If the Qur'an is true, then it's false


Many Muslims make objections to the Christian faith in the form of accusations against the reliability, preservation, and trustworthiness of the Bible. There are all sorts of arguments for the tenacity of the biblical text: its historical reliability, trustworthiness, and verisimilitude. However, when it comes to Muslims in particular I think a very cogent argument can be made that the Qur’an itself aruges for the preservation of the Christian scriptures. The following is what I routinely present to Muslims as an argument commonly referred to as the Qur'anic Conundrum:

1. The Qur'an routinely refers to the "previous Scriptures," identified as the "Torah" (توراة‎ - Tawrat, mentioned 18 times) and the "Gospel" (إنجيل - Injil, mentioned 12 times). These books are prefaced with the descriptors of being "sent down by God," as seen in places like Surah Ali 'Imran 3:3 and urah Al Ma'iadh 5:68: :

"He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel;"

"Say, "O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord." And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. So do not grieve over the disbelieving people."

2. Muhammad is told by Allah in Surah Yunas 10:94, that if he has doubt he should look to the Jews and the Christians because they have the previous Scriptures:

"So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters."

3. In context to mentioning the previous Scriptures the Qur'an declares that Allah's words cannot be changed in Surah Al-An'am 6:114-115:

"[Say], "Then is it other than Allah I should seek as judge while it is He who has revealed to you the Book explained in detail?" And those to whom We [previously] gave the Scripture know that it is sent down from your Lord in truth, so never be among the doubters. And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice. None can alter His words, and He is the Hearing, the Knowing."

4. Christians in Surah Al-Ma'idah 5:46-47 are told to judge by the Gospel and if they do not do so they are "defiantly disobedient":

“And we sent, following in their footsteps, Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming that which came before him in the Torah; and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirming that which preceded it of the Torah as guidance and instruction for the righteous.

And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient.”

Conclusion: If the previous Scriptures sit in a chain of succession (as is alluded to by verses like 4:46) then it makes logical sense that you cannot remove one of the links of the chain without compromising the others. If indeed the Torah and the Gospel are corrupt, as modern day Muslims would have us believe, then the author of the Qur'an seems to have no knowledge of it. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary that the author of the Qur'an actually articulates their trustworthiness and authenticity as God's word.

Similarly, if the Gospel and Torah are God's word and no one can change God's word then how have these previous Scriptures become corrupted? Did Allah not know they would be corrupted - in which case he is not all-knowing? Could he not stop individuals from doing so - in which case he is not all powerful? Or is what we have in Surah 6:115 incorrect, in which case the Qur'an itself has been compromised?

In conjunction with accusations of change, why would Muhammad be encouraged to talk to a people who had corrupt Scriptures in 10:94? Would this not only confuse Muhammad as there are clear teachings being revealed to him for the Qur'an that inherently contradict what is in the Torah and Gospel?

We know exactly what "the Torah" and "the Gospel(s)" looked like during the late 5th and early 6th centuries of Muhammad's lifetime. We even have manuscripts from the areas near Syria and the Arabian peninsula from this specific time period. They are virtually identical to the modern Gospels and Torahs we have in translation today. Thus, if these commands had any application for their original audience then what was "the Gospel" and "the Torah" being discussed in Surah 10:94? If we know what these documents looked like in the time period that these verses have application then the evidence shows no serious difference from what we have today.

Finally, why would Allah tell Christians to judge by the Gospel if it had been corrupted? If the Torah and Gospel the Qur'an is continually talking about are not the Torah and Gospel(s) we have today then how is the eternal revelation of the Qur'an to speak to modern day Christians? Why bother making the statement that Christians are to "judge by what Allah has revealed therein" lest they be "the defiantly disobedient?" Why not simply tell the Christians outright that these former revelations were corrupt and to get rid of them in place of the more perfect Qur'an?

If I take the Qur'an at its word as a "person of the Gospel" and I judge the Qur'an by the Gospel that has been revealed to me, in accordance with the command in Surah 5:47, I find it wanting. I see no interaction with any of the discussions taking pace in the Gospel nor any indication regarding knowledge of what Jesus is recorded saying there. In fact, what I do see are continual contradictions and misunderstandings regarding what the Gospel says and teaches and therefore, if the Qur'an is true and I obey its command to me then I have to conclude that it is false.

Good coffee, bad advice


A handful of years ago, I worked as a delivery driver for an organic, non-pasteurized, cold-press juice company in Toronto. I would spend the summer mornings and early afternoons hopping from cafe to yoga studio to health food store. I provided overpriced fruit and vegetable goodness to the masses who were willing to shell out $15 for a bottle of liquified carrots, celery, and apples. It was a good gig, and I drank enough cold-pressed juice that summer to make a vegan-hipster-yoga instructor blush. But it wasn’t just the juice that was a perk of the job, it was the coffee. I would deliver to some of the highest quality artisan and hipster cafes in downtown Toronto. I would show up, unload that day’s juice into a mini fridge or a display behind the counter, and pray that I would hear those magic words from the barista: “hey, juice guy, you want a drink?” 

One particular day, when I had just dropped off a crate of charcoal lemonade, green, carrot, and beet juices, and was waiting for the benevolent barista’s brew, I happened to look up at a chalkboard that had the words, “How we live is more important than what we believe,” scrawled in an artistic font above the drink menu. I couldn’t help but think that such a well intentioned saying might sound nice, but I was left wondering how that would actually work in practicality.

Keep reading…


Why the Gospels are embarrassing


You may have never thought about it before, but if you have ever read the biblical Gospels they’re actually quite embarrassing. Not that the gospel itself is embarrassing, but the four biographies of Jesus’ life—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are embarrassing.

While that might sound controversial to some, it’s actually not. The fact that the four biblical Gospels are embarrassing—that is, that their content would have made the early church a little uncomfortable—is one key reason that we know they are reliable and authentic.

This is what historians have termed the “criterion of embarrassment.” In other words, when historians are trying to measure and establish the truthfulness of written historical accounts(1), it is generally accepted that when people fabricate, exaggerate, or embellish stories, they don’t tend to incorporate facts that would make the author or the author’s key protagonists look foolish or leave room for the loss of their credibility.

Keep reading….

The Apologetic Books You Should [Already] Have on Your Shelf

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"Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions" by Greg Koukl

"The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between" by Greg Koukl

"Unanswered: Lasting Truth for Trending Questions" by Jeremiah J. Johnston

"But is it Real?" by Amy Orr-Ewing

"Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis

"What's Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life's Biggest Questions" by James N. Anderson

"Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels" by J. Warner Wallace

"Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith" by Alister McGrath

"Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World" by Andras Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chartraw 

"Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion" by Os Guinness 

"Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message" by Ravi Zacharias

"Apologetics for a New Generation: A biblical and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talk About God" by Sean McDowell

"How do You Know You're Not Wrong?: Responding to Objections that Leave Christians Speechless" by Paul Copan

"Faith Has its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith" by Rob Bowman and Kenneth Boa

"Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics" by R.C. Sproul 

"Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief" by John M. Frame  

"Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith" by Greg Bahnsen

"Christian Apologetics" by Cornelius Van Til

"The Defense of the Faith" by Cornelius Van Til


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"Is the Mormon my Brother?" by James White

"Letters to a Mormon Elder?" by James White

"The Forgotten Trinity" by James White

"Mormon Crises: Anatomy of a Failing Religion" by James Beverley and Sandra Tanner

"Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ" by Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski

"Kingdom of the Cults" by Walter Martin

"The Watchtower and the Word" by Stephen Bedard

"Crisis of Allegiance" by James Beverley

"Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah's Witnesses" by Ron Rhodes


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Fat Bastards and Crucifixion

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Have you ever  had a Fat Bastard? Now that might be a bit of a shocking even offensive sounding question at first. But the surprising thing is that many many people would actually answer that question with, "yes." Back in the late '90s, a renowned French winemaker invited his British wine distributor friend over to his winery to sample a new vintage. They tasted samples from dozens of barrels, were pleased with the stock but not blown away. Then the French winemaker offered his British friend a taste of an experimental wine that had stayed in a barrel with yeast sediment longer than the other wines. They noted a dramatic difference, it possessed an incredibly full-bodied flavour, which prompted the winemaker to exclaim: "Now that is what you call a fat bastard!"

From then on it would be the only name they ever considered. Fat Bastard wine was an incredibly unlikely name for a wine back in the '90s, long before quirky names became a trend in wines. It was shocking and borderline offensive in a category known for poetic designations like Chateau Margaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Fat Bastard was a cowbell in a symphony orchestra.

Nonetheless, the wine was launched in 1998, and quickly became the largest selling French Chardonnay in the U.S. It was a huge success (except in Iceland. Where a direct mailer for the wine was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority there) despite its off-putting, seemingly offensive face value appearance. A wine with the tagline "Outrageous name, outrageously good."

You may be asking, "what on earth does that have to do with anything regarding Christianity?" The fact remains that we live in a culture where the term "Christianity" and the image of the cross are common place. But for centuries after its inception, both the name and the iconic symbol that would come to symbolize the religion were considered absurd, off-putting, and offensive.

The apostle Paul exemplifies this twice in his letter to the church in the ancient city of Corinth: "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:18, 1 Cor. 1:23).

Crucifixion (the act of dying on a cross) in the ancient world was humiliating. Under Roman penal practice crucifixion was a means of exhibiting a criminal's low social status. It was the most dishonorable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves. Seneca the Younger, Nero's tutor and advisor, describes the practice as the artem autem infelix lignum (art of the unfortunate wood),(1) referring to the humiliating nature of being flayed, tortured, and displayed to die in public. 

The famous Roman historian Tacitus, while commenting on Nero's decision to blame the Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 AD, wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt... on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by  the populace. Christus (Christ), from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of... Pontius Pilatus.(2)

Tacitus' description sheds light on a few things: first he mocks the title "Christian". A group that derive their very name from someone who "suffered the extreme penalty" - crucifixion, an act Tacitus doesn't even mention because of its heinous connotation.

This notion transcended the writings of the higher classes though, we have cases of Ancient Roman graffiti mocking Christians and their admittance and acceptance of Jesus' crucifixion. Known as the Alexamenos graffito (seen below), a satirical piece of ancient vandalism from 85 AD, represents Christian worship. It depicting a man worshiping a crucified donkey, the inscription ("ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟΣ (ΑΛΕΞΑΜΕΝΟC) ΣΕΒΕΤΕ (CEBETE) ΘΕΟΝ") translates to "Alexamenos respects his god".

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Yet, despite all of that, Christianity during this period of time (100-300 AD) spread,  grew, and flourished. Regardless of its foolishness and often perceived offensiveness, Christianity in the course of the first four hundred years after Christ's crucifixion proved to be exceptionally popular - despite its name.

It might be somewhat crude and a little bit ostentatious to try to make the connective illustration of Fat Bastard wine and Christ's crucifixion, but it was done to prove a point. Our culture does not hold the same intensity with the concept as it did in its own day. Sure, maybe if you've watched Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ you might have some idea, but something is still lost. The intensity remains in subtle glimpses such as the English word excruciating, derived from the Latin  excruxio, literally translating "off the cross", but that simply represents the muted remains of a passed understanding. 

Cicero, the second century Roman philosopher-politician, declared that "the very word 'cross' should be far removed not only from the presence of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears".(3) In antiquity there was an inherent cringe factor that would have been associated with the whole thing. Much like naming a high quality wine Fat Bastard. It is a concept that should just not have worked, and yet, it did.

However, unlike the wine, Christianity and the idea of "Christ crucified" is popular for a completely different reason. At the heart of the gospel message are the concepts of grace and reconciliation. Despite its taboo nature, humiliation and agony were the paths that Jesus chose with which to accomplish those two concepts. The idea of sin (which is often tragically minimized) cuts to the very heart of our relationship with our maker and breaks the grandeur for which we were created. It brings disgrace to our essence and stains our very existence.

The act of Jesus' crucifixion two thousand years ago was the ultimate act of disgrace, shame, and pain, working to bring us back to the dignity of relationship with God - picking up the peaces of the broken relationship and healing our shattered souls. The very reason that the apostle Paul declares that he preached Christ crucified was because it transcended the face-value perception of his day. In among all of the absurd, off-putting, and offensive connotations it held, the cross was the ultimate act of the justice and mercy of God coming together. 




[1] Tertulliani Liber Apologeticus, Apologia, IX, 1. 

[2] Tacitus, Annals 15.44, Cambridge Greek & Latin Classics, (Cambridge University Press,  2002.

[3] Cicero Pro Rabiro 5.16, quoted in Martin Hengel, The Crucifixion of the Son of God, (London: SCM Press, 1986), p. 134. 

The question of Canon: the who, what, and where of the books of the Bible

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The modern biblical New Testament canon (BNTC) as we possess it today did not come to us in the way that we know it; the original autographs of the BNTC were not leather-bound books with thumb indexing and gold edges on the pages. There was a very lengthy process in which these books were passed down to us. When this subject is being addressed, what is being discussed is the twenty-seven books we find in what is now called the BNTC. These twenty-seven books represent the message of Jesus of Nazareth recorded by his followers in the first few decades after his death. The issue of canon is the question of how these books were assembled and put together. More so, however, the issue encompasses the differentiation of these books from other contemporaneous stories of Jesus in the successive centuries after his death; therefore, in order to understand this issue in its entirety, it needs to be defined, outlined, and addressed under the setting of its theological significance and its first-century context. It must be traced back and proven reliable. This can be done through a number of categories. The first, can be summarized as the origin of the cannon, that is, addressing why the early church intrinsically created a cannon of scripture. The second is that of the date of canon, namely, tracing its historicity and reliability, and the third, through recognizing and examining the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address.



The issue of canon must be examined through its origin. Why did the early church decide to put together the documents that we now recognize as the BNTC? Why a New Testament canon at all? As mentioned previously, this is a theological discussion, one that has far too often been framed not theologically, but historically alone. History has a part to play in this, but ultimately the issue of cannon is framed in theological language. Some theologians and scholars have proposed that the BNTC is what we can refer to as an ecclesiastical product, or what can be described as an extrinsic model, imposed onto the church by the outside. However, this retroactive imposition doesn’t always make sense in light of the early church in regard to both their eschatological theology and their covenantal mind frame.1


This can be concretely seen in the eschatological nature of early Christianity. The first Christians were Jews, who were living in a tense situation of displacement. Not a physical displacement, but rather a spiritual one. The anticipation for the deliverance of Israel discussed in the Old Testament (OT) was still very much in the sub-conscious of first century Jews.2 We see this language of deliverance and redemption in the biblical testimony in places like John 1:41 (looking for the Messiah), Luke 2:38 (redemption of Jerusalem), Luke 2:25 (consolation of Israel), and Acts 1:6 (restoration of the kingdom). In other words, the Jews within early Christianity did not view the story of the OT as complete. As N.T. Wright states, “the great story of the Hebrew scriptures was therefore inevitably read in the second-temple period as a story in search of a conclusion.”3This is evident in the very structure of the OT canon, with first-century Hebrew TANAKHs (Hebrew Bibles) most often ending with the book of Chronicles. The idea being that of the openness of the OT canon ending with the Davidic reign, distinctly inviting the coming Davidic King and ending in a posture of anticipation for first-century Jews.4


This then, sets the stage for the first Christians and their eschatological mind frame. Early Christians believed that these OT prophecies were indeed fulfilled and accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of their Messiah, Jesus (Deut. 18:18 in juxtaposition with the arguments in Hebrews). This was not eschatological in terms of a second coming, but rather, eschatological in terms of the culmination of the story of the OT. It is what Wright describes as “the climax of the exile [being] reached.”5 Consequently, the fact that the Jews of the first century viewed the OT as incomplete and in need of a conclusion brings with it the need for a new corpus of books, i.e. the BNTC. It is also worth noting that the OT biblical witness describes a pattern, one of God revealing a new set of word revelation after His major redemptive events. As Richard Gaffin writes, “revelation never stands by itself, but is always concerned either explicitly or implicitly with redemptive accomplishment. God’s speech is invariably related to his actions; it is not going too far to say that redemption is the raison d’etre of revelation.”6 The pattern therefore being that, redemption leads to word revelation; it would not be hard to see why the early Christians would intrinsically posit this revelation in the BNTC. This process would not have been seen as forced in the early Christian mindset, rather, through this pattern of word revelation following redemption, it would have seemed innate, intrinsic, and organic.


Equally, first century Judaism as well as early Christianity was covenantal. When looking at the writings leading up to the first century, an interpretation of what can be described as covenantal categories is seen very strongly. The Jewish people understood the actions of God through the lens of His covenantal promises. What is interesting is that when we get to the earliest Christian writings this theological covenantal mind frame crosses over.7The acts of Jesus circulating in the Kerygma (oral Jesus stories) and recorded in the gospels were framed in the context of Jesus bringing with Him a new covenant. The last supper was understood as a covenantal meal, as Jesus describes (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28; Mark 12:4); Zachariah understood the coming of his son, John the Baptist, as the fulfilling of God’s covenant and the coming Messiah (Luke 1:5-25); Paul describes the ministry of the Apostles as being “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6), alluding to the “making [of a] new covenant with the people” in Jer. 31:31; and so on. There are many examples of this in the text. What does covenantal theology have to do with the origin of the BNTC? The answer lies in the connection between covenants and written texts. The OT idea of a covenant was linked with the written text representing the terms and arrangements of that covenant promise (Ex. 24:7, 34:28; 2 Kings 23:2; Deut. 4:13, 29:21).8 Therefore, if the early Christians themselves were immersed in this covenantal structure and mind frame then it is not hard to imagine the New Covenant, through Jesus Christ, also being received with written text. These Christians, by virtue of their Christian heritage, would have naturally seen this promise manifested in conjunction with written scriptural books. Once again being seen as innate, intrinsic, and organic to their faith.




Secondly, there is the issue of the BNTC, namely, tracing its historicity and reliability. Here the “when” of it all is addressed. When exactly were these books first viewed as scripture? If it is argued that canon is an ecclesiastical product, an extrinsic model imposed onto the church, than the date of canon is essential to the discussion. The majority consensus on the date of canon is the end of the second century as the point when this shift takes place, specifically because of the writings of Irenaeus (130-202 CE), when he writes, “but it is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For since there are four zones of the world in which we live and four principle winds, and the cherubim too were four faced”9. Not only this, but Irenaeus quotes other BNTC books extensively. Along with the four-fold gospels, he names the entire Pauline corpus (excluding Philemon), Acts, Peter, James, Hebrew, 1st and 2nd John, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Revelation. Irenaeus quotes BNTC passages over a thousand times, identifying them directly as “graphe” or scripture (there is also some evidence he thought the Shepherd of Hermes was scripture but that will be discussed later). However, because of this fact many scholars have posited the idea that Irenaeus was the innovator of the BNTC, Elaine Pagels describes him the “principal architect”10  of the BNTC itself. The problem with such a theory is that in IrenaeusAgainst Haresies he gives no proof-texting for his citations of BNTC being scripture. Instead he cites the BNTC frequently, as if his audience would have known of them, and confidently as scripture. There is no defense or argument of their scriptural integrity, he simply quotes them rather as fact. If the extrinsic model is true, it would be foreign within the early Christian community to see BNTC books being cited as scripture either before Irenaeus’ or by contemporaries. If true, this would push back the date of canon beyond the second century.11


Irenaeus however, was not the only second century writer to mention the books of the BNTC as scriptural. Theophilus (169-183 CE), a contemporary of Irenaeus, and the bishop of Antioch, states in the mid to late second century that, “concerning the righteousness which the law enjoined, confirmatory utterances are found both with the prophets and in the gospels, because they all spoke inspired by one Spirit of God."12 This stands as a very bold statement; essentially, Theophilus is arguing that the authority and veracity of the OT prophets is shared in its scriptural nature with the gospels. Not only this but Theophilus makes mentions of Paul’s letters as well. So too does Clement of Alexandria (95-97 CE). In his letters to Corinth he quotes BNTC with ease and regularity, establishing all four gospels, the epistles of Paul, Acts, Hebrews, 1st Peter, 1st and 2nd John, Jude, and Revelation.13 Likewise, the early document of the Muratorian fragment (there is some argument as to the dating of this document but the earliest it's attested is 170 CE) suggests that Irenaeus was not alone in his views. Not only this but the evidence of the Muatorian fragment works to place these books in a list, suggesting restriction rather than mere usage of BNTC. The Muratorian fragment is strong evidence but even more is the testimony of Tatian’s work of the Diatessaron (160-175 CE), which promotes a complete gospel harmony of all four BNTC gospels. In this we start to see somewhat of a pattern evolving in the second century Christian community. For not only Irenaeus but also Theophoilus of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tatian, and the witness of the Muratorian fragment, all baring testimony to a very early date and idea of canonicity. Dispelling ideas of Irenaeus being alone and working to show that the BNTC was accepted at a very early date showing both geographically diversity and recognition as canon throughout the second century; ideas that, due to their regularity and ease of quotation by these second century Christians, may well have predated the second century.




Finally, the issue of canon can be recognized and examined by the category of looking at the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address. For it is true that there are other books written in the first few successive centuries after Jesus’ death; books that discuss the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in a different light than our BNTC presents them. Apocryphal (that is, non-canonical) works started to appear and be circulated relative early in regard to the story of the early Christian church, donning the titles of Apostles and other members of Jesus’ followers (Mary Magdalene, Nicodmus, Judas, etc.). 14 The question therefore must be asked, how do these apocryphal gospels, letters, and books fit into the conversation in regard to the BNTC as we know it today? Did they ever have a chance at being included the BNTC? This conversation is key in understanding the BNTC because many of the early church fathers already mentioned (Irenaeus, Clement, and Tatian) make use of and quote apocryphal sources. So the question in regard to the BNTC and its contenders is that of use. Is mere use of apocryphal books proof of their authoritative status?


Some scholars and theologians have indeed argued for the mere use of a book demonstrating its authoritative standing. The issue in regard to canon and contenders is not whether their use is true or not, for this is evident, the question is the conclusion that is drawn from that fact. The content of how these books were discussed and used is very important.15 Eusebius (260-339 CE) refers to the apocryphal Gospel of Peter when the Christian community of Rhossus writes to Serapion of Antioch (191-211 CE) in regard to the supposed work of Peter. Serapion, after reading the Gospel of Peter discovered it contained a docetic teaching (that is, denying the incarnate physical nature of Christ). Serapion condemned the apocryphal gospel of Peter on all counts because of its content. 16 In regard to Serapion and the community of Rhossus, can we draw the conclusion (as previously stated) that the four-fold gospel collection that we find in the BNTC was actually normative? The answer remains that there seems to be no indication on the part of the Serapion event, that the Gospel of Peter was either considered as scripture by the church at Rhossus or Serapion himself. 17 No indication from the documents themselves that it even functioned as scripture in any one of those contexts. 


Likewise, Clement of Alexandria, and his pupil Origen, both quoted extensively from apocryphal books such as the Teaching of Peter, the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Shepherd of Hermes, and the Epistle of Barnabas. Yet Clement, as recorded by Eusebius, declares “about the four gospels, which alone are undisputed in the church of God under heaven" 18, directly highlighting Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Consequently, the content and context as to which both Clement and Origin use these sources is very important. They are clear in their use of scripture, often outlining BNTC as such in comparison with apocryphal works. Therefore, Clement works as a very concrete example of an early church source having no issue with using apocryphal works as sources, but through his context, content, and direct address, specifies which are and aren’t scriptural. In this way, mere use does not equate to reception or acceptance on the part of scripture.


 Frequency likewise must be noted in the discussion. Irenaeus makes over 1000 references to the BNTC books (400 of which are gospel quotations). Comparably, Tertullian accredits the four-fold gospels, making 2500 references to the BNTC books (700 being gospel citations). Clement quoted the BNTC books far less than Irenaeus or Tertullian but still made 230 references. In comparison, Clement quotes apocryphal sources a total of 16 times in all his writings; Irenaeus and Tertullian’s numbers of apocryphal citations being similarly low in comparison to their BNTC references.19


It is also paramount to address some of these specific contenders directly in order to refute their relation to the BNTC. The two closest contemporaneous contenders for the BNTC were not the sensational Gnostic or Decetic Gospels. Rather, the two who had the best possibility at being incorporated into the BNTC were the Shepherd ofHermes, and the Epistle of Barnabas. The number one contender is the Shepherd, so therefore it will be addressed directly. Neither of these books were gospels at all, rather, the Shepherd of Hermes was an apocalypse, comparative to the book of Revelation (last book in the BNTC).  The issue with the Shepherd as a book was its late authorship; being a mid to late second century writing, with no direct apostolic connection. It is interesting to note that the Muatorian fragment (mentioned previously) rejects the Shepherd (along with the Epistle of Barnabas) outright stating that “it was written very recently, in our times by Hermes while his brother Pius was sitting in the chair of Rome."20 This gives a very strong indication that recent productions (after the first century) were never truly seen as contenders to BNTC. Apostolic succession for documents of the BNTC was considered the core criteria for the early Christian church and its leaders. All in consideration, while Irenaeus seems to have no interest in Barnabas, he does at one point call the Shepherd of Hermes graphe, “scripture” in his work Against Heresy, but afterwards never mentions it again.  Origin too regarded the Shepherd as valuable but leaves it out in his explicit list of BNTC books. Tertullian, much like Irenaeus had very little to say about Barnabas but rejected the Shepherd outright stating, “But I would yield my ground to you, if the writing of the Shepherd… had deserved to find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been habitually judged by every council of Churches (even your own) among apocryphal and false (writings) 21”. The Shepherd of Hermes remains the closest contender for inclusion in the BNTC, but as seen, the leaders of the church did not seriously consider it part of canon in the second century.


The dating of these apocryphal documents is crucial. While the BNTC documents all predate the second century in autograph and origin, the apocryphal documents all date from the second century or later. The only apocryphal book that could possibly be dated close to the first century is that of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. While being an early work of antiquity, the Gospel of Thomas had very little possiblity of actually making its way into the BNTC. Thomas is practically absent from any mention in early Christianity, apart from a few mentions of condemnation by patristic writers. Thomas is not a traditional narrative gospel like that of the BNTC gospels; rather, it is a list of 114 sayings of Jesus. Narratives of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are absent from Thomas. Even more to the point, is the content of these sayings, most of which draw heavily on the BNTC gospels for its content with a very strong leaning towards Gnostic heresy. Gnosticism as a defined religion was not solidified till the mid second century. These teachings not only recognized as heretical in terms of doctrine but also revealing late authorship, ultimately excluding writings like that of Thomas from anything connected to the apostolic writers and therefore the BNTC. 22




The issue of canon and the documents that make up the BNTC have great implication in the picture of the Christian message and theology as a whole. Theology lives and dies in the message of scripture, all coming back to the notion of God’s revelation. It hinges on the question of how God has revealed Himself to us, and in what way has He done this. This ultimately funnels down to the inquiry of whether we know that what we possess today in the BNTC is what God gave to the original authors, and whether we can trust that message. Therefore, the faith seeking understanding Christian need to ask themselves honestly what the BNTC is, and how we know it is reliable. This can be done through looking at the origin of the cannon, flushing out the eschatological nature of the early Christians and the intrinsic, organic, and natural process of the pattern of word revelation following redemption linked with covenantal promise and written texts, by analyzing the date of canon, tracing its historicity and reliability through looking at the perception of the early church fathers, and their view of the BNTC documents as scripture and therefore divine revelation, and finally, through recognizing and examining the contenders for the cannon, their context, content, and direct address. By examining how they were viewed and related in regard to BNTC, and by examining the credibility of contending works of antiquity, we can conclude the authenticity, reliability, and credibility of the documents we know call the BNTC.



[1] Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press (2012), pg. 8-10; Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg. 236-237

[2] Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2010), pg. 125-127.

[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (1992), pg. 217.

[4] Michael Coogan, The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. (2008), pg. 119,127; Richard B. Gaffin, Ressurection and Redemption. Phillipsburg: P&R. (1978), pg. 22; Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 166-170

[5] N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. London: Biddles Publishing Ltd. (2004), pg. 150.

[6] Richard B. Gaffin, Ressurection and Redemption. Phillipsburg: P&R. (1978), pg. 22.

[7] N.T. Wright, Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. London: Biddles Publishing Ltd. (2004), pg. 150.

[8] Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon. Illinois: Inter Varsity Press. (2012), pg. 57-59

[9] Irenaeus, Against Heresies. 3.11.8

[10] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Random House Publishing. (2003), pg. 111.

[11] Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 214, 228.

[12] Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 3.12.

[13] Michael J. Kruger. Canon Revisited. Illinois: Crossway Publishing. (2012), pg. 211, 212.

[14] Denis Farkasfalvy, Inspiration and Interpretation: A Theological Introduction to Sacred Scripture. New York: Catholic University of America Press. (2010), pg. 94.

[15] Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg.146-167

[16] Patrick Healy, St. Serapion, The Catholic Encylopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company. (1912), pg. 248-252

[17] Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities: Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew. New York: Oxford University Press. (2003), pg.14-16

[18] Eusebius, H.E. 6.25.4-6

[19] Thomas Cooper, The Bridge of History Over the Gulf of Time: A Popular View of the Historical Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. London: Hodder and Stoughton. (1871), pg. 74-75.

[20] M.A. Smith, From Christ to Constantine. London: IVP, (1971), pg. 65-66.

[21] Tertullian, De Pudicitia. 10.12

[22] H,H Drake Williams, Jesus Tried and True. Wipf and Stock Publishers. (2013), pg. 26-27.


The Changing Moral Landscape

It did not take long after the death of Christ in AD 33, and the birth of the Christian faith following that time, for Christianity to become a persecuted group. Christianity was deemed a "religio ilicita", an "illegal religion" in AD 64 by Emperor Nero. This initiated nearly 300 years of Christian persecution. Persecution that finally ceasing in AD 313 with the passing of the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine.

Ancient Rome was a society that prided itself on its tolerance of other cultures, perspectives, and faith-based groups (sound familiar?). After occupation they did not disband all aspects of that invaded culture, instead, they would cut a deal with the leaders. We see this in the New Testament background of the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day. Deals were made with local leaders, Rome became the governmental rulers, and the occupied nation could continue living as they were in their cultural and religious practices. All that was asked, all that was required was the paying of taxes, the acceptance of Rome's authority, and the recognition and admittance of one simple statement, "Kaiser Kurios" - "Caesar is Lord."

Loyalty to the Roman Imperial Cult was honored by  giving the citizen who had bowed the knee and declared  "Kaiser Kurios" a document known as a libellus. Without  this document it was nearly impossible to buy or sell in  the local marketplaces. Above is P3929, a libellus from  the Decian persecution found in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.

All that was required was that each citizen would burn a pinch of incense on the alter of Caesar, bow the knee in recognition, and then continue their lives as normal. Sincerity wasn't even a requirement, you did not even have to truly mean it, just simply do itEarly Christians however, understood the significance of the act they were being asked to perform. From its inception Christianity had a very simple statement of faith, one that summarized a profoundly practical and theological perspective, the proclamation of "Iesous Kurios," - "Jesus is Lord." Within that three century period of early Christianity many Christians who declared that Jesus was Lord and refused to bow the knee to Caesar died for their faith.

Nearly every time I read the testimonies of these early Christians I think of my own faith. The atmosphere of modern Christianity reminds me very much of the atmosphere of Jesus' day. We go to church on Sunday, worship once a week, keep our convictions to ourselves, and that is where the picture ends. Every other aspect of our life, our time, our money, our education, is devoted and dedicated to "the state."

We hold no fear of danger because we hold no potentiality of being dangerous. Therefore, when the world dictates that our beliefs, convictions, and ideologies are "bigoted" and "hateful" we change them. God's words in Holy Scripture become pliable and are reinterpreted to best fit the appeasement of society. We conform to the pattern of this world with the compromised notion that it is the only way we can make an impact.

Many self professed believers look less like the Christians who were rounded up and died for the name of Jesus, and more like those that killed the prophets preaching repentance. When we forget where we have come from we have a misguided picture of where we currently are, and we certainly do not know where we are going.

In the midst of all of this however, I am reassured with the notion that Christians for the past two thousand years have professed - "Iesous Kurios," - "Jesus is Lord."

A Discussion on Human Rights with a "Because I am a Girl" advocate

Occasionally around the city you run into those people standing at stop light intersections who wear pinnies, carry a clipboard and are often trying to get you to sign up or donate to their cause. To be totally honest I'm usually trying to get from point A to point B and (as politely as I can), smile, say "no thank you" and keep walking. Recently however, I was walking home and standing at the corner was a young woman with a pink "Because I am a Girl" t-shirt holding a clipboard.  She asked me if I had a minute, and to be totally honest, I did.

Her cause was very noble: making people more aware of the social, economic, and educational plight of young woman globally. I agreed with virtually everything she said, we should in fact bring the injustice of all humans more to the forefront. The conversation took a turn however, when I switched the narrative on her.

"If you are burdened for better living conditions for girls, than you would be burdened for all girls everywhere right?" I asked. "Oh yes of course," she answered, "women everywhere deserve a better life, no matter where or who they are!" "Than you are pro-life I assume? Caring and standing-up for the lives of pre-born girls?" This sentiment made her visibly uncomfortable, and for a few minutes she tried to argue the usual talking points of the pro-choice movement. It didn't take all that long however, to point out the fatal flaw in holding such a high standard for girls living post-womb but not for those pre-womb. Nonetheless, I didn't push it too much, I had clearly put a proverbial stone in her shoe and so I changed the narrative slightly again.

"Would you say that you are religious?" I asked. "No" she said, "not particularly, I'd say that I'm an atheist. That religion stuff just never really made sense to me," she replied. "I'm curious," I responded, "why does it really matter that girls around the world deserve better lives?" This seemed to surprise her a little, and her following responses all went to the tune of, "because it's right," or "because it would be wrong to not." "OK," I said, "but where does that idea come from? Because you have already identified yourself as non-religious. As such, why does it matter that girls, boys, woman, or anyone receive fair treatment?" "Well because I believe we have self worth as people," she said. BINGO! I thought to myself. "But if you are an atheist, I'm curious, where does that come from?" I asked. "Well from... from... I guess I don't really know," she finally resolved, "where do you think it comes from?" she asked.

That was exactly the response I was looking for. You see, as an atheist she had nowhere to ground her ideas of human worth. In fact, the whole concept is an inherently Christian idea. People are created in the Image of God, and because they are created in the Image of God they have intrinsic value. But if you take God (the God of the Bible specifically and not just any god) out of the picture, you are forced to plant your feet firmly in mid-air. The young woman I was talking to, and anyone else who tries to deny the existence of God, was simply left floundering for moral footing. If they want to posit innate value and worth to individuals they have to steal from Christianity in order to do it; atheism just does not allow for that kind of inherent worth. If your perspective states that you are a product of time + matter + chance (to use the phrasing of the late Christopher Hitchens), just cosmic stardust dancing to your own DNA (as Richard Dawkins states), than the social, economic, or moral situation of anyone else is irrelevant. In the grand scheme of things they are no better or worse than anyone, or anything, else. We are all simply bags of DNA, and as Richard Dawkins states in River out of Eden, "DNA neither knows, nor cares."

However, deep down we all know that cannot be true. We can give lip service to  it, but when the existential rubber hits the practical road, injustice does bother us. Why? Because we are fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who loves and cares for us - from the begging of life to the end of it. Part of that love comes with being created in His Image, for, through, and by Him. Yes, Girl's rights are human rights, and human rights flow from intrinsic worth, but that intrinsic worth flows from an all-loving Creator.

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