Is Jesus God? (Part 4.2: Did Jesus Rise?)

It’s been a long road, this “proving” the divinity of Christ business.1 And after 8,000+ words, all we’ve got is a man who claimed to be God and did some pretty crazy stuff to back it up, a man who was tortured and died and whose body is suddenly missing. For some, the empty tomb might be enough. But I have to keep pushing: where’s the body? It stands to reason that someone stole it, so let’s consider the possibilities.

The Romans

In Jesus’ world, there were three groups of people: the Romans, the Jews who opposed Jesus, and the Jews who were friendly to him (the disciples). Of these three groups, nobody had more power than the Romans. If they were looking to steal Jesus’ body, they certainly had the means.

roman diceBut did they have the motive? Was there any reason for them to steal Jesus’ body? I’ve heard it suggested that they were just trying to stir up trouble between the Jews and the Christians to weaken their opposition to Roman rule. It’s an interesting thought but it fails to take into account the modus operandi of first century Romans: peace at any cost. These were the originators of the pay, pray, and obey model, with the emphasis on paying and obeying. Pax Romana wasn’t just a happy consequence of Roman conquest, it was the point. The Roman empire gave people enough freedom and sovereignty in their territories to keep them mollified so they didn’t revolt. These soldiers whose livelihood—and likely their lives—depended on keeping the peace would have no reason to steal Jesus’ body. It would only have led to unrest, the last thing they wanted.

The Jews

It’s possible, of course, that the Jews stole it. They certainly had the means, given that they were the ones who got Jesus killed in the first place.2 They had power and they had money and they had the guards in their pocket. But again, they had no motive. Remember that they posted a guard to make sure that nobody stole the body and claimed that he rose.3 While the apostles were wondering what Jesus meant by “dying and rising again,”4 the Jews knew exactly what he was going for and they knew that stealing the body would only increase the fervor of his followers.

Besides, if they had stolen the body, don’t you think they would have produced it when people started claiming that he rose? I don’t know about you, but if I had the ability to put those suddenly-confident fishermen in their places, I would have done it right quick. “Oh, you think he rose from the dead? Yeah, well I’ve got your Messiah right here.” Nip that little sect in the bud and get pack to my prayers. No, there’s no way the Jews took it.

The Christians

Ah, now here’s a likely group. I mean, think about it. After Jesus’ performance on Good Friday, his followers look like a bunch of fools. They gave up everything to follow this wandering preacher for three years and then when the time comes for him to declare himself and rise up against Rome he says nothing? He clamps his mouth shut and doesn’t even try to defend himself? If I were one of the Apostles, I’d sure as heck want to make it look like he rose. They’re the only ones around with motive: the body disappears and they go from morons to heroes in a matter of days.5

Okay, so Peter's being brave here. Impetuous but brave. But check out Mark on the left!
Okay, so Peter’s being brave here. Impetuous but brave. But check out Mark on the left!

But obviously they’re not going to be the culprits or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. They had the motive but they didn’t have the means. These are the same guys who ran away from the soldiers not three days earlier. Mark was so terrified that when someone grabbed his tunic he ripped it off and ran away naked.6 There is literally nothing in the world I’m so afraid of that it would compel me to rip off my clothes to get away. Peter, of course, ran from a little girl. These guys weren’t exactly Braveheart material. And we’re supposed to believe that they suddenly had a change of heart (and intestinal fortitude), left the Upper Room where they were cowering, snuck through Jerusalem, took out the guards ninja-style without them noticing, rolled away the stone, unwrapped the body, and then died to tell the story?

Let’s unpack this. There’s obviously the fear factor, which in and of itself is pretty convincing. Then there’s the guards. If you’re a guard and you fall asleep on the job, do you concoct some crazy story about being blinded by the light7 or do you go with the more obvious explanation that a horde of tough, angry fishermen knocked you out? In the second case you might get in trouble, but in the first case you get fired and probably told to pee in a cup. It’s not a logical go-to excuse if they just fell asleep.

And the fact that they don’t blame the apostles also tells us that they weren’t attacked. Accusing the obvious suspects is far less ridiculous than “we all just passed out cause we saw this crazy angel thing.” The Jews know something funny happened—that’s why they just shut them up with some hush money instead of punishing them in any way.8

empty-tombAnd then there are the burial clothes rolled up in the tomb.9 If you just knocked out some Roman guards to steal a dead body, do you bother peeling off the blood-soaked burial clothes in the tomb, or do you throw the corpse over your shoulder and book it? I don’t know about you but every time I go grave-robbing I like to unwrap the corpse so I can get all nice and goopy while I’m carrying the rotting flesh around—oh wait, that’s revolting. Nor can I imagine that the Apostles were forward-thinking young philosophers who were covering their tracks by doing the unthinkable in the moment—not these guys, not dealing with this kind of fear, not in this culture.

Finally, there’s the clincher: they died to tell the story. If they stole the body, they knew the Resurrection was a lie—why would they die for it?  10 out of the 11 Apostles who survive the Resurrection were martyred, and John’s survival wasn’t for lack of trying; they poisoned him, they boiled him, he just wouldn’t die.10 Even those early Christians who apostatized11 never claimed the Resurrection was a hoax. What convinced me of the truth of Christianity was that these men who walked with Jesus, heard him preach, watched him die, and then touched his risen body died to tell that story. I just couldn’t find any better explanation than the Resurrection.


There are those who call themselves Christian who claim that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs. Magical ninja dogs, I suppose, who knocked the guards out without them noticing, rolled away a stone it would have taken more than three grown women to move, unwrapped the body, and dragged it away (including all the bones) without leaving a mess or a trail?  Give me a break.

Swoon Theory

mostly-deadOthers—many of whom also claim to be Christian—assert that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, he just passed out. Passed out so thoroughly that the Romans, the Jews, and his mother thought he was dead. Passed out to the point that being stabbed through the pericardial sac elicited no response. Maybe I’m unclear on the definition here, but if you pass out without a pulse or respirations for an extended time, isn’t that death?

Even if he had just passed out, he would have had to come to 40 hours after being in critical condition, peel off the burial clothes clotted into his battered skin, roll away a stone so heavy that three women couldn’t move it without help,12 beat up the guards without their noticing, walk 7 miles away to Emmaus, appear entirely undamaged with the exception of the 5 major wounds, teleport back to Jerusalem, and walk through a locked door. This would be almost a greater miracle than the Resurrection—if it’s not a miracle, it’s just ridiculous. And if we’re acknowledging that Jesus performed miracles, it seems more reasonable to accept the miracle that he foretold and not one devised by 19th-century German theologians.

The Best Explanation

The evidence indicates that Jesus died and (unless you count the few crazies who thought he was a hologram) nobody really claims he didn’t until Mohammed. When the body goes missing, there’s no earthly explanation for it. Fortunately, we’re not looking for an earthly explanation. The only thing that makes sense is the thing that was so surreal the disciples couldn’t understand it when he explained it in small words: he rose from the dead.


Caravaggio doubting ThomasAnd in case an absent body isn’t enough evidence for you (and it shouldn’t be), there are the witnesses. Tons of them. Mary Magdalene,13 other women,14 Cleopas and his companion15, the twelve (eleven) with and without Thomas,16 Peter and six others,17 and to the apostles at the ascension18 At least those specific times, probably more. Then there are Paul’s references to Jesus appearing to Peter and to James and to 500 people at once.19  These weren’t hallucinations—500 people don’t have the same hallucination, nor do eleven guys dream the same dream three different times. And Jesus makes very sure to show them that he wasn’t a ghost—eating with them20 and asking them to touch him.21 They touched his wounds, saw his scars. There was no body double, no swooning, no collective memory modification.

Then, of course, there’s the transformation of the apostles and the spread of Christianity throughout the known world not by violence but by preaching—impossible without the Holy Spirit. Forget the empty tomb, the only possible explanation for Pentecost or the Edict of Milan or 266 popes in a row or anything good to have come out of the Church of Jesus Christ is the Resurrection.

So there you have it.

The Gospels are fairly reliable accounts—at least for the general themes and major events of the life of Christ. They tell us that Jesus claimed to be God. If he claimed to be God, he couldn’t possibly be just a good man, just a great teacher; he was either God himself, a crazy man, or a vicious liar. The miracles he worked show us that he’s more than a lunatic or a liar, as does the most cursory reading of the Gospels. But it comes down to this: Jesus died. He was buried. On the third day, the body was missing. The only possible explanation is the Resurrection. If Jesus claimed to be God and he rose from the dead, he’s God. Full stop.

Final Word

And now here we are at the end of an excessively long series. But you wanted to know why I believe that Jesus is God. Someone did, I’m sure. And this is it—the intellectual part, anyway. The emotional part–the part that keeps me here when everything in and around me is shaking–you read in everything I post and watch in my face when I receive communion. I believe that Jesus is God because of everything I’ve said in this series; I believe in Jesus because I know him. I meet him in the Eucharist and in his Word and in his Church and in the poor and in you, dear brothers and sisters. Thank you for your kindness and prayers and comments and shares and all that you do for the body of Christ. You are a great blessing to me.

  1. See parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.1. []
  2. As a reminder, we’re not blaming all Jews for the crucifixion. It’s everybody’s fault, Jews no more than anyone else. []
  3. Mt 27:64 []
  4. Mk 9:32 []
  5. Of course, the Gospels they write and disseminate don’t do much to encourage their status as heroes, but we’ve already discussed that. []
  6. Mk 14:51-52—the world’s first instance of breakaway pants. []
  7. That’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome. []
  8. Mt 28:11-15 []
  9. Jn 20:6-7 []
  10. I don’t know about you, but if I’m trying to kill someone who just won’t die, I might consider buying some of what he’s selling, but maybe that’s just me…. []
  11. Renounced the faith. []
  12. Mk 16:3 []
  13. Jn 20:10-18 []
  14. Mt 28:8-10. By the way, women in the ancient world weren’t considered reliable enough to be able to testify as witnesses. If you were making up the Resurrection, why would you invent a story in which the most immediate witnesses are practically non-entities, they’re so unreliable? []
  15. Lk 24:13-32 []
  16. Jn 20:19-23, Jn 20:26-30 []
  17. Jn 21:1-14 []
  18. Mt 28:16-20 etc. []
  19. 1 Cor 15:3-8 []
  20. Lk 24, Jn 21 []
  21. Lk 24, Jn 20 []

Is Jesus God? (Part 4.1: Did Jesus Die?)

(This is part four of a series on the divinity of Christ. Start by deciding if the Gospels have any historical value; follow that with Jesus’ claims of divinity; look into prophecies and miracles; then come back here. As an aside, there are a lot of footnotes on this one, so if you’re reading it in your email or your reader, you might want to click through so you can hover over the footnotes to see the text rather than clicking or scrolling to the bottom. Be warned: this post gets a little grisly.)

The Resurrection is Jesus’ ultimate miracle, the defining argument of Christianity. Paul tells us that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is empty.1 Because not only did Jesus foretell that he would be crucified and rise again,2 he also said it was the one essential sign he would give.3

The first step in “proving” the Resurrection4 is establishing that Jesus died. Let’s look a little bit at the suffering that preceded his death:

The Agony in the Garden

Agony in the GardenThe night before he died, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. As he awaited his betrayer, he prayed so fervently that he began to sweat blood.5 This is an actual medical phenomenon—hematidrosis. When a person is under extreme stress, his capillaries can burst under the skin; the blood then oozes out through his pores. This is, as one might expect, an extraordinarily painful situation resulting in extreme bruising wherever the blood vessels burst. Not a good way to start the night.

When his betrayer showed up, Jesus wasn’t surprised. It had been foretold that he’d be betrayed by a friend6 after all, and sold for 30 pieces of silver.7 After he’s dragged away, he’s interrogated,8 punched repeatedly in the face9 and kept up well into the early hours of the morning.10 It seems unlikely that he got much sleep; still less so that he got any food or water. By Friday morning, he would have been in pretty bad shape before the Romans even laid a hand on him.

The Scourging at the Pillar

Scourging at the PillarAfter a night of torment at the hands of the Jews,11 Jesus made his way to wimpy Pontius Pilate, who questioned him weakly and had little but blustering to offer in response to Jesus’ taciturn acceptance of his fate.12 When Pilate found that there really wasn’t any legitimate charge to pin on him, he wanted to let him go. Well, scourge him, then let him go.13 That’s generally my response to people who’ve done nothing wrong.

Then, of course, the real punishment began. If you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, you’ve got an idea that this was more than a cursory beating. It was torture, plain and simple. Roman soldiers were excellent at inflicting pain and just because this was a preamble to the far more painful crucifixion doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have done a thorough job. While Scripture is silent on the extent of the scourging, we can get a pretty good idea from the blood stains on the Shroud of Turin.14 Scientists who have investigated the blood stains on the Shroud15 say that the man it was wrapped around would have been in critical condition before he even made it to the Cross.

The Crowning with Thorns

Crucified crown of thornsAs if all the beatings weren’t enough, let’s add insult to injury by mocking the Lord with a crown of thorns.16 And these weren’t your Grandma’s thorns. We tend to depict the crown of thorns as something that would have scratched poor Jesus’ sweet little face, but the evidence17 indicates that these were skull-piercing thorns.18 Long enough to do some serious damage.

The Carrying of the Cross

Now, we don’t know exactly how much Jesus’ cross weighed, although recent scholarship suggests 100 pounds at the very least. And we don’t know how far he walked, although it was probably at least a mile and it was certainly uphill. But we do know that the task was so hard—or Jesus was in such bad shape—that he couldn’t do it himself.

Jesus fallsBear in mind once again that Roman soldiers weren’t exactly known for their compassion. Especially not toward Jews. So when they impress Simon of Cyrene into service,19 it’s probably not because they were feeling nice. It makes more sense to assume that Jesus had been beaten so raw that he looked likely to pass out. And the soldiers’ job wasn’t just to kill him. Romans are more specific than that. They were supposed to crucify him. Crucifixion was the most humiliating and painful way to die—so painful that they had to invent a new word to describe the pain: excruciating. Ex cruce. From the cross.

So if they wanted to stay out of trouble, they had to make sure he made it all the way up to Calvary. God seems to have wanted it that way, too, given all the types20 of the Cross that he put into salvation history. Isaac carrying the wood of his sacrifice,21 Noah saved by the wood of the ark,22 the bronze serpent lifted up23…. Then there’s the fact that crucifixion was the most shameful and agonizing way one could die—this God of ours wasn’t content with a quick painless death for us; he wanted us to know that he was willing to suffer everything for us. And that he had already suffered everything with us.

The Crucifixion

Now comes the real fun.24 Jesus, having been stripped, beaten, and mocked, is now nailed to a cross and hung—most likely stark naked—to suffocate to death. I’m sure you know that’s how crucifixion works, but take a moment to give it a try. Stand up and hold your arms out to the side. Far enough behind you that they could be nailed to a cross. Now lift them above your shoulders like you’re hanging there. Good. Now take a deep breath.

You can’t do it, can you? Your diaphragm is lifted by the position of your arms, leaving very little room for your lungs to expand. You can get enough oxygen that our little experiment won’t kill you, but it would if you did it long enough. (You can put your arms down now.)

Bloody crucifixionThis is how crucifixion works. It’s long and slow and terrible. Men who weren’t beaten first would usually hang by the side of the road, being ridiculed and spat at, for three days before they finally died. Jesus was such a wreck that it only took him three hours. Only three hours of slowly suffocating to death, having to rip the nails further through his wrists every time he pulled himself up far enough to take a deeper breath. Only three hours of horrific pain aggravated by the panic that an inability to breathe sparks in the human body.

This is where the typology really goes nuts. Jesus even calls out the first line of Psalm 22—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—to make sure we’re making the connections.25 He’s mocked by onlookers who insist that God would save him if he loved him.26 He cries out with desperate thirst.27 His hands and feet are pierced.28 They divide his clothing and cast lots for his robe.29 Quite the coincidence if it’s not really the fulfillment of prophecy.

bloody crucified ChristBy the time he breathes his last, it seems like a sure thing that he’s good and dead. Nobody could survive all this. But the Romans weren’t taking any chances. After all, Romans who botched an execution were likely to be executed themselves. So we can be fairly confident that he’s dead simply from the fact that they don’t break his legs. To speed up the process—to make it impossible for the condemned to push up with their legs and get a little more oxygen—they broke the legs of the two thieves. But Jesus was already dead, so they didn’t bother.30 If they didn’t break his legs, they must have been certain that he was dead—they’re pros, after all.

Just to be sure, though, they stabbed him in the side.31 And he didn’t flinch. That might not mean anything on its own, but John gives us a key detail: blood and water poured out. Sure, that symbolizes baptism and the Eucharist, his divine and human natures, and any number of other things. But it’s also scientifically relevant. When a person suffocates, there’s a clear fluid that collects in the pericardial sac, the region around the heart. While one might expect Luke, the doctor, to fabricate this information, we get it from John, who recounts it not because it’s convincing but because he was there and probably got sprayed.

What does it matter that it was the “water” from the pericardial sac? It means he got good and stabbed. This is no surface wound, it’s a serious attack on flesh and organs. Any living body would react to this. Even if the spear miraculously missed the lungs and heart, the trauma of the thrust would have caused a living body to gag or seize or something. Even if he had passed out, even if he was comatose, even if he was completely paralyzed, his body would have reacted. But it didn’t. If he’s not flinching when he’s stabbed through (or at least near) the heart and lungs, he’s good and dead.

Nobody at the time claimed he didn’t die—that would be ridiculous. Even the Jews (in Biblical times and later) affirmed that Jesus was dead. Nobody could suffer all this and survive. See Acts 25:19, for example: “Instead [the Jews] had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive.”


veiled Christ shroudBut exploring the death of Jesus is, of course, only part one of the question of the resurrection. We’re following the body now, a body that was buried32 in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.33 He wasn’t stolen away and hidden somewhere secret. His burial place was widely known—to the point that the Jews posted a guard.34 The disciples may not have understood his predictions of the resurrection, but the Sanhedrin sure did. So they checked on the body, sealed the tomb, and posted a guard.

The Body

And then, on the third day, the body was missing. The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and the guards had some cockamamie story about seeing some glowing guy and going catatonic with fear.35 The burial cloths were rolled up in the tomb and there was no trace of yesterday’s bloody corpse. The guards’ story—and the Jews’ hush money36—indicate that the conflict at this point wasn’t about whether the tomb was empty but why. Nobody, it seems, could produce the dead Messiah. So it all comes down to this: where’s the body?

For that, friends, you’ll have to tune in next time. This post is plenty long enough already. But I’ll give you a little hint (spoiler alert!): he rose.

  1. 1 Cor 15:14 []
  2. Mt 20:18-19, among others. []
  3. Mt 12:38-40 []
  4. By “proving,” I mean demonstrating that it is the best possible explanation. []
  5. Lk 22:44 []
  6. Ps 41:10 []
  7. Zec 11:12-13 []
  8. Mt 26:57-68 etc. []
  9. Mt 26:67 etc. []
  10. After Peter denies him, the cock crows. Whether that’s the Roman hour of cock crow—gallicinium—or an actual rooster crowing, he was still being tormented at 3am. []
  11. Let’s take a moment to remember that while historically the Jews crucified Jesus, so did the Romans. Really, though, it was our sins that crucified Jesus. So, and I hope this is obvious, we do not in any way blame the Jews of today for the sufferings of Christ. No more than we blame ourselves, that is. Don’t be an anti-Semite. Jesus is a Jew. []
  12. Is 53:7 []
  13. Lk 23:15-16 []
  14. Look into some of the research surrounding this fascinating artifact. While some dubious test results have convinced people that it’s a medieval forgery, the bulk of the evidence suggests that it’s legit. Suffice it to say that the image on the Shroud cannot be reproduced. It isn’t paint, dye, pigment, lead, or ash. In fact, scientists have no idea how it was created. Their best bet is that the body it was wrapped around suddenly emitted a great deal of radioactive light, resulting in the image that we have today—which, by the way, is a photo negative of a person. It would be pretty impressive—that is to say, impossible–for a forger of the middle ages to even have a concept of a photo negative let alone the capacity to emit radioactive light. This skeptic is convinced. []
  15. Check out A Doctor at Calvary if you really want to get into the medicine behind all this. A shorter version linked to here. []
  16. Mt 27:29 etc []
  17. Pollen on the Shroud []
  18. Which, by the way, would make a great name for a Christian screamo band. I’ve been saying this for years and one day I just know I’m going to turn on the radio and hear the end of some awful shrieky thing. “That’s the newest single from Skull-Piercing Thorns,” the announcer will say, and my life will be complete. []
  19. Mt 27:32 etc. []
  20. Old Testament people or events that foreshadow New Testament realities []
  21. Gen 22:6 []
  22. Gen 6-9; Wis 14:5, 7 []
  23. Nm 21:4-9; Jn 3:14 []
  24. /sardonic []
  25. Mt 27:46 etc. []
  26. Ps 22:9, Wis 2:18, Mt 27:43 etc. []
  27. Ps 22:16, Jn 19:28 []
  28. Ps 22:17-18, Is 53:5, Is 49:16 []
  29. Ps 22:19, Mt 27:35 etc. []
  30. Also fulfills prophecy—Ex 12:46, Jn 19:36 []
  31. Zec 12:10, Zec 13:6, Jn 19:37 []
  32. Is 53:9 []
  33. Mt 27:57-60 etc. []
  34. Mt 27:62-66 []
  35. Mt 28:4 []
  36. Mt 28:11-15 []

Is Jesus God? (Part 3: Was Jesus a Fraud?)

(Despite the length of time it’s taking me to post these installments, this is part of a series. Check out part 1 on the credibility of the Gospels and part 2 on Jesus’ claim of divinity before you jump in.)

Part of what makes me a good apologist, I think, is that I’m a skeptic by nature. So when you tell me about the miracle of how you had a cold and now you don’t, I’ll smile and nod and tell you how lovely that is but I tend not to buy it. I tend to assume that there were natural causes for whatever people are calling a miracle or a vision or whatever. I don’t contradict people because if it encourages them in their pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful it doesn’t much matter if it was a supernatural phenomenon or a natural one that God used to his purposes.

Dead 350 years, looks like he's taking a nap. NBD.
St. Vincent de Paul: dead 350 years, looks like he’s taking a nap. NBD.

What this means is that any miracle I’m convinced by is probably pretty convincing. The miracles at Lourdes,1 for instance, or Padre Pio’s2 or Bonnie’s little boy who was dead for an hour. These miracles are impossible things well-attested by reasonable, educated people. And when you look at the Gospels, you see all kinds of prophecies fulfilled and miracles worked; enough to convince this skeptic that there’s something going on.


At first glance, the alleged fulfillment of prophecies isn’t terribly impressive. Many of them just seem too easy to fake. So that whole “born in Bethlehem”3 thing strikes me (when I’m wearing my hypothetical skeptic hat) as something Jesus could have made up. After all, he was from Nazareth. But if the prophecies said he would be from Bethlehem, he could say he was from Bethlehem. “This one time, there was a census….” Bada-bing, bada-boom, Messiah from Bethlehem!

And being of the tribe of Judah would have been no problem—almost all the Jews were. That’s where they got their name from. House of David4 would have been a little harder, but if you cross your fingers when you jot down your genealogy, maybe nobody will check into it.

There’s a problem with this theory of deliberate fulfillment of prophecy, though; beyond those two, Jews at the time of Jesus had little idea what was prophesied about the Messiah. They knew the Messiah was supposed to save his people and they were sure as heck in need of saving. After decades under Roman rule (following centuries ruled by everybody else in the Near East), they were ready for a knight in shining armor to come riding in and save the day.

Slightly anachronistic, but still more of what they were expecting in a Messiah than some carpenter from Nazareth. (Source.)
Slightly anachronistic, but still more what they were expecting in a Messiah than some carpenter from Nazareth. (Source)

They say that every woman at the time of Christ hoped that she’d be the one to bear the Messiah. Not a one of them was hoping for Jesus. None of this meek and humble of heart business—the Jews wanted action, violence, intrigue. They were looking for a temporal ruler, a military genius who’d unite the Jewish people to overthrow their oppressors. When people started calling Jesus the Messiah they were all ears. Even with all his talk of love and forgiveness and repentance they were willing to listen. Heck, they were willing to acclaim him as king and throw palm branches before him.

And then, like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.5 He didn’t call down legions of angels or even speak in his own defense. This was not the Messiah they’d been raised looking for. Jesus was a failure.

Because he wasn’t looking to fulfill their expectations. He was fulfilling prophecy instead. If he’d come charging in just as they’d expected it would be reasonable to think he was a fraud. But he didn’t conform himself to their image of him. He didn’t go out of his way to do what they thought the Messiah should do. It wasn’t until he opened the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that they began to see how everything—everything—pointed to him.

Everybody’s favorite, of course, is Isaiah 7:14: A virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel. We’re so used to hearing this in Christmas pageants that we assume the Jews would have understood it just as we do: a virgin will have a baby. But “virgin” can also mean young woman and that’s how the Jews would have read it. It wasn’t until a virgin actually did have a baby—a baby who is Emmanuel, God with us—that we began to see the fullness of the meaning of Isaiah’s words. And then we started wondering if maybe naming him “God-hero” and “Father forever”6 might hint at his divine nature. Certainly, his virgin birth and divinity could have been invented,7 but why would the evangelists make up the fulfillment of a prophecy that nobody was looking for?

Not the throne they were expecting.
Not the throne they were expecting.

The bulk of the prophecies that Christians point to are about the Passion. We’re told that they’ll pierces his hands and his feet8 for our offenses.9 We see his unbroken bones foretold in the Paschal Lamb,10 who was slaughtered at twilight and whose blood marked the chosen ones for their salvation. We watch him die for the sins of his people11 in order to justify them.12 And we know that he will rise because he himself told us he was the new Jonah.13

Jews at the time of Jesus were looking for a liberator, one who would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 61. But liberation from sin and suffering wasn’t what they were trained to look for. They didn’t see those miracles coming. And while they may have expected the Messiah to be a miracle-worker à la Isaiah 35, it seems to me that if a guy is healing the blind and the deaf and the lame and the mute, he is who he says he is.


Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco
Christ Healing the Blind, El Greco

Jesus was kind of a baller. When he worked a miracle, he left no doubt. These miracles of his are radical, unmistakable miracles. And because he is all in all, these miracles aren’t just evidence of his divinity;14 they’re also, for the most part, moments of reconciliation and liberation for those healed or exorcised or fed or raised. Jesus never uses people to exalt his own reputation—more often than not, he asks them to tell no one. He knew that if he was merely a miracle-worker, people would come to him to get what they wanted, not to get him. But he couldn’t leave them in their suffering and isolation, so he became a miracle-worker. These miracles are powerful evidence in the case for his divinity, but he himself says that they won’t be enough.

Even those who deny Jesus acknowledge that there was something unexplainable about him—the Babylonian Talmud says he practiced sorcery. Clearly something strange was going on. But in a world of Chris Angel and discredited faith healers, we tend to think we can explain away the miracles of Christ. They’re psychosomatic or faked healings, “magic” caused by sleight of hand or mirrors. The trouble with these theories is that Jesus went hard in the paint;15 his miracles were unmistakable.

First of all, there were too many of them to be coincidence. It’s not like that one time you said you wished it would quit raining and it did. Jesus wasn’t just in the right place at the right time when the man with the withered hand was healed. And even with miracles like the calming of the storm, which could have been luck, they just happened too often. Despite their reluctance, the crowds are convinced by the sheer number of miracles: “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man has done?16 Over and over and over again the Gospels recount stories of healings and exorcisms and resurrections. How many times do you have to walk on water before we get impressed?

Admittedly, it would have been more impressive if he had turned a leopard into a leper.
Admittedly, it would have been more impressive if he had turned a leopard into a leper.

Because these miracles were also too big to be faked. Maybe you could fake something small– the feeding of the 5, for example, or healing the guy with an astigmatism.  But 5000?  Blind from birth?  Ten lepers?  How do you fake that? Take a look at some of these stories; there are impossible odds, witnesses, and immediate results. Lazarus had been dead for four days when he came walking out of that tomb. The waves Jesus walked on were so high even seasoned fishermen were nervous. These aren’t parlor tricks and mild hypnosis. These are miracles, plain and simple.

And he didn’t work these alleged miracles in the secret of the Upper Room. For many of them, he had witnesses. Even discounting the ones he worked only in the sight of his disciples (the Transfiguration, for instance), there were too many witnesses to his miracles for them to be imagined or fabricated after the fact. You can’t hypnotize 5,000 people into thinking they had lunch. Peter points out the importance of this eyewitness testimony in his second letter: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.17 Peter knew who Jesus was because he was an eyewitness. So, it seems, were many of those who threw down palm branches that Sunday in Jerusalem—and who decided miracles weren’t worth risking the wrath of the Pharisees when they called for his execution later that week.

With the volume, the size, and the witnesses of these miracles, it seems pretty clear that they weren’t just lies or exaggerations or tricks. There was something supernatural going on. But God isn’t the only one who can pull off the supernatural. Satan’s pretty good at that, too. Is it possible that Jesus is just a liar and that his miraculous “evidence” was fueled by demonic power?

Note to self: don't do a Google image search for Satan when little ones are looking over your shoulder. Or maybe ever again. Creepy.
Note to self: don’t do a Google image search for Satan when little ones are looking over your shoulder. Or maybe ever again. Creepy.

A quick look at the nature of these miracles settles that issue. Satan is evil, the complete absence of good. He wouldn’t heal and calm storms and feed people, he would maim and kill and cause devastation. If he were clever enough to heal in order to seduce people, his true nature would show through somewhere. He’d behead people and then restore them, rip off their arms before reattaching them. He wouldn’t calm a storm and feed people, either; he’d show off with tornadoes and tidal waves, terrifying miracles to show his power and scare people into following him. And while he could cast out demons, it seems an unlikely strategy.18

But while it seems that he wouldn’t do any of these things, the fact remains that he could. And Satan is on his game, as anyone with a TV set can tell you. There’s one thing he can’t do, though: he can’t raise the dead. The prince of this world has no power over the next, no power over the human soul. Perhaps he could reanimate bodies, but a dead little girl who suddenly needs a snack19 would be beyond him. What this leaves us with is supernatural phenomena that couldn’t have been caused by the devil. By my count, that makes these miracles divine.20

All this isn’t (in and of itself) to say that Jesus’ miracles prove his divinity. Just about everything Jesus did, Elisha had done first. What I’m saying is that these miracles were done by the power of God. And if Jesus claimed to be God and then worked miracles by God’s power, he must be God.

But still the doubts creep in. Maybe all the stuff about the miracles was made up? Once again, there was too much accountability. Maybe it was embellished? Oh, fine. Let’s knock this one out of the ballpark. Next time, we’ll look at the ultimate proof of the divinity of Christ: the Resurrection. Until then, spend some time praying over the miracles Christ worked and ask yourself what healing he’s trying to work in your heart. Mark 5’s a good place to start and evidence that your healing may hurt but the joy on the other side is worth the struggle to get there. God bless you, my friends.

  1. The Church is pretty nuts about what she’ll declare an official miracles. Of over 7,000 alleged miracles at Rome, she’s only approved 67. That means they’re just as skeptical as I am! []
  2. How about a little girl with no pupils who can suddenly see–despite still having no pupils!! []
  3. Mic 5:1 []
  4. Is 11:1-2, 2 Sam 7:12-14 []
  5. Is 53:7 []
  6. Is 9:5 unless your translation numbers them differently. Then Is 9:5 is about boots tramping and cloaks rolled in blood. The one after that. []
  7. Well, not his divinity, but we’re building to that. Very, very slowly. []
  8. Ps 22:17 []
  9. Is 53:5 []
  10. Ex 12:46 []
  11. Is 53:8 []
  12. Is 53:11 []
  13. Mt 12:39-40 []
  14. Jn 5:36 []
  15. Something kids say these days. It means, I’m told, that he gave 100%. Not 110%. Not one thousand, million percent. That’s neither a number nor a possibility, Randy Jackson. Stop it. []
  16. Jn 7:31 []
  17. 1:16 []
  18. Mt 12:24-28 []
  19. Mk 5:43 []
  20. Assuming that there is a God and that there’s only one and that Satan is the only other supernatural force in the world yada yada yada. []

Is Jesus God? (Part 2: Was Jesus Just a Good Guy?)

(If you want to know why you should trust anything the Gospels say, check out Part 1: What Good Are the Gospels?)

I was talking recently to a girl from Boulder whose mother was Buddhist while her father was Mormon. Needless to say, she had an interesting take on religion. When I asked her thoughts on Christianity, she had this to say:

“I mean, Jesus was a BAMF.1 Like, he was totally awesome. I really respect the guy. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to worship him.”

Okay, ignore the language and look at the point she’s trying to make. Essentially, she’s arguing (like so many secular humanists) that Jesus was a great moral teacher but not divine. You know, like those people who say, “I’m all about the love and forgiveness that Jesus taught, just not all those rules.” Like Jesus was some kind of hippie peace and loving everybody and too high to care that they’re sinning. Like he didn’t turn over tables and call people whitewashed tombs. Like he didn’t tell people to quit sinning.

If you like
If you like Catholic Memes, you’ll love #ThingsJesusNeverSaid

Read the Gospels and then tell me Jesus was just a really nice guy.

See, the Gospels don’t show a nice guy. A kind guy, yes. A loving guy, certainly. But so much more than that. The Gospels show a guy who claimed to be God. Sure, he never said “I am God.” But if you pay attention, there’s plenty in the Gospels that’s more than just nice, plenty that’s appalling and horrifying and insane or offensive–unless it’s true.

The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30)

  • Wouldn’t mean a lot coming from a Buddhist, but for Jews, God was wholly other. You wouldn’t claim oneness with God as a Jewish man–not ever. Unless, of course, you actually were one with God. Like in a “the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1) kind of a way, not a “make me one with everything” kind of a way.

a way“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)

  • He’s not an option. He’s claiming to be the only way to God. And not just to possess truth but to be truth. I can’t really see a “nice guy” like Tom Hanks saying something like this and not getting shredded in the tabloids for it.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” (Jn 6:54-57)

  • Let’s imagine I came to your church to give a talk and said this. You wouldn’t get on Facebook afterwards and say, “There was this great woman who gave a talk at our church today! She was really funny and so interesting. I mean, she was a little off on some things, but overall, awesome.” No! You’d be like, “There was this crazy chick who told me I was gonna burn in hell if I didn’t take a bite of her arm. So strange.”

And then there’s the kicker, the occasion of my all-time favorite G.K. Chesterton quotation2:

“Before Abraham was, I AM.”

  • Sounds like Jesus needs to brush up on his grammar–what’s with mixing past and present verbs there, bud? Remember back in Sunday School when you learned that God’s name was I AM? Jesus isn’t only claiming pre-existence here, or even insisting that he’s greater than the greatest patriarch–he’s doing it while claiming God’s name for himself. It’s like your punk 15-year-old cousin was talking smack before a pick-up game of basketball: “Jordan ain’t got nothin’ on me–I invented Michael Jordan and made LeBron James with the leftover scraps.” Funny, right? Now imagine he meant it. He seriously just told you he’s better at basketball than Jordan and James–and that he existed before them and created them. You’d make him pee in a cup, right? Because this last one, this “almost careless” remark–this is earth-shattering.

If you need more, you’re welcome to check out John 10:9, 28, 36, 38; Luke 5:20; Matthew 25:31-46; John 11:25-26; Matthew 26:27-28;  Matthew 28:18-20; John 5:21-23, 26; John 17:5, 21-22; and John 8:12, 24, among plenty of others. I’m particularly impressed by how often Jesus claims that he can forgive sins and that he’s the only way to salvation. Kind of a jerk thing to say if he’s wrong….3

See, if Jesus said these things–and step one of this argument made it hard to claim that he didn’t–then he couldn’t have been just a nice guy, just a great moral teacher. As C.S. Lewis explained, if he claimed to be God, he was either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’  That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Hannibal Lecter Rainbow BriteReally–read those verses again. That guy was either tin-foil-hat crazy or so evil he’d make Hannibal Lecter look like Rainbow Brite. He sure as heck wasn’t some sweet sage hugging trees and snuggling puppies.

To be honest, my Buddhist-Mormon-Boulder friend had it partially right–Jesus was a pretty hardcore guy. But he made it very clear that if you weren’t going to worship him you shouldn’t bother paying him lip service. As Chesterton said,4 “It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy, like Caiaphas in the judgement, or to lay hold of the man as a maniac possessed of devils like the kinsmen and the crowd, rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim.” Or, in simpler words, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Lk 11:23).

At first glance, this simple little “trilemma” seems to resolve itself. People want to respect Jesus, they want to like him. Nobody who reads the Gospels comes away thinking he was loony or demonic. Your gut tells you this guy wasn’t a lunatic. Lunatics are erratic, irrational, incoherent; Jesus comes across as a clever, deliberate, reasonable guy. He out thinks the Sadducees (Lk 20:20-26, Mk 12:18-27) and the Pharisees (Mk 2:23-28, Lk 20:1-8), educated men who were hell-bent on trapping him. His explanations are clear, his actions purposeful. He doesn’t read like a lunatic.

And he sure doesn’t read like a liar. The reason people think Jesus is just all bunnies and rainbows is that he really was–among other things–kind and loving. He preaches love and mercy and holiness. He raises the dead and heals the blind and consoles sinful women. Sure, he could be the most brilliant con man there’s ever been, but any reader of the Gospels knows that there’s something off about that accusation. There’s a reason that even people who reject the central meaning of his life still put him on their imaginary dinner party guest list.

So he doesn’t feel like a lunatic and he doesn’t feel like a liar. But you know I’m not going to leave you with just vague feelings based on stories written about some of the things Jesus did. If I’m going to be a street-preaching hobo for this guy, I want some pretty clear proof that he is who he says he is. For that, though, you’ll have to wait for part 3, which I’ll try to crank out in less than the month that this post took me.

In other news:

Yup. I stayed two rooms down from Cardinal Burke. Kissed his ring, got his blessing, and stood next to him while we prayed vespers. The hierarchy totally makes me giddy like a Catholic fangirl. Follow me on Facebook to keep up with all my crazy adventures--like shooting my first gun, playing in the snow in June, and finding lilacs all over the country!
Yup. I stayed two rooms down from Cardinal Burke. Kissed his ring, got his blessing, and stood next to him while we prayed vespers. The hierarchy totally makes me giddy like a Catholic fangirl.

Follow me on Facebook to keep up with all my crazy adventures–like shooting my first gun, playing in the snow in June, and finding lilacs all over the country!

  1. Bad-a@#$ mother-f$#^%*#$, for those of you who don’t speak hipster. Pronounced pretty much like Banff, Alberta, Canada. []
  2. Above all, would not such a new reader of the New Testament stumble over something that would startle him much more than it startles us? I have here more than once attempted the rather impossible task of reversing time and the historic method; and in fancy looking forward to the facts, instead of backward through the memories. So I have imagined the monster that man might have seemed at first to the mere nature around him. We should have a worse shock if we really imagined the nature of Christ named for the first time. What should we feel at the first whisper of a certain suggestion about a certain man? Certainly it is not for us to blame anybody who should find that first wild whisper merely impious and insane. On the contrary, stumbling on that rock of scandal is the first step. Stark staring incredulity is a far more loyal tribute to that truth than a modernist metaphysic that would make it out merely a matter of degree. It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against blasphemy, like Caiaphas in the judgement, or to lay hold of the man as a maniac possessed of devils like the kinsmen and the crowd, rather than to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of so catastrophic a claim. There is more of the wisdom that is one with surprise in any simple person, full of the sensitiveness of simplicity, who should expect the grass to wither and the birds to drop dead out of the air, when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice said calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ []
  3. We’re so used to these verses, they tend not to shock us. If you want to get a real feel for how appalling Jesus was, read Eli by Bill Myers. It sets Jesus’ coming in the late 20th century. As I read it, I found myself getting angrier and angrier at the Jesus character. How dare he say those things?? Then I remembered that he was supposed to be Jesus and that was exactly the point. []
  4. In the passage that I already put in a footnote but what if you don’t read the footnotes? It’s too good not to share. []

Is Jesus God? (Part 1: What Good Are the Gospels?)

I’m about as emotional as they come, so when the Lord grabbed my heart he reached right past my brain to do it. I knew him before I knew anything about him. But I’ve always been an intellectual and I knew–even at 13–that if I was going to do this Jesus thing, I was going to do it all out. And if I was going to do it all out, it wasn’t going to be because it felt good to think about Jesus. No, if I was going to give my life to him, I needed to know that he really was God. So I began investigating. I read the Catechism and the Bible and pretty much everything on the internet1 and determined that it came down to this: the men who lived with Jesus, who heard him preach and watched him heal and saw him die and touched his risen body–those guys died to tell that story. It was more complicated than that, of course, but that evidence was enough for me–to begin with.

I’ve spent the ensuing 16 years fleshing it out. What can we know about Jesus? What claims did he make? Where could the body have gone? So here, for your Easter pleasure,2 is a many-part series on the divinity of Christ. Because if Jesus isn’t God, my life is a serious waste.


The majority of what we know about Jesus we get from the Gospels. So any argument we make is going to draw heavily from those texts–texts that were clearly written by biased men who were trying to prove that Jesus was God. And yet historians would agree that the Gospels are relatively trustworthy for the major themes and events of Christ’s life. Certainly, a non-Christian reader can’t be expected to believe that Jesus actually raised the dead and walked on water. But it’s clear that he did something unexplainable there, that these are not mere fabrications, and this clarity comes back to the reliability of the Gospels.

1. The Gospels were written shortly after the life of Christ.

A quick Google search will show that the four canonical Gospels were written between 30 and 70 years after the life of Christ. To our modern mind, that’s a lifetime. If I waited to write about my time as a hobo until I was 90 you’d be hard-pressed to believe that it was a terribly accurate account.

Kinda like how all parents on the planet can recite this entire book from memory.
Kinda like how all parents on the planet can recite this entire book from memory.

But the Gospels weren’t written in our information-saturated culture. They were written in an oral culture by a people whose very existence depended on their ability to pass down the story. Men in this culture would sometimes memorize the entire Torah; even today, students of the Talmud perform impressive feats of memory that seem impossible to the rest of us. When the survival of your culture hinges on the ability of ordinary men and women to tell the stories that define you as a people, an excellent memory becomes essential. In the ancient Near East, where most people were illiterate, storytelling was more about truth than about amusement.

To give it a little context, the biography of Alexander the Great was written about 400 years after his death and historians consider it to be historically accurate. In a culture like that, writing 30 years later was practically live tweeting the life of Christ.

2. The Evangelists had access to eyewitness accounts.

When you read the Gospels, they don’t read like fables. They don’t read like legends the way stories of medieval Saints (or apocryphal Gospels) do. They aren’t painted with broad strokes, full of generalizations and exaggerated events. Certainly, a secular historian could discount some of the more impressive miracles as legendary, but even if you take those out what remains is a remarkably detailed account.

Abraham Bloemaert's The Four Evangelists
Abraham Bloemaert’s The Four Evangelists

There are so many details–and unnecessary ones at that–that the reader is left with the sense that he’s reading an eyewitness report. Tradition tells us that Mark was writing Peter’s account and Matthew and John were writing from their own memories. Luke the historian, on the other hand, combined the testimonies of a number of different sources to create his Gospel. But throughout we see little details like the time of day or the number of years someone had suffered or the man running away naked.

Graham Greene’s faith rested in part on these details. When asked what made him a Christian, he answered that aside from meeting Padre Pio, it was the scene in John’s Gospel:

“where the beloved disciple is running with Peter because they’ve heard that the rock has been rolled away from the tomb, and describing how John manages to beat Peter in the race. … It just seems to me to be first-hand reportage, and I can’t help believing it.”

Simplistic as it sounds, there’s much to be said for examining the feel of the Gospels. Particularly when compared with fabricated accounts from the same era, the Gospels stand very clearly as the product of eyewitness accounts.

3. The Evangelists couldn’t have lied.

feeding5000 BassanoDespite the secrecy that shrouds some of Jesus’ claims and even some of his miracles, the majority of Jesus’ actions were too public for the Evangelists to lie; there was too much accountability. Think about it: if they had made up the feeding of the 5000, somebody would have objected: “Dude, I was there.  There were 40 of us and we brought our own snacks.” Or the raising of Lazarus: “Wait, that was me!  I wasn’t dead, I was just napping!” Jesus didn’t work miracles in secret, for the most part. He raised the widow of Nain’s son in the middle of his funeral procession and healed blind men while standing in a crowd. There were too many witnesses to too many events–if the Evangelists had been lying, somebody would have called them out on it.

And while Jesus said many things only to his disciples, his most outrageous claims of divinity came when he had a large and hostile audience. “Before Abraham was, I am,” he said to a crowd of Jews two chapters after declaring that unless they gnawed on his flesh they would burn in hell. If Jesus had just been a “nice guy” talking about love and friendship and forgiveness, those who knew him would have been furious when they heard these words put into his mouth a few decades later. The Evangelists couldn’t have gotten away with such a dramatic change in the character of someone so famous, someone who had boasted so many followers. They may have exaggerated their claims but the general shape of the person they describe must be accurate.

4. They wouldn’t have lied if they could.

I mean, seriously, have you read the Gospels? The Evangelists don’t exactly make themselves and their buddies out to be heroes. What exactly do they have to gain by enshrining their own stupidity and cowardice as Gospel truth? Because really, the Apostles are kind of the doofus all-stars of the Gospels. Jesus predicts the passion and they call shotgun. Or they ask him who’s the best.  Or they tell him they’re going to save him (sure, Peter). How about Mark 8:15-16—like they think they’re in trouble for not bringing snacks right after the multiplication of loaves and fishes?  They run and hide when he’s being crucified.  They don’t buy it when he rises. If you’re going to make up a story about yourself, why look like an idiot?

St. Bartholomew was skinned alive to claim that the story was true.
St. Bartholomew was skinned alive rather than deny that the story was true.

And why make up a faith that’s so hard? If you’re a liar, why set such high standards for yourself? A made-up faith lets you do whatever you want. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier and simpler. But it IS NOT. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.” (Mere Christianity)

But really it comes down to this: why would they die for a lie? Of the surviving 11 Apostles, 10 are martyred.  They tried to kill St. John, but he wouldn’t die.  Why would you make up a story where you sound like an idiot and then give your life to prove that it’s true? People might die for things they don’t know are lies, but they don’t die to prove a lie they made up, especially if they get nothing out of it.

5. The Gospels are telling essentially the same story.

People like to cast doubt on the truth of the Gospels by pointing out that they disagree on details like the date of certain events or their order. But remember that while oral culture is extraordinarily reliable in terms of the big picture, minor details are subject to human error. When we consider the genre of ancient biography, we see that the purpose of a biography in the ancient world wasn’t to give a play-by-play of a person’s life, the way it is now, but to tell the meaning of a person’s life. I’m sure that if you had sat John down and complained to him that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all said that Jesus died during Passover, not on Passover eve, he would have shrugged. What’s significant here is that Jesus is our Paschal Lamb, not the exact date of his demise.

Camera 360When you compare the Gospels, you find that they’re similar enough to confirm one another and different enough to be real. Fabricated accounts tend either to be identical or contradictory; they were either prepared in advance to match and are too good to be true or they’re totally inconsistent (think: the story of Susannah in Daniel 13). When two people who were both eyewitnesses tell a story, the two accounts are mostly the same but not identical–just like the Gospels.

6. Today’s copies are accurate.

It doesn’t do us any good, though, if the Gospels were originally true but were so embellished that they can’t be trusted. There are those who argue that the original copies of the Gospel didn’t make any claims of divinity for Christ but that the idea of his divinity was inserted later by Christians trying to set themselves apart from Jews. So we have to ask: is the Bible I’m reading today essentially the same as what was written nearly 2000 years ago?

Fragment of the Gospel of Matthew from c. 250 AD
Fragment of the Gospel of Matthew from c. 250 AD

This is a fairly easy question to answer since we have very early copies, some from as early as the second century. The earlier the copies, of course, the fewer times they’ve been copied over and the less room there is for scribal error. And we have a large number of copies to compare to one another, a comparison that shows significant agreement between different manuscripts. If we had some Gospels of Mark that don’t tell about the resurrection and some that say Jesus was a duck, we’d probably discount the whole thing.  But, aside from a few minor alterations or omissions, our ancient manuscripts all say the same thing. That naturally helps us to believe they’re the same as the original.

So what?

Naturally, the authenticity of the Gospels doesn’t stand or fall on any of these points individually. “Proving” Christianity isn’t a scientific experiment but a historical one. Our purpose here is to see whether the case for the Gospels is compelling, whether all these facts build to a secular conviction that the Gospels have some historical merit. Taken together, it seems reasonable to assume that the Gospels can generally be trusted.

So the Evangelists knew what they were talking about, they told the truth, and it’s been pretty well-preserved over the centuries. Does that mean the Gospels are Gospel truth? Not at all. Exploring this from a secular perspective, all we’ve determined as that they’re fairly reliable sources for the major events of the life of Christ. So we’re not (yet) going to buy the miracles or the theological assertions of the evangelists. But as objective historians, we can get some general facts about this man from the Gospels:

  • He was an Israelite
  • He had a following
  • His followers believed he had supernatural powers
  • He questioned the status quo of the Jewish faith
  • He changed the rules
  • His followers believed he was the Messiah
  • He claimed to be God
  • He was crucified
  • His body then disappeared
  • His followers claimed that he rose from the dead

But that’s just the beginning of the investigation. Tune in next time when we ask: Was Jesus just a good guy?


This being a blog post, it’s obviously a pretty cursory discussion. If you’re interested in greater detail, I highly recommend Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

I’m headed to Utah in a bit, then Vegas and California. If you want more frequent updates on my travels, be sure to follow me on Facebook!

  1. Which, to be fair, was really just Ask Jeeves and some chat rooms at the time. []
  2. Happy Easter! You did know it’s still Easter, right? []

I May Be a Sedevacantist, But I Don’t Have to Like It

I was once in Paris and ducked into a church. Services were just about to begin but I couldn’t tell if it was a Catholic church. Given the iconostasis and abundance of icons, I thought it might be an Eastern Catholic Church, but everything was in Cyrillic so I couldn’t tell for sure if it was Catholic or Orthodox. I looked all around the narthex for something written in French and was about to walk out, discouraged at the unanswered question, when I saw a picture of Pope Benedict.

“Oh,” I thought, “this is my church.” So I went in and sat down. I don’t know what I’d do today–when you’re a sedevacantist, everything’s a little off.

First of all, and if nothing else, the pope serves as an easy way to identify the Church. “Where Peter is, there is the Church,” St. Ambrose said 1500 years ago, and it’s still true. Want to know if the Polish Catholic Church is in fact a Catholic Church? Ask if they’re in union with the pope.1 Want to know if the Latin Mass you’re about to attend is legit? Ask a parishioner if there’s a pope.2 Want to know which Church is the Church of Christ? Find the one that at least claims an unbroken line to him.

You see, Jesus was pretty clear about founding a Church.3 And he was pretty serious about his followers being undivided4 and knowing true doctrine.5 So I think it’s fair to say that he would have done whatever it took to keep his people united and free from error. How could he have accomplished this?

  1. With Scripture alone? This results in thousands of different denominations preaching wildly different doctrines.
  2. With a college of equal bishops? The Orthodox have tried this and, from an outside perspective, it seems to bring them divisions and doctrinal ambiguity.
  3. With one leader? Oh, that’d be the Pope.
Oh, friends, I miss him.
Oh, friends, I miss him.

What the papacy provides us is what we really need: continuity and continuation of the Church, easy identification, and protected teachings.6 Through the Holy Father, we have apostolic succession, ensuring that this is the same Church that can trace itself back to Peter. Through his smiling face (whatever it may look like next), we can tell in any country whether or not this is our Church. Through his infallibility and the infallibility granted the bishops in union with him, the true faith is protected by the Holy Spirit. Without a Pope, none of this is guaranteed. And I’d argue that the denominations that don’t have a pope know, at some level, that they’re missing these.7

To my mind, it’s really the infallibility issue that matters. If there is no infallibility, there is no truth and if there is no truth, there is no Church. One might argue that all truth can be found in the Bible. I will choose to stand with Blessed John Henry Newman and say:

It is antecedently unreasonable to suppose that a book so complex, so systematic, in parts so obscure, the outcome of so many minds, times, and places, should be given us from above without the safeguard of some authority; as if it could possibly, from the nature of the case, interpret itself. Its inspiration does but guarantee its truth, not its interpretation.

Even assuming that one could have a Bible without a Church, the interpretation of Scripture is so varied that those denominations that do not submit themselves to an infallible interpreter number in the tens of thousands. Those that do accept an infallible authority number two. Newman puts it quite succinctly: “The gift of inspiration requires as its complement the gift of infallibility.”

In the end, we either have one pope or a billion. Either there is one infallible teacher who bases his claim to infallibility on Christ himself or each man is his own infallible teacher, regardless of 2 Pt 1:20. James Cardinal Gibbons points out how ludicrous this is:

“You assert for yourself, and of course for every reader of the Scripture, a personal infallibility which you deny to the Pope, and which we claim only for him.  You make every man his own Pope.  If you are not infallibly certain that you understand the true meaning of the whole Bible…then, I ask, of what use to you is the objective infallibility of the Bible without an infallible interpreter?”

Now, whatever you may say about sinful popes (and there have been some impressive ones), no matter how bad they got, they never changed Church teaching. The worst of the Renaissance popes, with his (alleged?) harem and blatant nepotism never issued a papal decree that beautiful women must sleep with him nor permitted polygamy nor even suggested that the pope should be allowed to marry. No doctrine was ever changed to what was more convenient or pleasant or politically expedient. Think, friends. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, why were these corrupt men with absolute power corrupt only to a point? Why were they corrupt only as regards their personal conduct and not when it came to doctrine? Is it possible that the preservation of the faith is a matter of grace?

If you’re the only one of the first 49 popes not to be a Saint, it’s possible you did something wrong….

Looking at Catholic dogma, you may well think that it is corrupted. But if you’re a Christian, you accept the dogma of the hypostatic union.8 Consider that in the early centuries of the Church there were no fewer than three heretic popes. Liberius was an Arian, Honorius was a Monothelite, and Vigilius was selected as pope specifically because he was a Monophysite. Yet none of the three taught heresy from the See of Peter. Despite personal conviction, they upheld the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith handed down to them.

To put it in more worldly terms, imagine you somehow gained control of an organization whose central tenets you disagreed with. Let’s say, for example, that someone heard that I’m a nomad, was really impressed, and gave me the New York Yankees. Now, because I love God, America, and baseball, I hate the Yankees.9 So if you gave me total control over the club, well, I’d make them play baseball in devil horns and tutus. Or if I were going for subtle and mature, I’d just start inflating the contracts of burnt-out superstars and stop paying the rising stars much of anything. I’d gradually age the Yanks out of the game–clever, huh?

"Seriously? This was your evil plan?"
“Seriously? This was your evil plan?”

But those heretic popes? Nothing of the sort. Even surrounded by all their heretic buddies, they changed nothing–some even say that Vigilius became orthodox10 when he was consecrated Pope. There was no reason in the world for these guys not to tweak things just a little to make their heresy of choice required belief for all Christians. There was, however, a reason out of this world.

Nobody’s claiming the pope is impeccable or that he’s omniscient. We’ve studied history, too. We’re saying that it’s that much more impressive that, not being impeccable or omniscient, our 265 popes have handed down a Church that–if nothing else–has outlasted every empire it came up against without once compromising its teaching.

Oh my gosh I REALLY want these!

Now, you don’t have to be obsessed with every pope like some of us.11 And you don’t have to have action figures and medals and scream like a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert every time you think about him.12 And you know what? Depending who the next pope is, you don’t even have to think he’s particularly charming or brilliant or holy. Just as long as you respect him as the Vicar of Christ–not Christ himself but his steward–and accept his infallibility. Given that this is what it means to be Catholic, it doesn’t strike me as terribly hard.

It won’t be too long before we have another pope, friends. His is one of the hardest jobs in the world, with Satan and secularism gunning for him. Let’s do him the honor of starting to love him even now, regardless of whether he’s a traddy or a liberal, a man of expensive tastes or an uncultured boor. Whether he’s got a doctorate in theology or liberal arts or nothing at all, he’ll be better educated than Peter. And even if he weren’t, Jesus made it very clear with his selection of Peter as our first pope that he can use any man to do great things as the Servant of the Servants of God. I’m confident that our next pope will be as incredible as his (recent) predecessors, but just in case, remember: this is our Father. Whatever people might have to say about him, we love him and defend him. Whatever we might have hoped for in a pope, we rejoice in the man God gives us. Pray for him and the Cardinals–the conclave starts Tuesday!!

  1. Nope. First clue that your church is not the Church established by Christ: it was founded in Scranton. []
  2. Okay, so this is confusing right now when we’re all sedevacantists, but in a week this litmus test should work again. []
  3. Mt 16:18-19 again. []
  4. Jn 17:21 []
  5. Jn 8:32 []
  6. Props to Karl Keating for fleshing this out in Catholicism and Fundamentalism. []
  7. With the exception of the Orthodox and apostolic succession, but the latter two are iffy even then. []
  8. Jesus is fully God and fully man, one person with two natures, like us in all things but sin. []
  9. Stay with me Yankee fans. I’m a Braves fan–your titles outnumber ours, what, 27 to 1? Gloat for a minute and then come back to pity my futile little act of defiance. []
  10. Note the lower case “o”–it just means right belief, not an Eastern Church. []
  11. Guilty. []
  12. Guilty on all three counts. My JPII statue/action figure was way ugly, though, so it doesn’t even really count. []

There’s Nothing New About Infallibility

Shoot, friends, it’s been a while. I’ve been speaking up a storm in Michigan (chastity) and Toledo (true manhood) and Cleveland (prayer) and the idea of blogging was just too exhausting. You can basically go to my whole retreat on prayer via YouTube, though–does that make up for it?

If nothing else, you gotta be impressed that we know all their names in an unbroken line back to St. Peter. Unless you think the Masons made them up or it can all be traced back to a murderous albino, in which case you’ve got other issues.

But before I got distracted by the 2 week snowstorm with a total accumulation of practically nothing, I promised y’all some info on the papacy. When last we met, we realized that Peter’s authority was totally Biblical. But does that necessarily tell us anything about Linus, Anacletus, Clement, Evaristus…Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and his successor? Not to mention their 254 confreres?

As always, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not a catechism–it’s not trying to be exhaustive, nor do any Christians actually believe that all truth is explicit in Scripture. Take, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity. While Scripture supports it, it wasn’t until the Council of Nicaea in 325 that anyone really knew for sure that our God is one God in three persons, distinct but not separate.1 And I’d bet my life that nobody who was completely unacquainted with Christianity, no matter how intelligent, could sit down with a Bible and discern that doctrine. For that reason and for so many others (notably the fact that there is no Bible without the Church), theologians have always looked to Scripture and Tradition. Forget the claim to an infallible Magisterium2–it just stands to reason that “primitive” Christians would have a better idea of what Jesus intended than believers who are 2,000 years removed from him.

church fathersIn fact, the recovery of early Christian doctrine is just what the Reformers were going for. So when I bring up early Christian writers, bear in mind that these aren’t just Catholic guys saying Catholic things. These are the leaders of the Church, often just a few generations removed from the Apostles, telling us what was handed down to them. These are the same guys that Luther and Calvin were reading when trying to reconstruct Bible Christianity.

So whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, it matters what these old dudes think. Two or three comments praising the bishop of Rome over the course of centuries might not mean much. But if we start to hear about the primacy of Rome from all sides…well, we’ve got to wonder why everybody in the early Church recognized the pope’s authority when even Catholics these days tend not to. Without further ado:3

  • St. Irenaeus was the disciple of Polycarp who was the disciple of John (the Beloved Apostle), which makes him three degrees from Jesus. Already in the second century, he’s talking about Peter handing on his office to the second pope.

But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [inter A.D. 180-190]).

In case you didn’t want to read that whole block of text, he’s telling us that the Church finds unity and sure doctrine under the church of Rome.

  • St. Cyprian of  Carthage was a third century North African bishop, sovereign over his diocese in a time when there was little communication with Rome, especially for Christians. Cyprian could easily have set himself up as the ultimate authority, particularly as people were questioning the ligitimacy of a newly-elected pope.

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]). … On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were also what Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

“Cyprian to Antonian, his brother. Greeting … You wrote … that I should forward a copy of the same letter to our colleague [Pope] Cornelius, so that, laying aside all anxiety, he might at once know that you held communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church” (Letters, 55[52]:1 [A.D. 253]).

“Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter, whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” (Letters, 59 (55), 14, [256 A.D.]).

When he’s talking about the chair of Peter, that’s the authority of Peter’s successor.4 Then, of course, he tells us that the pope is, in essence, the Church and that anyone who rejects him rejects the Church. Remember that at the time there was only one Church, so to Cyprian’s mind, rejecting the Pope is rejecting Christ. And then there’s that little matter of infallibility in the last line….

  • St. Ambrose of Milan: “It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal” (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]).
    I don’t need to explain that, do I?
  • St Jerome was a lot smarter than pretty much everyone and also rather cantankerous. The story goes that he studied in Israel so as to learn Hebrew. While he was there, he discovered that the Jews used only 39 books in the Bible. “Jesus was a Jew,” he thought, “so he must have used the same canon.” He translated those 39 and not the deuterocanonical books that were widely accepted by Christians. Pope St. Damasus I, who can’t possibly have known more about Scripture than Jerome, essentially says, “Thanks very much for your opinion. Translate the other seven, too.” Cranky, brilliant, proud Jerome writes this a few years later:

“I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails” (Letters 15:2 [A.D. 396]).

By all rights, he should have told the pope what for. Instead he submits, telling us that the Pope is the successor of Peter and the one with whom we must be in communion.

  •  Then there’s St. Augustine: “Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Rome has spoken. Case closed.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Of course, there are more. But these are some big names, some writing before the doctrine of the Trinity was solidified and all before the hypostatic union became a household phrase.5 For these men, the primacy of the bishop of Rome and even his infallibility, to some degree, are a given. By the time Francis de Sales talks about it in 1596, the whole thing’s old hat.

When he teaches the whole Church as shepherd, in general matters of faith and morals, then there is nothing but doctrine and truth. And in fact everything a king says is not a law or an edict, but that only which a king says as king and as a legislator. So everything the Pope says is not canon law or of legal obligation; he must mean to define and to lay down the law for the sheep, and he must keep the due order and form .

We must not think that in everything and everywhere his judgment is infallible, but then only when he gives judgment on a matter of faith in questions necessary to the whole Church; for in particular cases which depend on human fact he can err, there is no doubt, though it is not for us to control him in these cases save with all reverence, submission, and discretion. Theologians have said, in a word, that he can err in questions of fact, not in questions of right; that he can err extra cathedram, outside the chair of Peter. that is, as a private individual, by writings and bad example.

But he cannot err when he is in cathedra, that is, when he intends to make an instruction and decree for the guidance of the whole Church, when he means to confirm his brethren as supreme pastor, and to conduct them into the pastures of the faith. For then it is not so much man who determines, resolves, and defines as it is the Blessed Holy Spirit by man, which Spirit, according to the promise made by Our Lord to the Apostles, teaches all truth to the Church.

Even if the man who replaces them is a total lout–which is not at all impossible–he will still be the Vicar of Christ, as the bishop of Rome has been for nearly 2,000 years.

It seems, then, that Scripture supports the idea of Petrine primacy and infallibility. The testimony of history is that those closest to Jesus understood that this charism was not limited to Peter but was passed down to his successors. That the pope’s infallibility was absolute and yet strictly limited was clear long before it was officially defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870.  Indeed, it seems that a Church without such a leader would be destined for failure, or at least for fracture and falsehood. But that, my friends, is a post for another day. Keep praying for the conclave and the future Holy Father!


If you want to keep up with where I’m going and where I’ve been, check out this page. And if you’re anywhere west of the continental divide and you want me to come speak, let me know! I’m heading out that way starting in April and have literally nothing planned for May and June. Help me keep busy!

Since I know you always want to know what’s going on with my fingernails, here’s the scoop: I wanted to paint them black because I kind of feel like the Interregnum is a time of mourning, even though the Holy Father didn’t die. But then I painted them black and felt like I was goth and it was 1998 and I couldn’t handle it. So I threw in some purple for Lent (using ideas from my best friend Pinterest) and now I feel like a rock star from the 80s but it took so long that I just can’t bring myself to take it off. It’s a conversation piece, though, and you know I always have trouble coming up with ways to talk about Jesus….

Purple black geometric fingernails

While you’re wasting time on the internet, would you take 30 seconds to vote for my friends at Old Dominion University to win some money for their campus ministry? I had the privilege of speaking to them in the fall and they were engaged and earnest and welcoming–let’s win this thing for them!

Also, my dear friend Ute is hosting a Bible verse photography linkup–click over there to see the verse for March!

  1. I recited this formula to a Jehovah’s Witness a while back. He said, “Well, that’s new!” No, actually. Pretty much nothing the Church says is new. Your whole religion, on the other hand…. []
  2. Teaching body of the Church–the bishops united under the pope. []
  3. Oh, and I probably got all of these from forever ago. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I first composed this section in a Facebook message to the Protestant student I mentioned in the superpowers post. []
  4. We know this because it doesn’t make any sense to hold fast to a chair of a dead guy. []
  5. What? You don’t mention that daily? []

The Pope’s Superpowers Are NOT in the Bible

I had a Protestant student once who started arguing with me about the papacy. I pulled out Matthew 16:18-19, John 21, and quotations from the Church Fathers, but somehow he still wasn’t on board.

“I believe all that,” he said, frustrated. “I just don’t believe that he has superpowers.”

I’m pretty sure I laughed in his face.

For those of you who might be new to this pope thing, riding the media bandwagon that’s following all the cardinals around waiting to see who our next pope will be, let me explain something to you: the pope does not have superpowers. He can’t fly or walk through walls. In most areas, he’s just a normal man. The pope can sin–as far as I know, every pope has sinned, some in very impressive ways. The pope can even be wrong on matters of faith and morals.

What makes the pope special (aside from being the leader of the biggest Church/religion/group of people in the world) is what’s called infallibility. When we say the pope is infallible, we don’t mean that he can’t ever be wrong. We mean that he is incapable of error when speaking authoritatively on matters of faith and morals. This might help:

Q: What’s the lowest score the pope could get on a trigonometry test?

A: Zero. Infallibility has nothing to do with trig.

Q: What’s the lowest score the pope could get on a theology test?

A. Zero. The pope can be wrong when he’s not speaking infallibly.

Q: Okay, fine. What’s the lowest score the pope could get on a theology test if he were taking it infallibly?

A: Zero. He could leave the whole thing blank.

Rather unassuming for such an important piece of furniture, don't you think?
Rather unassuming for such an important piece of furniture, don’t you think?

You see, infallibility isn’t a superpower that gives the pope the magical ability to know all things. It’s actually very limited. It only applies when the pope is speaking ex cathedra1 on matters of faith and morals. Scholars differ as to how many times this has happened, but the general consensus seems to be two. That’s right, twice ever.2 Suddenly it doesn’t seem like so much of a superpower, does it? And it doesn’t even guarantee that the pope will say all the right things, only that nothing he says will be wrong. It’s a very limited charism, but an essential one if Christ’s Church is about Truth and not just feeling good.

Despite this limitation, the issue of the papacy remains a huge one for non-Catholics–and, to be honest, for many Catholics as well. The idea of one man having the ability to exercise such authority, of all Christians submitting to one man, and not even necessarily a very holy one at that? Well, folks, if it weren’t so Biblical and Traditional and logical, I wouldn’t be a fan either.

Obviously, our go-to Scripture passage is going to be today’s Gospel,3 Matthew 16:17-19:

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

The Giving of the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino

The first thing Jesus does here is give Simon a new name–Peter–one that had only been used as a name one time in recorded history up to that point. He gives him the name “Rock” (Peter) to tell us that he is a new creation from this point. Every time we see Simon called Peter (in every Gospel and a number of other books as well), it’s a reminder that Simon was just a fisherman but became something more.

What did he become? The Rock the Church was built on, of course. Why else would Jesus give him the name Rock and then start talking about building the Church on a rock? Certainly, Jesus is the cornerstone, the true foundation of the Church. But it’s no coincidence that he gives Simon the name Rock and then declares that he will build his Church on this rock.

Wouldn’t want to try to slip this into your jeans pocket.

Next, he tells Peter that he will give him the keys to the kingdom. These aren’t the symbolic “keys to the city” that they hand out to people at the end of superhero movies. In the ancient world, a key was a large, heavy object. You’d only really lock your house if you were leaving town for a while and you wouldn’t take your key with you. You’d give it to someone who was staying back home, putting that person in charge of your estate while you’re away.

So the automatic connotation for anyone in the ancient world is that by giving Peter the keys, Jesus is putting Peter in charge in his absence. For the Jews, this is even more clear. Jesus’ language is strongly reminiscent of Isaiah 22, the reading that we often hear as a first reading when Matthew 16 is the Gospel:

On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe, gird him with your sash, confer on him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah. I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. (Is 22:20-22)

Here Eliakim is given the authority of Shebna, master of the palace, symbolized by his being given the key of the House of David. And in case you didn’t catch the connection, that last line is just about identical to Matthew’s binding and loosing. Just as Eliakim had the authority of Shebna, it seems, Peter is given the ability to exercise the authority of Christ.

This authority is expressed in Isaiah and Matthew as the power to bind and loose. An ability given later to all the Apostles gathered,4 this binding and loosing is the power of infallibility, the power to speak with the authority of Christ, individually in Peter’s case and collectively in the case of the Apostles, the first bishops.

Denethor isn’t exactly the ideal Steward of Gondor, but we honor the office, not the person.

Essentially, Peter is the steward of Gondor.5 Jesus is the King of Gondor, leaving his kingdom in the charge of his steward. For hundreds of years his line may be gone. In that time, the steward exercises his authority because it was entrusted to him by the king. But he never takes the king’s throne–his chair is smaller and to the side, because while he functions as king, he is not the king. In the same way, the pope has the authority of Christ as head of the Church because Christ gave him that authority. Jesus knew that his Church would need leadership and an infallible voice in his absence6 and so he left us with just that in the person of the Pope.

But the argument doesn’t stand or fall on Matthew 16 alone, or even on the new name or the fact that Peter is listed first in every list of Apostles. How about John 21, where Jesus the Good Shepherd tells Peter three times to take care of his sheep? Jesus knows he’s going away for a time and he tells Peter to be the Good Shepherd in his place. Then there’s Galatians 1:18 where super-educated Paul goes to uneducated Peter to make sure that he–Paul–is teaching the right Gospel. He’s not concerned with the other Apostles, just wants Peter’s seal of approval. Sounds like Peter’s more than just an impetuous fisherman.

The argument isn’t really about Peter’s authority, though, so much as it is about his successors’. “Sure, Peter was the leader of the early church,” people will say, “but what on earth does that have to do with Pius and Leo and Johns ad infinitum?”

That, my friends, is a question for another post. Rest assured, the writings of the Church Fathers and the brains we have in our very own heads will make it clear that Peter’s office isn’t just for him but for those who take his place as well.7 For now, let’s appreciate the fact that the office of the papacy is entirely Biblical and that nobody has to pretend that the pope can do magic in order to be a Catholic. The Pope’s superpowers are certainly not in the Bible–unless you mean infallibility. Cause that one is.

Tune in…you know…eventually for parts 2 and 3: Tradition and logic. Happy Feast Day!

  1. From the chair, meaning on his authority as the successor of Peter. He doesn’t actually have to sit in Peter’s chair. Speaking of which, happy Feast of the Chair of St. Peter! You still can’t eat meat today. []
  2. Or at least in the modern age. Immaculate Conception in 1854 and Assumption in 1950 if you’re keeping track. []
  3. I’m actually writing this last night and too lazy to bring up the USCCB’s readings page. But our Church is so logical that I know this is the Gospel without even looking. []
  4. Matthew 18:18–can we say ordinary Magisterium? []
  5. If you haven’t read The Lord of the Rings–read the books, not seen the movies–you probably want to skip this paragraph. []
  6. More on this in a few days. []
  7. Acts 1:20–apostolic succession ftw. []

My Favorite Place

One question I get a lot these days (almost as much as “Do you really live out of your car?“) is “What’s your favorite place you’ve spoken?”

Well, friends, that was a tough question. Let me give you a quick run-down of my life over the past 8 months:

  • Started in Kansas
  • Stopped over with friends in Indiana
  • Spent the night with a family in Pennsylvania
  • Babysat for my sister in Virginia, spoke at the diocesan work camp
  • Overnight in PA
  • South Bend for a wedding and some time with friends
  • Back to Virginia to MC a junior high work camp
  • A girls’ retreat in Georgia, then a youth leader retreat
  • An overnight in Ohio
  • First vows with the Sisters I entered with in Michigan1
  • A few more days in Pennsylvania
  • Visited friends in New York City and Western New York
  • Back to Indiana for a while
  • Breakfast with one of my kids in Indiana, lunch with another in Illinois
  • Time with friends in Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana
  • Got stuck in Alabama–glad I was there
  • Ave Maria, Florida, to speak to a few Bible studies, a youth group, and a gathering of would-be apologists
  • Left Alabama in the morning, not knowing where I’d stay. Ended up with a friend’s sister’s husband
  • Taught classes at my old school in Kansas, spoke at Benedictine College
  • Theology on Tap in Omaha
  • Retreat with the University of Evansville in Indiana
  • Back to Virginia for some babysitting and a little volunteering
  • Down to Georgia for a chastity retreat in Winder, a youth group meeting in Athens, and a lecture on the Reformation at Georgia Tech2
  • Hightailed it up to Virginia, getting there right before the twins were born. Spoke to a junior high group
  • Ran to Delaware right quick to talk to young professionals on the New Evangelization
  • Back to Virginia to babysit, with a quick hiatus for a lock-in in Maryland and a talk on the Mass at Old Dominion University
  • Christmas!
  • Hawaii, where I spoke after three Masses, to two youth groups, two women’s groups, two informal gatherings of moms, three volunteer sessions, and a group of adults who gave up a whole Saturday for my Apologetics Boot Camp
  • Back to Georgia for a Theology of the Body talk at Georgia Tech (videos to follow) and at a high school youth group (and at Georgia College and State University tonight)

With a list like that, with that many cities and venues and homes, it’s no wonder I had a hard time deciding what I’d liked the best!

Well, no more. Hands down, Hawaii.

Hawaii Beach
This is what I did with my Tuesday afternoon. NBD.

Of course, there’s the weather. Leaving cold, gray Virginia for sunny Hawaii was definitely a perk. And you can’t beat a warm beach in January. And then there’s the landscape–it’s like God had finished creating the world and he decided to make one more spot, just in case the Alps and the Adriatic coast and Australia’s coral reefs and Angel Falls3 weren’t enough to convince us he loved us. Just to be sure, he made one more string of islands and shoved as many ecosystems as he could right up together to show his creative genius, to shout his love. Gorgeous beaches run up against prehistoric forests4 with jagged mountains wreathed in clouds just a stone’s throw away. It’s unreal.

That thing I’m doping with my hand is called a shaka. Around my neck is a fuzzy lei.5 On my head is a homemade lei that I think was also supposed to go around my neck but it was made by children who underestimated the enormity of my head, so I wore it like a crown. For the entire talk. Because I’m that dedicated.

But so much more than the island itself, it was the people I worked with at St. Damien’s. The ladies who opened their hearts so quickly, who are my friends now. The children who fell asleep in my lap. The families who picked me up early in the morning, drove me around, fed me, and then gave me donations on top of all that. The women who showed up over and over again–even twice a day–hungry for God’s word and eager to make me feel welcome. The lady who spoke to me on the phone after I left, telling me honestly how she’s hurting and listening when I tried to show her how the Lord wants to heal her. The man who told me the boot camp left him more confused about his faith than ever–stunning me until his wife told me he was a Baptist. And of course there was the wonderful woman who arranged my trip, picked me up from the airport, housed me, fed me, planned my week, sat up nights talking with me, and even made sure that everyone who picked me up was planning on feeding me. All of these beautiful military families–they cooked and drove and listened and prayed and spread the word and took notes. I was treated like a princess–and humbled, humbled, humbled by their openness and love.

I think this is the same kind of card they give to their own members when they leave for a new assignment.

I have never felt more welcome anywhere in my entire life. After just a few days, that community became home, and by the time I left, my new friends were hatching a plan to put my picture on a bucket and carry it around asking for donations so I could come back. And you know what? Whether I go back to Hawaii or not, I’ll see those women again. In Colorado or Alabama or Alaska6 or wherever. I spoke to the women’s groups about how desperately God loves them–and these ladies reminded me how true it is by making me one of them.

And then, as if meals and beaches and conversations and a paycheck and cards and gifts and friendship weren’t enough, they recorded most of my sessions on Friday–and then gave me the video camera! That’s right, gone are the days of cell phone videos. I am officially the owner of a Sony Bloggie Waterproof camera for all my deep sea speaking needs! I’m linking to the videos below so those of you who didn’t get to attend7 can live vicariously. Or so you can take these videos to your pastor/DRE/whoever and get me to your parish!

The first talk defended the existence of God and the divinity of Christ:

After discussing what unites Christians, I explained what divides us:

Later, we hit the Eucharist and confession:

And ended the day with some intense morality issues:

Obviously, these videos don’t cover all 6 hours of the boot camp, but they should give you a pretty good taste. Plus, my friends in Hawaii are so awesome, they had a professional television editor come in to tape the whole day. I have no idea what the final product is going to look like, but I know it won’t happen for a few months. Be sure I’ll let you know when it does!

So no brilliant point today, just joy in the generosity of the people of God and some videos to keep you busy. Because these ladies taught me that even when I feel like all I have to give is pathetic, God is doing great things for his glory.

My new medal of St. Damien–given to me by St. Damien’s Church in Hawaii–on my keys so I remember the blessing of that week.


If you haven’t been over to Bonnie’s yet to vote for your favorite Catholic blogs, please do! Voting ends today at 6pm Central, but I think she’s tallying the votes manually, so please don’t vote more than once. Do vote for me and for my sister if you read her–which you should. She’s “A Blog for My Mom” and she’s funny and her kids are amazing and probably way harder to deal with than whatever is exhausting you these days, so at least take a look when you feel overwhelmed and remember that whatever else is going on, you (probably) don’t have 4 kids under 4!8

  1. This confuses people. I did not profess vows. I just went to celebrate with them as they did. []
  2. Georgia Tech is definitely high in the standings for favorite place. []
  3. That alliteration was totally accidental! []
  4. I may just think they look prehistoric because they remind me of Land of the Lost. []
  5. Which I’m giving to my niece. She’s going to die of excitement. []
  6. In the summer, please! []
  7. You poor mainlanders, you. []
  8. Not that we’re comparing, it’s just sometimes a relief to think that other people have it rough, too. And to think how much rougher it could be. But not to downplay our suffering in the face of someone else’s crazy life. Oh, whatever. You read my post the other day. You don’t need me to explain that I don’t think my sister is better than you. Even if I kind of do. []

On Human Life

Hi! My name is Meg. I’m 29 years old and, by many definitions, an adult.

Yes, that’s me headbanging and playing the shovel. You really wish we were friends in real life.

Before I was an adult, I was a teenager.

Here I am at my senior prom–how cute!

Before I was a teenager, I was a tween.

Leotard and a kilt. At least I’m not rocking Rosie’s floral print and vest.

Before I was a tween, I was a child.

A grimacing child with awesome lopsided pigtails.

Before I was a child, I was a toddler.

I learned to talk before I was a year old. Here is photographic evidence that once I started, I never shut my mouth again.

Before I was a toddler, I was a baby.

The earliest baby picture I’ve ever seen of myself, courtesy of my lovely Aunt Miriam.

Before I was a baby, I was a fetus.

Clearly, none of the rest are pictures of me. My lame parents don't have any pictures from before I was born.
Clearly, none of the rest are pictures of me. My lame parents don’t have any pictures from before I was born.

Before I was a fetus I was an embryo. EmbryoBefore I was an embryo, I was a blastocyst.

The next three images are from the Yale Fertility Center.

Before I was a blastocyst, I was a morula. Morula Yale

Before I was a morula, I was a zygote.

Zygote YaleBefore I was a zygote, I was nothing. I was never an egg. I was never a sperm. The creature that I am began at a very specific moment in time. I began the moment my DNA began–not at birth, not at viability, not at implantation. I began at my conception.

You see, there’s no ontological difference between a fetus and an infant. The only real difference is location. A baby at 9 months gestation and a full-term newborn are exactly the same in every way except location.

before birth after birth

And while viability might sound like a firm line–saying that those who can survive without help are people and those who can’t aren’t1–we can’t actually know which babies will survive. I know a man born at 22 weeks who’s perfectly fine. He even has a master’s degree. But most laws set viability at 24 weeks. And, of course, viability varies from place to place–how could we possibly say that one fetus is a person and the other isn’t simply because one is in Brussels and the other is in Brazzaville? It’s a fuzzy line at best and a heinously immoral one at worst.

Neither birth nor viability is a moment at which a lump of tissue changes into a person. The person you are now is the same person you were in your mother’s womb. There’s no genetic difference, no difference in anything but accidentals.

When you were in your mother’s womb, you were genetically human–and a different human from your mother. You were biologically alive.2 You were you when you were a fetus. You were you even when you were one tiny little zygote, smaller than the head of a pin. We can trace your existence back in time all the way to your conception and no further. You began at your conception. Your life began then–not at birth, not at viability. At conception. You were already you.

And so is every baby, wanted or unwanted. She already has a soul, a future, a place in the world. If you know she’s there, she may already have a heartbeat (22 days) or even brainwaves (40 days). But whatever stage that baby is at, she has her very own unrepeatable identity. She will grow and develop and become more and more herself. But her self does not begin at self-awareness or birth or viability or implantation or any other arbitrary line. Wanted or unwanted, she was herself from the moment of her conception. Would that we had the courage to love her just as she is.


If you’ve had an abortion, I ache for you. I don’t judge you or hate you or condemn you. I love you. Really, I do. I am so, so sorry that I couldn’t help you. But I want to help you now. Project Rachel is a post-abortive healing ministry–no judgment, just beautiful women who will weep with you when you are ready to weep. Please know that your Church loves you–your God loves you–and we want you back. More than anything, he wants you back. He has already forgiven you, even if you haven’t yet asked.

And if there is anyone who makes you feel unwelcome in the arms of Mother Church, you let me know. I’ll kick butt and take names. You are my sister and I want you home with me.

  1. You can tell that’s a problem already, can’t you? []
  2. Walker Percy–who apparently was a doctor? Who knew?–explains this in an interesting way here. []