Category Archives: Peter Williamson

Why You Can Trust the Text of the New Testament

Recently a student of mine told me about someone who claimed he could never be a Christian because manuscripts of the New Testament have undergone so many changes through the centuries that it’s impossible to really know what the New Testament authors really said.  I wish I’d been there to set him straight!

The fact is that the writings of the New Testament are better attested by far than any other ancient works without exception.  Today we have manuscripts copied far closer to the time of the original autographs and in far greater numbers than for any classical work of history or literature.  Although there are numerous minor variants among the manuscripts (as is always the case in hand-copied writings), none of the variations bring into question any matters of doctrine.

For a brief overview of the facts, read this interview with Daniel B. Wallace, one of the world’s leading experts in the comparative analysis of manuscripts, a discipline called textual criticism. Not only does Wallace explain the reasons for the trustworthiness of the New Testament text, he reports the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from the first century, an incredible find if it stands up to scholarly examination when it will be published in the near future.

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Reflecting on Ephesians for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

From Ephesians by Peter S. Williamson, commenting on Ephesians 2:4-6:

After succinctly describing humanity’s desperate predicament, Paul bursts out with a declaration of the good news, beginning with the hopeful words, But God. God has not left us in our misery. God saw the situation of the human race, much as Exod 2:23–25 tells us he saw the plight of his people Israel enslaved in Egypt and acted to save them. Paul describes what kind of God this is: he is rich in mercy. Mercy, eleos, refers to the good will and kindness that seeks to help someone who is in trouble or need.

God’s motive for acting was his desire for our welfare: he acted because of the great love he had for us. The Greek is more forceful, using the word for “love” both in its noun and verb forms: “because of his great love with which he loved us.” Love (agapē) refers to cherishing and caring in a self-giving, disinterested way. To make plain that we did not deserve this love, Paul indicates that God loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions. This line recalls Rom 5:8, where Paul says that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

© 2009 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

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How to Read the Bible in a Year

Some friends recently made the excellent decision to read through the entire Bible in the course of a year and asked for advice.  When I first read through the Bible in a year it had a transformative effect on my life.  Spiritually speaking, it was like eating a perfectly balanced diet for a year while working out daily!  I felt stronger; I had more energy for doing what I should do!  Although I had more questions, I felt I had more insight into God’s way of seeing things and familiarity with Sacred Scripture. Continue reading

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What Is Our Lord Saying to Catholics About Marriage?

We have been reflecting on what God is saying to the Church today through the prophet Malachi.  After reproving priests for their failure to teach, Malachi turns his attention to the state of marriage among God’s people, focusing on two problems.  Continue reading

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The LORD’s Word to Priests and People through the Prophet Malachi

This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Malachi contains a sharp rebuke of priests for causing “many to falter by [their] instruction.”  If we read the context, we discover that the problem was with the whole people, not only with the priests, and that the crisis Israel faced bears many similarities to that which the Church is facing today. Continue reading

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What Is Our Lord Saying to American Catholics?

America is going through hard times economically, socially, and politically.  Does Jesus have a message for Christians in America?  And if so, what is it?  The best place to look is the word of God. Continue reading

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Let’s Fast for Life!

This morning reading Scripture gave me the strength I needed to begin a fast for the remaining 40 Days for Life (check out their inspiring website).

I have been reading through the prophets and am now in Daniel.  Today I read Dan 10, which begins like this:

In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. (Dan 10:2-3)

Daniel was “mourning” (the NJB says “doing a three-week penance”) because the attempts to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem after the exile were stalled due to intense opposition (see Ezra 4:1-4).  Daniel, however, was not merely grieving over the situation, but was appealing to the Lord to act.

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The Love of Husband and Wife

Recently I learned that two young married couples I know, each of which has a toddler at home, have separated and are headed toward divorce. In one marriage, the husband says he no longer feels anything for his wife; in the other, the wife says she no longer loves her husband.  While the circumstances differ in each case, in both a root cause of the breakup is a superficial understanding of love that reflects the confusion of our culture.

Some time ago another couple asked me to speak at their wedding.  As I prayed I felt inspired to compose the following dialogue about “True Love.”  I believe it supplies an antidote from the New Testament to some of the inadequate understandings of love common even among practicing Christians today.

True Love

One day two disciples were walking down a dusty road with their Teacher, and the conversation turned toward marriage, and how the only enduring foundation for marriage is true love.

“Teacher,” one of them asked, “please tell us, What is true love?” Continue reading

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Should Catholics Use Biblical Resources by Non-Catholics?

Recently a prospective student of the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan (CBSM) raised this question.  She noticed the inclusion of some books by Protestants on our reading list and was concerned.  What follows is my personal response, which has benefited from the comments of fellow board members Fr. John Riccardo and Deacon Jack Gardner.

The question is a very legitimate one, since the lens through which one reads the Scriptures does significantly affect one’s interpretation.  A Catholic, an Evangelical, a Jew, a liberal Protestant, a Jehovah’s Witness, a secular academic, and an atheist, read and interpret the Bible very differently!  In the past (and sometimes in the present) scholars have made excessive claims to objectivity about their reading of Scripture.  But everyone has beliefs that influence their interpretation.

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Scriptural Reflections on Fr. Corapi and Casey Anthony

By now everyone knows that a jury in Orlando has found Casey Anthony “Not Guilty” of murdering her two-year old daughter.  Meanwhile many of the Catholic faithful are discovering that, according to the religious community to which he belongs, the charismatic Fr. Corapi is indeed guilty of many of the charges leveled against him.

What does Scripture say to us about these two cases?  First as regards Fr. Corapi, it teaches that the possession of great and genuine charisms, whether those distributed by the Spirit or those that come through the sacrament of orders, are no proof of the spiritual standing of the person who exercises those gifts.

As a priest and evangelist, God worked powerfully through Fr. Corapi (see this message from some whose lives have been touched), even though his personal life was gravely out of order.  But this does not contradict Jesus teaching:

Matthew 7:20-23   20 So by their fruits you will know them.  21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, 1 but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’  23 Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. 1 Depart from me, you evildoers.’

Jesus does not dispute that such individuals truly prophesied in his name or truly cast out demons.  They did!  According to Jesus, these are not the fruits by which we can recognize true prophets. Rather, we are to look for those “who do the will of my Father in heaven,” i.e., those whose personal lives are marked by holiness, by obedience to God’s word (see the verses that immediately follow, 24-27).

All charisms, including sacred orders, are given to benefit others, to benefit the Church; they will only benefit those who possess them if they live in obedience to their Lord.

So, do we simply condemn Fr. Corapi as a false prophet and evildoer?  By no means!  His story isn’t over yet.  Remember David’s sin and repentance (2 Sam 11-12; Ps 51).  Remember Samson’s foolishness and the final act by which he delivered God’s people (Jdg 16:23-30).

I believe Fr. Corapi has good intentions, but is weak and wounded by sin, like the rest of us.  In hindsight it seems clear that he had not overcome his previous addictions, that like most addicts he needs lifelong practice of the Twelve Steps, and that he needed more, not less, community life on account of his public ministry.  Let’s pray for him that he may humble himself, repent, and receive the help he needs to bear truly good fruit, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and so be saved and help to save others.

Let’s pray for all those who benefited from Christ’s grace at work in and through Fr. Corapi, that they may not stumble on account for Fr. Corapi’s fall, but remain faithful to Christ, the true source of the grace they received.

A brief thought related to the Casey Anthony decision.

I am reading through Isaiah and in particular, a section that speaks of God’s judgment at the end of history (Isa 24-27).  Yesterday I happened on this verse:

Isaiah 26:21   See, the LORD goes forth from his place, to punish the wickedness of the earth’s inhabitants; The earth will reveal the blood upon her, and no longer conceal her slain.

In other words, in the long run no one ever gets away with murder.  The Torah is very insistent on how seriously God takes murder (see Gen 4:10, 9:6; Num 35:33; Deut 19:10-13; 21:1-9).  The prophets through to the book of Revelation (18:24) confirm that God will redress this wrong.

Am I saying Casey Anthony murdered her daughter?  No. God knows, I don’t.

In fact, our legal system’s principle of the presumption of innocence comes from the Bible.  In all serious cases and especially in capital cases (and in regard to accusations against presbyters, i.e., priests), both the Old and New Testament insist that “two or three witnesses” are necessary to convict and punish a person for wrongdoing (see Deut 17:6; 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19).

This is a very high standard of evidence.  In the world of today one could posit that forensic, circumstantial, or other kinds of evidence could equal the weight of two eyewitnesses, although that would need to be clear.  If anything, this suggests that American jurisprudence requires less stringent evidence of wrongdoing than does biblical law.

The reality is that people commit many serious crimes for which the biblical standard of evidence can never be met.  Thus, in order to protect the innocent from false condemnation, God’s law permits many guilty people to go scot free and unpunished in this life.

But that is because God sees things from a longer range perspective, as we should.  Perfect justice will be done in God’s court, but not until then.  No one should allow himself or herself to imagine their wrongdoing will go unpunished,  because no human being knows or can prove it, or that their good deeds will go unrewarded.  Let us prepare ourselves and our friends, neighbors, and children for “the day when… God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:16; 2:5-8).

The best preparation for everyone is faith and conversion, since God is merciful toward those who turn to him (1 John 1:7-9).

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