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Like the Caramilk Secret, the “Messianic Secret” Doesn’t Really Exist

The Caramilk SecretOne axiom in biblical studies that needs to go away forever is the so-called “Messianic secret”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this references in articles, commentaries, and sermons. What is the “Messianic secret”, you ask? It’s the idea floated by some Gospel scholars (especially of Mark and the other Synoptics) that Jesus was trying to keep his identity as Messiah a secret. This is allegedly why he doesn’t want people who he has healed to spread the news about him, and why he doesn’t allow demons to tell people who he really is, either (We just talked about that last item yesterday).

This is absolute nonsense! As Dr. Craig Evans, one of the best biblical scholars on the planet, is so fond of pointing out, Jesus is the Messiah and knows it. He wants others to know it, too. Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39) sheds some light on the issue. In the Galilee of Jesus’ day, multitudes of people were sick at any given time. There were also a ton of people who suffered from demonic possession. And here comes Jesus: a one-man, walking, free health-care clinic. Obamacare, eat your heart out! This Mark 1 passage tells us that Jesus spent practically the entire night healing people and casting out demons. The demand for is services is insatiable. This is why Jesus announces the next morning that he and the Apostles need to move on to the next towns, to preach the Good News of the Gospel. This is also, by the way, why Jesus often preached from boats, while the crowd on the shore listened. If he had allowed the crowd to get near him, there never would have been a sermon, because everyone would have been pressing in for a healing – “all who touched him were made well”.

The healings, as great as they are, can actually get in the way of what Jesus came to accomplish: to preach the message of the Kingdom. No doubt, he proclaims it in both word and deed, and the deeds are the proof of the message, if you will. In this way, exorcisms are an even more clear proof of the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the destruction of Satan’s kingdom. But we have to start with the preached Word. Even if Jesus brings someone back from the dead, like Lazarus, it’s only temporary. Lazarus would die again. He was only resuscitated, not resurrected, like Jesus would be, never to die again. Saving souls is most important. Saving bodies is only #2, although Jesus wants to save both, and will ultimately save the bodies of all of God’s friends at the general resurrection. But for now, there’s a danger, in all the excitement about his healings, that the message Jesus is bringing is getting lost in all the excitement.

First things first.

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Pope Pius IX, who defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

Today’s great Solemnity of the Immaculate conception of Mary is usually celebrated on December 8. However, due to the second Sunday of Advent falling on that date yesterday, the Solemnity was communicated to today this year. And it’s certainly a doctrine that is misunderstood by many.

The Immaculate Conception is not the Virginal Conception of Jesus. Nor does it have anything to do with this, sports fans.

Here’s the actual definition, from Blessed Pope Pius IX, “Pio Nono”:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1854.

the basis for the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the New Testament is well-known, but today I’d like to share about one of the ways the doctrine is foreshadowed in the Old Testament. In his masterful devotional series, In Conversation with God, Francis Fernandez writes about Mary as the new Temple in which God dwells:

In the litany of Loreto we call upon Mary, House of Gold, the abode of greatest conceivable splendor. When a family turns a house into a home by taking up residence there, the place reflects the individual qualities of the people. They accentuate the beauty of the dwelling place. Just like the Holy Spirit dwelling in Our Lady, the home and its inhabitants make up a particular unity, in much the same way as the body and its garments do. The foremost Tabernacle in the Old Testament, later to be the Temple, is the House of God, where the meeting of Yahweh and his people takes place. When Solomon makes the decision to build the Temple, the Prophets specify that the best available materials are to be used – abundant cedar wood on the inside and clad with gold on the outside. The most highly skilled craftsmen are to work on its construction.

Before God made known his coming into the world in the fullness of time, He prepared Mary as the suitable creature within whom He would dwell for nine months, from the moment of his Incarnation until his birth in Bethlehem. Evidence of God’s power and love show forth in his creation. Mary is the House of Gold, the new Temple of God, and is adorned with so great a beauty that no greater perfection is possible. The grace of her Immaculate Conception, including all the graces and gifts God ever bestowed on her soul, are directed towards the fulfillment of her divine Maternity.

God’s gift of supernatural life to her exceeds that of all the Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins combined. It reaches far beyond the experience of anyone who has ever lived, or ever will live, until the end of time. God dwells in Our Lady more than in all the angels and saints, since the foundation of the world, taken together. Truly God has prepared a human vessel in keeping with the dignity of his eternal Son. When we say that Mary has an almost infinite dignity, we mean that among all God’s creatures she is the one who enjoys the most intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. Her absolute honor is the highest possible and her majesty is in every way unique. She is the firstborn and most highly favored daughter of the Father, as she has often been called throughout the history of the Church, and as has been reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, Our Lady’s blood relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leads her to a singular relationship with him.

Mary is indeed the new Temple and Tabernacle of God.

The Israel Chronicles: The Tel Dan Inscription

imagesOver the next while, I’ll be sharing some things I learned on my recent study trip to Israel this past summer. As well as taking a course taught by my program supervisor, the world-famous Dr. Craig Evans, I also had the chance to travel around “the land” with the good professor and another grad student, Greg Monette. The three of us worked on an archaeological dig at Mt. Zion (more on that later), and met with scholars and archaeologists at universities and at other digs, like the impressive project at Magdala.

For starters, I’d like to talk about the Tel Dan inscription, which we saw at the very impressive Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This important archaeological discovery, an inscription referring to King David, was found during the 1993-94 excavations at Tel Dan (in modern-day northern Israel). Some scholars had argued in the past that King David, his son Solomon, and indeed the entire line of Davidic kings chronicled in the Old Testament are nothing more than fictional characters, invented by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. These critics alleged that David did not preside over a kingdom that originated circa the 10th century BCE, as the Bible states. They further contended that there would be no possible way people of that time would have been literate enough to record the chronicles of the period. Archaeology, however, has firmly put these critics in their place.

The inscription at Tel Dan seems to have been commissioned by the King of Syria, and dates to the 9th century BCE. Written in Aramaic, it refers to the “House of David”. The Syrian King is essentially boasting about how his army defeated that of the the legendary House of David. Why would he do that if no such person as David, and no such kingdom existed? Clearly, this is good evidence – written in stone, no less – of the existence of a Davidic line of kings.

Skeptics have also denied David’s vast kingdom, contending that David was nothing more than a local, tribal chief. The fact that the Tel Dan inscription is from northern Israel (near today’s disputed Syria-Israel border), far from the Davidic dynasty’s headquarters in Judea and Jerusalem, would seem to mitigate against that assertion. As well, excavations in the oldest part of the city of Jerusalem have uncovered a vast, centralized, government complex. Artefacts within have been dated to the 10th century BCE, the era of David and Solomon.

And God said: “Kalam!”

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a big fan of the Kalam cosmological argument. It’s a wonderful argument for the creation of the universe that doesn’t depend on Scripture. One of its leading proponents is a “friend in the field” of apologetics, Dr. William Lane Craig. Check out this fantastic brief YouTube video that explains the argument:

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Q and A on Trinity Sunday

Holy_TrinityQ. This Sunday is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and we Catholics are used to hearing about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But some Australian priests got a bit “creative” with the liturgy a few years ago, and began opening the Mass in a different way. Instead of saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, they said this: “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier”. They were severely reprimanded by their bishop. Why was this such a big deal to the Church?

A. What these priests did was wrong on many levels. The biggest problem was that creating, redeeming and sanctifying are things that God does, but they are not who he is. Yes, it is true that God created the cosmos, and that Jesus redeemed us, and that the Holy Spirit sanctifies us (makes us holy, provided we cooperate with God’s grace). But creating, redeeming, and sanctifying are God’s activities, not his identity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:19).

Q. Why did God not reveal himself as a Trinity of Persons until the age of the New Covenant, in which we are now living?

A. God dealt with humanity as a wise parent deals with a child. This has often been called the “divine pedagogy”. A small child cannot understand trigonometry or quantum physics. One must start with simple concepts, like “2 + 2 = 4”, and build from there. More truth is added when the student is ready to handle it. In the same fashion, God gradually revealed truth about himself to human beings, culminating in the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity.

I actually think that the Trinity is all over the Old Testament as well – God creating the universe by his powerful “Word” in Genesis – the Word that later became flesh, Jesus Christ (John 1:14). God’s Spirit hovered over the waters of creation  – the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:2). God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). All of this is less explicit than we might like it to be, but the doctrine is there. I believe that one reason God did not more clearly spell out the doctrine of the Trinity until later in salvation history was the problem of polytheism in the ancient Near East.

In the Old Testament period, God chose to reveal himself to the world gradually through the agency of his people, Israel. The ultimate plan was for all the nations (or “Gentiles”, ethnic groups) outside of Israel to join God’s family. This was promised to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, when God promised him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his “seed”  (Genesis 22:18). This finally happened in the age of the universal (the word “Catholic” means “universal”) Church of Jesus Christ, the son (descendant, or “seed”) of Abraham, according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1).

But, in the time of ancient Israel, God’s people lived among many other peoples who were polytheists (they believed in many “gods”). At that time, it was more important for Israel to reveal to the world that there is only one true God. The revelation that there are three persons in the one God would have to wait. If that truth had been fully proclaimed at that point, it may have confused non-Jews, who may have viewed the Trinity as three different “gods”, rather than three Divine Persons sharing one Divine nature.

Pope Francis on the “Clear Test” of a Good Priest

f1cm4HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
HOLY THURSDAY CHRISM MASS
ST PETER’S BASILICA
28 MARCH 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, This morning I have the joy of celebrating my first Chrism Mass as the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with affection, especially you, dear priests, who, like myself, today recall the day of your ordination.

The readings of our Mass speak of God’s “anointed ones”: the suffering Servant of Isaiah, King David and Jesus our Lord. All three have this in common: the anointing that they receive is meant in turn to anoint God’s faithful people, whose servants they are; they are anointed for the poor, for prisoners, for the oppressed… A fine image of this “being for” others can be found in the Psalm: “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down upon the collar of his robe” (Ps 133:2). The image of spreading oil, flowing down from the beard of Aaron upon the collar of his sacred robe, is an image of the priestly anointing which, through Christ, the Anointed One, reaches the ends of the earth, represented by the robe.

The sacred robes of the High Priest are rich in symbolism. One such symbol is that the names of the children of Israel were engraved on the onyx stones mounted on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, the ancestor of our present-day chasuble: six on the stone of the right shoulder-piece and six on that of the left (cf. Ex 28:6-14). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were also engraved on the breastplate (cf. Es 28:21). This means that the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their names written in his heart. When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and martyrs of whom there are many in these times…

From the beauty of all these liturgical things, which is not so much about trappings and fine fabrics than about the glory of our God resplendent in his people, alive and strengthened, we turn to a consideration of activity, action. The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. The ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid … and the heart bitter.

A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. This is a clear test. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into prayer. The prayers of the people of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men. What I want to emphasize is that we need constantly to stir up God’s grace and perceive in every request, even those requests that are inconvenient and at times purely material or downright banal – but only apparently so – the desire of our people to be anointed with fragrant oil, since they know that we have it. To perceive and to sense, even as the Lord sensed the hope-filled anguish of the woman suffering from hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment. At that moment, Jesus, surrounded by people on every side, embodies all the beauty of Aaron vested in priestly raiment, with the oil running down upon his robes. It is a hidden beauty, one which shines forth only for those faith-filled eyes of the woman troubled with an issue of blood. But not even the disciples – future priests – see or understand: on the “existential outskirts”, they see only what is on the surface: the crowd pressing in on Jesus from all sides (cf. Lk 8:42). The Lord, on the other hand, feels the power of the divine anointing which runs down to the edge of his cloak.

We need to “go out,” then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men. True enough, the so-called crisis of priestly identity threatens us all and adds to the broader cultural crisis; but if we can resist its onslaught, we will be able to put out in the name of the Lord and cast our nets. It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.

Dear priests, may God the Father renew in us the Spirit of holiness with whom we have been anointed. May he renew his Spirit in our hearts, that this anointing may spread to everyone, even to those “outskirts” where our faithful people most look for it and most appreciate it. May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; may they feel that their names are written upon our priestly vestments and that we seek no other identity; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us. Amen.

This Sunday’s Gospel: The Woman Caught in Adultery

images-1In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. In my Bible, there is a textual note that explains that the earliest manuscripts of John that have been discovered do not contain this pericope. Does that mean that it didn’t actually happen?

No. The fact that early manuscripts may not have contained the account does not mean that it didn’t occur in the career of Jesus. The incident is certainly in keeping with what we know of the person and character of Jesus (not to mention that of his opponents). Besides, it is the final form of the texts that were canonized as Scripture, not the texts in their various stages of development.

First, Jesus is presented with a difficult dilemma. “Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.”

The utter hypocrisy (a sin Jesus has accused them of many times) of the scribes and Pharisees is obvious. If this woman was literally “caught in the act” of adultery, there is a very good chance that they themselves had known about the affair beforehand. Presumably, they may have been able to stop her – to reason with her, that she should stop this gravely sinful activity. If they had truly been concerned for the woman’s soul, they would have. Instead, they wait and spring a trap for her, so that they can use her as bait to ensnare Jesus. There is also the chilling possibility they themselves “set up” the whole illicit affair in the first place. Plus, where is the guilty male party? Why wan’t he “brought in for questioning”, too? At any rate, Jesus’ accusers are far from free of sin themselves.

The reason why this is dangerous for Jesus is this: if Jesus says, “Let her go”, he would be considered a lawbreaker, and therefore could not in fact be the Messiah. The Mosaic Law did indeed indicate that the woman ought to have been killed (cf. Lev. 20:10, Deut 22:22). On the other hand, if Jesus doesn’t forgive her, and agrees with the death penalty in her case, what of his reputation for mercy?

Let me interrupt you for a moment. What was Jesus writing with his finger on the ground?

Many commentators have proffered theories on this. Some say he was writing out the Ten Commandments; others believe he was spelling out the personal sins of the accusers. All of this might make for good preaching, but the truth is, no one knows. Interestingly, this is the only time the New Testament mentions Jesus writing.

In any case, Jesus’ reply is brilliant. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Only the Sinless One – Jesus himself – can be her judge. All of the accusers drop their weapons of stone and go home, beginning with the eldest (who, because of their life experience and wisdom, realized first the truth of Jesus’ words). Yet Jesus does not “paper over” or excuse the woman’s grave, sinful behavior. He forgives, but his is not a cheap grace. “Go and sin no more”. Reform your life. Convert. This is what Lent is all about.

Debunking the Debunkers

Here’s my latest article from the June issue of Catholic Insight magazine. Hope you like it!

Debunking the Debunkers

by Cale Clarke

Just as surely as the lillies bloom every spring, each Easter season brings with it some new theories about what really happened at the first Easter. Martin Luther’s dictum describing early Protestantism comes to mind: “There are as many interpretations as there are heads”. Here are a couple of this year’s takes:

First, on Holy Saturday, the National Post ran a piece about a new book by art historian (and amateur theologian) Thomas de Wesselow, The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection. And what, pray tell, is that secret? According to de Wesselow, the shroud really is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ – but get this: he thinks it was the shroud that the Apostles encountered after the death of Christ, not his resurrected body. Huh? So, when “doubting” Thomas stuck his hand in Jesus’ side, was he only wiggling his fingers through a hole in the sheet? Not sure this is the sort of stuff that inspires martyrdom.

And then there’s the perennial publicity hound Simcha Jacobovici (TV’s The Naked Archaeologist), who, along with James Cameron (whenever the latter is not tied up making bad movies about blue people or sinking boats), spends a lot of his time looking for the lost tomb of Jesus. It’s a project that has as much potential as the maiden Titanic voyage.

As real biblical scholar Craig Evans pointed out recently in The Huffington Post, the archaeological community scoffs at the idea that the tomb in the Jerusalem area that Jacobovici shows off in The Jesus Discovery belongs to Jesus of Nazareth. And, if Jesus’ bones are still in a tomb, then how does Jacobovici explain the fact that even the enemies of the early Christian movement say it’s empty? It seems as if The Naked Archaeologist has no clothes.

The fact is that the disciples claimed to have encountered the resurrected Jesus. People who days earlier had denied even knowing Jesus (like Peter) are, post-Easter, quite willing to lay down their lives for their conviction that Jesus lives. Skeptics, even persecutors like Saul the Pharisee (better known now as Paul the Apostle) claim to have had the same experience. After his death and burial, Jesus is said to have appeared to numerous individuals and groups of people over a 40-day period, including 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). Forget about mass hallucinations – you can’t catch a hallucination like a common cold. And what these folks claimed was not even that they had seen a “vision” of Jesus – a category well accepted in Jewish circles.

No, what they claimed was not that they had seen a ghost, or even – sorry, Thomas de Wesselow – a shroud. They claimed to have experienced Jesus’ physical body, back from the dead. Transformed, yes, but still him, still sporting the crucifixion wounds as a type of I.D. Able to be touched, able to scarf down some food to make a point of his being corporeal (cf. Luke 24:36-43; Acts 10:41). A resurrection is a lot harder to prove than a vision. A “vision” of Jesus, encouraging the disciples to continue the mission, wouldn’t require an empty tomb. And preaching the resurrection in the very city where Jesus was crucified would have been impossible if the tomb were occupied. This is even more evident when one considers that the location of the tomb was no secret, not waiting thousands of years to be discovered by Cameron and Jacobovici – it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, the very council which condemned Jesus to death, and a known public figure.

Could the disciples have stolen the body? That was, after all, the explanation proffered by the enemies of the nascent Church as to how the tomb came to be empty. But this view overlooks an important fact: the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection. True, many have died (and continue to do so) for what they believe to be true – suicide bombers, for instance. But no one in their right mind willingly would give their life for what they knew to be false. If the disciples really had Jesus’ body locked in the trunk of a car somewhere, I doubt they’d be in a hurry to get themselves crucified upside-down, or sawed in two.

Whatever one’s theory is about what happened that first Easter, one ought to at least take into account all the known facts of the case. But, unfortunately for a gullible public, the Jacobovicis and de Wesselows of the world have never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Cale Clarke is the Director of The Faith Explained Seminars (TheFaithExplained.com), and the creator of The New Mass app.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: The Corinthian Creed

Today’s first reading from 1 Corinthians 15 contains one of the first “creeds” of the early Church. As Saint Paul writes,

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.”

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

In an interview with Lee Strobel for the book The Case for Christ, scholar Gary Habermas showed that Saint Paul is, in fact, quoting a very early creed of the Church. First, Paul uses the terms translated “received” and “handed on”, technical rabbinical language for the passing on of sacred tradition. The text is also in stylized format, using parallelism, presumably to aid memorization. The use of the Aramaic version of Peter’s name, “Cephas” is likely a sign of its primitive date. The creed also uses phrases that are uncommon in Paul’s writings: “the Twelve”; “he was raised”; “the third day”. Habermas noted that scholar “Ulrich Wilkens says that it ‘indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity'” (Strobel, The Case for Christ, p. 230).

Habermas, among others, would contend that this creed could have been composed within mere months after the resurrection of Jesus. He notes that no credible scholar disputes Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, which was likely written between 55-57 AD. But Paul says in 15:3 that he passed the creed on to the Corinthian Church at some point in the past, predating his visit there in 51 AD. That places the composition of the creed no later than within 20 years of the original Easter event.

But Habermas – and others – think the creed goes back even further: between 32-38 AD, when Paul received it, in all likelihood in Jerusalem. Three years after Paul’s conversion, he travelled to Jerusalem to interview the Apostles Peter and James (whose feast day we celebrate today). Habermas draws our attention to the fact that, when Paul described this trip in Galatians 1:18-19, he uses the Greek word historeo, which indicates a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection was being made. So, in all likelihood, this creed was delivered to Paul by the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus, Peter and James.

Of course, the creed goes on to enumerate other Easter eyewitnesses, including an appearance of the Risen Christ to over 500 people at once – “most of whom are still living” at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. Paul is virtually daring any skeptics to interview these people.

The 1 Corinthians creed authenticates the resurrection of Christ in many ways, not the least of which is this: its incredibly early, eyewitness testimony precludes any possibility of legendary accretion. The fact is, the resurrection is a fact.


The Ultimate Apologetic

After attending the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tonight, commemorating the institution of the Mass that first Holy Thursday, many stayed in a silent vigil with our Eucharistic Lord. While praying before the altar of repose, I reflected on what Jesus taught his Apostles that night. As always, he lived his own teaching, his words matching his deeds exactly. He had told them, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). And that love should be manifested in humble service. Christ demonstrated it by taking on the role reserved for the lowest servant: the Lord of the universe washed his disciples’ feet.

This Easter, what may wind up convincing people of the truth of our faith may not be the impressive array of arguments at our disposal that authenticate the Resurrection of Jesus as a historical event, although we should use them whenever we can. It may in fact be something less intellectual, but no less real: our love and service on behalf of others, in Jesus’ name. Some are “caught” by the head; others, by the heart.