September 2011

Bart Ehrman describes himself as an agnostic.  But given the fact that he appears not to believe in God, and given the fluidity with which these terms are being used these days, it has never been clear to me what Ehrman believes about the existence of God.  I was pleased, then, to hear Justin Brierly ask Bart to clarify his position on the August 26th edition of the Unbelievable radio program.

Brierly asked Ehrman if he was open to the evidence for God’s existence since he stylizes himself as an agnostic, and that usually means one is undecided on the question of God’s existence.  Bart answered (beginning at 43:42), “I don’t believe that the God of the Bible exists, or the God of traditional Christian teaching exists.  So I don’t believe there is a God who created this world, who created us, who redeems us, who’s active in this world.  So I don’t believe in that kind of God.  But if someone were to ask me, ‘Do you think that there is some kind of higher power in the universe?,’ my response is ‘I don’t know.’  And I don’t think anybody else knows either.  It may be that I’m just holding onto a very small sense of humility in the face of the universe.  I don’t know.  But I don’t believe in the Christian God anymore.”

So there you have it.  Bart definitely believes there is no personal God.  What he allows the possibility for is some sort of vague “higher power,” whatever that means.  But on that point, Ehrman is a hard agnostic, claiming no one can know whether such a power exists.  At the end of the day, we might term Bart an agnostic atheist.  He does not believe in a God, nor does he believe we can know whether such a being exists.  But for all intents and purposes, Bart is definitely a practical atheist.

The Department of Defense has announced that military chaplains can officiate at same-sex marriages “on or off a military installation,”  even using Defense Department property to do so.  Do you see this as a federal endorsement of same-sex marriage?

Edward Feser has written a short response to Christopher Tollefsen, who argues that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral.  Feser does a good job showing that if one believes in the principle of proportionality, that capital punishment is moral at least in principle, even if we might haggle over when we should apply it.  I particularly liked the first part of the article because Feser laid out a nice, succinct case for the notion of retributive punishment.  In my experience, those most opposed to capital punishment are opposed because they see punishment as being primarily corrective in nature, or for the purpose of quarantining evil, not for retribution.  This is a deficient view of punishment, and leads one to view capital punishment as either unnecessary or immoral.

This is where a culture of death leads to: believing that people with disabilities are better off dead, and suing doctors for “wrongful life.” This is what happens when you stop believing humans have intrinsic value, and when selfishness becomes a virtue.

This is reminiscent of the Nazi idea of a “life unworthy of life.” When we think we are being more merciful by killing people with handicaps, we have become a very sick society. Can you imagine if this boy ever finds out about this: that his mother would have rather aborted him and sued the doctor for allowing him to be born?

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On July 27, 2011, the day after the announcement of the discovery of the Philistine horned altar, Francesco D’Andria, who has been excavating in the ancient city of Hierapolis for 32 years, announced the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Philip.  The grave has not been opened yet, but he’s convinced it belongs to Philip.

There is a church dedicated to St. Philip on Martyr’s Hill in Hierapolis, but Philip’s grave was never found there.  But in June D’Andria unearthed another church just 131 feet away.  There, they discovered a tomb.  D’Andria believes Philip’s body was moved from the St. Philip church on Martyr’s Hill to this newly discovered church sometime in the 5th century.


On July 26, 2011–just two days after the announcement of the golden bell discovery–archaeologists announced the discovery of a 3’ tall Philistine altar in the ancient city of Gath (the city of Goliath).  It has two horns, which is similar to the Israelite altars described in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 27:1–2; 1 Kings 1:50).  Israel’s altars differed in that they had four horns.  The altar has been dated to the 9th century BC.


  1. This is further confirmation of the fact that the authors of Scripture were intimately familiar with the cultures they wrote about, and thus must have lived relatively close in both geographical and temporal proximity to them.

Mk 12:41-44  And Jesus having sat down over-against the treasury, was beholding how the multitude do put brass into the treasury, and many rich were putting in much, 42 and having come, a poor widow did put in two mites (lepta), which are a farthing [kodrantes]. 43 And having called near his disciples, he saith to them, “Verily I say to you, that this poor widow hath put in more than all those putting into the treasury; 44 for all, out of their abundance, put in, but she, out of her want, all that she had put in — all her living.” (NLT)

Previously I blogged on a Constantine I coin that was given to me. Now, I’ve been given a mite (also known as a lepton).  A mite was the smallest coin with the smallest monetary worth. It was worth half a quadrans. A quadrans was worth 1/64 of a denarius, which was a day’s wage, so a mite was worth 1/128 of a denarius.  In other words, this is what the average person would make for six minutes worth of work (assuming a 12 hour work day). How much was a mite worth, then? By today’s standards, it would be worth ~$0.56 (assuming a $6 per hour rate for 12 hours). Two mites, then, was little more than a dollar by today’s standards.  It is strange, then, that so many translations render Mk 12:41 as “penny,” “cent,” “less than a penny,” or something similar. The 2011 NIV and CEV are closest when they translate it as a few cents/pennies, but even this is severely undervalued. Whatever it may be worth, here is a picture of my mite:

Front of mite


While I appreciate many of N.T. Wright’s contributions to theology, there are some things he says that baffle me to no end.  For example, on September 15 he wrote a short piece for the Washington Post titled “American Christians and the death penalty.”  He claims that

you can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty. Almost all the early Christian Fathers were opposed to the death penalty, even though it was of course standard practice across the ancient world. As far as they were concerned, their stance went along with the traditional ancient Jewish and Christian belief in life as a gift from God, which is why (for instance) they refused to follow the ubiquitous pagan practice of ‘exposing’ baby girls (i.e. leaving them out for the wolves or for slave-traders to pick up).


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Ex 28:31-35  “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear. 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die. (ESV, see also Ex 39:26).

On July 24, 2011 it was announced that a 2000 year old golden bell was discovered in an ancient sewer inside the Old City walls of Jerusalem (a few paces from the Temple Mount) last week.  It is only one half inch in size.  It contains a small loop on the top so it can be sewn onto a garment.  Given the requirement for golden bells to be attached to the high priest’s robe, it is quite possible that this bell was once attached to the robe of one of the high priests.

Interestingly the bell still makes a sound!

JFK famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Greg Koukl says something similar regarding God’s will for our life. Paraphrasing: ‘We should not ask what God’s plan is for our life, but how our life can be used for his plan.’ The distinction is subtle, but important. While God’s plan includes us, it is much bigger than us. If we are doing whatever we can to help fulfill his plan, we will be doing God’s will for our life.

The Israel Museum teamed up with Google to make high-resolution, searchable images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online.  It even provides a translation for you.  To begin with, only five scrolls are available for viewing.  Two of them are Biblical documents: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Habakkuk commentary.  This is really cool!

FYI, last month I posted a link to a site that allowed you to view the Great Isaiah Scroll.  That link is now connected to the Israel Museum/Google Dead Sea Scroll site.

The picture above is a picture of Isaiah 7:14 in the Great Isaiah Scroll.


Acts 14:5-6  When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, 6 they learned of it and fled [from Iconium] to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country. (ESV)

This passage was in historical dispute for many years because it says Lystra and Derbe were cities in the district of Lycaonia, implying that Iconium (from which Paul had just come) was not.  This conflicted with later Roman writers such as Cicero(106-43 BC), who said Iconium was in Lycaonia.  In the words of William Ramsay, this made as much sense as talk of leaving London to go to England.[1]

At this point in the story, many apologetic treatments of this will tell you that in 1910 Sir William Ramsay, the famed archaeologist, discovered an inscription which proved that Iconium was not part of Lycaonia, but part of Phrygia.  Some even add that it proved Iconium was in Phrygia between AD 37-72.  I have read this a million times.  In fact, I have even taught it.  But as I was preparing for this series I became skeptical of the claim for a few reasons.  First, I noticed that different sources provided different years for the discovery (1910 and 1911).  Secondly, no one ever quoted Ramsay himself.  If any footnotes were provided at all, it was always to some other source.  Thirdly, no one ever provided a translation of the inscription.  All of this made me think “urban legend.”  So I did some digging and discovered that the claim is a mixed back of truth and error.


The earliest archaeological evidence for grocery shopping.

This one made me laugh: “Peter Atkins, a brilliant chemist for sure, says exactly what’s on his mind, even when there’s nothing on it.”—Joshua Warren








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Acts 18:12-18  But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (ESV)

Luke speaks of a Gallio who was proconsul of Achaia.  Scholars doubted his existence because it didn’t appear anywhere in the history books and no artifacts had been found bearing his name.  But in 1905 a doctoral student sifted through some inscriptions collected from Delphi.  He discovered nine fragments that formed a message from Emperor Claudius.  In the text Claudius writes “Gallio, my fr[iend] an[d procon]sul….”[1]  The inscription was etched into a stone that was likely attached to the Temple of Apollo.


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Mt 13:55  Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? (ESV)

Gal 1:19  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (ESV)

James the brother of Jesus became the first bishop of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15) and wrote a NT epistle.  He died in AD 62 when he was thrown from the temple and then stoned to death by the Sanhedrin.

In 2002, antiquities dealer Oded Golan rocked the archaeological world and caused a media stir when he announced the existence of an ossuary that was purported to belong to James, the brother of Jesus Christ.  What is his basis for this claim?  The side of the ossuary contains an Aramaic inscription that reads, “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus.”


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Matthew, Luke, and John record the role of Caiaphas the high priest in the trial and death of Jesus (Mt 26:3, 57; Lk 3:2; Jn 11:49, 18:13, 14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6).  Recently, we discovered his “coffin.”

In 1967, following the Six Day War, the Jerusalem Peace Forest was constructed to link the eastern and western parts of Jerusalem together.  In 1990, a project was undertaken to build a water park in the Peace Forest.  While digging, they hit the ceiling of an ancient room, and it collapsed.  Archaeologists were called in to investigate.  Upon investigation they determined that the room was an ancient tomb.  They found 12 ossuaries (little boxes used to store the bones of the deceased).  Ossuaries were only used by Jews between ~50 BC and AD 70, so they knew these ossuaries probably dated to the 1st century.[1]


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Pilate was the Roman Prefect over Judea from AD 26-36.  All four gospels record his involvement with the trial of Jesus, and his authorization to crucify Jesus.  The Bible, however, is not the only literary source for information about Pilate.  He is also attested to in the works of three men who lived in the first-century AD: Tacitus (Roman senator and historian, AD 56-117), Josephus (Jewish historian, AD 37-100), and Philo (Jewish philosopher and theologian, 20 BC – AD 50).  Tacitus writes: (more…)

Jn 19:31-33  Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (ESV)

Jn 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Some scholars used to think the crucifixion story was contrived because it was thought that the Romans used ropes, not nails, to secure victims of crucifixion to the cross.  It was also thought that such victims were only thrown in common graves, not given proper burials.  But in 1968 Vassilios Tzaferis found an ossuary containing the bones of Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol in northern Jerusalem.  It was contained in a tomb with ~35 other bodies.  Yohanan was killed by crucifixion sometime between AD 7-70.  He still had a 7” nail in his right heel and his legs were broken (as described in Jn 19:32-33).  Apparently the nail in his right heel had hit a knot in the wood of the cross and could not be removed from the ankle when attempting to remove Yohanan from the cross.  To get him off the cross they had to remove part of the cross itself, leaving the nail in his heel.


I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I made a slight alteration to the name of the blog a couple of weeks ago.  From time-to-time I get questions from people regarding the name.  “Theosophical” is a hybrid of “theology” and “philosophy,” but unfortunately there is a religious group that uses the name: the International Theosophical Society.  I say “unfortunately” because there is little overlap between Theosophy and what I am espousing on this blog, and I do not want anyone thinking I am associated with them.

I first heard the term “theosophical” when I was in seminary.  It was used to describe the confluence of theology and philosophy.  That was before I ever heard of the Theosophical Society, and I didn’t think they should own such a great term!

Needless to say, I decided I would hyphenate theosophical as “theo-sophical” to help distance my blog from any association with Theosophy.  In case you were wondering….

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