My journey of serious study of seemingly Biblical errors began with Redeemer and Dr. Keller. It was the summer he started on a new sermon series, the entire book of Mark. One of the reference books he cited was “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham. One of my friends decided it would be fun to have a book club and read the entire book. Unfortunately it was a dry monstrosity, most of us didn’t even get past the first chapter and it was a struggle for me to finish.
There were very interesting points to it such as why there name discrepancies between the Apostles that differed among the different gospels. One explanation was that Jews usually had a Greek nickname. Unfortunately there was a big discrepancy with Mathew’s conversions story of being a tax collector was similar to Levi’s conversion in Mark and Luke. It was extremely unlikely for a Palestinian Jew to have 2 common Semitic names. Bauckham concluded that most likely the author of Matthew’s gospel was not in fact Matthew, the author wanted to include in the origin story of Matthew and probably borrowed the Levi account.
There are a lot of factual discrepancies and contradictions in the Bible. While they are not insignificant and raises doubts, they do not necessary invalidate God’s message. The Bible was not primarily written as a point by point recording of events. For example the original hearers of the gospel would have understood the significance of Emmaus. The discrepancies do force us to humbly reflect on what we think of as God’s will. It should stop us from behaving defensively and angry when facing opposing views. Jesus himself boiled down the law into 2 easy rules, love God and love your neighbor.
It was a bit surprising that Paul’s writings were virtually devoid of Jesus’ teachings, but for Paul the main emphasis was the Resurrection. Paul’s main encounter with Jesus was after his death and resurrection. Jesus did not come to be just a great teacher, but a redeemer. The resurrection was the center point for Paul, everything revolved around it.
The tension between the Jewish and Gentile Christian churches was understandable. It has happened with Korean churches where the English ministry started for the children starts to thrive and grow and soon it’s priorities change from the parent church. With 2 different churches with different cultures and priorities, differences were going be become more apparent. The Jewish revolts probably hastened and sharpened the divisions between the two churches.
Question regarding the Sabbath day is complicated. There were various influences and reasons as to how Sunday worship came to be. It is not unreasonable that he desire to differentiate with the Jewish church was a reason, but it’s unknown how big a reason it was. There were economic reasons as well as many cultural desiring to integrate existing worship of other religions. Would the 2 branches integrate completely if the Jewish church wasn’t wiped out? Probably not since here in America there are almost countless denominations of varying sizes. Still, a very distinct view of God has since been lost.
MacCulloch’s depiction of the period of the Jewish revolts from 66 CE and 132 – 135 CE was very interesting to me because I was virtually clueless as to what happened in that period and it was exciting to learn something I didn’t know before. It was interesting that the early Jewish Christians wanted no part with the rebellions and didn’t set foot back into Jerusalem until the fourth century. It was most likely a shrewd political move by the Christians back then that probably preserved them from further persecutions and moved them to spread out further East.
It was also interesting to see the development and dominance of the Pharisees after the demise of the Sadducee leadership. Their emphasis on their commentaries on the interpretation of the Torah and the importance of synagogues (since the destruction of the Temple) shapes most of our modern-day understanding of Judaism.
It’s also very interesting that MacCulloch depicts the growing schism in the between Jews and Christians can be seen in the gospels as they take on a more “anti-traditionalist” take on Jewish customs and identity. However, after reading Paul’s epistles (most of which were written well before the gospels), this break from Jewish customs and identity seemed to germinate well before the revolts. But it does add more support to the more propagandistic nature of the gospels or the NT as a whole. Not only does it advocate its readers not to worship the Roman emperor, but it advocates a disassociation with Jews, sometimes even harshly (for instance, the verse “All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!” in Matt. 27: 25 seems as if the author is implicating the Jews for Jesus’ death; also opting for the use of the Greek translation of Joshua, Jesus, rather than keeping his Jewish name). Furthermore, Christians seemed to incorporate and then reinterpret many Roman pagan customs into their own customs- probably a more effective tool for drawing in more believers from pagan or Roman ranks. (They also probably had more money, status, and influence as well- another shrewd political and economic move.)
Without the destruction of Jerusalem as a result of the revolts, Rome might never have become the center of Christendom later on in history. This also leads to a rather curious theological question as to whether this was “God’s plan” all along as it was being unfolded, or was it just a case of favorable (random) circumstances that fell in place for Christianity and set the stage for its dominance for centuries to come?