Well, the Christmas season is upon us! Yet recent months and hours have been a strange time for the people of Britain. England is politically divided and chaotic, the country appears to be tearing itself apart and it is difficult for the average person to see any bright future? However, I have repeatedly stated that an East Wind is coming, and I believe it is. But I know that God is in control.
Sometimes in this wicked world, it is necessary for a person to set himself apart and come away a while. In November I visited Rome. This was my third visit. Rome is a bustling busy city, and being there is like walking through an outdoor museum. The streets are filled with ancient rubble. A person who visits Rome is walking in the footsteps of historic giants.
The Roman Forum is by far one of my beloved areas of Rome. Here I can bathe myself in Biblical history and bring myself back to what really matters. Biblical Truth! Here stands The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Caster and Pollux, The Curia Julia, where Paul stood trial. The location of the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus. The Mamertine Prison, where tradition claims Peter and Paul were imprisoned.
Across the way from the Mamertine, there stands the remains of the ancient Forum of Augustus. This forum was inaugurated in 2 BC by the man who decreed the census to be taken around the time when Jesus was in the womb of Mary.
In Luke 2: 1-2 it reads: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.” (NKJV)
By Luke’s reference to “all the world” I take that to mean all the Roman world. The Greek (G3625) is with special reference to a part of the globe, “specifically the Roman Empire”. However, the facts surrounding the census are still a matter of much debate.
Yet in The Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome, there once stood Bronze pillars which had an engraved reference to a Census of Augustus. This funerary inscription is known as “Res Gestae Divi Augusti“. It was upon this inscription where Augustus recorded the achievements he had made during his life. One such achievement reads “CENSVM-POPVLI”. This when translated reads ‘I did a census‘.
Dates for this census are well established, but my question is; could this reference be remotely related to the census written about by St. Luke? After three visits to Rome I have concluded that Luke probably wrote his Gospel from this ancient City of Seven Hills. However, some modern scholars claim there is no historic evidence for the census of Luke 2: 1-2. Yet in claiming this they assume Luke’s narrative is not a reliable source. Likewise, they sometimes fail to explore the possibilities of other arguments and views that differ to their own. They often likewise ignore the possible translations issues concerning the correct rendition of (G2958) and the possibility of a continued or repeated census.
In a pause of reflection, what strikes me about Augustus and the “Gestae Divi Augusti” is how historically absolute it is that this Roman Emperor was distinctly associated with a census. Whichever way we look at it, we cannot dismiss that Augustus was known for a census of the Roman world.
What Luke was communicating was a fulfilment of the Scripture that a ruler over Israel would come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2). That the ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem. Yet, when Augustus Caesar did his census, he thought he was bringing this about of his own power. But Luke was communicating that it was God who was bringing it to pass, not man.
Here we can learn. The world is a mess. People are sinful and depraved. Does that mean that Christ is not reigning or a Ruler? Has God lost control of His universe? On the contrary. There is no greater way to cause people to change their ways than pain. In the Scriptures God often hands nations over to corrupt leaders to teach them and bring them to repentance. Yet He must have been reigning in order to have done such things.
It is Christ who holds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1: 3) there is no governing power outside of Him. By bringing about a Census, Augustus was doing the will of God, not the will of man. We all must learn from that. Christ is in control.
Popular thinking has it that the Bible is unreliable and the manuscripts differ widely. It is often thought that the manuscripts contain large amounts of copying errors. But a tiny fragment found in Egypt, challenges this view. In John Rylands Library, Manchester UK, there is the oldest fragment of the New Testament to date. This fragment was acquired in Egypt in 1920. In 1934 the text was translated into English and it was found to be a fragment of the Gospel of John. This manuscript fragment is known as ‘P52’ and contains the words of Jesus and the words of Pontius Pilate. Some claim the fragment dates to 125 – 150 AD, others think an earlier date of writing is possible.
I visit and view P52 often. It is about 9 cm and written in Greek and is at present on public view. There are few greater pleasures for me than to view this fragment. Often after a long day of voluntary Theological research, it brings my focus back to the Biblical text. For me, it is a breath of fresh air, that during an age of modern critical scholarship and its heavy denial of Biblical texts, we have a great testimony in direct contrast to many critical claims of modern textual scholars.
In contrast to many modern scholars who deny the authenticity and early composition dates of the Gospels, P52 stands as a testimony against the claims that the New Testament accounts were written much later than they actually were. When I see this fragment as I do on a regular basis, its surviving words never cease to amaze me as it could for all who trust in Jesus Christ. These words are a pure testimony to the reality of the absolute identity of Jesus Christ, son of God, who was and is, and is to come, “the Truth”. Not truth, but ‘The Truth’.
The Greek fragment, of John 18: 31-33, on the recto reads as follows;
“the Jews, “For us it is not permitted to kill
anyone,” so that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he
spoke signifying what kind of death he was going to
to die. Entered therefore again into the Praeto-
rium Pilate and summoned Jesus
and he said to him, “Thou art king of the
The Greek fragment of John 18: 37-38, on the verso reads as follows,
“a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would
testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth
hears of me my voice.” Said to him
Pilate, “What is truth?” and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, “I find not one
fault in him.”
Is it not amazing that the oldest fragment in the world of the New Testament, dated possibly earlier than 100 AD and no later than 150 AD, speaks of such a great testimony to the word of God. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” Matthew 24: 35.
EXCERPT FROM UPCOMING BOOK BY SIMON PETER SUTHERLAND
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland
“In 2017 I revisited the Mamertine prison, and forum, Rome and explored a number of new discoveries made at the Mamertine the previous year. I believe Paul wrote 2 Timothy from that prison. I also think it possible that 2 Peter and Acts of the Apostles was written from here.
The Mamerine Prison is one of my favorite Biblical places in the world. I have visited the proposed cell of St. Paul at Philippi, I have visited St. Paul’s Grotto, Rabat, Malta, but the Mamertine has won me. It is or was, a cold, damp, dark and dingy place, and such is what I love about it. It is highly primitive. Ancient. Biblical!
In the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls, Rome, there is an ancient ‘chain’ reputed to have been used to bind St. Paul during his time in Rome. The chain was found in the ancient tomb of St. Paul over which the Basilica was built. When I visited the basilica in 2014, I noticed in 2 Timothy 1: 16 Paul referred to his “chain”. This in the Greek and the English is in the singular. For me, it perfectly matched the description given by Paul. It also fit perfectly with the type of chain that would have been used to bind Paul at the Mamertine.
Having read through an excellent series of books entitled “The Book of Acts in its first century setting” Volume 3, Paul in Roman Custody by Brian Rapske, it is explicitly clear that the Apostolic era was a time of great suffering. Here at the Mamertine, Paul suffered greatly and wrote to Timothy about his departure being at hand (2 Timothy 4: 6). He had stood trial before Casear, probably at the Curia and Eusebius in Ecclesiastical history 2: 22, informs us it was on Paul’s second visit to Rome that he was martyred under Nero.
At the Mamertine when Paul was held there about 60 AD and later, the 2016 excavations revealed that the cell did not have an upper floor like we see today. The upper floor is only about 500 years old and was constructed into the building when it was used as a Church. The original cells were more in the format of a cave rather than a fixed upper and lower level structure. Visitors for many years have believed that Paul was lowered into the lower dungeon via the circled hole in the upper cell floor. But the 2016 excavations revealed that the entrance to the lower cell area came from the upper roof, not the upper floor. When Paul was incarcerated here before his execution, he would have been lowered into the lower dungeon from the upper roof.
This practice often left prisoners physically damaged. Sometimes the broke a leg or an arm. We do not know of the level of damage Paul suffered here, but we know that his time at the jail, within the cell, would have been to face death. Once prisoners were put in here, it was to await execution.
The excavations revealed areas not seen by the public for centuries. These areas were around the main cell, and raised somewhat. If Peter was ever held here, he would have been held in the upper cells until his trial, and when condemned, dropped into the lower cell from the upper roof to await his death.
As I previously mentioned, it is also possible that 2 Peter was written in this cell. Although some modern scholars claim that Peter never wrote 2 Peter, I disagree entirely. While in Rome I attempted to view the letter from the perspective of the ancient city. Upon my return to England I researched the letter internally and found hints of ancient Rome in the text. One of which involved the great fire of Rome, of whom Nero, by tradition, is believed to have blamed the Christians. If Peter was in Rome at the time, he too would have been accused of either arson or inciting it. This could reveal insight into his references to “fire” in 2 Peter 3: 7, 12. He may well have been using the ‘fire’ reference to provoke believers to remember that a coming judgment will bring about the destruction of the world, by “fire”. There can be little doubt from this perspective that the great fire of Rome, would have been the fresh and current hot topic of the city. If Peter was being held in the Mamertine while the great fire was fresh in the minds of the Roman people, it is not difficult to see why he used this reference to remind people of the coming greater judgment at the end of the world. This would place the composition date toward the summer/autumn of 64 AD, because the fire took place in July of that year.”
Excerpt from upcoming book by Simon Peter Sutherland
© 2018 Simon Peter Sutherland
The Tulip as a flower first came to England in 1578. The very same year the complete Geneva Bible was first printed in England.
In those days there was such a thing as “Tulip Mania”. This began in 1594 in the Netherlands when the first Tulips were planted. It was a harmless move when it started but the craze for Tulips later became a status symbol and one tulip bulb could be worth as much as a house build beside one of the top canals in Amsterdam.
It was in this very same country, the Netherlands, where the Synod of Dordt was held in 1618. This synod was the first to declare the doctrinal position now known as ‘the five points of Calvinism‘.
In later centuries this doctrinal position earned the title “Tulip”. As far as I know, it is a term that is not found in writings prior to the 20th century?
Tulip stands for the following;
- T – Total Depravity
- U – Unconditional Election
- L – Limited Atonement
- I – Irresistible Grace
- P – Preservation or Perseverance of the Saints
IS TULIP FOUNDATIONAL?
Dr Charles Matthew McMahon in his book “A puritans mind” says the following; “The essential doctrines concerning salvation, which the puritans and all good Christians cling to, are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.IP”
These words are problematic, especially when a reading Christian could be told in writing that he or she may not be a good Christian after all, and perhaps even an unbelieving one, lacking in faith, as he suggests in his book, quote; “There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief” Dr C Matthew McMahon. A Puritans Mind.
The above words are cruel and intellectually dishonest. They appear to read like some form of guilt based emotional blackmail. It seems that for so many 5 point Calvinists or new Calvinists, that T.U.L.I.P is the actual gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell?
This same idea, though more genuine, is made somewhat clear by 19th century English particular Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said the following; “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”
Spurgeon also said the following; “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” (C. H. Spurgeon. The early years. Autobiography 1. The early years. Page 168. Banner of Truth Trust)
Spurgeon stated that his beliefs were his “own private opinion“. I respect that. But he did not here stoop so low as to send his readers on an emotional guilt trip and accuse them of having a lack of faith and belief for differing with his beliefs.
I personally deny that ‘Tulip’ is in any way foundational to the Christian faith. It is a simple observation of mine that T.U.L.I.P cannot be a foundation to preaching Christ alone or the plain truth of the Gospel, or Christian doctrine, since T.U.L.I.P makes no direct references to the Virgin birth of Jesus, the Life and miracles of Jesus or the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Neither is there reference to His return or His judging of the quick and the dead. In many ways, T.U.L.I.P has a man centred focus.
No Christian is guilty of unbelief for denying, questioning or refuting Tulip, and should never be emotionally bullied or abused into thinking so! In my own opinion, I think Calvinism is unnecessarily lowered when it is reduced by individuals to making claims like those I have mentioned above. I don’t want to put all Calvinists in the same category but wouldn’t it be better if people learned how to reason and openly debate more. I want to encourage ‘all believers’ to feel absolutely free to measure all teachings and doctrines with careful analysis of the entire Bible and not be afraid of the implications of the text. To learn to live alongside other believers who differ. But never fall foul of emotional mind games of those who desire you to follow their favourite interpretations of the same Bible.
Days before Easter 2018, the Archbishop of Wales John Davies, made some Theological claims that no Archbishop has any business in making.
In an interview the Archbishop expressed doubts concerning the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Stating ‘it is terribly hard for people to grasp the idea of a bodily resurrection‘ and that he doesn’t think any of ‘us’ actually knows what happened.
My question is, so why does he claim to be a Christian?
The Bible is clear that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the core of the faith and if His resurrection was not physical but spiritual, or indeed never happened, or uncertain, then our faith is useless and we are still in our sin (1 Corinthians 15: 12-18). The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily as He Himself said “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24: 39). The resurrected Jesus also ate fish which spirits cannot do (Luke 24: 41-43)
The resurrected Jesus still had the nail holes in His hands and the Spear hole in His side (John 20: 27)
If John Davies isn’t firmly grounded upon these things then why is he an Archbishop?
If an archbishop has such areas of internal unbelief, then it is merely evidence that that person is either not a true Christian or is an apostate or, he has failed to abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1: 9-11).
Doubts about the true meaning of certain Scriptures and doctrines, which are not salvation issues, are acceptable but when it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, their is no doubt whatsoever in any mind that has been transformed.
Clearly the Bishop’s right to hold his title is questionable and he would be better to resign and express his ideas in a university or college, but not as a practising Bishop.
This week I saw the new “Mary Magdalene” movie. The film stars actor Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Jesus’ and actress Rooney Mara as ‘Mary Magdalene.
The story begins in 1st century Magdala, Galilee, where the young woman, Mary Magdalene, lives with her family in the remote fishing village. The community is centralised around family life and the Synagogue. But Mary wrestles with the life that is set before her and knows there is something more.
One day after a troubled visit to the Synagogue, her family is convinced she has a demon and they attempt to exercise the demon in the night. They fail. She is treated poorly. They know about Jesus, ‘the healer’ and He is called in.
It is a very tender and gentle moment when Jesus enters the house and says to Mary “Your family says you grapple with the demon“. Mary is lying on the floor and in a moment Jesus declares ‘there are no demons here‘.
This introduction kept me in good spirits about the film, it set the theme for a peaceful, simplicity. As the film progressed, I recognised the landscape did not look exactly like Galilee, but I overlooked that because of the films correct portrayal of ‘followers of Jesus’ as peaceful, none violent people. Likewise, Jesus appeared to be portrayed as a quiet man and ‘a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief‘ (Isaiah 53: 3). This portrayal dominated the film.
As the film progressed, Mary left her family to follow Jesus and they attempt to get her back somewhat aggressively, but Jesus baptises her. This, is where the problems of this movie began to surface. Jesus is seen baptising Mary Magdalene. Something which Jesus in the Gospels never did. Jesus never baptised anyone (John 4: 2). In the film however, He baptises her once, but thrice by full immersion. The emphasis of Jesus’ baptism and message is upon being born anew and to follow the light and the coming kingdom. I did not hear any emphasis upon repentance of sin.
The film moves on, Mary follows Jesus with the Disciples and the narrative becomes somewhat void and plain. Very little dialogue holds to the memory. They move to villages and in this film Jesus does heal people. No explanation is given. He is exhausted after raising a man from the dead. He gets tired, sleepy, and appears worn out. He heals a blind girl of her sight.
For the most part the film appeared traditional in some sense, some of it appeared to be based upon Luke 8, but a fair amount of focal points are upon Jesus talking with Mary Magdalene alone. A majority of the narrative was not canonical and reflective of the apocryphal gospel of Mary. Especially the portrayal of Peter.
The miracle scenes are not over dramatised, but some of this left the film very dry and unspiritual. The film is also somewhat multicultural and the accents are mixed and distracting. Judas is given a fair amount of screen time.
As the film slowly progresses, they walk to Jerusalem, and to the Temple. Judas believes that Jesus will now usher in the new kingdom. Jesus turns the tables of the money changers over. I did like this portrayal of the anger of Jesus.
Judas gets disappointed because he has not rightly understood what the new kingdom is. The portrayal of the betrayer is rightly portrayed as someone who you would least expect to betray Christ. All of that could be argued as acceptable, however, I thought that all too often Jesus appears to know not what to do? He seeks Mary to guide Him. Although there appears no direct hint of any physical relations between them, all too often Jesus is walking side by side with Mary Magdalene as his guiding apostle.
Yet toward the latter part of the movie, the modern agenda creeps in. In one scene as Jesus approaches the ‘last supper’ Mary is seen walking beside Him on the left, then parts to the left of the meal and Jesus to the right, Mary then sits down on Jesus’ right side which clearly forms a visual hint of ‘Da Vinci’s The Last Supper’. This brought the whole film down for me and I became suspicious of the agenda.
Much of the film was agreeable and careful. But they left a lot out. Presumably to focus upon what Mary saw, not the events we’re generally familiar with. There is no anquish in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Judas does betray Jesus with a kiss. Judas does hang himself. After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb, and sees Jesus sitting on the ground. The is no rolling away of the stone. Mary goes to tell the apostles that He is risen, and although they believe her, the film presents Mary as the ‘chosen one’ who out of them all, understands Jesus’ message above Peter and all the apostles.
John barely features at all in this movie, which given the central focus on Peter, implied to me that the focus of this film was a feminist attempt to set Mary Magdalene as ‘co-equal’ apostle with Peter, who the Roman Catholic Church sees as its first pope. I noticed a hint of Roman Catholicism in the Temple scenes, it looks reminiscent of St. Peters Basilica, Vatican.
This became even clearer to me when the closing credits came up. The main religious and political agenda of this movie is confirmed by itself. It is distinctly revisionist. The aim being to further promote the position of leadership for women in the Church.
For the most part, the film was very unspiritual and lacked passion and power. Although it remained fairly respectful to the story. I never thought it was anything but well meaning (in the human sense). But the script seemed too ordinary and lacked any dynamics for a story that has changed the world. The portrayal of Peter was insignificant and had no impact. Likewise, Jesus appears, in some sense, portrayed as somewhat untrustworthy and confused? Mary appears to be the spiritual one who held it all together.
Some Christians might like this movie, others will not. The film itself made no lasting impact on me at all. I left the theatre wanting nothing but a hot cup of tea. I didn’t detest the film at all, but I doubt very much that I would even desire to see it again? But if you do go to see it, remember that there is a focal agenda. For women who think themselves as Deacons, Elders, Bishops or Pastors, they might like it. But for any woman, or man like me, who believes the Bible and knows it, we are labelled ‘misogynistic’ merely because we recognise that female leadership in the Church has no authorisation in Scripture, or by God. But the revisionist attempt is an age old claim, nothing new, but bound to continue further. Yet strickly, unbiblical.