Being There: Wittenberg

I have valued the experience of being in important places because it brings history to life.  A long time love of the history of the New Testament has taken me many times to Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Greece.  The landscape, remains of buildings, even the climate, adds value to the written word.  Being there also raises questions of chronology.  What happened when, and how long was it before b followed a?

I had not visited the places that figured in Martin Luther’s life story until 2014, and more recently in 2016.  Many buildings are being restored in anticipation of big crowds in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ninety-five theses being nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg.

To my shame I admit to not taking much interest in Luther for many years.  One of my electives for the University of London Bachelor of Divinity was a paper on Luther and Calvin.  The Luther segment focused on his tracts published in 1520 including Of the Freedom of the Christian Man.  Three years earlier Martin Luder changed his name to Martin Luther, based on the Greek word eleutheros, signifying that he had been ‘set free’ from condemnation by the death of the Son of God.

But what a difference it made actually being there ? in Eisleben where he was born (and coincidentally where he died, aged 63), Eisenach where he went to boarding school, Erfurt where he studied for the priesthood (in the Augustinian Order),
Wittenberg (where he was appointed Professor of Exegesis), Worms (where he was tried and condemned), and Wartburg Castle (where he took refuge, and where he translated the New Testament from Greek to everyday German).

Of most interest was Wittenberg, where Frederick the Wise had recently established the university, and to which the 29 year old Dr Martin Luder was appointed a Professor.  Frederick and his brother, John Frederick, and his nephew also John Frederick effectively protected Luther throughout his life.

Before Luther became famous Wittenberg was a ‘nowhere’ place, with a mere 384 dwellings.  At his appointment Luther did not figure in the list of 100 professors in lesser universities.  That was to change after the issue of the ninety-five theses when Luther became the most famous (or infamous) man in Germany, who was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Merely wandering through this small town was a revelation of the events and people back then.  There was the imposing Augustinian Cloister that Frederick gave to Luther, where he set up house with the redoubtable Katharina von Bora, which was both a hostel for students and an inn for the many visitors who sat at his meal table.

Nearby is the town church, St Mary’s where his friend Johannes Bugenhagen was pastor, and where Luther preached 4000 times in the 34 years he lived in Wittenberg.

In the town square is a statue of Luther, but also of his amazing colleague Philip Melanchthon, linguist, theologian, astronomer, jurist, and geographer.

One of the fine homes in the town belonged to Lucas Cranach, a wealthy man, and court painter for Frederick.  Cranach’s various portraits of Luther were disseminated throughout Germany and enhanced the reputation of Luther.  Cranach’s beautiful woodcuts formed the frontispiece of many of Luther’s writings, including his translation of the whole Bible published in 1534.  Cranach’s was one of the six print shops that were kept busy churning out the endless supply of Luther’s writings.

Then, at the end of the main street is the imposing Castle Church on whose door on October 31, 1517 Professor Luther nailed his paper attacking the sale of religious indulgences, an act the shook the world for centuries to come.

Paul Barnett

The Huguenot Heart

The Annual Meeting of the Huguenot Society 7th June, 2015) Scots Church, Sydney.

I am not of Huguenot descent. But let me speak today about the Huguenot heart.
My text:
Hebrews 9:26 Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

This text teaches two things:
1. Christ appeared once and for all at the end of the ages.
2. Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

The word ‘unique’ comes to mind.
His coming was unique.
His sacrifice for sin was unique.

Pastoral Setting of Hebrews:
•Writer is anonymous
•He was a Jewish Christian leader.
•He was writing to discouraged Jewish Christians.
•So discouraged were they that they contemplated renouncing Christ being absorbed back into Judaism.
They had suffered economic hardship, loss of property, prison.
(Reminds us of Huguenot suffering).
•These Jewish Christians were headed back to the temple back to the priests back to the sacrifices
This was the pastoral setting of this book.

Hebrews is an early text
•Probably written in the 50s,
•One of the earliest texts of the NT.

The Writer reminds them that temple sacrifices for sins had to be repeated. So: because they had to be repeated they were ineffective.
Christ’s once only sacrifice was totally effective.
It was because he was the Son of God, without sin.
He was more than sufficient to atone for humanity’s sin.

Hebrews 10:11-14 Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…he has perfected…those who are being sanctified.

John Calvin The great French scholar John Calvin understood this.
If Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins why are church priests repeatedly re-offering Christ as a sacrifice in the Mass?
Calvin also questioned:
•the adoration of relics;
•the intercessions of the saints;
•the superstitious belief in the omnipresence of miracles;
•prayers for the dead;
•the payment of indulgences to release imprisoned souls.
These too went by the board when Calvin examined them alongside the simplicity and purity of apostolic faith.

People were overjoyed to hear the gospel in their own tongue and to hear thoughtful pastoral teaching on the gospel.

Large numbers of French people came to Geneva to hear Calvin who taught daily at the Church of St Pierre.
In time French Protestants became numerous and represented by some estimates 10% of the population.
But the church authorities and the king reacted violently.
Religion and superstition sentimentally appeal to unthinking people.
Radical Protestant thought was opposed, even though it was a pure representation of apostolic faith.

During the final 30 years of the 16th century
•a purge of the French Protestants
•thousands massacred in Paris on St Batholomew’s Day.
In 1685 the king revoked the Edict of Nantes that forced about a quarter of the Huguenots into exile ? 250,000 including some of France’s most accomplished citizens

The suffering of the French Protestants was very great.
We are reminded of the sufferings of faithful Hebrews, as in Hebrews 11:
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

The suffering Huguenots were the heirs of the faithful Hebrews and the martyrs in early Christianity.
The suffering Huguenots are the precursors of the thousands of persecuted Christians today

The Huguenot heart believes the gospel and is prepared to suffer for the gospel

Question: If the Letter to the Hebrews is so clear how did the church get it so wrong?
It all went back to earlier centuries. Christians developed wrong ideas about ministers and sacraments. They believed that the Christian priesthood was a continuation of the Old Testament priesthood and that Christian clergy were re-offering Christ as a sacrifice for sins.

They did not understand the Epistle to the Hebrews. Otherwise they would not have allowed a return to superseded practices.

Calvin went back to the Bible. Including to the Book of Hebrews.
Christ offered himself as a sacrifice ‘once and for all’ (hapax).

We receive broken bread and out-poured wine with thankful hearts. These symbolize the broken body of Christ, his completed, saving work.

We say to ourselves, ‘He did it for me, once, at such great cost to him’.
John Calvin understood this.
So did the Huguenots.

Calvin, their fountainhead was a remarkable scholar
•trained as lawyer
•an accomplished classicist ? wrote commentary on Seneca (still in print?)
•wrote commentaries on 60+ books of the Bible
•wrote the majestic Institutes, a complete work of theology.
His meticulous commentaries make him the father of biblical commentators.

Which brings us back to Hebrews 9:26.
FIRST: Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
Three English words once for all translate one Greek word h-a-p-a-x.
It appears a number of times in Hebrews.
His unique appearing brought the OT period to its end.
He appeared ‘once and for all’.
He supersedes and discontinues the era of temple, priests and sacrifices.
Christ brought all that to an end.
This is what the pre-reformation church did not understand.
This is what Calvin reaffirmed.
This is what Huguenots came to believe ? at great cost.
This is the heart of Huguenot faith.

SECOND: Christ has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
This is the message of Good Friday.
Men killed Jesus
-the treacherous Judas
-the opportunistic High Priest
-the vacillating Pontius Pilate
-the Roman death squad Men killed Jesus.

But Jesus also sacrificed himself.
It was the Father’s will.
Gethsemane reveals the Son’s agony in prospect.
The terrible cry from the cross reveals the agony in reality.
Christ came to pay the price for our sins, once for all.
To pay the price we could never pay.

We concern ourselves with our health, our finances, our appearances, our relationships. That’s what many TV ads are about. And these are important.
But there is something in life that is more basic, that undergirds everything else.
To be right with our Maker and Judge.
To know peace with God.
To know I am reconciled to God.
To know that God loves me.
To know that God wants to hear my prayers.

Life is a race with many hurdles. God is there to help us run the race and to help us over the hurdles.

The important thing is that we understand these great truths. Not only in our heads but no less in our hearts.

There are things in our past, which we may look back on with regret, even shame. Acts of unkindness. Cruel words. Dishonest dealings. Theft.

Ritual cannot remove the stain of sin from our hearts.
Good works cannot remove the stain of sin from our conscience.
Only the blood of the Son of God.

If I were of Huguenot descent it would be a matter of great pride.
But the really important thing is to have a Huguenot heart.
A Huguenot heart says to God:
Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
to put away my sin by the sacrifice of himself.
It was for that sublime truth that the Huguenots suffered and died.

Paul in Rome in the Sixties

The book of Acts indicates that Paul was under ‘house arrest’ in Rome, most probably between 60-62.  Luke’s text suggests that Paul was then released, something First Timothy and Titus also imply.  Second Timothy, written from Rome, however indicates that Paul was soon to face execution.  Presumably, this execution was at the decision of Nero Caesar following the Great Fire in 64.

As I suggested in another paper (‘“Paul lived in Rome two whole years”. The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts’ ? http// the reason Luke did not write about Paul after Acts 28 (his two-year imprisonment in Rome) was that he knew this information could be gleaned from the letters to Timothy and Titus (whose authorship he may have contributed to ? so C.F.D. Moule).

It is tragically clear why in 64 or 65 Paul was beheaded following the Fire (as a Roman citizen he would not be crucified).  But why was he released in c. 62, as he expected to be, based on the general thrust of Philippians and the open ended close of Acts?

To answer this we need to be reminded about the politics of Rome in the sixties.  Nero Caesar was both immature (a mere 23 in the year 60) and distracted (he had recently murdered his mother, Agrippina).  Effectively, Rome and its empire were being administered by Burrus (the Praetorian Prefect), and Seneca (Nero’s speech-writer and chief advisor).

Almost certainly Paul’s ‘appeal to Caesar’, whose outcome he was awaiting in Philippians, would have effectively been heard by Burrus and Seneca, rather than by Nero.

My argument here is that Seneca would have played a key role in a favourable decision for Paul.  This is because Seneca’s brother was the Gallio who had passed a good verdict on Paul in Corinth a decade earlier.  In effect, Gallio Proconsul of Achaia, determined back then that Paul the Roman citizen had not acted against Roman custom in establishing an alternative meeting in Corinth.  After serving his year-long appointment in Achaia Gallio returned to Rome where he became Consul in 55 (?).  Seneca was Consul in 56.

There can be little doubt that Gallio would have discussed Paul’s case in Corinth with his brother Seneca.  Thus, so far as Gallio would have been concerned, a precedent had been set.  Paul was not guilty of any breach of Roman law.  This may have prompted his colleague Burrus to release the man whose imprisonment was supervised by the Praetorian Guard, according to Philippians.

After 62 everything changed.  Burrus died in 62 and was replaced by Tigellinus.   From that time the tide was running against Seneca who attempted to retire from public life in 62.  In 65 Nero forced him to commit suicide.

Providentially for Paul Burrus and Seneca were the men of influence during Paul’s two-year house arrest (60-62 ? the setting of Philippians) after which Paul was released for travel in the east (as witnessed in First Timothy and Titus).  After 62, however, Paul’s protectors (Burrus and Seneca) were gone from the seat of influence.

The Great Fire in 64 inevitably caught up Paul in its tragic aftermath.

Transcendent Values?

The rise in secular ethics corresponds with the decline in transcendent-based ethics.  Within the former I understand there is a growing interest in Classical Values, like the four Roman Cardinal Virtues ? ‘courage’, ‘moderation’, ‘prudence’ and ‘justice’.  These were the ideals of the upper orders, which were also self-regarding, if not self-centred.

The one voice from a lower stratum in antiquity was that of Jesus from Nazareth, an artisan and self-educated rabbi.  His rabbi’s judgements were applicable back then to all social levels from bottom to top.  Since then they have proved timelessly applicable at all times and in all cultures.

Take for example his judgement on payment of a tax now to be paid by each person direct to Caesar.  To deny the tax in line with zealot agitation would condemn him as another troublemaker and to approve the payment would unite him with the corrupt temple authorities.

His ‘render to Caesar the things of Caesar and to God the things of God’ brilliantly saved his life, but more importantly pegged the ground for relationships with Caesar and God.  Keep the two separate was his shrewd advice.  Pay the taxes to ‘the powers that be’ (to use St Paul’s words) and fulfil all duties and privileges of a citizen.  When you turn to worship, however, let it not be to ‘Tiberius Caesar, Pontifex Maximus, son of the deified Augustus (words on the denarius coin), who is a mere mortal.  Direct your worship to the Almighty.  No theocracy here nor sectarian separation, but a clear demarcation between the realms of Caesar and God.  This is a basis for liberal democracy.

Another judgement was his interchange with a religious lawyer over the question: Who is my neighbour?  The parable narrated the practical care a hated Samaritan showed to a Jew in trouble, whose two fellow Jews (each religionists) ‘passed by on the other side.  ‘Good Samaritan’ is universal language for charity for those in trouble.  The early Christians put this into effect by initiating hospitals and hostels for anyone in need, regardless of creed or nationality.  The apostate emperor Julian attempted unsuccessfully to copy the ‘Galileans’.  This was to come later in the welfare state.

The hero of the story was a not a broadminded Jew who somehow found it within himself to help a contaminated, untouchable Samaritan.  Unimaginably in those racist, tribal times, it was an ‘unclean’ man who helped a ‘clean’ man who fell among thieves.

Other examples relate to ‘family life’.  In Jewish society only men could initiate divorce, which they did by handing a wife a certificate.  In Roman society wealthy men and women initiated divorce, which they did with such frequency that it was said they did not mark the year by the elected consul but by the new spouse.  In Graeco-Roman society it was not unknown for men to marry sisters and mothers.  Their gods had shown the way.

Rabbi Jesus quoted Genesis, ‘From the beginning God…made them male and female’ who in marriage become ‘one flesh’.  He added this ideal, ‘What therefore God has joined together let not man separate’.  To his words about lifelong, faithful marriage he added that children were not to be brushed aside but deeply valued.  The bones of children have been found in Roman sewers, confirming reports of the maiming and exposure of unwanted infants.

Hard working parents dedicated to the care and education of their children help create stable societies.

The Mishnah (c. AD 200) reports numerous judgements and counter-judgements by the great Jewish teachers but it is no surprise that the words of the founder of Christianity do not appear.  Church and synagogue had separated by then.  His judgements sound deceptively mundane but their universal and timeless applicability raises the possibility of transcendent origin.

Guided Tour of Jordan and Israel 3-20 March, 2016

Tour Leaders: Bishop Paul and Mrs Anita Barnett

Mt Nebo
Wadi Rum
Baptismal Site

Dead Sea
Ein Gev
Jerusalem (7 nights)
Mt Carmel
Mensa Christi
Caesarea Philippi
Beth Shean

Straightforward Emirates flights:  Sydney-Dubai-Amman (and return)
Experienced local guides.
Excellent hotels.
Air-conditioned buses.


All enquiries to Olive Tree Travel

Professor Edwin Judge: A Book Launch

Book Launch
E.A. Judge, Engaging Rome and Jerusalem,
(ed. S. Piggin; North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014).

In 1966 E.A. Judge, Reader in History at the University of Sydney had a small third year Roman History class of which I was a member, along with a younger Tom Hillard.

Tom has gone on to great things as a Roman historian and I have pursued the study of Christian origins within the canon of Jewish, Roman and early Christian texts.  Another in the class, Judith Nicholls, now a senior mature age student, is researching her PhD on Jerome.

Edwin Judge’s office is lined with the higher degree theses of his dozens of supervised students.  These volumes are silent tribute to a master teacher’s scholarship but equally to his generosity.

We students derived data from Judge, but more importantly, method, or more precisely documentary method.  Surely my guess is close to the mark in thinking the words ‘Ancient History Documentary Research Centre’ are Judge-inspired.  I am not guessing, but speak from knowledge, that ‘New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity’ is pure Judge.

Judge was always an elegant lecturer, who combined eloquence with gravitas, with a degree of tantalizing obscurity thrown in, who was always more than a pleasure to hear.  He was different from, but as good as, Cable or Mansfield, which is high praise.

But it was the method…so simple: a sheet of text from the classical era; that was all.  In the course of the well-shaped hour its Provenance would emerge, with critical comment; also its literary Context.  Then what did these words mean?  What was their significance relative to other texts?  Then on to an emerging explanation of what was going on, historically.

The cluster of ‘history’ words are noteworthy: histore? (‘to learn by inquiry’); historia (‘a learning by inquiry’); historikos (‘of’ or ‘for inquiry’); so Liddell and Scott. What I remember learning from Judge was ‘inquiry’ via exegesis of texts.

History is documents, whether carved in stone or written on paper.

As it happens, I had learned about documents beforehand from Knox and Robinson, my teachers at Moore College, who had studied Greek at the University of Sydney under, respectively, Enoch Powell and George Pelham Shipp.  My teachers schooled me in the method.  But Judge took it to a new level and mightily reinforced this text-based method as a platform to journey into exciting historical territory.

But I did learn data from Judge, one aspect of which is thankfully preserved in Stuart Piggins’ collection.  To this day I cannot bring myself to refer to the early Julio-Claudians as ‘Emperor Augustus’ or ‘Emperor Tiberius’.  It was a delight, therefore, to re-read ‘Who First Saw Augustus as an Emperor?’ which Judge had explored more fully explored in the papers in Jim Harrison’s collection, 2008.

As it happens you will search the New Testament in vain for the word, ‘emperor’.  It does not appear.  Its texts come from the later Julio-Claudian and Flavian era (circa 50-95) but you will not find ‘emperor’.  You will find ‘Caesar’ ? Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar, ‘tribute to Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘Caesar’s friend [Tiberius]’, ‘no king but Caesar [Tiberius]’, ‘the decrees of Caesar [Claudius]’, offence ‘against Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the tribunal (b?ma) of Caesar [Nero]’, ‘appeal to Caesar [Nero]’, ‘you must stand before Caesar [Nero]’, ‘the household of Caesar [Nero]’.

I do not know, but would like to, if the uniform precision of the New Testament about ‘Caesar’, influenced Judge’s judgement.  After all, these New Testament texts are the earliest major sources for the ‘Caesars’ of the first century, predating by decades Tacitus and Suetonius.

There are many fine contributions about early Christianity, let me mention three:
Where is the Historical Jesus?
Jesus outside the Gospels
The Essential Jesus
The first ? ‘Where is the Historical Jesus?’ ? was published in The Australian newspaper in 1968 but a young Stuart Piggin had heard it with excitement as a lecture in 1965.

Its insights are stunning.  Classical man would not have been surprised by assertions of resurrection because people were looking for ‘monstrosities’ as ‘portentous’ because they viewed the future with anxiety.  But in the gospel the ‘resurrection’ was no mere portent but the climax to an extended historical narrative about Jesus of Nazareth (my words).

Was that narrative myth?  Christian meetings in no way resembled mystery cults but were educational (my word) in character focusing not on ‘religious atmosphere’ or ritual but on historical statements and historical documents that soon became or already had become ‘crystallised in the creeds’.   Judge’s brief analysis quietly demolished Rudolph Bultmann’s elaborate argument that the gospel was myth-based.  No one believes this today, even though Bultmann dominated New Testament thought in the first half of the twentieth century.  Judge was ahead of his times, as in so many areas.

Was the argument ‘legend’?  Judge’s keen awareness of chronology ? a most vital discipline for the historian ? unerringly ‘fixes’ the texts we call ‘canonical’ to the two generations immediately following Jesus.  These texts, which are rich in uncontrived historical detail (my words), were not sufficient for people a century later, however, who wrote new gospels romantically filling in the gaps.  But they did so with fantastic legendary elements, as in the Gospel of Peter, where the risen Jesus is a gargantuan figure who is so huge that he reaches to the heavens!

Judge comments:  ‘By contrast with the accretion of legend in later versions the historical integrity of the canonical texts stands out clearly’.

This was a prescient statement.  Many scholars today do a double shuffle.  They ridiculously push the dates of the canonical texts into the second century.  This is in spite of retrospective references to them by the church fathers in the early second century (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp).  This, too, in spite of the emerging mass of papyrus manuscripts beginning with P52 (a fragment of John from c. 125) that culminate near the end of the second century in a codex with the four Gospels and Acts (P45), Paul’s thirteen epistles and Hebrews (P46) and the Apocalypse (P47).

These codexes (or is it codices?) were each for church reading and teaching (education and edification).  But the flavour of the month now is to date that which is early late and to classify that which is late and legendary as if primary regarding the historical Jesus, about whom as a consequence we can now say nothing.

What then of Paul’s version of the gospel?  Judge points out that the young Pharisee had been brought up in the ‘hard school’ of ‘punctilious…verbal accuracy…[in] ancient Judaism’.  When the arch-enemy of the gospel became a leading advocate he scrupulously distinguished his own words from the words of the Lord.  This man of powerful education and intellect remained resolutely the ‘slave (doulos) of Jesus’.

The gospel authors wrote in the two decades after Paul’s death in 65 (Mark wrote from Rome between 65-70). Almost certainly they were aware of Paul’s writings but were not influenced by them.  They wrote down as history what they had preached, a biographically based account of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.  They did so independently of Paul.

Jesus outside the Gospels (1985) is a masterly survey of and commentary on references to Jesus in early non-Christian sources.  Its precision and brevity invites expansion into a monograph, something for Edwin to do in his spare time!  He goes against the flow in denying that Suetonius’ Chrestus, who inspired Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome, was Christus, the founder of the Christiani.  He was merely a man named Chrestus, about whom we know nothing else.  Does Edwin Judge still believe this?

My last sample is: The Essential Jesus (2002) where Judge reviews a book that critically reviews the reductionist Jesus Seminar.  In a rare example of humour Judge comments, ‘None of the contributors is likely to be elected as a fellow of the Jesus Seminar’.  But maybe it wasn’t humour, just a laconic statement of fact.

There are also a number of pieces on education, reflecting Judge’s interest not only in university education, but education at primary and secondary levels as well,  indicating his remarkable breadth of interest.

Edwin Judge is my teacher and dear friend.  His influence on me has been wholly good, indeed inestimable, and for that I thank God most sincerely.  I am certain that I speak for many about a man we all love.

I am honoured to co-launch Stuart’s collection, which is all the more valuable because it sets in stone what Edwin Judge thought at the time he wrote, now going back many years.  It is, therefore, a modern historian’s ready made source book for the thoughts of a great historian of antiquity.

We thank Stuart for his hard work in tracking down these texts and for his very helpful introductory notes.
Paul Barnett
11th March 2015


Science Turns to God

Eric Metaxas’ ‘Science turns to God’ article in The Australian (29 December, 2014) provoked a spate of hostile letters and the newspaper’s editorial comment.

In brief, the article contrasted what we know today about the conditions for life on this planet with what we knew back in 1966.  In that year Time published the opinion of Carl Sagan that there were ‘two criteria for a planet to support life ? the right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star’.

Metaxas’ argument is that the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), despite high levels of funding, has not discovered any signals pointing to life elsewhere in the universe.  He claims there are octillion planets (1 + 24 zeros) in the universe, surely more than enough for their signals to be picked up by our vast telescopic networks.  But, says, the author, ‘silence of the rest of the universe has been deafening’.

The article then turns to what scientists today think are the necessary criteria for a planet to support life.  Metaxas claims that ‘there are now 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met’.  He cites the example of a large planet like nearby Jupiter, whose gravity draws to it asteroids that would destroy Earth.

His argument is that greater faith is required to believe the universe depends on random, accidental forces that belief in an intelligent creator.

The major statistic relates to the creation of the universe itself.  If the four necessary forces — gravity, electromagnetic force, the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ nuclear forces — were determined less than a millionth of a second after the big bang, there would be no universe.

Two Criticisms:
(i)        Metaxas is not a scientist, and his style is a little over-confident.
(ii)       Letter writers to The Australian complain that his appeal to Fred Hoyle and Paul Davies were inaccurate.
(iii)      His reference to SETI seems to be an example of the ‘God of the gaps’ argument by which God’s existence is positively asserted because of what we don’t know.

Reflections of a non-scientist:
(i)        The contrast between current multiple known criteria for life on the planet             relative to the known criteria in 1966 is helpful.  But Metaxas doesn’t say who are these more modern authorities.
(ii)       The 200 criteria, if accurate, are very important.  But their importance needs to be stated cautiously and humbly, without any hint of coercion so as to drive unbelievers into a corner.
(iii)      The arguments of ‘natural theology’, which seem to be Metaxas’ approach, may arouse interest, and the beginnings of faith.  But it is the testimony of the Gospel that arouses a genuine and true faith in the God and Father of our Lord  Jesus Christ.



Debt Slavery and Redemption

A fine article by Haznain Kazim in the Australian Financial Review (‘A Tale of Deliverance’, 9 January 2015) states that 35.8 million worldwide live under debt slavery.

It gives an example about how it happens.  A penniless family borrows a small sum (by our standards), in this case to build a modest dwelling.  They repay the debt by all the family working in the lender’s brick-making factory, except that the interest rates are so high that the amount owed does not diminished but grows.  The whole family is now trapped in debt slavery in perpetuity, with almost no freedom and crippling working conditions.

The owner, a prominent politician in Pakistan, hypocritically says, ‘Our employees have a good life with us’, he says, ‘They aren’t lacking anything’.

The article claims that many debt slaves are physically abused, including sexually, and that there are examples of people missing without trace, incinerated in the fiery hot brick kilns.

Perhaps the ‘slaves’ might simply run away and find freedom?  They are effectively prevented by a cultural sense of shame in reneging on their promises.

The article speaks warmly of a small Christian aid organization, Vast Vision that raises funds to buy the freedom of debt slaves.  It tells of a man, a debt slave for many years, being set free by the founder of Vast Vision physically handing over a wad of cash to the ‘owner’.  With tears in his eyes the free man collects his wife and two small children and they walk away to a new life.

Of course, debt slavery is illegal in Pakistan, but the authorities do little to stop it.  Powerful and wealthy slave owners see that the law is not enforced.

Vast Vision has one condition in liberating adult debt slaves.  Their children must go to school so that they will not be drawn back into this servitude.

‘Paul lived in Rome two whole years’. The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts

‘Paul lived in Rome two whole years’.
The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts

Non-specialist readers, as well as academics, are baffled by Luke’s final glimpse of his hero, Paul, in Rome.  We know from Paul’s Pastoral Letters that both Paul, and his companion Luke were alive and active for some time after those those ‘two whole years’.  The key question is: why doesn’t Luke tell us about those extra years, but just leaves Paul in prison?

Indeed, as I will propose, Paul’s three last letters explain Luke’s ‘mysterious ending’ of his epic two-volume narrative.

Luke’s reference to Paul’s two year ‘house arrest’ in Rome awaiting Caesar’s trial implies at least two things.  The first is that Luke was close at hand for him to know of the timespan of this imprisonment, and the second is that Paul was then released.  Had Paul been executed at the end of those ‘two whole years’ Luke would surely have told us. In any case, since the Roman authorities in Judea did not find against him it is likely that Nero Caesar would not have found against him.  Which law of Rome had he broken?  Clearly Luke intends us to know about Paul’s circumstances, namely that he had been released.

This is also confirmed in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, written from the Praetorian Barracks in Rome.  Paul wrote to the Philippians during the ‘two whole years’ and he clearly expected to be released and to come to them in Macedonia (Phil. 1:25-26).  Thus evidence from Luke and Paul independently confirms that Paul was released after the initial two year imprisonment in Rome.

For his part during those two years Luke would have been actively gathering texts and researching for his planned, major two-volume ‘orderly account’, as he had most likely been doing in Palestine during the previous three years, when Paul had been in prison in Caesarea.  Those five years in total would have provided Luke with opportunity to speak to key people in Palestine and Italy, as well as to collect texts he would employ in a chronicle that would span the seventy years between the birth of John the Baptist and the ‘two whole years’ of Paul’s incarceration in Rome.

If, as I believe, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome shortly after the martyrdom of Peter in 64, it would at last provide Luke with a precious, Peter-authorised account of the ministry of Jesus from his baptism to the resurrection.  This would provide the narrative ‘spine’ for the first ‘book’ of ‘the works and words’ of the historical Jesus.

This would connect well with Paul’s comment to Timothy: ‘Luke alone is with me’ and his pointed instruction, ‘Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry…..When you come, bring…the books (biblia, ‘written scrolls’) and above all the parchments (membranas, ‘blank sheets )’. Paul knew his own end was near, so that Mark’s ‘usefulness’ to him would not be for some kind of ongoing ministry partnership.  More probably it somehow related to Mark’s relationship to the ‘books and the parchments’ that Luke would use in writing Luke-Acts (see Luke 1:1-3).

To return to our mystery, we ask again: Why didn’t Luke tell us about what happened to Paul after those ‘two whole years’?  I think the answer is staring us in the face.  It is that Luke doesn’t need to tell us.  The information has always been there for us to discover.  Where might that be?  It is there in Paul’s three Pastoral Letters, especially the third and final letter, Second Timothy.  From those letters we can piece together Paul’s movements between his release (in c. 62) and his death (in c. 64).

Luke was aware of the contents of that third Letter, as noted above, and indeed may have contributed in some way to its contents, as C.F.D. Moule suggested many years ago (The Birth of the New Testament; London, A & C Black, 1973, pages 220-221 )

In any case, Luke had his own reasons to end his epic in the way he did.  During those ‘two whole years’ Luke shows us Paul ‘proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus’.  Clearly that is the vision Luke is leaving with his readers, to pick up the gospel baton from Paul and to run with it into the next generation.  For Luke to merely have narrated Paul’s brief spell of freedom back in the east and ended with his execution might have seemed to him something of an anticlimax.  In any case, for those interested to know about Paul after the ‘two whole years’ it is all there in those three letters, in particular the third.

Paul Barnett?9 January, 2015

A Reformation Tour

A Reformation Tour, September 2014

Some friends asked me to lead a tour to sites of the Reformation.  I agreed but with misgivings.  It was years since I had studied the Reformation and many of the places were new to me.

Our group began in Berlin and moved west to the Luther sites, Leipzig (also famous for Bach), Wittenberg, Eisleben, Eisenach (including Wartburg Castle), Erfurt and Worms.  In other words, we visited to the most significant places of Luther’s life, education, work, trial and death.

A man of humble background Luther emerges as highly intelligent, but also deeply determined.  After being condemned as an outlaw at the Diet of Worms he was hidden in Wartburg Castle where he translated the Greek New Testament into colloquial German.  Luther saw out his days at Wittenberg as an academic, but was greatly helped by various colleagues including Philip Melanchthon.  It is evident that as a devout Catholic he did not set out to divide the church.

Luther great insight was that in his death, our Lord embraced and dealt with human wretchedness.  Luther knew this at first hand, and it was his study of Psalm 22 that showed him that the Christ who had been ‘forsaken’ had been forsaken for him.

We left Germany and visited sites associated with the French lawyer and classicist John Calvin, Strasbourg, Basel, Zurich and Geneva.  Very different in temperament from Luther, the Frenchman emerges as similarly highly intelligent and industrious.  Calvin’s roots were more socially prominent than Luther’s and the circumstances of his conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism are unclear.

John Calvin methodically wrote commentaries on most books of the Bible.  It’s true to say that Calvin in the ‘father’ of commentators.  His treatment of the texts is disciplined and careful, and mercifully to the point.  He established a seminary in Geneva in which he was the Old Testament Professor.  Equally, Calvin wrote the Institutes, a compendium of Christian belief only six years after his conversion, which he continued to revise and expand throughout his life.

Apart from being a model commentator Calvin is noteworthy for his insistence of the majesty and glory of Almighty God in the Institutes.

We moved across the channel to Oxford and Cambridge where we traced the ‘masters’ of the English Reformation, as Marcus Loane called them, Bilney, Tyndale, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer.  These men had been greatly influenced by Erasmus, Luther and to a lesser extent, Calvin.  Unlike Luther and Calvin who died in their beds, the English leaders died violently, burnt alive or strangled.

Cranmer takes rightful place alongside Luther and Calvin.  His great legacy is the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles of religion and the Ordinal.  Cranmer’s genius was to endorse as much of the past that was consistent with the Bible (liturgies, creeds and church government) whilst embodying the insights of the great continental reformers.  His Articles of Region are expressed briefly yet profoundly.

I asked the British tour company for local guides who were at least sympathetic with the Reformation and was very agreeably impressed with their enthusiasm and knowledge.

It was for our group a truly educational, but also spiritually uplifting experience.

I offer the following reflections about my recent revisiting of the three Reformers, Luther, Calvin and Cranmer.

First, each was a man of great intellect and piety.  As men born in the fifteen century, when scholarship was in its infancy, their achievements were remarkable.  The Bible was not available in their respective languages and there were few great scholarly shoulders to stand on.

Secondly, each of them was supported by networks of friends and supporters.  They did not work in isolation.

Thirdly, each of then benefitted by political protection: Luther by the Elector of Saxony, Calvin by the Geneva Civic Council and Cranmer by Henry VIII and Edward VI.  In those violent times it’s fair to say that without such protection their achievements would not have been possible.

Fourthly, the invention of the printing press made possible the rapid dissemination of Tyndale’s translations and the writings of Luther and Calvin.  It is difficult to imagine the speed and effectiveness of the spread of reformation thought without this revolutionary new medium.

Finally, it is true to say that each man had his faults.  Luther’s views on the Jews near the end of his life are a problem.  Calvin’s vision of a whole secular community complying with church disciple was impractical.  Cranmer wavered under pressure. (Who can blame him?)

In other words, these men were not perfect or without their blind spots.  Yet we are beneficiaries of their courage and faithfulness to God.  May we be as faithful to Christ and his Gospel in our times as these men were in theirs.

Anglicans do well to thank God for each man, but not forgetting Thomas Cranmer for his gift to us of the rich and edifying deposit in the Prayer Book, Articles and Ordinal.