There are many routes one can go down to establish God’s existence. In this article, I will begin by presenting reasons to believe that there is a necessary part of reality. In doing so, this will allow us to probe the ultimate nature of this reality. Welcome to: Establishing a Necessary Existence.
In natural theology, these types of arguments are grouped into what are called “cosmological arguments'' which typically set out to prove a first cause. Cosmological arguments face four main problems, as Philosopher Alexander Pruss states, “The cosmological argument faces the Glendower, Regress, Taxicab, and Gap problems” (Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 98). For a cosmological argument to be successful, it must deal with the four main problems. The argument I am setting out to defend is what is known as the “contingency argument”.
This was first formulated by Philosopher, Theologian, and Mathematician, Gottfried Von Leibniz. Unlike arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Leibniz was not worried about the finitude of the past. Leibniz sought an explanation for why anything at all exists, and in doing so, one of the most fundamental philosophical questions was asked: “why is there something rather than nothing?” I believe we should seek to answer this question because it allows us to explore and investigate the deepest aspects of reality. I myself am interested in exploring this question and I think this argument helps us get as close as we can to that answer. Leibniz famously formulated an explanatory principle called the Principle of Sufficient Reason, otherwise known as the PSR. The PSR was also advocated by Spinoza.
In the Monadology, Leibniz defines the PSR as “...that of sufficient reason, by virtue of which we consider that we can find no true or existent fact, no true assertion, without there being a sufficient reason why it is thus and not otherwise, although most of the time these reasons cannot be known to us” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In basic terms, the PSR states that any fact has an explanation. Because of the principle’s intuitive nature, many have been led to conclude that it is a self-evident truth that undergirds reason itself. Even though the PSR seems to be uncontroversial, philosophers throughout history have challenged its validity. Contemporary defenders of the PSR like Dr. Alexander Pruss and Dr. Joshua Rasmussen have published work on the subject and have given good reasons to accept it.
Sophisticated versions of the PSR have been formulated and defended by contemporary philosophers to stipulatively mean that any contingent fact has an explanation. This version of the PSR is adequate for dealing with Glendower and regress problems. Pruss states “when I talk of the PSR, by “sufficient reasons” I mean reasons that are sufficient to explain the explanandum” (Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). If the PSR were false we should expect wide-spread violations of it all around us, but in fact, we do not. The contingency argument takes into account the nature of explanation and how it relates to the causal order. I will not go through the pros and cons of the PSR or other explanatory principles; however, I do believe they suffice in establishing a necessary part of reality and I believe the PSR Pruss defends works just as well.
(P1) Every contingent fact concerning the existence of contingent things has an explanation.
(P2) If every contingent fact concerning the existence of contingent things has an explanation, then there is a necessary part of reality that explains the existence of the contingent things.
(P3) This necessary part of reality is what we call God.
(C) God exists.
The formulation of this syllogism is not complicated but the beauty is in its simplicity. The scope of this video does not go beyond establishing necessary existence. In a later video I will bridge the gap between a necessary being and God. Let's start with premise 1: this explanatory principle is concerned with the existence of contingent things. This explanatory principle can be seen as the PSR regarding the existence of things. But what are contingent things? Something is contingent when it could fail to exist or could exist in another way; they have imperfections and limitations.
Contingent things then depend on other things for their existence. To put it another way, contingent things are not self-existent. The converse of this would be something that is self-existent which is what we mean by necessary. We are familiar with contingent things in our everyday experience. Chairs, baseballs, planets, and bikes are all examples of things that exist contingently. They all depend on other things for their existence. Chairs don’t just exist; there are reasons as to why they exist rather than not. And there are reasons a chair takes on a particular shape, color, and size, as opposed to another.
What we are not familiar with are things popping into existence randomly. Contingent things depend on prior conditions for their existence. The entire enterprise of science examines the causal relationships of existing things and builds explanatory models about them. Pruss makes an interesting point concerning biological evolution, “But, intuitively, if one were not confident of something very much like the PSR, it would be hard to be justifiably confident that no biological features of the human species arose for no reason at all - say, that an ape walked into a swamp, and out walked a human, with no explanation of why”. So, it seems as reasonable as anything else to affirm that premise one is indeed true.
What about premise 2? If contingent things have explanations for why they exist, then what explains the totality of contingent things? Is it contingency all the way down or is there some sort of stopping point for contingent reality? This is where we encounter the infinite regress and other problems. As outlined in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, some might add that “...things are naturally contingent in that their continued existence is dependent on myriad factors including particle masses and fundamental forces, temperature, pressure, entropy level and so forth, but natural contingency does not suffice to establish things’ metaphysical contingency…” Many have argued that positing an infinite amount of contingent things will be sufficient to explain the existence of contingent things. I believe this reasoning is flawed.
Let’s refer to this as the no circularity principle. This refers to the idea that the quantity of things to be explained makes no difference. What is the relevant difference regarding explanation between 5 things and an infinite number of things? There doesn’t seem to be any. The nature of explanation remains the same for 5 things as it does for an infinite number of things. Simply increasing the amount of things that need to be explained does nothing to get rid of the need for things to be explained.
In actuality, you've made the problem more complex. Infinity adds another level of complexity and thus begs for even more of an explanation. Why are there an infinite number of things? The error comes in when you believe that the increase of dependent things eventually adds up to independence. This is one of the reasons why Philosopher Josh Rasmussen invokes the foundation theory. We face a construction error when we try to construct independence out of dependence.
Just like no amount of white tiles can create a purple floor, or no amount of prime numbers can create a prime minister, Dependent things will never all of a sudden become independent if one adds enough of them up. So there must be something that already is itself independent. This independent part of reality would be self-existent. So, an infinite regress doesn’t do anything to get rid of a foundation but actually calls for one.
Now, what happens if contingent reality is past-eternal? If contingent things have always been here, then doesn’t that remove the need for an explanation beyond itself? Not quite. Suppose in order to explain the existence of a given turtle, one posits not only a mother turtle, but an infinite number of mother turtles into the past. The infinite number of turtles would still require an outside explanation as to why an infinite number of turtles, rather than lions, or lizards. Our past-eternal set of contingent things suffers from the same problem as does the infinite regress. Age is an irrelevant difference regarding explanation. Extending the age of contingent things is not an explanation in and of itself. It’s not a relevant point. This too requires a foundation for its existence.
This is why the foundation theory is so useful, because it shows us that at metaphysical rock bottom there’s a necessary foundation that contingent reality depends on. Josh Rasmussen says “a fact concerning the existence of certain things cannot be adequately explained solely in terms of those very things, for that would be circular. The idea is that causally linking up things to one another does not answer why those very things ever existed at all. Why do those things exist (rather than different ones)?
Something other than those things seems to be needed if their existence is to be explained. If that’s so, then the existence of contingent things can only be explained by a Necessary Being” (Cosmological Arguments from Contingency). Recall that premise 3 of my argument states “this necessary part of reality is what we call God”. I have just outlined that contingent reality gets us to a self-existent part of reality, otherwise known as a necessary foundation. To get to God, I would need to bridge the gap from necessary existence which is not the scope of this video.
Now, some will object and say that this argument is guilty of the fallacy of composition. This fallacy states that it is a mistake to conclude since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. For example, since all the bricks of the wall are small, that means the wall is small. The fallacy of composition is an informal fallacy and only applies in certain cases. There are instances where the parts are representative of the whole. For example, if the wall is made out of red bricks then the wall itself will be red. No amount of red brick could ever add up to a blue wall.
Bruce Reichenbach in Philosophy of Religion writes “If all contingent things in the universe, including matter and energy, ceased to exist simultaneously, the universe itself, as the totality of these things, would cease to exist. But if the universe can cease to exist, it is contingent and requires an explanation for its existence” (Philosophy of Religion 204). The fallacy of composition does not affect my argument since I am not reasoning from parts to wholes in this way. This would then rule out the possibility that the universe is the self-existent foundation.
There is still much more I could cover and many more objections I could respond to. In my next video, I will bridge the gap between necessary existence and God which will allow us to derive the traditional theistic attributes and show us a fundamentally new picture of theism. Thank you for reading.
The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
How Reason Can Lead to God
Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Cosmological Arguments from Contingency
New Argument for a Necessary Being
In the Book of Acts, we see the miraculous conversion of Paul from a Christian persecutor into an apostle of Jesus Christ. But there are three accounts of his conversion in Acts that, on the surface, appear to be in conflict each other. (9:3-9, 22:6-11, 26:13-18)
Bart Ehrman brings this up as a supposedly irreconcilable contradiction: “…the three accounts present numerous contradictory details. In one version Paul’s companions do not hear the voice but they see the light; in another they hear the voice but do not see anyone. In one version they all fall to the ground from the epiphanic blast; in another they remain standing. In one version Paul is told to go on to Damascus, where a disciple of Jesus will provide him with his marching orders; in another he is not told to go but is given his instructions by Jesus. Clearly, we are dealing with narratives molded for literary reasons, not with disinterested historical reports.” (The Triumph of Christianity, pg. 51)
So how do we reconcile these issues with the account? First of all, let’s deal with the differences between the follower’s reactions to Paul’s vision of Jesus. Translations differ in Acts 22 on how Paul’s followers reacted to the vision. Many translations (NIV, ESV, NASB, ISV) render the Greek word being used here as “understand” instead of “hear.” So they would have heard what Jesus said to Paul, but were unable to interpret what he said.
Luke also uses the word “hear” in a similar way in Luke 6:27 - “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” He obviously uses the word “hear” to mean understand or listen with intent, so the word is interchangeable for it’s use in this passage. There are also various solutions to harmonize the accounts of the followers seeing the light. They would have seen the light, but not Jesus himself.
A second possibility is that Luke was simply quoting from Paul as he was recounting his conversion story in a quicker and less detailed account. We cannot simply assume that Paul had the correct information of his own conversion. Such an event would be pretty traumatic, and given that Paul did not eat or drink for three days after being blinded by the vision, the text would seem to imply such trauma. Can we really fault Paul for not remembering every aspect of his miraculous conversion?
A third solution is that Paul’s companions did not tell him that they had heard the voice. It’s possible they may have denied hearing it for fear of the implications of what they had heard. It should be noted how these followers disappear from the narrative after they deliver Paul to Damascus. It could be that, our of fear of persecution, they abandoned Paul and tried to convince themselves that they did not see what they saw. Then this information would have somehow gotten transferred to Luke who then included it in his accounts.
This does not mean that Luke was using faulty sources for his narrative, as he obviously would have noticed the differences between the accounts. This leads us to our fourth possibility which is that Luke was intentionally writing a contradiction in order to magnify Paul and put down the importance of his companions.
Ronald Witherup has done extensive research into this kind of literary method, known as “functional redundancy,” where a writer deliberately alters the narrative to keep his audience interested in the story. This was a common practice in Greco-Roman literature and so we should not be surprised when Acts does the same. (Ronald Witherup, "Functional Redundancy in the Acts of the Apostles" from Journal for the Study of the New Testament 48, 1992, pg. 67-86)
The next supposed contradiction is whether or not the followers were standing during the vision or knocked back. But this is a simple one to refute. J. B. Lightfoot argued that this passage is probably only an idiomatic expression that suggests that the followers were ‘frozen in their tracks’, not that they were physically standing up the entire time: “Here in Acts 9:7 — stood speechless, εἱστήκεισαν ἐνεοί, i.e. are arrested in the moment, all fell to the ground — the after effects, – ἡμῶν πάντων καταπεσόντων εἰς τὴν γῆν, Acts 26:14.” (The Acts of the Apostles: A Newly Discovered Commentary, 2014, pg. 150)
The last supposed contradiction is that Paul’s commission came from Jesus in one account, but came from Ananias in the others. But such an argument really begins to stretch the validity of the sceptics claims. One should give charity to the author of Acts and his literary license to telescope his accounts of Paul’s conversion. Luke has the all the freedom and authority to use functional redundancy in his accounts of Paul’s conversion.
As N. T. Wright points out, the differences are "…best explained by Luke's following a Hellenistic convention of style according to which variation in a narrative lends interest." (The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 388)
So there are more than enough arguments to resolve these supposed contradictions in the Book of Acts. Some sceptics further claim that Acts contradicts Paul’s own words in Galatians chapter 1. But Ben Witherington points out that “One must recognize that Paul’s letters and Acts are different in genre, and thus simple comparisons do not take into account this difference and are not likely to prove satisfactory.” (The Acts of the Apostles, pg. 307)
Two accounts written about 2 decades apart, to different audiences, in different styles and for different purposes will obviously result in minor changes to the narrative, depending on who Paul and Luke were writing to. Such arguments stem from unnecessary skepticism that would never apply to any other piece of Greco-Roman literature.
Is the authenticity of the New Testament compromised by whether Paul’s followers were standing or fallen down? If this is the best the sceptic can do, then they have a lot of work ahead of them. So in short, there are no contradictions in the narrative of Paul’s conversion. They can easily be harmonized by taking into account the cultural, linguistic and literary context.
One of the biggest social issues facing the west today is the topic of divorce. With divorce rates rapidly surpassing over 50%, one must wonder why this is so normal and not addressed as a serious issue? While there are multiple of reasons, the only reason is not sexual immorality. Sometimes, people become selfish and completely neglect the vowels they made. They only understand love to be only encompassed in the honeymoon phase of relationships and marriages. Then, when the test of love comes by, they fold under pressure like origami. “If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep.”
Who gets it the worst from divorce?
An important question must be answered: Who suffers the worst out of divorce? If there are kids in the marriage, then the answer will always be them. Dr. Ben Arbour and his Wife have recently died and now their four kids are orphans. They were both 39 and their children are from ages 10-16. They are going to have serious mental struggles in life, which is just a psychological fact. The actions of divorce other than sexual immorality involves self-centeredness that will always be put above the children.
While orphans know they were loved by their parents, those of divorced parents feel less than loved because their needs are secondary to the selfish acts of the parents. What this does psychologically to children is unbearable at times, therefore the reason why Christ emphasizes obligation over the hardness of hearts in Matthew 19:8. This verse reflects a question of current debate. Opinions were divided. Jews regarded marriage as a sacred obligation whose fulfillment often carried very noble or meritorious overtones.”
Notice how in Matthew 19:13-15, Children are addressed right after divorce. “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14).” Jesus is emphasizing the intrinsic value of children by saying the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Divorce can easily be a hindrance to the value of this antithesis and exposes why it is so evil for reasons other than sexual immorality.
Also, in the preceding chapter: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).” When in the context of a Christian Marriage, that marriage is to be based around the Love of God as the lens your love for spouse and children. If you cause your own children to stumble in their love for God, then you are acting on the hardness of your heart. Jesus says you must be humbled like a child to enter the kingdom of Heaven, marriage must be practice out of humility in order to work. He hates is violence. He hates it, because it makes it harder to raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Malachi 2:16).”
The Original Purpose of Marriage:
Jesus points to the original creation of monogamous marriage, between one male and female in Matthew 19:4-6. The bigger picture is being made, that goes beyond mere obligation and one’s own needs. Jesus is looking at marriage from above down, while the Pharisees are looking from down to above. “In any case, Jesus goes beyond the Pharisees in emphasizing the permanence of marriage. God’s purpose is a stable family life, and divorce is no part of that purpose.”
Marriage is supposed to be the greatest of loves that human beings can experience from one another. Song of Solomon refers lovers as each other’s best friends’ multiple times. A covenant made between two and God, where all forms of Love are brought together. In begins with philia (friendship) love, then with self-given storge (affectionate) that builds into true, meaningful eros (Romantic). Agape (God’s love) love must be at the center of it all or it fails. “Marriage is the deepest and most intimate of all friendships; here love should be given all areas of the relationship, both physical and spiritual.”
Adam and Eve left agape love for self-love, to be like God. We see how their children ended up, Cain killing able out of his self-love for pride. This is the first violence we see from a broken marriage not built around God. Augustine, apologist of Love, defines sin as a desire of something beyond it’s worth. As soon as this pops up in marriage, this is when unlawful divorce takes place and becomes sin. It literally ruins one of God’s most beautiful creations, by one single act of selfishness and desire.
God has literal ontological purposes for marriage, while those who divorce of sexual immorality do so out of the hardness of their hearts. It is not real love or ever was if it’s fruits produce selfishness instead of selflessness. “The disciples are alarmed at the strictness of Jesus. The Obligation to consider marriage as an indissoluble bond, for life, seems to them to surpass the power of man (vs. 10).”
The original purpose of marriage was to be in relation with God and to live out your love through the lens of his love. Marriage is truly a task that is most successful in the reality of Christian metaphysics. That God is love himself, a relational being. Loving Love himself first makes you most loving to all those involved in the marriage. The Parents must represent the love of God to their children so that those children may introduce the love of God to those they interact with. “It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask, and receive from God.
The Torah Law Debate:
The Pharisees attempt to put Jesus into a corner by asking him about the lawfulness of divorce. It was a custom back then that a Jewish man could divorce his wife whenever he wanted to as long as you got the signings of three rabbis for the certificate.
They ask whether it is unlawful to divorce his wife on every ground and he responds with only on sexual immorality. “But by appealing to the creation he was making use of a rabbinic method of disputation, namely, “the more original, the weightier.”
“But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs’.”
Bibliography Dietrich, S. D. (1973). The Layman's Bible Commentary: Volume 16, Matthew. Richmond: John Knox Press.
Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Volume 11, Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Horton, S. M. (1989). The Complete Biblical Library: Matthew. Springfield: The Complete Biblical Library.
Johnson, S. E. (1951). The Interpreters Bible: Volume 7 Matthew, Mark. Nashville: Alingdon Press.
Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins .
Morris, L. (1992). The Gospel According the Matthew. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
1. Lewis, 106.
2. Horton, 397.
3. Ibid, 399.
4. Sherman, 480.
5. Horton, 399.
6. Dietrich, 103.
7. Lewis, 109.
8. Exell, 418.
9. Morris, 481.
10. Lewis, 108.
It is quite often argued that the Gospels could not have been written by the original disciples of Jesus since the earliest copies are written in Greek, not Aramaic. As is noted, “The first issue is related to the nature of the Greek language of the New Testament, and the second one is concerned with the languages used or spoken in ancient Palestine, and consequently, by Jesus (14).” So why is the New Testament written in Greek and not Aramaic? If we look at Hypothesis Q, it is very plausible that oral tradition or the originals documents were written in Aramaic then Greek.
Either way, it is not an argument against the authorship of the Gospels by any means. “This means that the historical and social situation during the time the Gospel writers penned their accounts of the Jesus story is different from that of Jesus and his disciples when the actual events took place, even though the hiatus between the event stage and the Gospel composition stage may have been only a few decades (14).” Therefore, we must not conclude that just because the language spoken by Jesus or the disciples must be the same as the written accounts.
What was Jesus’ language?
Many do conclude that Jesus’ native tongue was Hebrew, however this most likely is not linguistically the case. “Hebrew perhaps was not a vernacular variety anymore during the first century CE, having been replaced by Aramaic (16).” Vernacular meaning, “an uncodified and unstandardized language, which can refer either the native tongue or the first language acquired at home, an unofficial language of a country or state, or a language used for relatively circumscribed and informal functions (15).” It is probably the case that Jesus spoke Aramaic as the tongue he grew up with in his household and learned Greek for official or state purposes. His first language would have been Greek, but his tongue would be Aramaic meaning that he learned from Joseph and Mary.
Standard Language on First Century Palestine:
“Any of the four languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin can be considered as a standard language, since all of them have been standardized and codified (16).” Latin most likely would not have been in Palestine since that was mostly a west speaking language, while Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew are Eastern languages. Aramaic would have been the vernacular language, while Greek most likely the standardized language of the State.
“It is most likely that during Jesus’ time, Greek would have been more prestigious variety of the community, as it is the language used in the government administration, higher education (e.g., grammar, classics, and rhetoric and philosophy), and the trade and industry of the time (16-17).” Greek most certainly would have been present in first century Palestine since officials of Rome and of Israel would need this lingua franca (contact language) for official purposes.
Herod the Great most likely would know Greek and his predecessors would, or at least have translators. Higher scribes and officials like the Pharisees would have known Greek, like Saul of Tarsus. Hence, those of religious status would probably know Greek, including tax collectors like Matthew. Greek was the most common Gentile language of the day, so we would expect Luke and Acts to be written in Greek. The Hellenistic program of Alexander the great set the road for Greco Roman world Koine Greek to be spoken during Jesus’s time and the entire empire. “The expansion of Greek in the ancient world would also entail the waning or weakening of other living languages that simultaneously existed with it (23).” The language that Jesus’ followers would have translated these documents into would be the lingua franca of the period, since all languages spoken only in specific groups would die out with its people.
Greek of the New Testament:
Scholars debate whether the New Testament was written in a Holy Ghost, Classical (attic), Semitic, or Hellenistic Greek. As discussed before, the main concern for scholars is why the New Testament was written in Greek vs. Aramaic. As was pointed out earlier, the lingua franca was Greek, so to make the New Testament a standard document and to get the message out to more people (gentiles), it would be best suitable for the New Testament to be written in Greek. Plenty of means to accomplish this task.
It is believed by some Scholars like Henry Gehman, “that Semitic languages spoken in Galilee influenced the kind of Greek that Jesus and his disciples used (24)”. Another possible view is that Jesus spoke on type of Jewish Greek spoken in synagogues. “Walser argues the Greek of the LXX evinces the polyglossic(more voices or languages) nature of the Greek in the Hellenistic period (26).” However, it is most likely the case that the New Testament was written in non-literary Greek of the Hellenistic Greek period due to Alexander the Great’s Hellenization program of the Mediterranean. This was the contact language in both the speech and writing language of first century Palestine due to Hellenization. The discovery of Egyptian papyri and Greek inscriptions in the 19th & 20th centuries prove that this Greek was a vernacular language spoken by people.
Usage of Hebrew, Aramaic:
The most common language spoken in first century Palestine would be Aramaic and would be a native tongue. “The prevailing view of the nineteenth century was that Aramaic had totally replaced Hebrew shortly after the Babylonian captivity (ca. 586-536 BCE) (37).” Hebrew would have only been spoken by high authorities like priests during the exile. Hebrew survived but would have been used for liturgical and educational contexts by Pharisees and other high sects of Judaism.
When Papias says that Matthew wrote to the Hebrews, he is most likely referring to Hebraic people instead of those who literally speak Hebrew. Hence, why it is not necessary for the Gospel of Matthew to be written in Hebrew because most were speaking Aramaic or Greek. There are also uses of Hebrew on ossuaries, which are bone boxes. It could be the case that the Hebrew inscripted boxes could have been bone boxes for priests, like the Caiaphas ossuary.
The Dead Sea scrolls also preserved multiple Hebrew documents; however, this is not proof that it was spoken during the time they were preserved. Josephus uses both Hebrew and Aramaic words in his historical accounts, but this shows that those highly educated would have known Hebrew for writing purposes. Ultimately, it must be concluded that Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the native tongues for the Jews and Greek was the lingua franca.
There are two main arguments defined the Aramaic Hypothesis: “(1) the weight of inscriptional and documentary evidence, and (2) the practice of translating Scripture into Aramaic (the targums) for the benefit of synagogue congregations (50).” There are hundreds of inscribed ossuaries in Aramaic that support the first point. We also find many translations of targum in the dead sea scrolls like the book of Job, which are translated from Hebrew to Aramaic. Suggesting that they were being translated to a universally used language for possible usage of those who did not know Hebrew. Aramaic copies would have been needed for synagogues, which if this is the case, then Hebrew was clearly not the vernacular language.
We must conclude therefore, that first century Palestine was a multilingual speaking place. Aramaic as the vernacular language, Greek as the lingua franca, and Hebrew used by high priests and those in higher education.
BibliographyOng, H. T. (2015). The Multilingual Jesus: An Analysis of the Sociolinguistic Situation of Ancient Palestine With Special Reference To The Gospel of Matthew. Hamilton, Ontario: McMaster Divinity College.
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