Author

About the Author
Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

Speaking in Tongues: Ecstatic Babel or Foreign Language?

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

In his 2001 book Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, biblical scholar Craig Keener tells the story of a man he had met in a charismatic church, who came up to him during congregational prayer and began interceding for him.[1] Instead of praying in English, the man made a series of buzzing sounds like a bee, which Keener supposed he thought was speaking in tongues.

Several months ago, I met a man who claimed to have the gift of tongues. As he was detailing his testimony, he began relaying stories of how, when the Spirit exercised this gift in him, nearby acquaintances were able to discern what he was saying, though in languages other than his native English—including, if I remember correctly, Hebrew and French.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was sharing with a former professor of mine about my experience in seminary. After mentioning the various biblical and Semitic language courses I’ve taken there, he asked, “So do you have the gift of tongues?” Befuddled, I paused . . . and then responded, “Not the spiritual gift, but I do have a gift for learning languages.” The question may have been metaphorical, but it got me wondering . . . .

As these vignettes begin to illustrate, little else in Christian practice is as mystifying as the nature of speaking in tongues—or as theologians like to call it, glossolalia. Quite apart from questions about its ongoing validity or cessation, or even about its use today, we must ask: How is this gift defined in Scripture? Does it consist of ecstatic gibberish, unintelligible utterances like the buzzing in Keener’s story? Or is it, as in my first story, what scholars call xenolalia—i.e., the miraculous speaking in actual, previously unlearned languages? If the latter, only human languages or also, purportedly, angelic languages? Lastly, does this gift include a propensity for learning languages, as my professor may have suggested?

It’s fascinating to note that the first instance of tongues-speaking in the Bible isn’t in 1 Corinthians 12, but in Acts 2, which provides the essential background for Pauline instruction on the topic. Here, as the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise in Acts 1:5, the earliest church is said to have been “filled with the Holy Spirit” and to have begun “to speak in other tongues [heterais glōssais] as the Spirit enabled them” (v. 4). The ensuing passage (vv. 5–11) fairly clearly identifies this phenomenon as xenolalia.[2] Not only does the text overtly affirm on three occasions that the nearby Jews—representing at least fifteen different regions and languages (see vv. 9–11)—recognized the inspired speech as their own native languages (vv. 6, 8, 11); it also uses the Greek terms glōssais (vv. 4, 11) and dialektō (vv. 6, 8)—the latter of which unmistakably denotes the language of a given nation or region—interchangeably!

If Acts 2 refers to xenolalia, then where might one go to find support for an understanding of glossolalia as anything other than actual human languages? Oddly enough, Paul’s famous “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13. There in vv. 1–3, the Apostle writes:

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

This appears to be the only place in the Bible that distinguishes between “the tongues/languages of men” (tais glōssais tōn anthrōpōn) and “the tongues/languages of angels” ([tais glōssaistōn angelōn). However, scholars are not exactly sure how to interpret the latter. According to some, “tongues of angels” refers to the Corinthians’ estimation of this gift, not necessarily to a normative, apostolically endorsed avenue of tongues-speaking.[3] Others, however, highlight the repeated three-step heightening in each verse of this passage (human tongues, angelic tongues, and love in v. 1; prophecy, mountain-moving faith, and love in v. 2; giving to the poor, subjection to hardship, and love in v. 3) and interpret angelic tongues as a rare, “deluxe version” of xenolalia. As Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner write, “the rhetorical pattern [in vv. 1–3] would suggest that speaking in tongues would most frequently entail speaking of (unknown) human languages, with the ability to speak angelic languages seen as an even more wonderful version or extension of the same gift.”[4] Still, given the hypothetical language of these verses (e.g., “If I speak . . .”), it is best to avoid dogmatism on the issue.

In either case, however, the gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:1, as in Acts 2, entails speaking in actual, previously unlearned languages, not unintelligible utterances or fabricated lingo—even if the language in question sounds like gibberish to those who don’t know it, and even if we have no means of discerning, in practice, whether it’s human or angelic in nature. As the Assemblies of God itself has asserted, “There is no justification for interpreting the word [glōssa] as strange or ecstatic sounds.”[5] Neither, may we add, is there justification for interpreting this gift as a natural affinity for learning and using languages. It is precisely the miraculous speaking of previously unlearned languages that is in view!


[1] Craig S. Keener, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 125.

[2] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 115.

[3] Cf. Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, New International Version Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 259.

[4] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 626 (emphasis mine).

[5] Assemblies of God, Where We Stand (Springfield, MO: Gospel, 1990), 147. Cited in William W. Menzies and Stanley M. Horton, Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion, 1993), 138n5.

Whom Was the Book of Acts Written To?

Like the Gospel of Luke, the book of Acts is explicitly addressed to a certain “Theophilus” (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). Meaning “lover of God” or “friend of God,” this name has often been understood, especially among preachers, as a generic or symbolic reference to all Christians. For at least two reasons, though, it more likely refers to an actual person in Luke’s social circle. Not only is the name attested in Greek literature, it’s also qualified with the phrase “most excellent” or “most noble” (Greek kratistos) in Luke 1:3, an honorary title only appropriate for an individual of high social means. In fact, this appellation is only used for Roman governors elsewhere in the New Testament, including Felix (Acts 23:26; 24:3) and Festus (Acts 26:25).

Given the historical-cultural milieu of the first century, scholars are widely agreed that Theophilus was a patron of Luke-Acts, the sponsor who funded its production and circulation. As New Testament professor Mark Strauss writes, “In the ancient world, the time and expense necessary for producing volumes like Luke and Acts were enormous, and authors commonly dedicated their works to their sponsors.”[1] Theophilus’s patronage would have been entirely fitting in light of his social status.

Closer inspection of Luke 1:3–4 also reveals that Theophilus was either a recent convert to Christianity or on the cusp of converting at the time of publication. The stated purpose of this Gospel—namely, “that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (v. 4)—makes no sense otherwise. Neither would Theophilus’s sponsorship. Accordingly, this wealthy investor may have been a former God-fearer, a Gentile who had worshiped Israel’s God without becoming a Jew.

Although Acts is addressed specifically to Theophilus, the time and effort required by such an extensive composition suggest that it was written for a wider audience as well. In fact, like the canonical Gospels, Acts was probably written first and foremost for a specific Christian community and then, after circulation, for the church at large.[2] Exactly which community that is, however, is impossible to determine with any degree of certainty. Still, we can highlight a number of features that characterize Luke’s first readers:

  1. Like Theophilus, they most certainly would have been believers or seekers.
  2. Luke’s emphasis on the legitimacy of the Gentile mission indicates that they were predominantly Gentile, though perhaps with a Jewish minority.
  3. Given the original language of Luke-Acts, they were primarily Greek- rather than Aramaic- or Latin-speaking.
  4. Luke’s distinctive interest in material possessions and his portrayal of several fairly wealthy believers in Acts intimates that he was writing to “a slightly more well-to-do Christian community.”[3]

Attempts to locate that community, while only speculative in nature, range from Antioch in Syria, to Ephesus in Asia Minor, to Philippi in Macedonia.[4]


[1] Mark L. Strauss, “Introduction to Acts,” in The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 2208–9.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 14.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Who Wrote the Book of Acts?

Most Christians, if forced to answer the question posed above, would probably be able to articulate—and rightly so—that a certain “Luke” is the author of Acts. At the same time, however, they’d probably be surprised to learn that the book nowhere mentions this name. In fact, along with the four canonical Gospels, Acts is widely regarded, especially in liberal circles, as an anonymous work.

Is Acts truly anonymous, though? If not, who wrote it? And what do we know about the author?

Two matters shed light on the problem at the outset.[1] First, even though Acts lacks an explicit ascription of authorship, the book would not have been “anonymous” in the first century. It’s likely that early churches would have known its author on the basis of personal relationships and/or oral tradition, much as the second-century AD book History of Alexander was known as Arrian’s without any ascription confirming that notion. Arrian even defended his omission with the following words: “I need not write my name, for it is not at all unknown among men, nor my country nor my family” (1.12.5).[2] Second, the anonymity of Acts is probably a deliberate literary feature on the author’s part, which distinguishes the book from its secular Greco-Roman counterparts. As New Testament scholar Eckhard Schnabel writes,

A comparison with Greek and Roman historiography shows that in contrast to the motivation of secular authors to earn praise and glory for their literary achievements, the authors of the Gospels, as well as the author of the book of Acts, probably adopted the literary device of anonymity because “they regarded themselves as comparatively insignificant mediators of a subject matter that deserved the full attention of the readers.”[3]

The tradition that Luke, a long-time companion of Paul, is the author of both the third gospel and the corresponding book of Acts is well established—unanimously even—as early as the second century AD. It can be found, for example, in the Muratorian Canon (34–35), the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Gospel of Luke, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (3.1.1; 3.14.1–4), and Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies (5.12). This is confirmed from the ninth century on, when scribes began to include “Luke the Evangelist” (Louka euangelistou) in the Greek title of the book.

Interestingly, the New Testament makes only three explicit references to a “Luke,” and we can reasonably assume that they all refer to the same person. Philemon 24, for instance, identifies this figure as one of Paul’s “fellow workers.” Second Timothy 4:11 depicts him as Paul’s only remaining companion near the end of his Roman imprisonment. And Colossians 4:14 describes him as “our dear friend Luke, the doctor.”

The name Luke is an English form of the Greek name Loukas, which itself is a shortened form of the Latin Lucius. Since Jews in first-century Greco-Roman society often had both Greek and Roman names, the use of this name does not tell us in and of itself whether Luke was a Jew or a Gentile. However, if Colossians 4 is any indication, Luke was probably a Gentile. There, in the final greetings of the letter, Paul cites Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus as his “only Jewish coworkers” (vv. 10–11). Only after that does he send greetings from Epaphras, Demas, and Luke (vv. 12–14). If this is right, then Luke may have been either a Gentile convert to Judaism or a so-called “God fearer”—a Gentile who had close ties with local synagogues.

A tradition as early as the late second century suggests that Luke was originally from Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria. This remains plausible to this day. Not only did this city boast a large Jewish population in the first century, it also provided the means of attaining the level of education indicated by Luke’s linguistic and historical abilities (Luke 1:1–4).

The fact that Luke was a physician does not tell us much about his social background. This is because a physician’s status in Greco-Roman society largely depended on his or her patients. In Schnabel’s words, “Physicians treating senators or the imperial family obviously enjoyed a higher prestige that physicians who treated slaves and often were themselves slaves.”[4] Still, New Testament scholars are almost universally agreed that Luke inherited a fairly high social status. In fact, if he can be compared to any known personage of that society, it is the later Galen of Pergamon (AD 129–210). The son of a prosperous architect, Galen received an extensive classical education and later travelled around the Mediterranean region, collecting medicinal herbs and writing lengthy studies on medicine, philosophy, and linguistics. Like Galen, Luke engaged in historical research, wrote books in educated standard Koine Greek, and travelled throughout the Mediterranean world (see especially the so-called “we” passages in Acts: i.e., 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1—28:16). As classicist Charles Fornara writes, these activities “excluded all but members of the highest levels of society. Wealth and social contacts were essential to the craft.”[5] Such wealth and status were probably exceptional within the early church. Indeed, Paul implies as much in 1 Corinthians 1:26: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

To summarize, then: We can reasonably affirm that the book of Acts was never truly anonymous; that it was written by Luke the Physician; and that the author was a Syrian Gentile with Jewish-Christian commitments. Of considerable means and social status, he was also a long-time companion of the Apostle Paul’s and a witness to many of the events recorded in the book.


[1] In what follows, I rely heavily on Eckhard J. Schnabel’s recent commentary on Acts (so titled) in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 21–25. Quoted material is properly marked as such.

[2] Cited in ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 22; citing Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” Novum Testamentum 50 (2008): 23.

[4] Schnabel, Acts, 25.

[5] Charles W. Fornara, The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 49. Cited in Schnabel, Acts, 25.

Did Jesus Ever Speak about Homosexual Practice?

From personal experience with dear friends and family members, one of the most common biblical justifications I’ve heard for homosexual practice is that Jesus himself never taught on it. The argument goes something like this: “What I cannot fathom is why Christ never spoke on the topic. While he spoke on the subject of marriage between men and women, this does not necessarily condemn same-sex sexual activity. Perhaps it’s progressive to think this way, but if it was truly important, don’t you think our Savior would have addressed it?”

Upon first impression, it does seem odd that Jesus doesn’t say anything explicitly about homosexual conduct in the Gospels. However, the assumption that Jesus never spoke on the matter may be unwarranted. Perhaps he did, but the evangelists (the authors of the four canonical Gospels) simply didn’t know about it or see any reason, given their intentions in writing, to record any of it. Not all that Jesus did or said, after all, was recorded by the evangelists (see John 21:25; cf. Acts 20:35, which records certain “words of the Lord Jesus” that are lacking in any of the four Gospels). Still, the lack of any explicit statement in the Gospels about homosexuality points to the ad hoc nature of those documents, or even to that of Jesus’s ministry. That is, the silence suggests not that Jesus found the topic unimportant, but rather that it wasn’t a controversial issue in first-century Palestinian Judaism, that Jesus never encountered the issue during his ministry, or that he had no need to qualify the conventional Jewish view at that the time, which was unmistakably based on the Jewish Scriptures (what we recognize today as the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible). As biblical scholar Craig Keener writes, “Jewish people usually viewed homosexual behavior as a pervasively and uniquely Gentile sin” and “regarded homosexual behavior as meriting death . . . or punishment by God in the afterlife.”[1] Not surprisingly, the fact that same-sex intercourse was not uncommon in Greco-Roman society, especially in Greek society, explains why Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, deals with the issue directly on three separate occasions (Romans 1:26–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; and 1 Timothy 1:9–10).

It is certainly right to suggest that Jesus’s explicit teaching on the subject of heterosexual marriage does not in and of itself necessitate his condemnation of homosexual practice. However, given his apparent acceptance of the conventional Jewish view on the matter, and given his explicit endorsement of heterosexual monogamy (see, for example, Mark 10:1–12) and chastity in singleness (Matthew 19:11–12), Jesus likely did think of homosexual behavior as sinful and contrary to the divine purpose for human sexuality (cf. Genesis 1:27–28; 2:20b–24).

Moreover, there is good reason to think that Jesus did address the topic implicitly at least on one occasion. That is, when Jesus states in Mark 7:21–22, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,” etc., the Greek term he uses for “sexual immorality” here, porneiai (plural), is a comprehensive reference to various kinds of unlawful sexual intercourse, likely inclusive, in this context, of homosexual sex. Elsewhere, the noun frequently refers to adultery and prostitution (though note that it probably doesn’t refer to adultery here, since “adulteries” [moicheiai] is explicitly listed merely three words later), but can also refer to incest, bestiality, and same-sex intercourse.[2] According to New Testament scholar Robert A. J. Gagnon, “No first-century Jew could have spoken of porneiai . . . without having in mind the list of forbidden sexual offenses in Leviticus 18 and 20 (incest, adultery, same-sex intercourse, bestiality).”[3] If all of this is true, and if the authenticity of this text is assumed, then it follows that Jesus taught that homosexual sex, among other kinds of immorality (not least heterosexual sins!), “defiles” those who engage in it (Mark 7:20, 23).


[1] Craig S. Keener, “Adultery, Divorce,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 15. David E. Garland concurs: “Though homosexual acts were generally accepted in the ancient world, Hellenistic Jewish texts are unanimous in condemning them and treat them and idolatry as the most obvious examples of Gentile moral depravity” (1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003], 213). Garland proceeds to cite multiple Hellenistic Jewish texts (see note 31 on the same page), including Wisdom of Solomon 14:26; Letter of Aristeas 152; Philo, On Abraham 26–27 §§135–37; On the Special Laws 3.7 §§37–39; Hypothetica/Apology for the Jews 7.1; Josephus, Against Apion 2.25 §199; 2.38 §§273–75; 2 Enoch 10:4; 34:2; Pseudo-Phocylides 3, 190–92, 213–14; Testament of Naphtali 3:4; Sibylline Oracles 2:73; 3:185–88, 764; 4:33–34; 5:166–167, 386–433, 595–600, 764; and Testament of Jacob 7:20.

[2] This is true of both classical Greek and rabbinic usage, as well as New Testament usage. See H. Reisser, “porneuō,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1:497–501; and Gottfried Fitzer, “porneia, as, hē,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 3:137.

[3] Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 191. For another potential implicit reference to homosexual behavior on Jesus’s part, see pp. 192–93 in Gagnon’s book.

Observing Lent: Several Practical Suggestions

The image of the desert way is one of the classical expressions of the Lenten journey—clearly derived from the way of Jesus in the desert. Only by intentionally entering the desert way can we be kept from idolatry and perhaps from spiritual self-indulgence.
—Don E. Saliers

As this quote suggests, Lent is notorious for its emphasis on self-denial and discipline. The following is a basic list of practical suggestions for those who would like to initiate themselves into this rigorous season.

First, if available, simply attend and participate in your church’s Lenten services. These might include Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday services, but also, and especially, the six weekend services during Lent. Also included are Holy Week services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, all of which culminate Lent and bring it to its climax.

Second, consider using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a guide for Bible reading—not only in your personal devotions but also in communal settings (e.g., in small groups or at the table with your family). The RCL is essentially a list of biblical readings designated for each Sunday in the three-year liturgical cycle. Each day covered in the lectionary has four readings: (1) a reading from the Old Testament, (2) a reading from the Psalms, (3) a reading from Acts and the Epistles, and (4) a reading from the Gospels. You need not buy a physical copy, as the RCL is available for free online (see, for example, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu). For daily, rather than merely weekly, readings, one can turn to the RCL Daily Readings, which are available online as well (https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=B). You can even download these lectionaries to Google Calendar, iCal, and Outlook.

Third, for the more theologically inclined, supplement your lectionary use by reading the appropriate entries in Roger E. Van Harm, ed., The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Basically a collection of exegetical essays by leading mainline Protestant scholars, this set is aligned with the RCL and is designed for “jumpstarting” sermon preparation. It could also be used, though, as a devotional supplement to daily or weekly Scripture reading. Volume 1 is subtitled The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts; volume 2, The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles; and volume 3, The Third Readings: The Gospels.

Fourth, consider using the RCL Prayers as a guide for individual and communal prayer. Like the RCL, this is a collection of prayers selected for each Sunday of the liturgical calendar. Each day consists of three different kinds of prayers: thematic prayers, intercessory prayers, and Scripture-based prayers. This, too, can be accessed at no cost online (https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=72).

Fifth, use a list of virtues and vices for directed prayer and self-examination. This can be part of your usual devotional time or part of a lengthier, more concentrated Lenten retreat. A Lenten form for self-examination, focusing entirely on vices, can be found here. However, the vice and virtue lists of the New Testament (e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:6–10; Galatians 5:19–23) can be used just as profitably.

Sixth, if you are physically able, join your Catholic brothers and sisters in both (1) fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and (2) abstaining from meat consumption on Fridays during Lent. Fasting can take various forms, some more demanding than others, but you should know that the Catholic Church’s current standards are actually fairly lax. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.”[1] It should be borne in mind that the point of fasting during Lent is not self-improvement, but rather spiritual discipline and solidarity with the poor (cf. Isaiah 58:6–7; Matthew 6:16–18).

Seventh, either at your local church or within your own home, organize and lead weekly, simple communal meals of soup, bread, and tea (or other modest foods and drinks).[2] This could be usefully accompanied by Scripture reading, prayer, hymn singing, and the giving of money (perhaps the equivalent of the cost of the alternative meal) to a designated mission or charity. Readings and prayers, in turn, could be from the RCL and RCL Prayers, as discussed already above.

Finally, since Lent is in large part about discipleship, and since discipleship is so intimately tied to Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:19–20), commit yourself not only to learning, but also to obeying, our Lord’s demands. This is perhaps best done in relationship with others, either within the context of a mentorship or within the context of a discipleship course at a local church. University Assembly, for instance, will be launching a new six-week teaching series on discipleship, beginning Wednesday, March 21st. We’d love for you to join us.


[1] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Fast & Abstinence,” accessed February 22, 2018, http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm.

[2] Don E. Saliers, “The Spiritual Discipline of Lent,” in The Services of the Christian Year, vol. 5 of The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber (Nashville: Star Song, 1994), 229.

How Have American Churches Responded to Marijuana Use?

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

In this installment of our series on marijuana use, we survey the various responses of American Christians, churches, parachurch ministries, and denominations to the legalization of marijuana—both medical and recreational. How, for example, have churches in America dealt with marijuana use? What views have they espoused in the debate, and what political measures have they taken?

Most churches, especially most evangelical churches, I would venture to guess, have never officially or publically addressed the issue—or else have mentioned it only in passing in sermons, small groups, counseling sessions, and Sunday School lessons. As can be demonstrated in a brief google search, though, a few, at least, have addressed the issue in church-sponsored blog posts and e-publications (for example, Xenos Christian Fellowship of Columbus, OH; Life Bridge Church of Taylor, MI; and Mars Hill Church of Seattle, WA).[1] If the issue has been somewhat taboo in American culture at large, then it certainly has been in our churches—if not even more so.

Not surprisingly, the issue seems to have received more attention on blog sites and parachurch ministry platforms than in the pulpit. A search for “marijuana” on The Gospel Coalition’s website, for example, yields several articles, as it does for Patheos, Desiring God, and Evangelicals for Social Action.[2] Notably, many of these articles are written by influential church leaders, such as John Piper, Joe Carter, and Benjamin L. Corey.[3] While Piper and Carter are conservative evangelicals who oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana use, Corey identifies with the progressive Emerging Church movement and endorses the full legalization of marijuana use—both medicinal and recreational.[4]

Strikingly, according to Jonathan Merritt, evangelicals such as Piper and Carter have been “long considered to be among the country’s strongest anti-pot advocates.”[5] But it isn’t only evangelical leaders who have opposed decriminalization. Many evangelicals, Merritt says, “have opposed legalizing weed since at least the Reagan administration [1981–1989].” At the same time, however, “[t]he war on drugs, a cornerstone issue of the culture wars during the 1980s and 1990s, had all but flickered out in recent years. Americans, including religious ones, have been more focused on the economy, terrorism, and other social issues of late.” This suggests that opposition to legalization was dormant to some extent between the late 1990s and 2012, when the states of Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of cannabis.

In addition to individual church leaders and American evangelicals, the issue has received official attention at the denominational level as well. According to Lisa Jacks, in an article featured in Newsmax, specific denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church have all made statements in support of medical marijuana use.[6] In fact, the Episcopal Church may have been one of the first to do so, having officially supported medical marijuana use since 1982. In that year, “the Episcopalians passed a resolution regarding policy impacting the use of the substance that, in part, ‘urges the adoption by Congress and all states of statutes providing that the use of marijuana be permitted when deemed medically appropriate by duly licensed medical practitioners.’” However, as Jacks notes, such support does not imply a support of recreational use. “In fact, the Methodist Church considers it to be a gateway drug, and the Episcopal[ian]s say it can be disabling — the Presbyterians are not as strict, but do believe marijuana can lead to drug abuse.”

Other denominations and parachurch ministries, however, have rejected the use of the drug altogether, even for medical purposes. These include Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.[7] Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, for example, has been a major opponent against legalization.[8]

The Seventh-Day Adventist movement is less consensual. According to an article in Adventist Today,

The Adventist movement from its earliest days has taken a position against the use of alcohol and tobacco, which are common practices in many cultures. The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, in the chapter on church standards of behavior (page 140, 2010 edition) states, ‘we abstain from all forms of alcohol, tobacco, and addictive drugs.’ This is part of the commitment that each person makes when they are baptized into membership. In the chapter on ‘Discipline,’ among the 13 items for which a member may be kicked out or put under censure is ‘The use or manufacture of illicit drugs or the misuse of, or trafficking in, narcotics or other drugs.’[9]

While this statement was crafted in the 1930s, the recent legalization of medicinal marijuana in multiple U.S. states has challenged its aptness for the twenty-first century. A variety of Adventist pastors, for instance, have recently claimed that medical uses of marijuana do not warrant church discipline or even oversight. “‘There is basically no biblical reference to this issue,’ said one pastor from a state where medical marijuana is legal. ‘People make these things religious [issues], when in reality, they are not.’ It is ‘only the opinions of people who need to draw lines and make boxes.’”[10]

Still other churches, especially of a syncretistic nature, have embraced marijuana use, even using pot in their religious services and making it a central part of their identity. Two examples suffice: (1) Coachella Valley Church in San Jose, CA, which self-identifies with Rastafarianism (a political and religious movement combining elements of Christianity, pan-Africanism, and mysticism); and (2) the International Church of Cannabis in Denver, CO, which exists “to offer a home to adults everywhere who are looking to create the best version of themselves by way of the sacred plant.”[11] What is striking here is not only how audacious these “churches” are, but how many there are. According to Barbara Feder Ostrov, “As more states ease access to marijuana, churches that offer pot as a sacrament are proliferating, competing with medical marijuana dispensaries and pot shops in the few states that have legalized recreational weed. While some claim Rastafari affiliation, others link themselves to Native American religious traditions.”[12] Accordingly, she goes on to list a variety of other so-called “Marijuana churches” in Indiana, Michigan, and California. “Marijuana churches,” Feder Ostrov adds, “typically require people to purchase a membership, then give or sell them marijuana and related products. They may ask for ID such as a driver’s license but don’t require a doctor’s recommendation or medical marijuana identification card.”[13]

[1] See Jim Leffel, “What about Medical Marijuana?,” Xenos Christian Fellowship, https://www.xenos.org/essays/what-about-medical-marijuana; Grant Agler, “A Biblical Perspective on Legalizing Weed,” Life Bridge Church, https://thelifebridgechurch.com/bible-weed/; Mark Driscoll, Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? (N.p.: Mars Hill Church, 2012), accessible at http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/bethany_baptist_church/puff-or-pass_marijuana.pdf. All access dates for websites in this post are as of February 13, 2018.

[2] See, e.g., Joe Carter, “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?,” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/; John Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot,” Desiring God, January 9, 2014, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot; Roger Dowis, “The Legalization of Marijuana: What Christians Should Know,” Evangelicals for Social Action, October 15, 2014, http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/faith-and-public-life/the-legalization-of-marijuana-what-christians-should-know/.

[3] Note also Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture (Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016), which is coauthored by Tom Breeden, Assistant Pastor at Grace Community Church of Charlottesville, VA, and Mark L. Ward Jr., a Logos Bible Software Pro at Faithlife in Bellingham, WA.

[4] Benjamin L. Corey, “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal,” Patheos, September 8, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

[5] Jonathan Merritt, “What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate,” Religion News Service, January 27, 2014, http://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/evangelicals-missing-marijuana-debate/. All quotes in this paragraph are from Merritt’s article here.

[6] Lisa Jacks, “Christian Denominations with Most Conservative Stance on Legalizing Marijuana,” Newsmax, May 6, 2015, https://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/christian-legalizing-marijuana/2015/05/06/id/643072/. All quotes in this paragraph are from Jacks’s article.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alexander Griswold, “Moore on Marijuana: Southern Baptist Thinker Rejects Legalization,” Juicy Ecumenism, January 25, 2014, https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/01/25/moore-on-medical-marijuana-southern-baptist-thinker-rejects-legalization/.

[9] Monte Sahlin, “How Adventists Are Responding to Legalization of Marijuana in the U.S.,” Adventist Today, January 22, 2014, https://atoday.org/how-adventists-are-responding-to-legalization-of-marijuana-in-the-u-s/.

[10] Ibid.

[11] International Church of Cannabis, “About Us,” Elevationists, https://www.elevationists.org/about, s.v. “Our Mission.” Cf. Jacey Fortin, “Marijuana on Religious Grounds? A Cannabis Church Opens in Denver,” New York Times, April 20, 2017,
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/us/international-church-cannabis.html.

[12] See Barbara Feder Ostrov, “At ‘Pot Churches,’ Marijuana Is the Sacrament,” USA Today, December 22, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/12/22/high-praise-pot-churches-proliferate-states-ease-access-marijuana/971871001/.

[13] Ibid.

For Further Reading

Galanter, Marc, and Linda Glickman. “Substance Use Disorders and Spirituality.” In Religious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Research Agenda for DSM-V, edited by John R. Peteet, Francis G. Lu, and William E. Narrow, 61–72. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2011.

Geiger, Abigail. “About Six-in-Ten Americans Support Marijuana Legalization.” Pew Research Center, January 5, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/05/americans-support-marijuana-legalization/.

Jacks, Lisa. “Christian Denominations with Most Conservative Stance on Legalizing Marijuana.” Newsmax, May 6, 2015. https://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/christian-legalizing-marijuana/2015/05/06/id/643072/.

Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, and Juhem Navarro-Rivera. “General Public, Christian Young Adults Divided on Marijuana Legalization.” Public Religion Research Institute, April 25, 2013. http://www.prri.org/research/april-2013-prri-rns-survey/.

Thomas, Charles. “Detailed Analyses of Religious Groups’ Divergent Positions on Marijuana.” In Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition, edited by Mitch Earleywine, 247–80. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

———. “How in God’s Name Do We Reform Our Marijuana Laws?” In Pot Politics: Marijuana and the Costs of Prohibition, edited by Mitch Earleywine, 228–46. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Lent in the Christian Calendar

Evangelicals are known for a lot of things. But one thing they’re not well known for is their practice of the Christian liturgical calendar. In fact, most evangelicals today probably couldn’t even tell you which season we’re in right now—ahem, Lent—or even what it is about. Worse still, many probably celebrated Valentine’s Day this year with absolutely no awareness that February 14th was also Ash Wednesday.

This is a far cry from the customs of the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, and certain High-Church Protestant traditions, including Lutheranism, Wesleyanism, and Anglicanism. It’s also a far cry from recent calls from evangelicals themselves to embrace the church calendar. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, for example, has issued just such a call in his gem of a book, The King Jesus Gospel, essentially arguing that the adoption of the church calendar is a central means of becoming a people of the story of Christ and, thereby, fostering a gospel culture in our churches. As McKnight writes,

The church calendar is all about the Story of Jesus, and I know of nothing—other than regular soaking in the Bible—that can ‘gospelize’ our life more than the church calendar. . . . Anyone who is half aware of the calendar in a church that is consciously devoted to focusing on these events in their theological and biblical contexts will be exposed every year to the whole gospel, to the whole Story of Israel coming to its saving completion in the Story of Jesus.[1]

If this is right, then evangelicals would be wise to invest time and effort into understanding and implementing the Christian calendar.

What, then, is Lent, and why is it significant? How has it been practiced? And how does it relate to the gospel?

Coming from the Middle English term lente, meaning “spring,” Lent occurs in late winter and early spring, beginning on Ash Wednesday and extending through Holy Week to the day before Easter. Accordingly, it spans 40 weekdays (i.e., days of the week not including Sundays) over the course of about six weeks, corresponding to Jesus’s 40-day fast and temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11; cf. Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8). In Christian tradition, Lent is not primarily a time for meditating on the passion of Christ, as this is reserved for Holy Week. Instead, it is a season for personal and corporate spiritual renewal, to be appreciated not only for its own sake but also, and especially, for preparing believers for their remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.[2] Traditionally, Lent has been marked by self-denial and the disciplines of fasting, abstinence, repentance, prayer, and meditation on God’s holy Word.

The Lenten season is also, and more specifically, a season of preparation for baptism. For recent converts who are preparing for baptism on Easter, it is a time for exploring and galvanizing their new identity in Christ. For those who have already been baptized, it is a time for reclaiming their identity as those who have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him to new life (Romans 6:1–14; Colossians 2:11–12). Other than highlighting Christ’s wilderness temptation, then, Lent also subtly underscores (and explicitly anticipates) his death and resurrection. It also stresses the costly demands he places on all who would follow him to the cross.

May we approach this season in self-examination and devotion to our Savior.


[1] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 155.

[2] J. Neil Alexander, “An Introduction to Lent,” in The Services of the Christian Year, vol. 5 of The Complete Library of Christian Worship, ed. Robert E. Webber (Nashville: Star Song, 1994), 227.

A Survey of Arguments Both for and against Recreational Marijuana Use

Brandon C. Benziger is a recent graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Denver Seminary, currently serving as Biblical Integration and Curriculum Development Manager at Sevenstar Academy, LLC.

Search for “marijuana” and “cannabis” in any online Bible, and your search will inevitably come up empty. That Scripture doesn’t address the issue of marijuana use directly, however, has not kept Christians from reflecting on it biblically and theologically—or even from attempting to find cannabis where our modern translations purportedly obscure it. As with any other ethical or political debate in the U.S. today, pastors and theologians occupy various, even opposing, positions in the marijuana debate. The following is a brief, introductory survey of popular arguments both for and against such use. It does not conclude with any ethical reflections of my own (or of other Thinker Sensitive contributors, for that matter), but rather provides a mere catalog of arguments for the sake of introducing readers to the issues.

Pro-Recreational Arguments

Several biblical arguments have been made supporting the recreational use of marijuana and its legalization. Of these, two main arguments stand out; the rest are fairly minor and have not received as much attention among proponents.

Perhaps the most widely used argument, first of all, is the argument from creation. Proponents of this argument contend that God created marijuana (Genesis 1:11–12a), deemed it good (Genesis 1:12b), and permitted us to consume it (Genesis 1:29).[1] Sometimes, this is cast in terms of Jesus creating marijuana himself (an inference made from John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16).[2]

A second common argument is that from the analogy of alcohol. This argument assumes that since the Bible approves of moderate alcohol consumption (cf. Proverbs 31:6–7; John 2:1–10), it also, by analogy, approves of moderate marijuana use.[3]

A variety of other, less prominent arguments have been made as well. According to the argument from the analogy of caffeine, for example, the frequent use of caffeine among Christians—widely accepted as morally permissible, despite its mind-altering properties—suggests the moral permissibility of the use of other mind-altering drugs such as marijuana.[4] Moreover, the argument from ancient Israel states not only that cannabis was sanctioned as a healing gift from God (Ezekiel 34:29; cf. Isaiah 18:4–5; Revelation 22:1–2), but also that it was used in the Israelite cult without censure (Exodus 30:22–29).[5] The issue centers on the identification of the Hebrew phrases qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29; translated “plant of renown” in the King James Version [KJV]). Closely related, finally, is the pragmatic argument from religious aid, which suggests that the use of marijuana can aid religious experience (i.e., as an aid to meditation or even Bible study).[6]

Anti-Recreational Arguments

A variety of counterarguments and other stand-alone arguments have been offered as well. These can be summarized as follows:

  1. Counterarguments[7]
    1. The argument against the argument from creation: The argument from creation does not address the problem that not all created plants are edible, nor does it address the fact that the original creation was impacted by sin, such that some created plants may no longer be in their original state.[8]
    2. The argument against the analogy of alcohol: Whereas wine is associated in the Bible with dietary concerns, table fellowship, and weddings, cannabis has an exclusively intoxicating function.[9] In other words, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    3. The argument against the analogy of caffeine: Whereas marijuana temporarily impairs the reliable processing of reality, caffeine ordinarily sharpens that processing.[10] Like the previous analogy, then, the two are not sufficiently analogous.
    4. The argument against the argument from ancient Israel: There is no indication that cannabis is referenced in Exodus 30:22–29 or Ezekiel 34:29. qĕnēh-bośem (Exodus 30:23) refers to “sweet cane,” rather than cannabis, and maṭṭāʿ lĕšēm (Ezekiel 34:29), translated “the plant of renown” in KJV, refers to the place of planting, not to the plants themselves.[11] For example, the New American Standard Bible translates this phrase as “a renowned planting place,” while the New International Version translates it as “a land renowned for its crops.”
  2. Constructive arguments
    1. The argument from intoxication: Intoxication is forbidden in Scripture (e.g., Ephesians 5:18). Since recreational use of marijuana is almost always for the sake of intoxication, such use is also forbidden in Scripture.[12]
    2. The argument from mind alteration: Unlike caffeine, marijuana use jeopardizes the Christian’s ability to discern God’s will and to love him with all of his/her mind (Proverbs 23:32–33; Matthew 22:37 and parallels; 1 Corinthians 14:20).[13]
    3. The argument from the sanctified body: The sanctified human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20). This implies keeping it ready for the Spirit’s use: not dulling our God-given powers of seeing clearly, observing accurately, thinking soundly, and remembering helpfully.[14]
    4. The argument from silence: The Bible nowhere provides guidelines for the moderate use of drugs, as it does for wine and other alcoholic beverages. Hence, Scripture does not intend even for the moderate use of marijuana.[15]
    5. The argument from virtue: Since the medical data reveals that recreational marijuana use is detrimental to the well-being of the user, it is a vicious activity, an instance of the vice of intoxication, and as such is morally illicit.[16]

Undoubtedly, many other arguments could be added to these lists. However, this provides a good starting point for ongoing research. See, for example, “For Further Study” below.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible,” Equal Rights 4 All, http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm. All access dates for websites in this post are as of February 13, 2018.

[2] Benjamin L. Corey, “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal,” Patheos, September 8, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

[3] See Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana: A Theology,” HuffPost: The Blog, January 2, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

[4] This is an argument anticipated and argued against by John Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot,” Desiring God, January 9, 2014, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

[5] Family Council on Drug Awareness, “Marijuana and the Bible.”

[6] Brooks Thistlethwaite, “Marijuana.”

[7] Among the few posts and articles read in preparation for this post, no counterargument is proffered against the argument from religious aid.

[8] H. Wayne House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8.

[9] Ibid., 9.

[10] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[11] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 8–9.

[12] Ibid., 19; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot”; Joe Carter, “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?,” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

[13] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9; Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.”

[14] Piper, “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Note that Brooks Thistlethwaite appeals to the same texts (i.e., 1 Corinthians 6:13, 19–20), though in support of moderation and respect, not abstinence.

[15] House, “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?,” 9.

[16] Ezra Sullivan and Nicanor Austriaco, “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use,” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

For Further Study

Breeden, Tom, and Mark L. Ward Jr. Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture. Minneapolis: Cruciform Press, 2016.

Brooks Thistlethwaite, Susan. “Marijuana: A Theology.” The Blog, January 2, 2014. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/marijuana-christian-theology_b_4529031.html.

Carter, Joe. “Is Recreational Marijuana Use a Sin?” The Gospel Coalition, January 6, 2014. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-recreational-marijuana-use-a-sin/.

Corey, Benjamin L. “Jesus Created Marijuana, and It Should Be Legal.” Patheos, September 8, 2016. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jesus-created-marijuana-and-it-should-be-legal/.

Driscoll, Mark. Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not? N.p.: Mars Hill Church, 2012. E-book available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/bethany_baptist_church/puff-or-pass_marijuana.pdf.

Family Council on Drug Awareness. “Marijuana and the Bible.” Equal Rights 4 All. http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm.

Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Christian Life. A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2008. S.v. “Health and Safety,” 739–43.

House, H. Wayne. “What Does the Bible Teach about the Cannabis Plant?” Christian Research Journal 38, no. 5 (2015): 8–9. Accessible online at http://www.equip.org/article/bible-teach-cannabis-plant/.

Lacine, Jeff. “Marijuana to the Glory of God.” Desiring God, January 7, 2017. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/marijuana-to-the-glory-of-god.

Merritt, Jonathan. “What Evangelicals Miss in the Marijuana Debate.” Religion News Service, January 27, 2014. http://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/evangelicals-missing-marijuana-debate/.

Parlor, Branson. “Medical Marijuana and a Theology of Pot.” Think Christian, November 27, 2012. https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/medical-marijuana-and-a-theology-of-pot.

Piper, John. “Don’t Let Your Mind Go to Pot.” Desiring God, January 9, 2014. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-let-your-mind-go-to-pot.

Rochford, James. “The Ethics of Marijuana Use.” Evidence Unseen. http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/practical-theology/the-ethics-of-marijuana-usage/.

Storms, Sam. “10 Things You Should Know about Marijuana and the Christian.” SamStorms.com, March 13, 2017. http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/10-things-you-should-know-about-marijuana-and-the-christian.

Sullivan, Ezra, and Nicanor Austriaco. “A Virtue Analysis of Recreational Marijuana Use.” Linacre Quarterly 83, no. 2 (2016): 158–73.

Van Wicklin, John F. “Drugs.” In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity: An A-to-Z Guide to Following Christ in Every Aspect of Life, edited by Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens, 318–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Evidence for the Exodus? What Ancient Egyptian Sources Can and Cannot Tell Us

As the paradigmatic act of redemption, the Israelite exodus from Egypt is one of the most important events and themes of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. While its historicity has been accepted throughout Western history, this has been questioned and even denied in the modern period. Other than the Bible itself, then, what evidence exists for the exodus?

At the outset, it is important to note that there is no direct extrabiblical evidence for the exodus. Given the geological nature of the Egyptian East Delta, however, this should not come as a surprise. According to K. A. Kitchen, a prominent Egyptologist and biblical scholar, the Delta is an annually flooded “alluvial fan of mud” that does not preserve artifacts, documents, or even stone structures very well.[1] In addition, “as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with the loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king, in temples in the Delta or anywhere else.”[2] Still, multiple extant sources indirectly support at least the plausibility of the biblical account.

First among these, Egyptian documents such as Papyrus Anastasi VI lend credence to the notion of a Hebrew entrance into Egypt.[3] Dating to c. 1200 BCE, this text not only shows that Bedouins from southern Transjordan migrated to Egypt in times of famine; it also shows that Egypt was able to control its borders during the thirteenth century. However, earlier texts, such as the Instruction for Merikare and the Prophecies of Neferti, imply an ability to control the borders during the Middle (2106–1786 BCE) and New Kingdoms (c. 1550–1200 BCE), but not during the Second Intermediate Period (1786–1550 BCE), when central authority had broken down and border forts had been abandoned by the military.

Second, Papyrus Anastasi V (19:2—20:6), which dates to the twelfth century BCE, reveals that Semitic peoples sometimes in fact did escape from Egypt. This document describes two laborers fleeing from Egypt through northern Sinai. According to Egyptologist James P. Allen, “Although the fugitives are described only as ‘workers,’ their route suggests they were Asiatics [i.e., Semitic-speaking people from western Asia] rather than Egyptians, attempting to escape to Canaanite territory.”[4]

Ancient EgyptThird, several known sites or areas in the Nile Delta from the thirteenth century BCE and later can be identified with the place names of the exodus narrative.[5] Thus, biblical “Rameses” and “Pithom,” both mentioned in Exodus 1:11, have been identified with Tell el-Dabʿa/Qantir and Tell el-Retabeh, respectively. “Succoth” corresponds to Egyptian “Tjeku.” “Etham,” “Pi-Hahiroth,” “Migdol,” and “Baal-Zephon,” on the other hand, are as of yet unknown. Still, there are linguistic and geographical reasons to place Etham at the end of the Wadi Tumilat, just before the Sinai wilderness. Likewise, based on a comparison of Papyrus Anastasi III and the Onomastica of Amenemope, there is reason to identify Pi-Hahiroth, Migdol, and Baal-Zephon in the area south of Tjaru (Sile), near Sety’s tower. For similar reasons, yam suf (Reed Sea) can be identified with the now desiccated Ballah Lake. Finally, avoidance of “the way of the land of the Philistines” (the northern route into Canaan) in Exodus 13:17 reflects a knowledge of New Kingdom military realities related to Tjaru (Sile). This particular site served as a military outpost along Egypt’s northeastern frontier and has been identified with Hebua I, while the major fort of the region has been identified with Hebua II.

Finally, even though the Merneptah Stele (c. 1209 BCE) better fits a discussion of the emergence of Israel in Canaan, it is also important here because it suggests a late date for the exodus. If the Israelites did in fact escape from Egypt, this inscription would place the events in the early to mid-thirteenth century BCE, not the fifteenth century BCE as in the early-date hypothesis. This is because, as is well known, the reference to “Israel” is marked by the determinative for an ethnic group, not for a geographic region or city—as are the references to “Ashkelon,” “Gezer,” and “Yanoʿam.” Had Israel emerged in Canaan hundreds of years earlier, the latter likely would have been applied to “Israel” as well. At this time, however, Israel did not appear to have been viewed as a centralized nation-state.

In light of this brief survey, it is entirely reasonable to accept the historicity of the exodus event. In short, the sources discussed in this post uphold the plausibility of Israel’s entrance into and presence in Egypt, the exodus itself, and the emergence of Israel in Canaan in the mid- to late thirteenth century BCE.


[1] K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 246.

[2] Ibid. (emphasis original).

[3] The contents of this paragraph are summarized from James K. Hoffmeier, “The Exodus and Wilderness Narratives,” in Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources, ed. Bill T. Arnold and Richard S. Hess (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 49–55.

[4] James P. Allen, “A Report of Escaped Laborers,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo (Leiden: Brill, 2003) 3:16.

[5] Again, the following is a summary of Hoffmeier, “Exodus and Wilderness Narratives,” 59–80.