Refuting Mythicist Appeals to Justin Martyr
It is frequently claimed by modern mythicists that denial of the historicity of Jesus is not a product of modern skepticism but was present even as early as the 2nd century. One example frequently appealed to is the Jew named Trypho, whose debate with the Christian apologist Justin Martyr is recorded in the ‘Dialogue with Trypho. (See for example Dorothy Murdock, Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ Revealed, (Kempton: Adventures Limited Press, 2004), 204)
Chapter 8 of the Dialogue consists of Trypho’s rebuttal to Justin as follows:
“If, then, you are willing to listen to me (for I have already considered you a friend), first be circumcised, then observe what ordinances have been enacted with respect to the Sabbath, and the feasts, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all things which have been written in the law: and then perhaps you shall obtain mercy from God. But Christ - if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere - is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."
It is claimed that this passage represents early mythicism, in that Trypho denies the existence of Jesus. But it should be clear from the get-go that this is far from conclusive evidence. First, even if we were to concede to this claim, it does nothing more than show that one Jewish mythicist existed in the mid-2nd century. This has no bearing on whether or not Jesus actually existed. Just because someone believed it does not invalidate the historical Jesus nor does it add to the plausibility of the mythicist position.
Second, it is evident that Trypho is discussing the “Christ” in this passage as a concept. Trypho, as implied by what he goes on to say, does not believe that the Christ has been born yet, and if he has, the individual who is the Christ does not know that he is the Christ until he is anointed by Elijah. Trypho is most likely simply saying that Christ has not made himself known to the Jews yet, and is not necessarily talking about the historical figure of Jesus.
And third, most significantly, the identity of Trypho throws a major wrench in this argument. Scholars such as Amos Hulen have affirmed that Trypho was nothing more than a literary invention of Justin created in order for the apologist to lay out his arguments (‘The ‘Dialogues with the Jews’ as Sources for the Early Jewish Argument Against Christianity’ Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 51, (1932), 63). This view has been affirmed more recently by Larry Heyler, who says that “Most scholars accept that Trypho is a fictional character created to suit Justin’s literary purpose” (Larry Heyler, Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Studies, (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 493).
So even if it can be gleaned that Trypho was a mythicist, Trypho was himself probably an invented character. Instead of investigating Trypho as a real person, then, scholars rather investigate whether Justin transmits accurate allegations made by Jews against Christians. But they are very divided on this matter: L. W. Barnard (‘The Old Testament and Judaism in the Writings of Justin Martyr’, Vetus Testamentum Vol. 14 (1964), 406) and P. Sigal (‘An Inquiry into Aspects of Judaism in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho’, Abr-Nahrain Vol. 18 (1978-79), 75) affirm that Justin fairly accurately represents Jewish anti-Christian polemics in the second century. However, Graham Stanton (‘Aspects of Early Christian-Jewish Polemic and Apologetic’, New Testament Studies Vol. 31, Issue 3 (1985), 377-92) argues that Justin only knew some genuine allegations made by Jews against Christianity, and Robert Wilde affirms that Justin only knew about Jews and Judaism from the Septuagint (Robert Wilde, The Treatment of the Jews in the Greek Christian Writers, (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1949), 104). So we cannot say with any certainty that the words of Trypho in the Dialogue reflect actual Jewish polemics from the 2nd century or were nothing more than rhetorical punching bags set up by Justin for him to levy his arguments against.
But assuming that Trypho is a real person and that he does represent the polemics of 2nd century Judaism against Christianity, what does he actually believe about the historicity of Jesus? The above quote is just one statement made by Trypho in a book that is 142 chapters long. Mythicists fail to take into account everything else that Trypho says concerning Jesus. Here are just a few statements where Trypho unequivocally affirms the historicity of Jesus:
Dialogue with Trypho Chapter 10:
“…you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God.”
“These and such like Scriptures, sir, compel us to wait for Him who, as Son of man, receives from the Ancient of days the everlasting kingdom. But this so-called Christ of yours was dishonourable and inglorious, so much so that the last curse contained in the law of God fell on him, for he was crucified.”
“Sir, it were good for us if we obeyed our teachers, who laid down a law that we should have no intercourse with any of you, and that we should not have even any communication with you on these questions. For you utter many blasphemies, in that you seek to persuade us that this crucified man was with Moses and Aaron, and spoke to them in the pillar of the cloud; then that he became man, was crucified, and ascended up to heaven, and comes again to earth, and ought to be worshipped.”
“But if some, even now, wish to live in the observance of the institutions given by Moses, and yet believe in this Jesus who was crucified, recognizing Him to be the Christ of God, and that it is given to Him to be absolute Judge of all, and that His is the everlasting kingdom, can they also be saved?”
The first quotation we gave from Chapter 8 would appear to make Trypho seem like some kind of mythicist. But in these chapters, he unmistakably affirms the earthly, physical nature of Jesus. His statements concerning Jesus largely deal with the notion of God becoming man, getting crucified, and the defying the messianic expectations. He does not deny the crucifixion as an event, rather the theological idea that God could become a man and then be crucified by his own creation.
Trypho also appears to contradict himself frequently during his dialogue, thus lending credence to the idea that Justin invented him for rhetorical purposes. In Chapter 72 he states:
“The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower…”
This passage could be construed as reading like Trypho believed the Christians stole from pagan myths, but reading the rest of the passage shows this to not be the case:
“And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather [should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ, [it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks.”
Trypho merely finds it distasteful that the narrative of Jesus, in his mind, was somewhat similar to the stories of pagan gods. He instead suggests that Justin and the Christians should rather say that Jesus was “born man of men.”
Trypho therefore affirms that:
- Jesus was born
- Jesus died by crucifixion
- His crucifixion was a result of him supposedly violating the “law of God”
- The Christians believed in a bodily resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of Jesus to the earth which he had walked
Again, even if after all of this we were to grant that Trypho both existed and was a mythicist, this is only the attitude of one individual. There is no evidence from any other early anti-Christian polemicists (e.g., Porphyry or Celsus) that there was any doubt concerning the historicity of Jesus during this time. There were attacks on the writings about Jesus, for sure, but the existence of the man himself was evidently not questioned.
Unfortunately, the appeals to Justin Martyr for mythicist evidence do not stop at Trypho. Other mythicists have frequently cited Justin’s First Apology Chapter 21 where Justin says “…we [Christians] propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.”
The mythicists once again fail to understand Justin Martyr himself. He was raised in a pagan home and was taught pagan philosophy before his conversion to Christianity. Do you really think that he would have converted if he thought that Christianity was just another mystery religion? Would he go out of his way in Chapter 23 of his Apology to affirm the exclusive truthfulness of his new religion if he believed it was influenced by other myths? This is highly unlikely. Rather, his writings reveal an attempt to set up a positive dichotomy between the ideas of the pagans and the Christians.
As Richard Plantinga says, “Justin was forced by his conversion to Christianity to seek connection between his pagan, philosophical past and his Christian, theological present. This biographical quest would come to expression as he sought to mediate between the worlds of Greek and Christian thought” (Richard Plantinga, ‘God So Loved the World: Theological Reflections on Religious Plurality in the History of Christianity’, in David Baker (ed.), Biblical Faith and Other Religions: An Evangelical Assessment, (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2004), 108).
The context of the passage in the Apology reveals the reason why Justin appeals to narratives about other gods to defend the gospel narratives. In chapter 21, Justin gives the parallels that he sees between Christianity and the mystery religions. What is avoided by the mythicists is what follows. At the end of chapter 21, he points out the differences between the Christian God and the gods of the mystery religions, saying that Jupiter:
“…was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions.” Justin draws an explicit distinction between his God and their gods.
He goes on to say in chapter 24:
“…though we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ, and though we do no wrong, are put to death as sinners; other men in other places worshipping trees and rivers, and mice and cats and crocodiles, and many irrational animals. Nor are the same animals esteemed by all; but in one place one is worshipped, and another in another, so that all are profane in the judgment of one another, on account of their not worshipping the same objects. And this is the sole accusation you bring against us, that we do not reverence the same gods as you do…”
And also in chapter 26:
“…because after Christ's ascension into heaven the devils put forward certain men who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you, but even deemed worthy of honours.”
It is very clear was Justin is doing here. The Christians were under persecution and Justin wished to show the hypocrisy of the Romans in their selectiveness on who they dispensed punishments. The Christians were persecuted for their perceived “strange” religious practices, but other pagans and magicians, who worshipped gods that were licentious, lustful, and murderous, were lauded and celebrated.
Even if after this clarification we were to admit that Justin was simply asserting that his religion was the same as pagan religions, as mythicists claim, why should we believe him? It is quite interesting that mythicists appeal to Justin for their evidence, but will no doubt discard his statements that are of value to modern Christian apologetics, such as his testimonies that the Gospels were written by the apostles. The selective usage of Justin’s writings to further the mythicist position, whilst simultaneously ignoring others that would invalidate their positions elsewhere, shows the inconsistency and dishonesty of this argument.
J. Gresham Machen’s observation puts it well: "We should never forget that the appeal of Justin Martyr and Origen... to the pagan stories of divine begetting is an argumentum ad hominem. ‘You hold,’ Justin and Origen say to their pagan opponents, ‘that the virgin birth of Christ is unbelievable; well, is it any more unbelievable than the stories you yourselves believe?’" (J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 330)
The appeals to Justin for mythicist evidence are gross misrepresentations of his work. Thus we have no reason to believe that mythicism was an early idea nor that early Christians consciously believed that their religion was stealing aspects of pagan religions.
Justin Martyr Works: https://www.amazon.com/Writings-Justin-Martyr/dp/1933993464
In the Gospel of John, Jesus begins his public ministry by cleansing the temple of the moneychangers. But in the synoptic gospels, the temple cleansing takes place near the end of his ministry. Did the author of John make a chronological mistake?
Looking at the temple cleansing in the four gospels, we can see there are significant differences between them. One possible explanation for this is that Jesus cleansed the temple twice, one at the beginning of his ministry, and one near the end.
In the synoptics, the temple cleansing is preceded by Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. It is after this he storms into the temple, whilst in John, there is no mention of the triumphant entry until chapter 12.
The synoptics also do not record the same words of Jesus. He calls the temple a house of prayer and rebukes the moneychangers for making it a den of robbers. But in John, Jesus makes a whip out of cords and forcefully drives them out. He does not speak about a den of robbers or a house of prayer, but simply tells the moneychangers not to make the temple a house of trade. John’s version of the temple cleansing is also the only one to include Jesus’ declaration that he will raise up his body in 3 days after it has been destroyed.
Andreas J. Kostenberger suggests the account of the temple cleansing in John, “…may represent a “doublet,” a certain type of event occurring more than once during Jesus’ ministry… If so, Jesus cleared the temple twice, with John recording only the first instance, and the Synoptists only [recording] the second.” (John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2004, pg. 111; See also: D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 1991, pg. 178)
While this explanation is a good possibility, I think there is a deeper and more profound explanation as to why John moved the cleansing to the beginning of the ministry.
Johannes Beutler argues that John’s account of the temple cleansing would make more sense if it was originally in John chapter 11. “…Jesus continues to visit the temple, and, in the following eight chapters, he makes it the preferred place for his teaching and preaching. A conflict in this place with the Jewish authorities is easier to understand at the end of Jesus’ public life than at it’s beginning…
The danger to which Jesus exposes himself when he sets out to go and find his friend in Bethany, and the readiness of the disciples to go and die with him (John 11:16), are more easily understood in connection with Jesus’ action in the temple than in connection with the miracle of raising Lazarus.” (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 2017, pg. 84)
So in the sources John was drawing on to compose his gospel, his version of the cleansing would have been initially located in chapter 11. It appears that John has moved the cleansing to chapter 2 in order to make a theological point.
The temple cleansing in John is split into two chunks that display similar structure. The first chunk, verses 13-15, frame the narrative and describes the cleansing. Verse 16 gives the words of Jesus. Verse 17 then describes the disciples remembering a Word from scripture (from Psalm 69:9).
In the second chunk, verse 18 gives the question of authority from the Jews, 19-21 is Jesus’ dispute with them, and verse 22 describes the disciples remembering a Word from scripture.
The concluding verses (23-25) bind the whole chapter together with the Passover Feast, and the wedding in Cana, which was mentioned before the cleansing. The themes that appear to be communicated here are the signs Jesus performs (11, 17, 23) and belief and remembrance in the scriptures (17, 22).
John wished to send a theological message by placing the temple cleansing earlier on:
Jesus’ citation of the Old Testament being placed early in John’s gospel is clearly intentional on the authors’ part. As Rudolf Bultmann states, “…the meaning can scarcely be that Jesus’ action was an expression of his consuming zeal. Rather, the Evangelist (or the Editor) is looking forward to what is to come – or alternatively the whole of Jesus’ ministry – and he means that Jesus’ zeal will result in his death.” (The Gospel of John, 1971, pg. 124)
Given that Jesus routinely said to his followers to keep quiet about him in the early stages of his ministry, a public cleansing of the temple, likely causing outrage amongst the locals and the Jewish authorities would seem to contradict this.
So, we have at least two good reasons as to why John rearranged the order of events in his gospel. I personally think both are good enough, but the theological argument appears to be stronger and more reasonable than two temple cleansings. So therefore, John’s placement of the cleansing at the beginning of the gospel is not a contradiction in the Gospel accounts.
Kerruso Apologetics: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrQomNYP7r7J-u1IZJkF-Tg
-Mike Jones (Inspiring Philosophy)
The Gospel of Thomas seems to be the most famous gospel that is not in the Bible. Everyone seems intrigued by this work; what it says and where it came from. Many argue it belongs in the Bible or that it represents an early sect of Christianity that disagreed with what we refer to as mainstream Christianity. They say it teaches a different Jesus than what we find in the canonical Gospels, or that Thomas is from the very early days of Christianity, and this is evidence that Christianity was a wide mix of various views of Jesus, despite what many laymen believed today. The majority of scholars do not place Thomas in the first century or believe any of it can be dated to the days of the first Christian Church. But some do date it early, like John Dominic Crossan or Elaine Pagels. So why was Thomas never considered canonical? Why do most scholars believe it belongs in the mid to late second century? Why do others argue it as earlier? Does any of it contain accurate sayings of Jesus? Does it represent a different sect of Christianity that would have differed from mainstream Christianity? And does it belong with the canonical Gospels? To answer these questions, we need to dive into what the Gospel of Thomas is, what it says, and what evidence scholars used to date it.
First, Thomas is not a narrative like the canonical Gospels are. It is just a list of sayings that Jesus supposedly said to his disciples. The theology also differs greatly from the ideas of the New Testament. In Thomas, Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the light. Jesus is just a teacher who instructs people on how to find enlightenment within them. Fasting and prayer are also considered bad in Thomas, whereas they are praised by Jesus in the canonical Gospels. Jesus also seems to act more like a Greek thinker in Thomas, rather than an early Jewish Rabbi. It also ends in a rather sexist way, claiming that Mary must become a male spirit before she can enter the kingdom of heaven. This seems contradictory to the Jesus portrayed in the canonical Gospels who seems to welcome women followers, and even allows them the high status of receiving divine revelation, to deliver to men which was quite revolutionary for the times Jesus lived in. So Thomas doesn't seem to fit with the theology of the New Testament, which is why most scholars say it represents a different theological view.
Second, we need to realize that dating Thomas is harder than other documents because of the internal and external evidence we have for it. We simply do not have a lot of manuscripts of Thomas. Our main source for Thomas as a Coptic manuscript discovered in 1945, and is part of the NAG Hammadi collection. The specific manuscript dates to around 340 AD. We also have three Greek fragments of Thomas that date to around 200 AD and contain about 20% of Thomas. However, scholars have noted remarkable differences between the complete Coptic version, and the Greek fragments. So Thomas seems to have changed remarkably over the course of 140 years, unlike the slight variation we see with the New Testament manuscripts. John Meyer says the Gospel of Thomas may have circulated in more than one form, and passed through several stages of redaction. Darrell Bock and Dan Wallace say the fact that the Greek papaiah of Thomas contains some significant differences from the Coptic forma Stelling it, suggests that this gospel may have gone through several uncontrolled editions by the time the NAG Hammadi volume was penned. So the textual evidence suggests Thomas may have been a document for an uncontrolled tradition that was meant to be fluid over time and meant to be adapted to each generations needs. We find the opposite when we look at the traditions of the other four Gospels in the rest of the New Testament. Other than that, the first writer to mention the existence of Thomas was Hippolytus of Rome, who speaks harshly of it. He says it was transmitted by a group called in the scenes, and even quotes a line from it which also varies from the line he seems to be quoting from in our manuscript of Thomas later. Origen also mentions its existence and says it was heretical. However, there were other works attributed to Thomas, so it is possible he and later authors could be referring to a different work that bore the name of Thomas in the 4th century. Cyril of Jerusalem mentions Thomas and says an early heretical group known as the main qian's wrote it.
Finally, a fifth century work mentions it in a list of heretical books.
So as you can see, our evidence for Thomas is rather scarce, negative, and varies and how it was read. The external evidence tells us Thomas would have to predate it to manuscripts and external mentions, so that it could have circulated enough to have caught the attention of critics, which means it would have to have been written prior to the 3rd century. Some argue that a lack of it being mentioned in the second century means it has to post date this time. But to be fair, that might be arguing from silence unless we can come up with a good reason 2nd century authors should have mentioned it. Scholars mainly need to rely on internal evidence to date Thomas. This is a harder test than dating other Gospels because Thomas is just a list of alleged sayings of Jesus. It contains no stories or a stork or reference in order to date it. Well on top of this, it contains little coherence outside of its use of catch words or catch phrases. In other words, the text itself has to be understood in terms of specific catch phrases to be translated properly into English.
Another interesting aspect of Thomas, is it seems familiar with several documents of the New Testament. It contains quotes or paraphrases from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, acts, Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, first Thessalonians, first Timothy, Hebrews, first John, and Revelation. Now this is rather telling, because either all of these works from the New Testament relied on Thomas, or Thomas was simply aware of the New Testament documents and made use of them. The second option is more likely because some of these documents are quite early and Thomas would have to have been written in the 40s, and be unbelievably popular early on, for multiple authors to make use of it. It is also far more probable a later author simply made use of multiple works that were popular by the second century. Also a lot of these New Testament books are alluded to by later authors and do not make mention or allude to Thomas, which also makes it more likely Thomas postdates these documents. Balkan Wallace says the silence of all second century writers regarding Thomas would be extremely peculiar if this gospel had existed for 50 or 60 years before AD 100. And all the more so if thomas was used extensively by many New Testament authors.
Again, as I said earlier, this is not proof Thomas post dates the New Testament. But it does lend credence to the theory Thomas did come after the New Testament, since these works were quoted and attested by early authors, and Thomas isn't. Richard Baulkham also notes Thomas seems to be comparing itself to other Gospels already in existence, specifically Matthew and Mark. Section 13 of Thomas has Simon Peter in Matthew guessing who Jesus was. Peter says he was a messenger or a righteous angel in Matthew guesses a wise philosopher before Thomas speaks. Baucom argues using Matthew and Peter who the early church says was Mark’s source for his gospel, meaning that Thomas is acknowledging that at least these two Gospels already existed by the time Thomas was written. Matthew would be one of the most obscure of the twelve had not a gospel been attributed to him. The saying in the Gospel of Thomas must presuppose the existence of Matthew's Gospel, and its attribution to Matthew if Matthew in this passage represents Matthew's Gospel, then it becomes highly likely that Peter represents Mark's Gospel.
Peter states that Jesus is like a righteous angel. It's presumably a deliberate substitute for Peter's confession in Mark 8:29, “You are the Messiah.” Since many external sources seem to attribute Mark's Gospel of Peter's preaching, it fits with this idea that Thomas will compare himself to two well-known disciples, from which two of the canonical Gospels allegedly came from; or at least that is what the church argued was the case in the second century. The idea of Thomas relying on many of the books of the traditional Canon, also correlates to the opening line of Thomas, which reads, “these are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymus, Judas, and Thomas wrote them down.” Thomas says these are the hidden words of Jesus, implying there was a public ministry of Jesus that was more well known. The author, knowing his teachings, would contradict the public ministry of Jesus, seeming to have thought he had to disguise his words as secret teachings. This implies the acknowledgement of more well-known teachings of Jesus and implies Thomas would post-date them. So it is more probable Thomas postdates the New Testament books, which were more well known and attested in the ancient world.Thomas is trying to go against the New Testament theology by disguising his theology as secret teachings of Jesus, which implies the author knew other Gospels existed before he wrote his.
However, one of the biggest reasons most scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to the mid to late second century, is this connection to late Syrian. Christian scholar Nicholas Peron, analyzed the Gospel of Thomas and translated it into Syriac and Greek. What he found was Thomas was most likely originally written in Syria, not Greece or Coptic. I mentioned earlier Thomas contains a lot of catch words or catch phrases, and unless we understand this, the gospel really doesn't make sense. Well parent identified more than 500 Syria catch words, which implies it makes most sense in Syria not Greek or Coptic. Scholar Craig Evans says Thomas has extensive coherence with late 2nd century Syrian tradition in a lack of coherence with pre 70 Jewish Palestine. It is also recognized by virtually all scholars that Thomas contains a lot of Syrian elements, like how it were first at Thomas is Judas Thomas. This was a common name for Thomas and Syrian traditions, or as Craig Evans has noted, most of the time Thomas follows Matthew, it seems to be following a Syriac version of Matthew. This is also interesting because Paran noticed something else about Thomas; it seems to follow the order of a mid-second century work called the Diet Tessarin. The Diet Tessarin was put together by a man named Tation who wanted to harmonize the four Gospels, so he wrote a Syrian translation which goes through all four, and tries to harmonize the time-line.
Thomas seems to be copying from the Diet Tessarin and follows the same order in Syriac style, meaning it would post date the completion of the Diet Tessarin, which was between 160 AD and 175 AD. Some try to suggest Thomas has to be early because it is just a simple list of sayings and the traditional gospels are more developed because they contain narratives. But just being a simple list of sayings doesn't at all mean it is early. Craig Evans notes that other collections of sayings emerge from around this time, long after the canonical Gospels. Rabbinic works, like the chapter of the fathers and the sentences of sexes, are simple lists of sayings and were written around the same time. The sentences of sexist is specifically interesting because it also seems to have originated in Syria in the second century correlating to the most likely area and time frame for the emergence of Thomas. N. T. Wright in The New Testament and The People of God, also points out that Thomas lacks the early Jewish identity of the first church. The traditional four Gospels seem to be telling the story of Israel, with the climax being in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the form of greco-roman biographies, that contain deep Jewish elements and themes.
Thomas seems to have been shortening, smoothed out for a later Gentile audience unfamiliar with the Jewish context. If Thomas was first and Jesus was originally more like a Greek philosopher, it is unlikely that a later Gentile audience would want to add in more Jewish elements to the story of Jesus, in creating the canonical Gospels. Considering the early church was slowly moving towards being filled with a majority of Gentiles, why would you make Jesus more Jewish if that was not how he was originally? As NT Wright says, “if the earliest form of the controversy stories is therefore likely to have been that of the Jewish stories of the struggle and vindication of the little remnant or renewal movement, it is not difficult to see how these stories could have become smooth down over time into something more like Hellenistic kriya, especially as the news of Jesus passed beyond the area where Jewish style controversy and vindication stories would be an expected form. This, I suggest, is the most likely explanation for works like the Gospel of Thomas.”
So these are the main reasons we date Thomas to the late second century. The fact that it is just a simple list of sayings doesn't mean it is early, let alone earlier than our canonical Gospels. The fact that it resembles later Syria and Christianity follows the Diet Tessarin paints Jesus more like a Greek philosopher and says it contains the secret teachings of Jesus, all seems to point to a tradition much later than what we see in the New Testament. There is also not a plausible reason Thomas should be included in the Canon of Scripture or that it could be considered to contain authentic words of Jesus. It is simply too late to be considered reliable.
It’s important to know what happened, where did it happen, and when it happened concerning the events in the Old Testament. This article will focus on where it happened. Knowing where the events of the Old Testament happened is good for getting an important background for the New Testament. Where the Old Testament events happened will show the land in which God’s revelation occurred.
The Old Testament occurred in ancient Israel which is a small part of the Ancient Near East. This is of course in reference to what we call the Middle East today. Israel was geographically smaller than most of its neighbors, but yet it’s location was strategically important throughout ancient history. Israel connects the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. This is one of the reasons why Israel was taken over many times ranging from the Babylonians to the Romans. Two things would result of Israel’s location. First, many nations desired to take control of this land for the very strategic point mentioned before. Second, it resulted in many foreign cultural influences on Israel, which is why we see idol worshiping many times in the Old Testament.
The Middle East contains three geological sub regions all joined together by the Fertile Crescent. Many of these lands contain mountain regions where a lot of the battles from the Old Testament took place. Many of these lands contained deserts, flat lands, and rivers which played into transportation. The three sub regions are Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt. Israel also had four sub regions that play into many of the events that have occurred there. First, is the coastal plains that are western coastline slants which are narrow in the north and become broader toward the south. Second, the central mountains that are a ridge of hills located between the coastal plains and the Jordan Rift. These hills are divided into four main regions, which are Galilee, Ephraim, Judean Hill Country and Eastern Negeb. Third, the Jordan Rift that is a series of depressions that run from the Jordan River to the foot of Mount Hermon. This area contains the lowest place on earth, which is the Dead Sea located 1,371 feet below sea level. Finally, The Trans-Jordanian Highlands that is located east of the Jordan Rift and sharply rises into a plateau. This area gives way to the Arabian Desert.
Mesopotamia contains the area in between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which the Greek implies land between the rivers. The region extends from the mouth of the Persian Gulf to the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Mesopotamia was not a good landscape for defending against enemies mainly due to the lack of natural defenses such as mountain ranges. However, for those who were able to live were able to grow crops and had transportation because of the two rivers. This is where civilization began and writing like cuneiform developed which was wedged shaped writings on wet clay tablets. Many nations sought to take this land because of the weak defense and the benefits of its landscape.
Egypt is a land located by and in the Nile River that is the dominate geographic feature of Egypt. Egyptian culture developed a unique language of hieroglyphs that is “sacred caving.” This was influenced by the cuneiform developed by Mesopotamia cultures, possibly by the Sumerians. Egypt also had great soil due to its locational relationship to the Nile River, which gave Egypt the name of “black land.” Egypt had commercial trading with Asian and European areas due to their seaports. Unlike Mesopotamia, Egypt was very seclusive to outside nations because of the desert borders and its location to the Mediterranean Sea. Due to this, invasion and cultural change did not occur often. At one time, the nation of Israel was located in Egypt.
Syria-Palestine is the area from the northern bend of the Euphrates and southward to the Sinai desert. Israel is located at the southernmost section of Syria-Palestine. This area contains smaller rivers like the Jordan, unlike the Tigris or Euphrates river. Syria-Palestine was not a location to advance societies or national empires in its early history. This was a point of control for many river cultures for both military and political reasons. The most important geographic feature of this area is its formation of a land bridge along the Fertile Crescent. This is also the area that contains the four sub regions of Israel.
The Middle East also contains two important highways that are Via Maris (the way of the Sea) and The King’s Highway. The Via Maris designates all the network of roadways from Egypt through Syria-Palestine into Mesopotamia. The King’s Highway is the second important route, which gets its name from Num. 20:17 & 21:22. It extends from the Gulf of Aqabah at Elath through the Trans-Jordanian Highlands to Damascus. It’s important to know where the events happened to understand what happened. The geology helps show details that are important for many of the events in both Old and New Testament. It also tells us why God choose to reveal himself to the Israelite's in this area and will play into when God did this as well.
Arnold, Bill T. and Bryan E. Beyer. Encountering The Old Testament: Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Text Book.
The word atheist can be dated back to the 5th century BC, which was used by the Greeks (History of Atheism). The Greeks used it as a word meaning without Gods, since they were polytheists. Diagoras of Melos is considered to be the first atheist, along with Theodorus of Cyrene. They did believe in the God’s, but they did not believe they intervened in human affairs (History of Atheism). This is what we call classical deism which was developed during the enlightenment. Protagoras proposed the proposition of agnosticism, but is different from atheism (History of Atheism). It was a crime against the capital of Greece to be an atheist or deny the God’s. Socrates himself was executed for his lack of belief in God, but he himself denied the charge of blasphemy. Many of Greece’s citizens may have been “closeted atheists,” but did not share their lack of belief for the sake of their own lives (History of Atheism). The word atheist did not get it’s more modern meaning until the sixteenth century.
“The System of Nature” is the first book to publicly deny the existence of God. This was during the time of the of the enlightenment when religious thought started to be challenged. David Hume was a famous agnostic philosopher who coined that religious thought is irrational. Many still denied being atheists because of the capital punishments of being an admitted atheist (History of Atheism). The French Revolution was the event that was inspired by the American Revolution after America became an independent nation. The French Revolution happened from 1789-1794 and helped the spread of the atheism in Europe to this day. “(Between 1700 and 1750 thousands of atheistic clandestine manuscripts circulated across Europe (although still only read by a very small minority)” (History of Atheism). These documents ultimately help spread the antireligious thought from the French Revolution to the New Atheists in the modern day of western civilization. The enlightenment mainly targeted the Roman Catholic church of England for their attack on scientists, like Galileo. However, many scientists of this time were Christians and even apologists as well like John Locke, Descartes, and Pascal. Many became antireligious and even against atheists who were okay with religion. The French revolution was against the tyranny of the religious king of France. If the French Revolution didn’t happen, then atheism would not be as well spread in Europe today (History of Atheism).
The Enlightenment was powered by skepticism, doubt, and uncertainty. 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him', wrote Voltaire" (History of Atheism). This meant that people were starting to doubt the existence of God and would ultimately lead to nihilism. Nihilism is simply the view that there is no ultimate meaning, value, or purpose to life. “Thoughts and Feelings of Jean Meslier: “Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World” was the first modern book to promote atheism with its critiques of the soul, miracles, and the existence of God. This marked the real promotion of die-hard atheism (History of Atheism). Hume was another contributor to the skeptic movement with his assertion of miracles and the historicity of Christianity. He was more of a hardcore agnostic in all reality. Hume and all the enlightenment atheists and agnostics were naturally naturalists. They believed that the universe has always existed and did not need a cause since it did not come into being (History of Atheism). The Cult of Reason terrorized religious sites and public practices. They ransacked churches and discriminated against religious belief. All though most of the advances made by the enlightenment were made by Deists and Christians, skepticism had its part in the enlightenment and would not be here without the enlightenment (History of Atheism).
Communism is inherently directed by atheistic ideology driven by Karl Marx. Karl Marx was a secular Jew, but only considered to be Jewish by descent. Karl Marx was the founder of Communism and Marxism. Marxism is an ideology influenced by all of Karl Marx ideas. Karl Marx believed that religion was a main factor of stopping society from becoming the ultimate Utopia. Karl Marx along with Friedrich Nietzsche influenced the rise of the Soviet Union with their antic-religious beliefs (History of Atheism). Friedrich Nietzsche in his book “Gay Science” announced the death of God. “God is dead and we have killed” - Friedrich Nietzsche. He predicted the genocide that would occur from taken God out of society. The twentieth century was the bloodiest century of all time due to the rise in secularism and communism. Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, and questionably Hitler were atheist leaders who oppressed religion. They killed millions with their crusades against religious people and religious thought. They were inspired by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche (History of Atheism). The twentieth century didn’t give atheism a good name just as the crusades didn’t give Roman Catholicism a good name.
The New Atheists are the most modern atheists. They are the most hostile atheist group to intellectually challenge modern religious thought. The four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse are Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They’ve all written books expression their anti-religious views and are very provocative to religious people. Richard Dawkins has written “The God Delusion” which has sold over 2 million copies, which has influenced this movement of new atheism. Christopher Hitchens has written “God is not Great” claiming that all religion and their God’s are immoral. These men were influenced by the events of 911 and the history of religious violence. They believe that religion is poisonous to society and must adapt to societies standards. If not, then religion must be wiped for society to evolve to the next stage. The claims of these men are influencing many people and we could have another French Revolution. These are the modern day atheists who have their agenda for religion (Mohler 2008:15-37; Taylor).
Mohler, Albert Jr. Atheism Remix. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. Book.
Taylor, James E. “The New Atheists.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Westmont College, www.iep.utm.edu/n-atheis/
“New Atheism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2017,