Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Introduction to Free Will, Determinism, Compatibilism, Incompatibilism

Before we begin Tom's article let me pass along several charts and links which may be helpful references to the discussion on free will vs. determinism. This is a complex subject and has been framed by as many viewpoints, theologies, and philosophies as there has been human minds to concentrate on this subject.

It is important to note that regardless of where one lands on this topic I always like to ask the larger question of ethics v morals or pragmatics v results. As example, if a theology is without mercy, love or forgiveness does it by neglecting those virtues qualify it as a worthy belief/religion? Or similarly, if a philosophy cannot give to humanity a method of just and equatable community is it ultimately a worthy philosophy to follow?

For myself, the results of reasoning and belief are just as important as the contents of a theological belief or philosophical subscriptions. Its all well-and-good to discuss large ideas and complex semantics but if it cannot be lived out into virtuous lives than can it be an idea which can hold any value?

I suppose this gets back to the ancient Greek idea of living the virtuous life by asking the question what makes life worth living? Asked differently, can knowledge form humanity towards wisdom or does it detract from this high ideal? If it does then what internal or society power seems to motivate a person or a society towards living out virtuous constructs in human relations with one another or with one's self? Or more simply, we've entered upon the age old question of the meaning of life - what gives to life its value, morals, ethics, and internal engine which drives it forward?

To speak to the idea of free will or determinism must be to ask all these questions and more. It is not a simple topic to enter into and much effort has been given to discovering how we might live in light of our reflections. All too often the results of bad acts have been based on once worthy-and-acceptable insights bastardized to accommodate human greed and empowerment. High, superfluous religious (sic, Christian, Muslim, et al) or philosophical ideals have resulted in their respective degeneracies to the enslavement and death of whole generations, cultures, and societies.

So then, it is not enough to speak a correct theology or philosophy but a virtuous theology or philosophy which can inspire and motivate humanity to its best practices rather than its worst. This is the value of knowledge... that it shows mercy, love and forgiveness to one another. In a word, it is the story of Jesus retold innumerable times through the many accounts of lives seeking by their-turns-and-in-their-ways the grace, peace and divinity found in God and in the best of humanity. The Jesus-way seems to be the answer to the ancient Greek academicians question seeking for the meaning of life. Peace, my friends.

R.E. Slater
May 31, 2017

* * * * * * * * *

9 Reasons to Believe Humans Have Genuine
but Limited Freedom

by Thomas Jay Oord
May 29th, 2017

A few neuroscientists are saying human free will is an illusion. They base their views on a few experiments. For many reasons, I believe they are wrong in thinking this. And the experiments don’t come close to disproving human freedom.

I was recently honored to participate in a conference on neuroscience and free will at Loma Linda University. (Thanks to Jim Walters and Philip Clayton for inviting me!) Conference participants varied in their academic expertise and interests, although I believe all self-identified as Christian.

The group is putting together a collection of essays on neuroscience and free will. I’ve been writing my own essay for the book. I explore briefly the neuroscience arguments against free will, pointing out their flaws. I’ll post some of that material in a later blog essay.

I offer below a portion of my essay for the book (and part of my plenary address at the conference). Here are nine reasons why we should believe humans have genuine but limited freedom:

We should affirm human freedom because…
  • Belief in freedom fits the data we know best: that we are freely choosing selves. We all presuppose in our actions that we make free choices and we know this from our first-person perspectives. We have better grounds to think human freedom is genuine than think it is not.
  • It helps us make sense of other creatures, especially humans. This argument fits nicely with what philosophers call “the analogy of other minds.” I think of it often when I consider how parents raise children. Nearly all parents believe their kids have some degree of freedom, at least sometimes, and they reward or discipline their children accordingly.
  • Belief in freedom seems necessary to affirm human moral responsibility. This is an obvious reason why we should believe humans are free. Without freedom, humans seem neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. Moral responsibility requires free response-ability.
  • It’s a component of love. When it comes to humans, it’s difficult to think we can make sense of love if we think humans are not free in any sense. Robots may do good things, but unless we define love in an odd way, we don’t think robots can love. Love requires genuine but limited freedom.
  • Belief in freedom seems necessary to affirm that we sometimes intentionally learn new information. Insofar as students choose to be educated, this choice presupposes free will. Insofar as we all seek to learn, we act freely.
  • It accounts for intentional actions to reject the old and welcome the new or reject the new and return to the old. Conservatives appeal to freedom when calling us to return to past ideas, and progressives appeal to freedom when calling us to embrace new ones. Intentional change presupposes free will.
  • Belief in freedom is part of what motivates many people to choose good over evil. Those who believe their negative urges are beyond their control typically fail to resist those negative urges. And those who encounter evil are unlikely to resist it if they feel nothing can be done. After all, why try to combat antisocial behavior if we’re not free?
  • It is necessary for believing our lives matter. If all life is predetermined, it makes no sense to think our lives have meaning or that what we do ultimately matters. If all comes down to fate, we make no real contribution to what has already been decided.
  • Belief in freedom is most compatible with believing God loves us. This is not only true if one believes a loving God would give freedom to creatures. It’s also true for rejecting the view that God praises or punishes creatures who are not free. A fully predestining God has no grounds to judge predetermined creatures.

The final reason I list for why we should believe humans have genuine but limited freedom refers to God. In the second half of my essay, I explore what God’s freedom might be like. But I believe descriptions of divine freedom will be inadequate if we don’t also explore the relationship between God’s love and power, creaturely freedom, and evil in the world. So I explore those ideas as well.

Am I Missing Something?

There may be more good arguments to affirm that humans have genuine but limited freedom. I’d love to hear your suggestions. If you come up with a reason I ought to consider, please post it below…


Curtis Holtzen
May 29, 2017

This may be an expansion of #3 and 5 but it seems to me truth and rationality depend on free will. It seems the determinist wants us to believe determinism is true, but that would require we investigate the subject. Perhaps gathering enough information and assessing enough arguments to finally believe determinism is true (assuming here the trust of direct involuntary doxasticism). But the investigation presupposes freedom, otherwise why praise those who affirm the truth of determinism and chastise those who deny it? I guess all this rests on Kant’s “ought implies can” and if I ought to affirm determinism that implies I can affirm or deny its truth which seems to suggest I am free.

May 29, 2017

I like it, Curtis! Thanks!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Teaching the Bible in Public Schools - A Post-Evangelical Perspective of the Pros and Cons

Teaching the bible can be a very enlightening endeavor but for many it ends up being a way to enforce old prejudices and errant ideologies. Certainly the theology waiting to be discovered can be affective on every level of human undertaking but it seems the more certain that without objective rigor the degree to which personal beliefs come to play upon its many subject matters can be quite the reverse of what the Creator God had intended..

I'm all for religious doctrine and tradition but both must be critiqued, if not in parts abandoned, for contemporary living, community, industry, and progress to grasp the import it reads and thinks it understands.

This past season of Christianized politics shows how deeply darkness pervades across broad stretches of the conservation "Christian" church. The acclaimed illumination of the bible seems to have adversely motivated Christianized perceptions of humanity towards its further bondage and inequity rather than its love, acceptance, respect, service, or liberty.

This is a deep shame which God's earnest emissaries now must bear by the falsehoods they preach to their eager congregation's awaiting hearts and ears. So often, to study the bible is to study ourselves, and that without naivety or ignorance which is normally placed upon its pages held too long in modernised romantic views teaching a Greek Hellenized and Medieval experience of a God and His Gospel that has grown up beyond our current conception of His contemporary salvific force, work, and purposes for this world we live in, and work, and serve.

Unless the God of the bible affect how we relate in our societies, communities, and fellowships with one another we study and preach all in vain. Does not the Apostle Paul say we preach in vain if we do not preach God's love? If we cannot take a bible story and understand why its there - nor its distorted meaning for that society of believers at that time in their lives - we fail to grasp its relevance. Too often those bible stories show us the paucity existing within religious communities in grasping the revelation it thinks it hears by then regulating horrific chains of inhumanity upon itself and those outside the "holy" endeavors of their enclaves.

It would be better if a man or woman learn to walk humbly with their God showing mercy to all than to pretend that enforcing rules and regulations is the way to divine enlightenment and godliness. Jesus condemned such a system - and all such systems purporting to teach the bible in this way are condemnable too.

Thus the problem of teaching the Bible without grasping its contents especially in the hands of religious enthusiasts refusing outside interference, education, or redaction. Shunning all but their own words as their only acceptable interpreters and advocates of a Scripture which eludes them. A pax then upon all such systems as unholy and unworthy of the great God we affirm when choosing such unenlightened and abominable conclusions to a God who sacrificed his life for us. Christianity, if anything, is a life of sacrifice, honor, respect, and love - this above all things! Amen and Amen.

R.E. Slater
May 27, 2017

* * * * * * * * *

(Wade Payne/For The Washington Post)

May 26 , 2017

A West Virginia public school district has decided to suspend weekly Bible classes for elementary and middle school students for the next academic year while it reviews the content of the lessons.

Mercer County has offered “Bible in the Schools” as an elective during the school day for decades, and the classes are widely popular. But the program has come under fire from opponents who say it violates the Constitution. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in January with two parents of district students in calling for the program to be discontinued. The case is before Judge David A. Faber of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of West Virginia.

The Mercer school board voted Tuesday to suspend the classes, enabling a thorough review with input from teachers, community members and religious leaders, Schools Superintendent Deborah S. Akers said in a statement. The district also announced a new Bible class for high school students. The class will use “The Bible and Its Influence,” a curriculum in hundreds of public high schools in 43 states. Its publisher bills the textbook as “the only First-Amendment-safe textbook that supports academic study of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.”

Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the First Liberty Institute, representing the school district, said the purpose of the review period is to ensure that all instruction complies with Education Department guidelines and with The Bible and Public Schools: A First Amendment Guide, a 1999 report from the Bible Literacy Project that was endorsed by an array of religious leaders and legal experts.

“The school district is committed to following the law,” he said. “The goal is to offer an approved curriculum. We take our constitutional responsibility very seriously.”

Lynne White, a former Mercer school board member who had called for the end of Bible in the Schools, said she was happy with the decision.

“I think this is an important first step, and I hope the board will now work to publicly prioritize how our scarce resources are best used for all academic opportunities,” she said.

Although the Freedom From Religion Foundation said it was pleased that the Bible classes were halted, it said it will continue to pursue all legal options to have the classes permanently removed.

“The Supreme Court has spoken directly on this type of public school indoctrination and has ruled that public schools may not engage in it,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the organization’s co-president, said in a statement. “Religion in schools builds walls between children and leads to ostracism of minorities — as experienced by our plaintiff Elizabeth Deal, who had to remove her child from the school.”

Deal, a parent who transferred her daughter to a neighboring district last year, said Friday she hopes the classes will be discontinued for good. “I don’t think there is a way to teach the class in a historical or literary manner to elementary age children,” she said. The teachers, she added, are “biased toward teaching the Bible and their denomination’s interpretation of it as fact, and I cannot see a solution to that issue.”

Some religious education experts think that Bible in the Schools will have a hard time surviving a court challenge. Charles C. Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, says that it is particularly difficult at the elementary level to have Bible classes that meet constitutional demands because students are too young to differentiate between historical fact and religious belief.

The lawsuit against the district will continue, said Patrick Elliott, a lawyer for the foundation. The next hearing is set for June 19.


Joe Heim joined The Post in 1999. He is currently a staff writer for the Metro section. He also writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column in the Sunday magazine. Follow @JoeHeim

Thomas Jay Oord - Where Do Open and Process Theologies Blur?

[Where Do] Open and Process Theologies Blur?

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 7th, 2015

[*res - edits/insertions/images by R.E. Slater]

Open and process theologies have much in common. But differences also exist. The future of open theology, in my view, will be largely shaped by ongoing conversations between the two theological perspectives. But I expect them to draw closer and their boundaries to blur.

Open and process theologies have much in common. But differences also exist. The future of open theology, in my view, will be largely shaped by ongoing conversations between the two theological perspectives. But I expect them to draw closer and their boundaries to blur.


In a previous blog essay, I talked about the future of open theology. I looked briefly at the present state of open theology, as I see it, and speculated about what the future might be.

I’m especially interested in the future relationship between openness and process theologies. In Evangelical circles, openness theologians have primarily argued with or against theologians informed by the Calvinist theological perspective. In those discussions, open theologians have often worked hard to distinguish themselves from process theology on a number of points.

The formal conversation between open theologians and process theologians began not long after the publication of the groundbreaking book, The Openness of God. In 1997, the Center for Process Studies brought together for discussion self-identifying openness thinkers and self-identifying process thinkers. The several days, semi-private meeting was intriguing on many levels, with about 30 participants involved.

I was a graduate student at Claremont during this time, and I was invited to participate. What I remember most from those meetings was the common Christian piety the process “liberals” and openness “evangelicals” shared. Several process thinkers shared personal stories of growing up in Evangelical traditions only to feel that they needed to leave upon finding open and relational ideas attractive.

The following year, in 1998, many openness thinkers returned to Claremont for the Center for Process Studies Whitehead conference. Papers given at the subsequent conference by David Griffin, William Hasker, Richard Rice, Nancy Howell, and David Wheeler comprised the book, Searching for an Adequate God (Eerdmans), edited by Clark Pinnock and John Cobb.

The Future of the Openness-Process Conversation

The authors of The Openness of God have generally sought to distinguish their view from process theology. And many openness thinkers from Evangelical communities continue to make these distinctions today. In fact, there is often immense political pressure in Evangelical communities to avoid being associated with the “process” label.

My hunch, however, is that the future of openness theology will involve blurring of lines between the two theological perspectives. I doubt the open theology and process theology will ever entirely collapse into one perspective. But I expect the overlap and hybridization to increase among those pursuing constructive theology in the general open and relational theological tradition.


Here are five reasons I think the lines between open theology and process theology will continue to blur in future years:

1. Essence? – It is difficult to identify the “essence” of open theology. As a number of internet communities dedicated to openness theology have discovered, significant diversity abounds among self-identified openness thinkers around important issues like Christology, eschatology, ethics, biblical inspiration, and divine power.

The closest thing to an essence in open theology is a rejection of the classical view of divine foreknowledge and insistence that the future is open even for God. Openness thinkers themselves have alternative ways of talking about God’s omniscience and relation to the future. Alan Rhoda and William Hasker, for instance, are both prominent openness philosophers with different views of how to conceptualize God’s omniscience.

Likewise, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find an essence of process theology. Leading process theologian, John Cobb, insists there is no essence. By contrast, David Griffin identifies ten “core doctrines” of process theology.

Incidentally, very few outside the process camp define process theology in ways that most self-identifying process thinkers define it. When someone says to me, “process theology is unorthodox,” I often ask, “What do you mean by ‘process theology.’” Nine times out of ten, the definition they offer is very different from the definition most self-identifying process theologians define process thought.

2. Cross-Self-Identifying – The second reason I think open and process theology lines will blur pertains to how theologians self-identify. Some self-identifying process theists – such as Philip Clayton and Joseph Bracken – affirm views of original creation (creatio ex nihilo) and divine power that some self-identifying open theologians think distinguish open theology from process thought.

Some self-identifying open and relational theists affirm views of original creation and divine power that some process theologians think characterize process theology [(creatio ex continua or the newer perspective (2017) of creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore - res)]. Consequently, on these key issues, the boundaries already blur.

3. Nimble and Open – The third reason I think the lines will blur between open and process theology is probably more of a recommendation. Christian history suggests that those who make it their goal to define and then protect the essence of a view often find their view to lose influence. Whitehead is right when he says the pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the universe.

Protecting and promulgating a concise set of propositions can be effective in the short term and with those whose basic orientation is to conserve. But a theological tradition is better served to promote a few basic intuitions that might capture the imaginations of young and emerging theologians who are creative, passionate, intelligent, and activist-minded. Vital theological traditions are nimble and open. I think Openness of God author, David Basinger is wise when he says he has “no interest in trying to preserve a set of core essential openness beliefs.”

4. Post-Evangelicalism – The fourth reason I think open theology and process theologies will blur pertains to a phenomenon many call “post-evangelicalism.” A shrinking number of young Christians raised in the Evangelical tradition want to self-identify as Evangelicals. They still love Jesus and still think theology and the Church are important. But their reluctance to self-identify as Evangelical stems for a variety of social, cultural, and political reasons.

Post-evangelicals are more open to blurring boundaries, pushing envelopes, and coloring beyond the standard Evangelically authorized lines. Many are dissatisfied with the Evangelical status quo. Many gravitate toward openness and process thinking and don’t see the need to distinguish the two sharply.

5. Theodicy – The final reason I think open theology and process theologies will blur pertains to a substantive issue: theodicy [("the problem of sin and evil" - res)]. Although the theodicy offered by the authors of The Openness of God sounds far better than conventional theodicies claiming God foreordained and foreknew evil, many openness thinkers admit their view doesn’t resolve the problem of evil like process theology can.

William Hasker, David Basinger, John Sanders, Greg Boyd, and Richard Rice have done work admirable in this area. John Sanders’s book, The God Who Risks has been especially influential. But they admit that their view of God’s power cannot solve the problem entirely.

The theodicy issue has been the focus of some of my own work, and I’ve offered a solution I call “essential kenosis.” I offer this solution based upon understanding God’s power in light of God’s love in my books, The Nature of Love (Chalice) and Defining Love (Brazos). An even fuller defense of the essential kenosis theodicy in light of randomness and evil comes in my forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God (IVP Academic). I also explain it in my contribution to the forthcoming God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views book on theodicy (IVP; Chad Meister and Jamie Dew, eds.)


Of course, I could be completely wrong about all that I have said in this essay and the previous one.

In fact, that’s one strength of open and process theologies: they fit our experiences of reality, including the experience of being wrong about our predictions about what might occur. But even false predictions can become resources God might use when calling us into our moment-by-moment, open and relational existence.

May God bless us all – no matter how we self-identify – as we seek to follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition to imitate God, as beloved children, and live a life of love as Christ loved us… (Eph 5:1)

Book Review - God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views (Theodicy)

Amazon Link

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views
(Spectrum Multiview Book) Paperback – May 16, 2017

by Chad Meister (Editor), James K. Dew Jr. (Editor)


Evil abounds. And so do the attempts to understand God in the face of such evil. The problem of evil is a constant challenge to faith in God. How can we believe in a loving and powerful God given the existence of so much suffering in the world? Philosophers and theologians have addressed this problem countless times over the centuries. New explanations have been proposed in recent decades drawing on resources in Scripture, theology, philosophy, and science. God and the Problem of Evil stages a dialogue between the five key positions in the current debate:

  • Phillip Cary: A Classic View
  • William Lane Craig: A Molinist View
  • William Hasker: An Open Theist View
  • Thomas Jay Oord: An Essential Kenosis View
  • Stephen Wykstra: A Skeptical Theism View

According to the classic position, associated especially with the Augustinian tradition, God permits evil and suffering as part of the grand narrative of divine providence to bring about the redemption of creation. Molinism modifies the classic view by adding God's middle knowledge to the picture, in which God has knowledge of what creatures would do in all possible worlds. Open theism rejects the determinism of the classic view in favor of an account of God as a risk-taker who does not know for sure what the future holds. Essential kenosis goes further in providing a comprehensive theodicy by arguing that God cannot control creatures and thus cannot unilaterally prevent evil. Skeptical theism rejects the attempt to provide a theodicy and instead argues that, if God exists, we should not expect to understand God's purposes. Edited, with an introduction, by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr., God and the Problem of Evil hosts a generous and informative conversation on one of the most pressing issues in the Christian life.

About the Authors

Chad Meister (PhD, Marquette University) is professor of philosophy and theology at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. His publications include Evil: A Guide for the Perplexed, Contemporary Philosophical Theology, The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, and the six-volume work, The History of Evil.

James K. Dew Jr. (PhD, Southeastern Baptist) is associate professor of the history of ideas and philosophy and dean of the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the coauthor (with Mark W. Foreman) of How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology and coeditor (with Chad Meister) of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain.


"It is always enlightening to listen to a conversation among scholars who care deeply about a topic, take strikingly different positions, and engage each other in considerate and substantive ways. That's just what God and the Problem of Evil provides: a stimulating conversation. Well-known proponents of five distinct approaches to the most vexing of philosophical and theological topics—Why is there suffering in God's world?—summarize their positions in clear, accessible ways. Then each shows just how his view compares to the others. The positions presented cover a broad spectrum, yet each addresses with urgency both the intellectual and personal challenges that evil presents. The book makes a valuable contribution to current considerations of the topic."

  • Richard Rice, Loma Linda University, author of Suffering and the Search for Meaning

"How do we come to philosophical and theological grips with the vast amounts of evil in a world created by a perfectly good—indeed, maximally great—Being? God and the Problem of Evil helpfully lays out the various sides of the debate on this issue. Five philosophical theologians present the distinctive differences in their respective views, also noting the points on which they agree. The result is a volume that will serve as an excellent, up-to-date resource for those seeking to further explore this crucial—and perennial—question."
  • Paul Copan, professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University, author of A Little Book for New Philosophers

"God and the Problem of Evil will be a helpful volume for those new to the discussion of this problem and looking for a brief overview of the possible arguments and counter-arguments made by Christian philosophers and theologians."
  • Jake Raabe, the Baptist Standard, April 11, 2017


by Jake Raabe
April 11, 2017

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views
Edited by Chad Meister and James K. Drew Jr. (Spectrum/IVP Academic)

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views is an upcoming title in the Intervarsity Press Spectrum series, in which several writers taking different positions on a particular issue write short essays explaining their perspective and offer replies to each of the other essays. This book features Christian philosophers Phillip Cary, William Lane Craig, William Hasker, Thomas J. Oord and Stephen Wykstra each discussing the presence of evil and suffering in the world and providing possible theological explanations.

  • Cary argues the “Traditional” view, holding that God permits evil for the sake of a higher good.

  • Craig presents the “Molinist” argument, claiming God in his meticulous foreknowledge has created the best possible world

  • Hasker gives the “Open Theist” argument, which provides a “general policy” approach to suffering where God’s good creation contains within it elements that necessarily allow for suffering but do not undermine the inherent goodness of creation.

  • Oord writes the “Eternal Kenosis” view, claiming God’s nature of love prevents God from being able to consistently override individual’s free will to prevent evil.

  • Wykstra provides the “Skeptical Theist” view, holding that humans cannot understand the workings of God, and evil and suffering therefore do not provide strong challenges to the existence of God.

God and the Problem of Evil will be a helpful volume for those new to the discussion of this problem and looking for a brief overview of the possible arguments and counter-arguments made by Christian philosophers and theologians.

Jake Raabe, student
Truett Theological Seminary

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Most Neglected Issue in Explanations of Evil
by Thomas Oord
September 4th, 2014

In my current book, [The Uncontrolling Love of God], I offer a model of providence I call “Essential Kenosis.” One of my main arguments is that this model gives a plausible reason why a loving and powerful God fails to prevent genuine evil. One aspect of my argument, however, addresses what we might call God’s “constitution.” I find this aspect neglected more than any other by those who address the problem of evil.

My solution is, I believe, novel, because I point to God’s nature of love as the reason God cannot prevent genuine evil caused by random events ([category: indeterminate "freedom" - res]) or free creatures [(category: free will - res)]. My work is funded by the Randomness and Divine Providence project, directed by James Bradley.

But there is another, often overlooked, aspect to what I think is a plausible solution to the problem of evil. This aspect addresses an aspect of the problem of evil not directly tied to God’s love and power.

God as Omnipresent Spirit

It is important to say God cannot prevent genuine evil because doing so requires nullifying the divine nature of love. This is the heart of the essential kenosis model of providence. But another set of issues remain. We can address these issues by asking this question:

If we creatures sometimes thwart a planned terrorist attack by using our bodies, sending agents, or using various instruments, why can’t God do this?

To ask the question more specifically, if we creatures can step between two combatants and thereby prevent evil, why can’t God do the same? If creatures can use their bodies to prevent evil, why can’t God prevent evil in this way? And if creatures can marshal others to use objects to prevent genuine evil, why doesn’t God do the same?

God is a Loving Spirit

Essential kenosis answers this set of questions by affirming the traditional view that God is a loving spirit and lovingly omnipresent. Unfortunately, those who believe in God often fail to think through the implications of these traditional views.

Believing God is an omnipresent spirit has implications for thinking well about why God cannot unilaterally prevent evil in ways we might sometimes prevent it. Being an omnipresent spirit affords God both unique abilities and unique limitations.

To say God is a loving spirit is to say, in part, God does not have a divine body. God’s essential “being” or “constitution” is spiritual. In fact, because God is spirit, we cannot perceive God with our five senses. Christians have proposed various theories to explain how God’s invisible spiritual life exerts causal influence, and many involve affirming some form of nonsensory causation. The details of these theories deserve fuller explanation than what is possible here.

God is Lovingly Omnipresent

The second divine attribute typically neglected in discussions of evil is God’s universality. God is present to all creation and to each individual entity. God is omnipresent, most believers say. Rather than being localized in a particular place as creatures are localized, the Creator is present to all.

As an omnipresent spirit with no localized divine body, God cannot exert divine bodily influence as a localized corpus. God cannot use a divine body to step between two parties engaged in a fight, for instance. God doesn’t have a wholly divine hand to scoop a rock out of the air, cover a bomb before it explodes, or block a bullet before it projects from a rifle. While we may sometimes be morally culpable for failing to use our localized bodies to prevent such genuine evils, the God without a localized divine body is not culpable.

God cannot prevent evil with a localized divine body, because God is an omnipresent spirit.

God Calls Upon Creatures with Bodies to Love

God can, however, marshal those with localized bodies to exert creaturely bodily impact in various ways. God can call upon a teacher to place her body between a bully and his victim. God can call upon the fire fighter to reach through a burning window to grab a terrified toddler. God can even call upon lesser organisms and entities to use their bodily aspects, in whatever limited way possible, to promote good or prevent evil. We rightly regard the positive responses of less complex organisms, for instance, as instrumental in the physical healings we witness in our world. And we rightly honor humans who respond to God’s calls to use their bodies to prevent genuine evil or do good.

Of course, we with localized bodies do not always respond well to God’s call. God may want to prevent some evil and call upon a creature to use its body for this purpose. But creatures may fail to respond well, disobey, and sin. God is not culpable for the evil that results when we fail to love. God may marshal groups to intercede to help, but these groups may ignore God’s commands. When God calls and we fail to respond well, we are to blame.

Creatures sometimes respond well to God’s call, however. They “listen” to God’s call to prevent some impending tragedy or stop an ongoing conflict. When creatures respond well, we sometimes even say, “God prevented that evil.” This should not mean that God alone prevented it. Creatures cooperated, playing necessary roles by using their bodies to fulfill God’s good purposes. Our saying, “God did it,” simply expresses our belief that God played the primary causal role in the event.

We Can Be God’s Co-Workers

Creaturely cooperation inspired the phrase, “we are God’s hands and feet.” It also inspired the saying “the world is God’s body” and God is the “soul of the universe.” These phrases only make sense, however, if we do not take them literally. We do not literally become divine appendages; the world is not literally a divine corpus. God remains divine; and we and world are God’s creations.

But when creatures respond well to God’s leading, the overall result is that God’s will is done in heaven and on earth. When God’s loving will is done, we might feel provoked to credit, praise, and thank the Creator. And this is appropriate. But when we do so, we can also rightly acknowledge the creaturely cooperation required for establishing what is good. God gets the lion’s share of the credit, but should appreciate creatures who cooperated with their Creator.

We can be God’s co-workers (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1; 3 Jn 1:8). Hallelujah!


Addendum - by R.E. Slater (res)

I might also add to Tom's post (and I'm sure he will agree) that the Divine God has offered His body to the world through His incarnation in Christ Jesus. Jesus is God's stop-gap to sin and evil. It is God's bodily response to sin and evil's eternal dimensions of separation from God, pain and suffering, and importantly the creation of completed restoration between God and man/creation. In the aftermath of God the Son's death the church is God's hands and feet, mind and heart, will and purpose. To the degree the church gets God's will right is the degree to which God may most effectively repopulate the world towards goodness and holiness. But to the degree both church and world refuse to listen/hear/respond to God's Spirit is the degree to which sin and evil will continue forward. It is the assurance of the Christian and of the Bible that God will win through love, that sin and evil and death will be destroyed, and all will come to a holy completion of fellowship. This is the assurance we call both heaven and the new earth to come. - res

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Did Jesus Break the Torah? Yes, In Fact, He Encouraged Others To Do So Too!


Let's start with the basics... Jesus and Christianized laws made religious don't mix when humanity is lost in the equation. Grace and Mercy triumphs over inhumanitarian laws every time!

This Jesus-principal applies to how we conduct trade and business with one another; write and enact laws; teach and educate our children; worship, pray, and communicate with one another.

There is no substitute for love if love is the very thing being disregarded for profit, for money, for power, for prestige, or for any other idol in our lives.

R.E. Slater
May 7, 2017

Jesus and Torah

Does Jesus break the Torah? Does He encourage others to do so? Here, in this guest post, my friend Chuck McKnight makes some very insightful observations which I believe are on the right track.

Keith Giles


Jesus and Torah
Guest post by Chuck McKnight
May 6, 2017

I made this list a while ago of just a few examples where Jesus deliberately breaks Torah. Take it or leave it.

Oath Taking

According to Torah, the Israelites were commanded by Yahweh to swear in his name.

"You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name." - Deuteronomy 6:13

Jesus not only contradicted this command, he said that it came from the evil one, which certainly means that it did not come from Yahweh

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." - Matthew 5:37

Showing Mercy over Retribution

According to Torah, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was an absolute mandate. The Israelites were commanded to "show no mercy" in carrying it out:

"Show no pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." - Deuteronomy 19:21

But Jesus directly contradicted this mandate, commanding his followers not to follow Torah's instructions:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." - Matthew 5:38–39

Showing Forgiveness to Adulterers

According to Torah, adultery was to be punished with death. No exceptions were given.

‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death." - Leviticus 20:10

But Jesus broke Torah in order to show mercy to the woman caught in adultery. [See John 8]

Offering Help Even on the Sabbath

According to Torah, no work was to be done on the Sabbath.

"But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do." - Deuteronomy 5:14

But Jesus flaunted his disregard for this particular command on many occasions. Let's look at one of the most direct violations:

When Jesus healed the man by the pool of Bethesda, he not only did so on the Sabbath, but he specifically instructed the man to break the Sabbath with him by carrying his mat.
"Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath" - John 5:8–9

This was nothing less than a deliberate contradiction of Jeremiah 17:21–22, which states that Yahweh specified not to carry any burden on the Sabbath. This command wasn't one of the traditions that had been built up as a hedge around the law; it came straight from Scripture.

"This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors." - Jeremiah 17:21-22

If Jesus was merely concerned with healing the man, he would have simply done so, but he went out of his way to go against the law in the process, [by asking the man to take up his mat and carry it] and that action was what specifically raised the ire of the Jews:

"...and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” - John 5:10

How Jesus is Superior to Man's Laws

So, what are we to make of this? I [Keith] have a few thoughts:

First, Jesus himself was the first one to point out the differences between the Old and the New Covenant realities: "You've heard it said....[quoting Moses and the Old Covenant]...but I say to you...[speaking a new way of living under the New Covenant]."

Second, the New Testament writers document these two realities and wrestle sometimes with the ways that the New replaces and modifies the Old in the book of Acts, and in Galatians and Romans, for example.

Third, Jesus is the clearest picture we have of who the Father is, and what the Father is like. The prophets were men like us, but Jesus was, and is, the Word of God made flesh. He is God the Son. So whenever there are apparent contradictions, we take Jesus and apply what He says, not what those ancient prophets said through a veil that [can] only removed by Christ.

Finally, Christians are never instructed to keep the Torah or the Law. So it doesn't really matter if Jesus and the Torah are in conflict. We follow Jesus, not the Torah. Christianity is not Judaism with a cross on top. It's based on Jesus and who He is and what He commanded us to do. 

The Old Covenant is "obsolete". [Heb. 8:13]

It is "fading away and vanishing". [2 Cor. 3:7-11]

We should "get rid of it" [Gal.4:30]

Jesus is "the end of the Law" [Rom.10:4]

I'm very thankful to Chuck McKnight for taking the time to identify the specific ways in which Jesus opposed the Torah and corrected it for us.

We are no longer under the Old Covenant. We are gloriously alive in the New Covenant reality that the prophets longed to see.

God Himself, and Jesus, His Son, has made a home within us. We are now called His children. We are His beloved.

- kg

For Further Reading

Amazon Link

Early Biblical Interpretation (Library of Early Christianity) Paperback – January 1, 1986, by James L. Kugel (Author), Rowan A. Greer (Author)

This highly accessible book discusses how the early Jewish and Christian communities went about interpreting Scripture.

The Library of Early Christianity is a series of eight outstanding books exploring the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts in which the New Testament developed.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The initial volumes of this new series bring refreshing critical perspectives to the question of early Christian identity. Grant argues that the religious activity of the New Testament must be placed within the matrix of the Greco-Roman experience. After exploring the functions, deeds, and doctrines of the pagan gods, he clearly points out the extent to which the development of Christologies and the doctrine of the Trinity are indebted to pagan expression and reflection. Distilling recent social/historical analyses, Stambaugh and Balch review the history of the period in which Christianity arose and spreadrelevant rural and urban environments and their common economic patterns and assumptions. Chapters on mission and Christian adaptation of urban social forms are major contributions. Kugel and Greer explore the major factors that shaped scriptural interpretation within early Judaism and Christianity. Kugel shows how, when the Jewish past turned into a present problematic than scriptural interpretation became a religious activity. Refining past tendencies and presaging future doctrinal debates, Greer demonstrates the notion of a Christian Bible on Irenaeus's synthesis. For university and seminary collections. Arthur J. Dewey, Xavier Univ., Cincinnati.

Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

James A. Kugel is Director of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel

Rowan A. Greer is Professor Emeritus of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. A highly recognized scholar with specializations in both the New Testament and the early church, he is the author of seven books and numerous articles.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Know Your Herods: A Guide to the Rulers of Palestine in the New Testament

Chronology of Syria and Palestine, 40 BCE - 70 CE

Know Your Herods: A Guide to the Rulers
of Palestine in the New Testament

by Paul Davidson 
May 4, 2017

This article is a bit of a departure from what I usually write. It’s less about biblical studies, and more of a brief history lesson. I’ve always found the various references to “king Herod” and other Judaean rulers in the Gospels and Acts to be somewhat confusing — and, truth be told, the scheming Herodian royal family makes for a fascinating historical study. So read on if you’re interested in the Herodian dynasty and their place in history and scripture. (And if that doesn’t interest you, maybe the section on historical deaths by worms will.) For the purposes of this article, I will limit myself to individuals mentioned directly in the Bible.

In the process of doing this research, I also made a Herodian family tree for my own use. I share it below with the caveat that it is somewhat incomplete, especially where source references are concerned.

The Family Tree of the Herodian Dynasty
The Herodian Family Tree (link to expand)

Historical Sources

By far our best and most depended-upon source for the Herodians is the Jewish historian Josephus — particularly his Antiquities and Jewish War. In addition to living in Palestine during the period in question and being a person of some importance, Josephus had access to the works of Nicolaus of Damascus — friend and court chronicler of Herod the Great — and was personally acquainted with king Agrippa II, Herod’s great-grandson. Thus, although his work is not without bias and error, he is generally well-informed.

Many of the Herodians are also mentioned in the works of Tacitus, Cassius Dio, Suetonius, Strabo, Philo, and other Greco-Roman writers.

Hérode by James Tissot, 1886-1894 (Brooklyn Museum)

King Herod (Herod the Great)

Judaea in the mid-second century BCE was ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty (the Maccabees), who revolted against their Seleucid overlords and established an alliance with Rome before proceeding to conquer and Judaize Samaria, Galilee, and other outlying regions — an arrangement Rome was fine with, since it kept the Seleucids in check. The alliance with Rome eventually lapsed, however, and in 63 BCE, the Roman general Pompey intervened in a Judaean civil war by conquering the country. Hyrcanus II was made ethnarch (a rank just below king) of a much-reduced Judaean state by Julius Caesar in 47 BCE. A shrewd Idumean named Antipater was given an administrative post and became the Roman procurator in Judaea (the emperor’s agent for all financial matters—a powerful position).

Antipater used his authority to make his sons Phasael and Herod the military governors of Judaea and Galilee, respectively. After Herod married into the Hasmonean family through Mariamne, the ethnarch’s granddaughter, he received the rank of tetrarch (which literally meant “ruler of a fourth”, but had become a generic princely title by then) over Galilee from Mark Antony, who wanted to curtail Hyrcanus’s authority. Following an invasion of Syria and Judaea by the Parthians, who were supported by Herod’s Hasmonean rival Antigonus (Hyrcanus’s nephew), Herod was declared king of Judaea by the Roman senate. His later loyalty to Octavian (Augustus Caesar) led to greater territorial gains and autonomy for Judaea.

Once Herod had consolidated his control, he embarked on numerous major construction projects. Fortresses were built throughout the country, and after re-founding the city of Samaria, he established the great port city of Caesarea — a Hellenistic polis based on the Roman template, including a temple to the imperial cult, with a harbour that was a triumph of engineering. And, perhaps most famously, he replaced the meager temple in Jerusalem with a lavish new complex based on the description of Solomon’s temple in the Jewish scriptures.

Perhaps surprisingly, King Herod is mentioned for certain only twice in the New Testament — in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke. Matthew gives Herod an essential role in Jesus’ flight to Egypt that mirrors the Pharaoh of the Exodus story, while Luke simply opens his narrative by placing it “in the days of King Herod of Judea”. (Check out my articles on Matthew’s and Luke’s respective nativity stories for more details.)

King Herod had ten wives in total and a large number of children. His descendants frequently intermarried and formed one of the most powerful royal families in the Roman empire in the first century. His legacy was a mixed one. Jewish by religion but Idumean and Nabatean (Arab) by descent, he was never fully accepted by the Jews. Furthermore, he vigorously promoted the Hellenization of his kingdom. However, his construction of the temple was a major contribution to the Jewish religion and its prestige, and he was generally a capable, if tyrannical, ruler.

King Herod died in 4 BCE, and his kingdom passed to three of his sons.

Archelaus the Ethnarch

King Herod had changed his will numerous times and executed several of his sons, making the succession of his throne a precarious matter upon his death. One son, Archelaus, attempted to assume the throne for himself, but after various factions had presented their cases to Augustus, the emperor decided to divide up the kingdom. Archelaus would be given the largest portion — Judea and Samaria — but be denied the title of king. Instead, he had to settle for ethnarch. His brothers Antipas and Philip were made tetrarchs over other parts, a few cities were given to Herod’s sister Salome, and several cities of the Decapolis were transferred to Syria.

Archelaus’s rule did not last as long as his brothers’. He was deposed by Augustus in 6 CE after ten years of rule and banished to Gaul, whereupon Judea was annexed to the Roman province of Syria. As Judea was to be ruled and taxed directly by Rome for the first time, legate Quirinius of Syria conducted Judea’s first census in accordance with Roman administrative procedure.

Archelaus intersects with the New Testament twice — again, in the two nativity stories. In Matthew 2:22, Joseph is warned in a dream not to return to Judea because Herod’s son Archelaus is in power, so the family goes to Galilee instead. In Luke, though Archelaus is not named, it is the census of Quirinius following his exile that brings Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. This is difficult to reconcile with introduction that sets the story in the time of King Herod. Archelaus did use “Herod” as a dynastic name, but he was not a king. (For more on the historical issues concerning Luke’s story, see my article on Luke’s nativity.)

There is another allusion to Archelaus in the Gospels — this one rather curious. Luke’s version of the Parable of the Pounds (Lk 19:11-28) contains two verses describing a delegation seeking to prevent the nobleman from becoming their ruler, and the nobleman’s slaughter of those dissidents upon his return. This is generally understood as a reference to Archelaus, whose accession was opposed by a delegation of Jews in Rome, and who committed a ruthless slaughter upon his return. (See my article on this parable for more details.)

Arundel 83 (De Lisle Psalter) f. 125 – Christ before Pilate and Herod (c. 1310)

Antipas the Tetrarch

When Herod died, Antipas the half-brother of Archelaus was made tetrarch of Galilee and Perea — territories north of Samaria and east of the Jordan River, respectively. Thus, the majority of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels takes place within his jurisdiction.

Antipas appears in the Synoptic Gospels as the one responsible for the death of John the Baptist. The reader may be confused by the fact that he is called “Herod” throughout. Furthermore, Mark calls him king Herod in his telling of John’s execution, which Matthew corrects to “Herod the tetrarch”. (Antipas did use “Herod” as a dynastic name, and Josephus also calls him Herod the tetrarch on occasion.)

As the story in Mark 6 and Matthew 14 goes, Herod Antipas had John arrested for criticizing his marriage to Herodias (see below), who had previously been married to Antipas’s half-brother. Jewish law, unlike Roman law, did not allow a woman to divorce her husband¹, and the marriage to an ex-husband’s half-brother might have been understood to violate the Torah (Lev. 18:16 and 20:21). But according to Josephus (Ant. 18.116-119), Antipas imprisoned John because he feared his great eloquence as a preacher would rouse the people to sedition. Divorce does play a part in Josephus’s version, however, because in the same passage, he describes how Antipas intended to divorce his wife Phasaelis, a princess of Nabatea, in order to marry Herodias. Phasaelis discovered his intentions and fled to her father, King Aretas IV, who then attacked Antipas and destroyed his army. The Jewish people saw this defeat as a mark of God’s displeasure with Antipas for killing John the Baptist.

In other words, the story in Mark 6 seems to be a reshuffling of the elements in Josephus. Both stories concern Antipas’s affair with Herodias, a scandalous divorce, the execution of John, and a daughter conspiring against Antipas.

We will examine other aspects of this story further on.

Then, in Luke only, we find Antipas getting involved in Jesus’ trial, as at one point, Pilate sends Jesus to Antipas — who happens to be visiting Jerusalem — upon learning that Jesus is from his jurisdiction. In this passage (Luke 23:7-12), Antipas is simply called “Herod”.

Antipas is briefly mentioned by the name “Herod” in Acts 4:27, and again in 13:1 as “Herod the tetrarch”. This latter reference is curious, because it concerns one Manaen, a “syntrophos (friend) of Herod the tetrarch”, who is a prophet in Antioch. Josephus (Ant 15.373-9) mentions an Essene named Manaen who had prophesied to young Herod (the Great) that he would become king. Some scholars think the author of Acts has confused the two Herods here. The coincidence is strange, at any rate.

It is also possible that the “King Herod” who persecutes the church in Acts 12 is meant to be Antipas. See the section on Agrippa I below for a brief summary of the issue.

Philip the Tetrarch

Philip was the third son of Herod’s to inherit a portion of his kingdom. Philip was made tetrarch of Gaulanitis (today’s Golan Heights) and other regions that lay to the northeast of Palestine, in what is now Syria. His main connection with the Gospels is that he is mentioned by Mark and Matthew in the story of John the Baptist’s execution. According to Mark 6:17, and repeated by Matthew 14:3, Herodias had divorced Philip to marry Antipas. This is incorrect, however; according to Josephus, Herod had a son whose given name was also Herod, and this was the brother whom Herodias had divorced to marry Antipas. (Historians call him Herod II to avoid confusion with his father.) This Herod lived in Rome, and Antipas had met him and Herodias during a visit there. In the past, some apologists have proposed that Herod II was actually named “Herod Philip”², but this is generally rejected by scholars today. The passage has other problems, as we shall see presently.

The only other mention of Philip comes in Luke 3:1, where he is simply named to establish a timeframe for the start of John’s ministry.


Herod the Great had two sons with his Hasmonean wife Mariamne. Both were executed before Herod’s death, but their children went on to lead lives of some importance. One son, Aristobulus IV, married his cousin (the daughter of Herod’s sister Salome) and had a daughter named Herodias. She is the one mentioned above who first married Herod II and then Antipas. In Mark 6 and Matthew 14, she is even more upset about John the Baptist’s accusations than Antipas is, and she conspires with her daughter to get John executed.

Salomé by Henri Regnault (1870)

Salome (daughter of Herodias)

According to Josephus, Herodias and Herod II had a daughter named Salome, and it is widely assumed that this is the daughter in Mark 6 who dances for Antipas during his birthday party and, at her mother’s prompting, demands the head of John the Baptist when Antipas offers to give her whatever she desires. However, the earliest manuscripts of Mark say the daughter’s name was Herodias, and Mark also describes Antipas as being her father (6:22), which has to be incorrect regardless of how one tries to interpret Mark. Matthew alters the story so that the girl is simply called “the daughter of Herodias” (14:6).

An additional twist to the confusion we have seen regarding Herodias, Philip, and Salome, is that Salome eventually went on to marry Philip. This might have been the source of Mark’s error (Flusser p. 19). (This datum also contradicts the Gospel narrative, since Salome obviously could not have married her own father.)

Most interpreters understand Salome’s dance to have been lascivious in nature, prompting Antipas’s rash promise. Many believe that Mark’s story has been influenced by the story of Esther, to whom the king similarly promises to give anything she asks (Esther 5:3ff). Mark uses the same word for girl, korasio, twice (6:22, 28) to describe Salome that the LXX uses for Esther and the other harem candidates, and Esther uses the banquet to bring about Haman’s execution much like Salome. (See Beavis, p. 104 for a discussion of these and other parallels.)

King Agrippa I (Agrippa the Great)

Marcus Julius Agrippa was the brother of Herodias, grandson of Herod and Salome. Agrippa was sent to be raised and educated in Rome after his father’s execution, and he became close friends with Caligula. When Caligula became emperor in 37, he gave Agrippa the territories of his recently deceased uncle Philip along with Abilene, conferring on Agrippa the title of king. Two years later, Antipas the tetrarch was exiled to Gaul, and his lands were added to Agrippa’s as well. When Caligula was murdered in 41, Agrippa supported Claudius in his accession as emperor and was rewarded with the addition of Judea and Samaria to his realm. Thus, Agrippa was the first king to reign in Palestine since his grandfather Herod, and Jerusalem once again became the Judaean capital. He was regarded as a kind and generous king by Josephus, and as a pious Jew by the Talmud.

Acts 12 describes a campaign of persecution against the church led by one “King Herod”, who is usually identified as Agrippa I, although Pervo (pp. 4, 101-105) notes that only Agrippa II (discussed below) is known to the author as “Agrippa”, and the murderous tyrant who goes by the name Herod in Acts 12 is based more on the Pharaoh of the Exodus, with the shared Passover motif and a direct allusion to Exodus 18:4 in Acts 12:11 — “The Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod.” Schwartz (p. 120) notes that Agrippa is called “Herod” in no other source, and suggests the character must be viewed typologically in these stories. By calling the persecutor “King Herod”, no other motive for his tyranny is required (Haenchen, p. 381).

Agrippa is also a poor fit for this King Herod in terms of chronology. As Pervo (p. 142) notes, the first twelve chapters of Acts, from Jesus’ ascension to the persecution of King Herod, seem to occupy only a few months, but at least a decade would have to have passed to bring events into the time of Agrippa I. Furthermore, the prediction of a famine in Acts 11:28 suggests that the story takes place before the time of Claudius³; yet Agrippa was not king of Judea until after Claudius’s accession.⁴ Antipas, who reigned until 39, may be a better fit.

Regardless of this Herod’s identity, his death is certainly based on that of Agrippa. Acts 12:21-23 states that while Herod was delivering a public address in his royal robes, the people called him a god, whereupon he was immediately struck down by an angel and eaten by worms.

As Josephus (Ant. 19.343-361) tells it, Agrippa I was attending a festival in Caesarea, and the sunlight gleaming off his silver garment one morning prompted his flatterers to declare him a god. After failing to rebuke them, Agrippa saw an owl which he took to be an ill omen. He soon became sick with stomach pains and died after five days, while the multitude prayed to God for his recovery.

The biblical account comes across as a polemical, sensationalized retelling of Josephus’s story⁵, taking base pleasure in the grotesque nature of the villain’s death rather than lamenting a popular king’s passing as Josephus does. The “king Herod” of Acts appears to be based as much on the biblical Pharaoh and the tyrannical Herod the Great as the historical Agrippa.

Excursus on Agrippa’s death by worms

We have further reason for skepticism regarding the death of “King Herod” by worms as described in Acts 12. According to a widely-cited paper by Thomas Africa (see bibliography below), death by lice or worms/maggots, a condition known technically as phthiriasis, was a stock death ascribed to hated tyrants in ancient literature.

…anecdotes about famous people [dying of phthiriasis] are notoriously suspect. […] What is common to all accounts is a fatal corruption of tissue in the lower abdomen, swarming with worms or “lice” and emitting a terrible stench. An object of loathing, the victim of phthiriasis dies horribly and painfully. While Heaven bestows this affliction on the just and unjust alike, the disease is an appropriate punishment for cruel tyrants and enemies of God.

Herodotus describes evil queen Pheretima as dying after her body seethed with worms. Pausanius depicts the tyrant Cassander’s death in similar terms, eaten by worms while still alive. The body of the hated Sulla also rotted and turned to worms before death according to Pliny the Elder and Plutarch. This theme exists in Jewish and Christian literature as well; Isaiah 68:24 speaks of the wicked whose “worm shall not die”, and 2 Maccabees describes in lurid terms the anguished last days of reviled king Antiochus IV as his rotting body swarmed with worms (2 Macc. 9:5-9). According to Papias, Judas Iscariot died in agony, oozing pus and worms “from every party of his body”. And, most significantly for our text in Acts, King Herod (the Great) was stricken with worms before death according to Josephus (JW 1.656). Africa concludes: “the author of Acts borrowed a theme from the fictions about Antiochus IV and Herod the Great and had the persecutor die of phthiriasis” (p. 11).

Royal 14 E I (Le miroir historial, book 9) – Claudius and Herod Agrippa (c. 1478-80)

King Agrippa II

King Agrippa had a son by the same name, Marcus Julius Agrippa. The younger Agrippa was still a teenager in Rome when his father died, so emperor Claudius reincorporated Agrippa I’s lands as a Roman province governed by a procurator. Agrippa II was given the small Syrian principality of Chalcis a few years later when his uncle, Herod of Chalcis, died. Eventually, other territory from Philip’s tetrarchy was given to him as well, along with the title of king. Agrippa II was on the side of the Romans during the Jewish War and was later rewarded with the rank of Praetor.

King Agrippa II is the Agrippa who participates in Paul’s trial in Acts 23-26. When Agrippa and his sister Berenice arrive in Caesarea to welcome the new procurator Festus (appointed around the year 56), he is convinced by Festus to hear Paul’s case. Narratively, the scene provides an opportunity for Paul to preach to Agrippa about his conversion and ministry, while establishing clear parallels between the trial of Jesus in Luke (before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod) and that of Paul (before the Sanhedrin, Felix and Festus, and Agrippa).

Agrippa II died around 100, the last Herodian king. His kingdom became part of the Roman empire after his death.

Paul before Agrippa, late 16th-century Flemish tapestry

Queen Julia Berenice

In Paul’s trial in Acts, King Agrippa II is accompanied by his sister Berenice to Caesarea. Berenice was, in fact, a well-known individual in Roman society, having been the mistress of Titus before he became emperor.

Berenice was married to her uncle Herod of Chalcis and held the title of queen in that tiny domain. When Herod died and Agrippa II received the throne, she stayed on to rule with her brother. Berenice was seen so often with her brother that rumors of an incestuous relationship spread. The writer Juvenal even described the relationship as a well-known fact. The author of Acts apparently knows of this, for he has Berenice accompany Agrippa to Caesarea during Paul’s trial. She plays little role in the story, however.

There are potential points of contact between Berenice and the Markan passage on John the Baptist’s death. Brian Incigneri has proposed that Mark included the story as a warning to Roman Christians about the dangerous influence of Berenice on soon-to-be-emperor Titus (pp. 182ff.) Furthermore, Morton Enslin has pointed out how similar the story is to that of the Cynic philosopher Heras, who was beheaded in 75 CE for publicly criticizing the affair between Berenice and Titus (Enslin p. 13; the story is chronicled by Dio Cassius, Hist. Rom. 46.15).


Agrippa II and Julia Berenice had another sister who moved in circles of power. Drusilla was briefly married to Azizus, the king of Emessa, but she left him to marry Felix, the Roman procurator of Judaea. She is mentioned briefly in Acts 24:24 as the wife of Felix but plays no role in the story. As an interesting aside, she and her son perished during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

Antonius Felix

Though not technically a Herodian, procurator Antonius Felix married into the family and thus earns the last spot in this list. A Greek freedman, Felix had originally been a slave either of emperor Claudius or Claudius’s mother. Soon after becoming procurator of Judaea, he married Drusilla the sister of Agrippa II. (By coincidence, his previous marriage had also been to one Drusilla, the daughter of Juba II, king of Mauretania, and granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra.) Felix’s marriage to a Jewess without converting or circumcision was probably responsible for his poor reputation among pious Jews (Smallwood, p. 270).

In Acts 23-24, Felix is the procurator who oversees Paul’s trial after Paul is arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Caesarea, though he never arrives at a verdict, and leaves Paul imprisoned for his successor to deal with.

During his tenure, Felix also suppressed an insurrection led by an “Egyptian prophet” who led 30,000 men out of the wilderness to the Mount of Olives with the intent of capturing Jerusalem. The story as told by Josephus (JW 2.259-263, Ant 20.169-171) bears some similarity to Jesus’ capture at the Mount of Olives. Acts 21:38 actually alludes to this event when the Roman tribute arresting Paul asks, “You are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand Sicarii out into the wilderness?”⁶

Map of the Eastern Mediterranean (from Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule)

  1. Though Mark himself seems to be unaware of this aspect of Jewish divorce law in his pericope on divorce.
  2. Whiston’s popular translation of Josephus even does this.
  3. No worldwide famine is recorded from Claudius’s reign, though there were several local ones. The author may have in mind a famine that struck Palestine particularly hard in 46 and 48, several years after the death of Agrippa, according to Josephus (Ant. 20.101).
  4. A further problem with the chronology of Acts is that the Passover during which Agrippa (i.e. “King Herod”) allegedly persecuted Christians would not have taken place until three weeks after the most likely date of Agrippa’s death in 44. See Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 62-63. 
  5. That Luke is dependant on Josephus is suggested by the inclusion of Agrippa’s robes, which is essential in Josephus but a superfluous detail in Luke. The setting in Luke and the reason for “the people” (as opposed to dignitaries in Josephus) to praise Agrippa are also unclear in comparison with Josephus. (Haenchen 388) 
  6. A rather strange question to ask Paul, since the tribune had arrested him for being attacked by an enraged mob. Additionally, the use of the Latin term Sicarii suggests reliance on Josephus, who may have coined the word. 

  • Thomas Africa, “Worms and the Death of Kings: A Cautionary Note on Disease and History”, Classical Antiquity, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Apr 1982).
  • Mary Ann Beavis, Mark (Paidaia Commentaries), 2011.
  • Brian J. Incigneri, The Gospel to the Romans, 2003.
  • Morton S. Enslin, “John and Jesus”, ZNW Vol. 66, No. 1–2, 1975.

Further Reading
  • Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea, 1990.