace it with ,say, the *Church*? The New Covenant is not primarily dealing with membership of the church but *the foundation” on which that membership is based – the sacrifical, atoning and justifying death of our Lord Jesus Christ [Romans 3:21f].
    Finally: a “national idea” is one thing; the term * nationalism * is quite another and, in my estimation, pejorative. *Nationhood” is biblical and not dead! ” For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for you righteous acts have been revealed [Revelation 15:4] .”

  16. Hello Geoff,

    Yes – I was listening in – and I’ll respond to your point

    2 And Jock, if you are listening in, aren’t you being narrowly selective in supporting your favourite biblical and other scholars: Barth, Torrance, Russell (literary scholar? Dostoevsky, who seems to have had some significant influence on your theological formation).


    In the context of the discussion with Christopher Shell about scholarship, authorship and dating of the gospels, the scholars don’t seem to have addressed the possibilities that would seem intuitively most likely to me. I try to put myself into the mind-set of the disciples and followers of Jesus. They were well aware of the prophecies of Daniel and so they were expecting the Messiah at about that time. If I were in that position, and if I believed that Jesus was indeed the one (the disciples believed this, although they clearly didn’t know he had to be crucified and rise again) I would be doing my best to ensure that as much of it as possible was recorded.

    Crucially, after the resurrection, there would be two conflicting feelings in the mind of a disciple: (1) we want to get this information down in written form, published and get the good news out as quickly as possible and (2) anybody who really understood what they were doing would be in absolute fear and trembling about the possibility of misrepresenting Jesus.

    Yes (I agree with Steven Robinson) the Holy Spirit is working to ensure that accurate information is handed down; God does this using natural methods – and people understanding their grave responsibility to not misrepresent God would seem to me to be a key ingredient here.

    I don’t see the scholarship where these basic ideas (the way that would be a priori natural to the plain man) have been interacted with and serious reasons given why they were discounted.

    So I suppose that, with bible scholarship connected with authorship and dating, it all boils down to the question: do we believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Did the disciples (and eyewitnesses) believe that Jesus was the Messiah? If the answer is yes, then how would this have governed their thinking about what to do about it and how to get the good news out to a wider audience and also for remote posterity?

    Getting back to the points you raise – you missed the first and foremost influence on me – the sermons I heard from James Philip and, most particularly the series on Romans 1987 – 89 (evening services). You mentioned Torrance and Barth. Well, there are connections there – (1) I heard his brother David preaching (on two occasions). Also, one of his nephews was very useful to me when I was much younger – involved with the seaside mission (presenting the gospel message to young children, on the beach, together with some games) – so I was interested in the family. Therefore, later, I read his `The Trinitarian Faith’ which was very useful. Of course, he was a student of Barth, so that led on to Barth’s commentary on Romans. I don’t think I would ever have read any of this if there hadn’t been some personal connection to real people.

    I don’t think that these things are fundamental or formative – although they did add great perspective and `The Trinitarian Faith’ really was informative – the formative thing was the sermons I heard at Holyrood Abbey church (and Emil Brunner’s `The Mediator’ which James Philip recommended to us during one of his sermons).

    Another important thing here: I don’t have a legal mind and sometimes I really don’t make connections very fast at all. I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day, but if someone writes something that looks all wrong, I often only have an intuitive feeling that it is wrong – and I can’t actually put my finger on what is wrong, or find a convincing argument against it until much, much later.

    I’m glad I didn’t go into the legal profession and become a QC when I grew up; I would probably be rubbish at it – I can’t think on my feet or in real time.

    Yes – I accept that (a) I am narrow and (b) I often don’t have very good arguments, but I’m not sure that we’re really supposed to. If this is necessary, then doesn’t that make the faith docetic? There are some people who have a talent for debate – and one of the good things about coming here and reading the discussions that take place is that they can sharpen up the thinking. It very rarely happens that my mind is changed on anything, but it’s good to see things properly discussed, come to a better understanding of what I believe and also a better understanding of `the other side’.


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