Lessons From Big-City Jesus

Sepphoris Theatre

Here’s my latest piece for Catholic Answers Magazine. Hope you enjoy this look at the big city next door to little Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown – and how it may have influenced him.

My favorite basketball player growing up was the legendary Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics. The media (and Larry himself) liked to play up his humble, small-town roots, dubbing him the “Hick from French Lick,” the small Indiana town where Bird grew up. He was just a kid from the sticks who made good.

For centuries, preachers have similarly accented the alleged small-town roots of Jesus. Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, is usually portrayed in homilies as a type of isolated backwater, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the empire.

Now, it’s certainly true that in Jesus’ day Nazareth was relatively tiny, with a population somewhere between 200 and 400. But recent archaeological excavations around Nazareth, which today is a relatively bustling city of about 60,000, have quashed the quaint myth that Jesus grew up among “country bumpkins” removed from major centers of commerce and culture.

One of the most important of these digs took place at Sepphoris, which is located about four miles north of Nazareth. Sepphoris, which Roman historian Josephus called “the ornament of all Galilee,” was the largest and one of the most important cities in the area. In fact, a highway linking the two other major regional centers—Caesarea Maritima and Tiberias—was not far from Nazareth and Sepphoris.

Considering its proximity to Nazareth, it’s highly likely that Jesus would have traveled to Sepphoris on many occasions. In fact, according to an early Church tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary hailed from Sepphoris. One could easily imagine Jesus, Mary, and Joseph making the trip to see Jesus’ grandparents, Joachim and Anne, on many an occasion.

It is also possible that Joseph and Jesus worked in Sepphoris during its period of heavy expansion under Herod Antipas from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. The Greek word tekton—which the Gospels employ to describe Jesus’ and Joseph’s occupation—actually means much more than “carpenter.” It refers to a highly skilled laborer who would have been proficient in working with stone as well as wood and other materials. (In fact, it is likely that Joseph and Jesus would have had architectural abilities as well. One might even say they were the equivalent of modern-day engineers.) Antipas had originally intended to make Sepphoris his headquarters, and he installed some beautiful architecture there in the Greco-Roman style, including magnificent colonnaded streets and an impressive theater (more on that later).

The Sepphoris excavations are also important for debunking a popular skeptical theory. The scholar (and ex-Catholic priest) John Dominic Crossan argues that, in his early life, Jesus came under the sway of itinerant Cynic philosophers in Sepphoris who greatly influenced his teaching. But excavations at the city dump have determined that, at the time of Jesus, Sepphoris’s inhabitants were anything but pagan.

Only in strata (layers of cultural remains in the earth, representing different eras) dated after A.D. 70 do we find pig bones and other evidence of Hellenizing influences, consistent with growth in the city’s non­-Jewish population following the failed Jewish revolt of 66­-70. It seems the citizens of Sepphoris in Jesus’ time kept to a kosher diet.

Furthermore, coins minted in Sepphoris prior to 70 do not depict the image of the emperor as a deity, which would have offended devout Jews, even though such currency was common elsewhere in the empire. After the year 70, this is not the case. Also, stone vessels and miqva’ot (ritual bathing pools) used for Jewish purification rites, as well as menorahs, have also been found from the pre­-70 period.

In short, Sepphoris was in all likelihood a mostly—if not completely—Jewish city at the time of Jesus. It is therefore improbable that Jesus came under the sway of pagan Cynics during his early life in and around Nazareth. His teaching, like the area he hailed from, was thoroughly Jewish.

Sepphoris is also a potential boon for understanding and clarifying certain aspects of Jesus’ teachings. We know that Jesus was a master at pointing out profound lessons from the everyday world (for example, his many agricultural parables). I believe there is a high probability that Sepphoris was a part of that world and that it figures prominently in Jesus’ preaching—especially as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The “city set on a hill [that] cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14) may have been inspired by Sepphoris, which was elevated. Its evening lights would have been visible to the inhabitants of Nazareth.

Excavations at Sepphoris also reveal a splendid public theater, carved out of the local bedrock and initially seating about 2,500. Could it be that Jesus and Joseph worked on its construction? But Jesus’ references to “hypocrites” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5; 15:7; 16:3; 22:18; 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27-29; 24:51; Luke 6:42; 11:44; 12:1, 56; 13:15), an originally innocuous word that referred to “actors” or “play-actors,” may have been expropriated from the theater at Sepphoris. Jesus used the term to excoriate the people-pleasing, insincere piety of some scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus likewise admonishes his disciples not to practice their piety “before people, in order to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1). The term translated as “to be seen” is the Greek word theathenai, from which we derive the English word theater. Jesus teaches his followers not to “be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:5). This may allude to an actor who stands and performs a soliloquy on stage.

In contrast, Jesus encourages us to live not for the applause of others but rather for the applause of One: God alone.

Church Fathers, such as St. Jerome, referred to the Holy Land as the “Fifth Gospel” because it helps put the life of Jesus in context. It helps us to understand many of Jesus’ teachings and activities. It also helps us understand how the four written, canonical Gospels are indeed trustworthy, because they exhibit verisimilitude—that is, that they cohere with the way things actually were in the Israel of Jesus’ day. That’s why archaeological discoveries like those at Sepphoris shed so much light on the teachings of Christ.

The Reality of the Christ: Part 2


Matthew and Luke are the only two Gospel writers who include an infancy narrative in their biographies of Jesus. According to the most widely accepted theory about how the Gospels were composed, Matthew and Luke wrote independently of one another. That is, Matthew did not have a copy of Luke’s Gospel on his desk when writing his Gospel, as it were, and vice versa.

Having said that, it is amazing that these two birth narratives almost never cover the same events! But in the few instances that they do, they are in agreement. The famous biblical scholar Father Raymond Brown pointed out eleven points (reproduced in Monette, The Wrong Jesus, pp. 108-109) at which Matthew and Luke’s accounts are in accord with one another:

1. Mary and Joseph are legally engaged but haven’t lived together (see Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27,34).
2. Joseph is from King David’s lineage (see Matthew 1:16,20; Luke 1:27,32; 2:4).
3. Angels announce the forthcoming birth of the baby (see Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:30-35).
4. Mary becomes pregnant as a virgin (see Matthew 1:20,23,25; Luke 1:34).
5. The child is conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).
6. An angel proclaims that the child’s name will be Jesus (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31).
7. An angel states that Jesus is to be the Saviour (see Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:11).
8. The birth of Jesus happens after Mary and Joseph began living together as spouses (see Matthew 1:24-25; Luke 2:5-6).
9. Jesus is born in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-6).
10. Herod the Great is in power during the time of the birth of Jesus (see Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5).
11. Jesus is raised in Nazareth (see Matthew 2:23; Luke 2:39).

The fact that these two independent sources on Jesus’ infancy are in agreement on all these major details gives us greater confidence that we can trust these accounts.

Sunday Scriptures: Third Sunday of Advent 2016


In this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Matt 11:2-11), John the Baptist, who by this time has been imprisoned by Herod, sends messengers to ask Jesus if he is the promised Messiah. Have you ever wondered why John did that? Have you ever wondered why Jesus doesn’t simply answer, “Yes”? Read on!

Indeed, Jesus’ reply to the imprisoned John the Baptist (Matt 11:2–6; cf. Luke 7:18–23) is seen by some commentators as not Messianic. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Jesus never personally believed he was the Messiah. When asked “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3), Jesus answers in what appears to be a vague manner, using words from Isaiah 61: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Matt 11:4-6).

A very important clue as to why Jesus answered the way he did was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls were written roughly around the time of the Advent of Jesus Christ – between the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. Although they were composed by a sectarian, apocalyptic Jewish sect, they do shed light on what Jews who were roughly contemporaneous to Jesus believed about the coming Messiah.

One of the most important Scrolls that was discovered, known as 4Q521, says this:

For the heavens and the earth will listen to his Messiah…For he will honour the devout upon the throne of eternal royalty, freeing prisoners, giving sight to the blind, straightening out the twisted…and the Lord will perform marvellous acts…for he will heal the badly wounded and will make the dead live, he will proclaim good news to the meek, give lavishly to the needy, lead the exiled, and enrich the hungry.

One can easily see by comparing these two texts why it was that John asked the question about Jesus’ Messiahship, and why Jesus replied the way he did. It was assumed that when the Messiah arrived, according to 4Q521, “prisoners would be set free”. The righteous John, at this time languishing in Herod’s prison fortress at Machaerus, is wondering why Jesus hasn’t sprung him in a “prison break” of sorts. Jesus replies to John by noting that his marvellous works indeed match up with the deeds of the expected Messiah, in line with the teaching of Isaiah 61 and 4Q521. For Jesus to be any more explicit than this would arouse the attention of the secular authorities, prior to the completion of his Messianic mission. However, attentive Jews would have understood Jesus’ claims. Thus, in a culturally relevant manner, Jesus is inviting his fellow Hebrews to consider the evidence of his ministry and draw their own conclusions.

Sunday Scriptures: Second Sunday of Advent 2016


On this Second Sunday of Advent, we encounter the figure of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading (Matthew 3:1-12):

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John is dripping with not only honey, but with Old Testament motifs. He’s really the last prophet of the Old Covenant, bridging it with the New Covenant (Testament) of Jesus Christ. He is Elijah redux, to be sure, but I want to focus here on a somewhat overlooked section of John’s speech: “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt 3:9). What stones? And what do they mean?

Near the location where John was speaking, Joshua had set up twelve stones by the Jordan River as a memorial of God’s deliverance of the twelve tribes (Joshua 4). The twelve stones reappear in the time of Elijah, who built an altar with them (1 Kings 18:31-32). When one recalls Jesus’ identification of John with Elijah (Mark 9:13), and John’s own adaptation of Elijah’s very dress, this is instructive. As Elijah once did, John is calling Israel’s twelve tribes to repent, and prepare for the coming of Israel’s Messiah.

There is also a wordplay in effect: the Hebrew word for “stone” (eben) sounds like the Hebrew term for “son” (ben). John is essentially saying that God can obtain new children of his own from elsewhere; Israelites who remain unrepentant and faithless can’t rely on their pedigree alone for salvation; they must repent and become obedient to the teaching of the coming Anointed One.

Today’s Catholics also can’t rely on their baptism alone, their membership in the Church (the new Israel), as a “golden ticket” for salvation. One must ratify one’s baptism by remaining in friendship with God, obedient to Jesus Messiah. Advent offers us a wonderful chance to repent if we haven’t always done so. We must prepare for not only Christmas, the feast of Jesus’ first arrival, but the coming Parousia, Christ’s Second Advent, inexorably approaching.

Four Verses to Remember in November

As we continue through this month of November, we’re getting closer and closer to the end of the liturgical year. This month has also seen us celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. So, it is a natural thing to think about our final end as we approach the end of another Church year. It’s also, of course, profitable to “begin with the end in mind”, to consider how our supernatural destiny following death affects our purpose in daily life.

Here are four thought-provoking verses from the New Testament that shed light on this:

1) “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

In these words from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is preaching to the vast crowds. He is not speaking only to his “priests” (the Apostles). In other words, the Lord expects all baptized believers to be saints – not just priests, nuns, and monks. This is the “universal call to holiness”, which Vatican II reminded us of. It is both as old and as new as the Gospel.

2) “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Many people wander through life wondering what God’s will for them might be. Saint Paul spells it out to the Thessalonians: God’s will is that you become a saint. His will is that you be holy, that you be sanctified. And what does it mean to become a saint? Nothing more than becoming the best version of yourself, the masterpiece God had in mind when he created you. In the verses that follow, St Paul also spells out some obvious facets of the life of sanctity, including avoiding immorality.

3) “He (God the Father) chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

Saint Paul writes here to the Ephesian Church, reminding them of God’s plan for them from all eternity: that they would be saints. Paul was writing to a group that included many ordinary, everyday Christians: blacksmiths, metalworkers, and others involved in the trades. God expected the same sanctity from them as he did from Paul. The same is also true, of course, for you and I.

4) “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

All of us want to go to heaven after we die. All of us want to see Jesus face-to-face. The writer of Hebrews gives us some straight talk: only saints get into heaven. So, if you want to go there, get serious about your spiritual life. Satan likes to trick us with the lie that there are three different kinds of people: those who are obviously saints, those who are obviously evil, and regular people like you and me. But we read in the parables of Jesus in the Gospels about many “normal, good people” who didn’t make it to heaven, because they failed to take God seriously: the “foolish virgins”, for example (Matthew 25:1-13), or those who refused the invitation to the wedding feast because they were too “busy” (Luke 14:15-24). If your goal is to get into heaven “by the skin of your teeth”, what happens if you miss your target? Rather, we should make up our minds to become saints. We can, with God’s help.

Are there other biblical verses that you have found helpful in responding to the call to holiness? Share this post and your answer on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Q and A on the Epiphany

Q. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Can you explain the meaning of this feast?

A. The word Epiphany means “manifestation (of God)”. In Matthew’s Gospel, there is a great concern to reveal, or “manifest” Jesus as the divine yet human “Son of David”, the true heir to David’s throne (Matthew 1:1). It’s interesting to note that the term “Kingdom of God”, so crucial in Jesus’ teaching, does actually have Old Testament roots. However, the key to understanding the phrase is this: the only time it was ever used there was in reference to David’s Kingdom.

This is intentional on Jesus’ part; in fact, as he assembles his New Covenant Kingdom, Jesus incorporates many of the features of the Old Covenant Kingdom of God, David’s Kingdom. For example, Peter as Pope holds the equivalent of the OT office of “Prime Minister” (see Isaiah 22), one of a cabinet of twelve apostles, representing the twelve tribes of Israel in David’s Kingdom.

Who was the original “Son of David”? Solomon. Solomon, like Jesus, was known as an exorcist, although Jesus’ powers are orders of magnitude greater in this regard. Solomon also was known for his exceptional wisdom, and once again Jesus bests him in this arena, too (think of, for example, Jesus’ brilliant answer to the question about paying taxes to Caesar).

Q. Who was the Queen in Solomon’s Kingdom, and is there a corresponding office in Jesus’ Kingdom?

A. Solomon, of course, had many wives and concubines, which was utterly displeasing to God. However, this was a common practice for kings in antiquity, as marrying foreign wives was a way to consolidate power by means of political alliances. But these wives ultimately turned Solomon’s heart away from the Lord, contributing to his downfall.

This gave rise to a very practical question: with so many wives, who would be the queen? It’s not as if there would be a mud-wrestling match of sorts between them all to determine which woman would gain the throne next to that of the king. The answer to the dilemma was very simple: the queen would be the queen mother, known in Solomon’s Kingdom as the Gebirah. In Solomon’s case, the Queen Mother was Bathsheba, and the Old Testament shows how people would approach her in order to receive an appointment with, or gain favours from, the king.

The New Covenant example is obvious: Matthew takes great pains to show how Mary is the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of the new Son of David, Jesus. In Chapter 2:1-12, international figures pay royal tribute to the new king, seated with his mother. Solomon and Bathsheba are “types” prefiguring Jesus and Mary.

Psalm 72 (of Solomon, no less), is about kings from distant lands who pay tribute to the Davidic King:

1 (A Psalm of Solomon.) Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son! 2 May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! 3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! 4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor! 5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! 6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! 7 In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! 8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! 9 May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! 12 For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. 15 Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! 16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field! 17 May his name endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May men bless themselves by him, all nations call him blessed! 18 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. 19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may his glory fill the whole earth! Amen and Amen! 20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.

Of special note are these verses: “May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (vv. 10-11), and “Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him!” (v. 15a). This episode from Solomon’s reign, is, in a sense, being recapitulated in Jesus’ life. The message is clear: Jesus is the King; he can be found close to his Mother, our Queen, who gains access for us to the royal “Throne Room”, where we pay Jesus the tribute of our lives, make our requests known to him, and receive his favor.

Craig Evans Responds to Bart Ehrman: How God Became Jesus

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Don’t miss Dr Craig Evans live at The Faith Explained Conference on September 27. Cardinal Thomas Collins will also speak, so grab your tickets here while you still can! Check out Dr Evans’ response to Bart Ehrman in this YouTube clip.

Jesus: Lawmaker, Not Breaker

Q. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we have the most important section of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Why is this material so crucial?

A. Matthew is a very Jewish Gospel. It was not the first Gospel to be written (that, in all likelihood, would be the Gospel of Mark), but it is placed first in the New Testament canon because it is a natural bridge between the Old and New Covenants (in fact, the words “testament” and “covenant” mean the same thing).

Matthew highlights the mission of Jesus to Gentiles, to be sure (cf. 28:19-20). But he is striving to show to his fellow Jews that Jesus was not, as he had been accused of being in Jewish circles, a lawbreaker – that is, he did not circumvent the law of the Old Testament. This is why Matt 5:17 is so crucial: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

In fact, when Jesus says, “Do not think…” he is referencing the Maccabean martyrs, who also preserved the law, despite hideous tortures at the hands of the pagan tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes: “But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!” (2 Macc 7:19).

Q. But if Jesus isn’t “changing”, or altering the law, why does he give a series of examples prefaced by the formula, “You have heard it said…But I say to you…”?

A. What Jesus is doing here is bringing out the true meaning of the law – its correct interpretation, contra the erroneous takes on the law given by popular teachers of Jesus’ day. These examples are known as the “antitheses” of the Sermon on the Mount.

Far from abolishing the law, Jesus’ demands are even more strict than what was commonly taught in the Judaism of that time. Jesus deals with the inner attitudes of the heart, from which sins spring (cf. Matt 15:19). In this way, he highlights the true intent of the law, which was to transform the inner person, not simply to outlaw certain behaviors.

In one of the antitheses, for example, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Ex 20:14 = Deut 5:18). But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28). Jesus then brings up the topic of divorce and remarriage in 5:31-32 (which Jesus says is adultery). This is very interesting in light of John the Baptist’s criticism of Herod Antipas’ illicit marriage to his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, for which John paid with his life (Matt 14:1-12). Jesus strikes at the heart of the issue by correctly pegging the cause of adulterous divorce and remarriage as lust, from which indeed much sexual sin springs.

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.

Authenticating the Resurrection of Jesus: The Empty Tomb

Empty TombIn the last post, we noted powerful evidence for the empty tomb: enemy attestation. The religious authorities of Jerusalem and the early Church both agree: On Easter Sunday, the body of Jesus is not in the tomb. The question is: Why? Christians, of course, affirm the reason is the bodily Resurrection of the Lord. The authorities concocted a different tale: they said the disciples stole the body. Did they? Not a chance.

First, the tomb was guarded, most likely by Roman soldiers. Matthew’s Gospel mentions that the religious authorities bribed the guards to say that while they slept, the disciples pilfered Jesus from the tomb. That Roman soldiers would fall asleep on the job, and somehow not be woken by the commotion of men rolling away the massive stone at the mouth of the tomb, is laughable enough. But even if that were possible, who knows what’s happening while one is asleep, anyway? But there’s an even more convincing reason this argument doesn’t work.

Almost anyone would grant that people are often willing to die for what they believe to be true. Suicide bombers come immediately to mind. But no one dies for something they know to be a lie. And the disciples would certainly know if Jesus had actually risen from the dead and appeared to them, or if they had, in fact, hidden his corpse in a trunk somewhere. But if they had really stolen the body, why would they go and get themselves killed by preaching that Jesus had been resurrected? I mean, it’s not as if they had anything to gain, humanly speaking, by their message. It’s not as if sprawling mansions along the Mediterranean coastline awaited. They could only look forward to beatings. imprisonments, and an almost certain death. The truth is that they proclaimed the Resurrection because they were convinced by the encounters they had with the risen Christ. They proclaimed it because it was true.