Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part One

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.
The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Tanakh. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic. And as of today, within Judaism, there is a wide range of thought about the Messiah. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential Messiah or a time when there will be a messianic age.
One of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 23: 5-8; Mic. 5:4-6), and unite humanity as one (Zech. 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed usher in a period of worldwide peace, and put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is. 2:1-22; Mic. 4:1-4).

Hence, since the world is not in a state of peace and the Jewish people are not dwelling securely in the land of Israel, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
While the term “Messiah” is used of those who were of Davidic kings (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1. Both Gen. 49:10-11 and Num. 24:17 have been interpreted in a messianic way. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7: 12-17; 1Chr. 17: 11-14; Ps. 89:28-37). After the death of King David, Israel began looking for a king like him because of the unconditional promise that a king would rule on David’s throne forever. The Messiah was called to defeat the oppressive enemies of Israel and enable the Jewish people to help “set up an earthly kingdom that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 2:44). The prophets spoke of a Davidic Messiah who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5).

Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a prince and a king to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). In Psalm 2:2-7, there is a relationship between the term “Son of God” and the King of Israel. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [that’s the word for Messiah]. . . . Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
Therefore, when the Jewish people heard the term “Son of God,” they mostly associated it with a king. This has been confirmed by Dead Sea Scroll specialists Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint. The writings that were found at Qumran show that divine sonship was clearly a part of the Royal- Christian rhetoric of pre-Christian Judaism. The “Son of God” term is seen in the fragment known as (4Q246), Plate 4, columns one and two.

Furthermore, within the Psalms, God and His anointed king are described in ways that are equal in status and they are both qualified to be worthy of the same worship and reverence. Psalm 83:18 says, “God is the Most High over all the earth,” and in Psalm 89:27, it says the Davidic King is “the most high of the kings of the earth.” In Psalm 2:11 and Psalm 100:2, the rulers and the people are supposed to worship and serve the Lord, while in Psalm 18:44 and Psalm 72:11 it says it is the Davidic king whom they must worship and serve. This theme makes perfect sense in light of the New Testament passage John 5:22-23, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (1)

Even in the Qumran writings, there is a messianic expectation seen in 4Q285, which is called the Rule of War. In this scroll, the Messiah, the Branch of David is supposed to slay the Roman emperor. Geza Vermes, a Jewish scholar, says that one of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a book of Jewish prayers that was written after the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

“Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah.He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in God.He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

“Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles… destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18: 4,22,26,27, 30). (2)

The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David,” was sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16).

1. Michael Brown, Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, 40.
2. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew. A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels. New York. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980, 251.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Jesus the Only Way?

Is Jesus The Only Way? A Look At Religious Pluralism

One of the most controversial issues in religious dialogue is whether there is one way of salvation. In other words, the Christian claim that Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12) is considered to be overly exclusive and arrogant. The Bible speaks of God’s judgment on pagan religions. They are said to have no redemptive value to them (Exod. 20: 3-6; 2 Chron: 13: 8-9; Isa. 37: 18-19; Acts 26: 17-18; Col. 1:13). While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it known that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah (Rom 3:9; Acts 20:21).
What about those people in the Tanakh (the Old Testament ) that never exercised explicit belief in Jesus as the Messiah? What about people like Melchizedek, Jethro, Job and Rahab?

In response, it is true that people in the Tanakh did not have explicit knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as a payment for their sins. However, this objection fails to take into account the issue of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16).

For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, John states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18). In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12). Paul makes it clear in that people must have both knowledge and belief in Jesus as the Messiah: “For WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10: 13-14).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). As of today, a large majority of the religious landscape is dominated by religious pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that every religion is true. In other words, each faith provides a genuine religious experience with the Ultimate, and while others may be better than others, all are adequate. How can the disciple of Jesus make an exclusive truth claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation for mankind?

For starters, there needs to be the willingness to implement critical thinking. Secondly, there needs to be a call to intellectual honesty. One of the weaknesses of religious pluralism is the tendency to forget that the denial of truth of any particular faith or truth claim is itself a form of exclusivism. While the pluralist says others are intolerant if they do not accept all views as true, they tend to be intolerant of anyone who is not a pluralist.

While there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation. Jesus made some very strong statements that challenge the issue of religious pluralism. It must be noted that after reading some of these statements by Jesus, the common response is that the reader cannot take these passages literally. The entire issue of what qualifies as literal and non-literal in the Bible falls into the category of biblical hermeneutics which is the art and science of biblical interpretation.This issue will not be addressed in this article. Needless to say, I suppose if Jesus really did say the following things and a person did take them literally, it would challenge them to face their autonomy before God. Here are some of Jesus’ statements.

1. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).
2. Regarding the eternal destiny of people, Jesus said to his fellow countrymen, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).
3. For the status of those who are presently rejecting Him, Jesus said “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
4. Perhaps one of the most challenging statements Jesus gives is in Matthew 10:33-37, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

While we do need to study these passages in their proper context, we can ask, if religious pluralists did believe Jesus is the Son of God, and His claims are true, would there still be a case for religious pluralism? One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is infinite and transcendent while man is finite, God takes the initiative in revealing himself to mankind. Since Christianity as well as several other faiths claim to be founded on divine revelation, it is impossible to not utlize reason and evidence to examine the revelation claim in it's religious and historical context. One aspect of reason utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A. Without the law of non-contradiction, we could not say God is not non-God (G is not non-G). After looking at the following religious claims, it is evident that it is impossible to not use the law of non-contradiction which states that two opposite views cannot be true at the same time. Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims about Him from various faiths:

Orthodox Christianity/ Messianic Judaism: Jesus is both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11).

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and man. Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh. Jesus may be simply regarded as a prophet or teacher but not divine. In the case of Islam, Islam's founder is Muhammad who was forty years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur'an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament.

Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being.

The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: In the Bible, Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11). This is rejected by Jehovah Witnesses.

Buddhism/Hinduism: are not theistic faiths, they are pantheistic (all is God). Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal, supreme being.

After examining the differences in each of these faiths, John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:
"No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it." (1)
1. Newport, John C. Life's Most Important Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989, pgs 452-453.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is Faith?

Trying to explain the nature of biblical faith can be quite a challenge. Several factors have contributed to this issue. First, a large majority of our culture are biblically illiterate. Also, many people have bought into the term "leap of faith." In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith. It is very helpful.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself. Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God.

The act of faith is more than merely an act of belief. We believe many things-for example that the Chicago White Sox will win this years World Series and that New Zealand is beautiful but we are not willing to die for those beliefs, nor can we live them every moment. But religious faith can be something to live every moment. It is much more than belief and much stronger, though belief is one of its parts or aspects. There are four aspects of faith:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).

2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.

3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

4. Faith: begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the ‘heart.” Heart in Scripture does not mean feeling, or sentiment, or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. “Keep your heart with all viligence” advised Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

Joseph Thayer says,
"To believe" means to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, [to] place confidence in. [And in] a moral and religious reference, pisteuein [from pisteuo] is used in the N.T. of a conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul. (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511).

Biblical faith involves an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus' resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). There have been three aspects of faith expressed throughout church history: notitia (knowledge), fiducia (trust), and assensus (assent). Notitia refers to the data or doctrinal element of faith. Assensus refers to the assent of the intellect of the truth of the Christian faith. According to the book of James, the demons can have intellectual assent to the fact that God exists but not have saving faith. That is why a person must exercise fiducia- this is the aspect of faith that involves the application or trust in the faith process. (1).

In other words, fiducia allows a person to go beyond merely intellectual assent. Fiducia involves the will, emotion, and intellect. In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith also involves a commitment of the whole person.

Therefore, there is a relationship between belief that and belief in. As already stated, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. It would make no sense for one to place his faith in God without believing that God exists. Objectively speaking, the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian faith to enable us to understand that God exists. However, from a subjective perspective, the Holy Spirit also enables an individual to place his trust in God. (John 16: 12-15).

A good example of this is seen in Acts 17:1-4, “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." In this passage, we see that the Holy Spirit worked through the objective evidence (the Tanakh), which caused some of Paul's audience to not only acknowledge that Jesus is Jewish Messiah, but also to place their trust in Him for their salvation.

Faith and the resurrection: In 1 Cor 15: 1-17, Paul discusses the truth of Jesus' resurrection. It is important to note that a Christian's faith in the resurrection of Jesus will not change whether Jesus objectively rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history. In other words, a Christian's faith cannot change the history of the past. The first followers of Jesus had a clear understanding about the relationship between faith and history.

As New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III says:
" Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it." (2)

1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 60.
2. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Problem of Evidence

The Problem of Evidence

Part of the debate about reason and rationality in relationship to faith centers around evidentialism, which maintains that one must have evidence and arguments for one's beliefs (in God) to be rational.The Enlightenment created a challenge for Christian philosophers to answer the evidentialist’s objection to religious belief. Philosopher William Clifford made the evidentialist objection famous by stating the following: "If a belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, because it is stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind.That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. To sum up: It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." (Delaney, C.F. Rationality and Religious Belief. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 10.

Many people attempt to apply Clifford’s objection to religious belief. However, as much as the skeptic likes to rely on the Clifford objection, it is nothing but a self-defeating statement. In other words, Clifford's objection can't meet it's own standard of acceptability. When a statement is included in its own subject matter and fails to satisfy its own standards of acceptability, it is self-defeating. Some examples of self-defeating statements are seen in statements such as “I cannot write a word of English;” “there is no truth;” and “there are no truths that cannot be verified scientifically, with the five senses."

Therefore, in the case of God, who isn't a physical object but a invisible divine being, it is imperative to clarify what qualifies as evidence. It is during these types of debates where the "hard rationalism" of many skeptics and atheists rears it's ugly head. The evidential issue is sometimes seen as the need to find some sort of infallible “proof” for God’s existence. When a “proof” is given, it is many times given in the form of a deductive argument which includes two premises and a conclusion. For example, the horizontal cosmological argument is as follows:

1. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
2. The universe came to be.
3. Therefore, the universe was caused by another.

The form or logical structure of an argument must be valid. A good proof is a sound argument that causes another person to accept its conclusion. While theists may present what they consider to be sound arguments for God’s existence there are always those who walk away disappointed. In other words, while the theist may find an argument to be persuasive and sound, the skeptic always finds what they think is a problem with the argument But why?

As Ronald Nash says, “What tends to be forgotten is the subjective nature of proof. First, proofs are person-relative. In other words, proofs are relative, which is simply to admit the obvious, namely, that the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else. Second, proofs are relative to individual persons. A person’s response to an argument will always reflect varying features such as their past and present personal history. Proofs also may be relative to persons in particular circumstances. Therefore, proofs must pass tests that are not only logical but also psychological. No argument can become a proof for some person until it persuades a person.”

But what if an individual does not have the time to examine the arguments for God's existence? Following Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.” Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed.

1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts. Even in demonstrated propositions there is a mingling of false. (1)

1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 242.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do You Have A Worldview?

Worldview Apologetics

Do you have worldview? The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an "outlook" or an "attitude." Each person's worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
Death: What happens to a person at death?
Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
Purpose: What is man's purpose in the world? (3)

Perhaps we may ask, how does one decide on a worldview? Here are a few guidelines:
First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them.
David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatual but not anti-natural. Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as creation) and natural casues or indirect actions (preservation).

In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo).One of the classical or traditional arguments for God's existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the of the same argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable: After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8)

Fifth, a worldview will involve a commitment of the whole person: Since humans are subjective at their very core, a good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective. As Paul states in Romans 1:18-21, the created order is one of the objective mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to the human race. While it is an objective medium, it is still appropriated subjectively. As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says, “The heart of the matter is that worldview is a matter of the heart.

Thus, when “worldview” is reinterpreted in light of the doctrine of the heart, not only is its true source located, but it becomes a richer concept than its philosophical counterpart, being more than just a reference to an abstract thesis about reality, but an Hebraic expression of the existential condition of the whole person.”(9) The Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a Biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the center of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, religious and volitional life. In other words, the “heart” plays an integral role in how a man or woman sees the world. The heart establishes the presuppositions of life and, because of its life-determining influence, must always be guarded. (10)

Hence, a worldview will avoid the the rationalism associated with Enlightenment period which was what Francis Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason." This type of reason is the attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God.

Therefore, in relation to epistemology, we need to remember the following comments by author David Naugle. In his book Worldview: History of Concept, Naugle says the following: “Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith.

In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. As E. P Schumacher explains: "The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.”

Naugle goes on to say,

"Thus, the heart of any Christians worldview worthy of the name ought to be the lodestar of wholeness which offsets any form of epistemic myopia and reconnects human subjects and created objects into sympathetic relation which appropriately honors the diversity, unity, and sacred character of all aspects of reality."

It is the understanding of a wholistic commitment to faith that leads me to say there needs to be an entire paradigm shift in the way we view and explain the “knowing” process.The continual problem with atheists and skeptics who consciously or subconsciously accept what Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason," simply affirms the fact that they have fallen prey to an epistemic dualism. This comes from a deficient worldview or for that matter the lack of a proper “lifeview.”

Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
Ibid, 40-63.
Ibid, 110-124.
Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
Naugle, 266-274.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jesus and Judaism

Jesus and Judaism/His Relationship to Israel

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”
Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(1) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults.(2)

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (3)

As Philip Yancey says, “Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,"The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either." As Jaroslav Pelikan says:

"Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?" (Philip Yancey. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55.).

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has also made some significant comments in relation to Jesus and His relationship to Israel. He says the following:

Scholarship is now recognizing that Jesus' mission was directed toward the nation of Israel. This means that his understanding of God himself must be oriented toward an understanding of God that emerges from the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, which guided the history of the nation to the time of Jesus. The God of Jesus, accordingly, is the God of Israel, who is now restoring the nation and renewing its people as he had promised long ago. (A New Vision For Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999, 19).

The Jewish Aspects of Jesus’ Life:

Jesus and the Name of God:

As Scot McKnight says, " At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus' vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother.

Countless Christians repeat the Lord's Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to "hallow" or "sanctify" the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus' day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God's awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. "Reverencing the Name of God" is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God's Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of god in it's behavior (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).

God's Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God's Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence," or "sanctify" the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in he context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites (Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85).

Righteousness: When most Christians think of this term, they are faced with two problems: first, that the apostle Paul used this term so much in the sense of "imputed" righteousness and did so in an innovative, however, effective, manner; and second, that is what the cognate in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is not so in English. Fundamentally, the term "righteousness" along with its cognates, describes an Israelites relationship to God and his Torah, and that relationship is conceived in its behavioral categories: the righteous Israelite is one who does Torah as a covenant member (Deut 6:25; Job 22:6-93; Ps 1:4-6; Ezek.45:9) Jesus teaches about such righteousness as did his Jewish ancestors, as well as John (Luke 3:7-14; Matt 21:28-32), to describe those Jewish followers of his who wholeheartedly conformed their obedience to Torah, as taught by him (Matt 5:17-48), in the context of renewal of the covenant taking place though his offer of the kingdom (Copan and Evans, pg 87-88).

Some other aspects of Jesus' Jewish life:

Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt 3:13-16)

Circumcision (Luke 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day

Mary’s Purification (Luke 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Leviticus 12)

Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Luke 2:41)

Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matthew 6:8-13)

Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matthew 9:20)

Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(John 2:16)

Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matthew 12); Feast of Tabernacles (John 7); Feast of Passover (Matthew 26); Hanukkah (John 10)

Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Luke 4:14-20; John 18:20)

Jesus gathered disciples:(Matthew 8:23)

Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Romans 15:8)

Jesus settled disputes: (Mark 9:33-37)

Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matthew 12:1-14)

Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 15:24)

Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 10:5-6)

Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Luke 24:44); (John 5:39)

Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:2-48)

Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (John 10:35)

1. Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241.
2. Ibid.
3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 191.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jesus- A Functional or Ontological Christology?

The Messiah/A Functional or Onological Christology?

The Actions of Jesus: Ontology is a branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as,” Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?” Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Godhead since Orthodox Christians attempt to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence.

Within the Tanakh, there are Messianic texts such as Isaiah 52:13-53; 61:1-3, that focus upon the Messiah’s "works" rather than his essence or being. Perhaps this is a good indication that one of the starting points in Jewish-Christian dialogue is to understand the issue of Jesus' identity is not only about who He is, but also what He does.

In his classic book,The Christology of the New Testament, the late Oscar Cullman suggested that while the Greeks were more interested in nature or an ontological Christology, the Jewish people were more interested in a functional Christology. In contrast to ontological Christology, functional Christology places a greater emphasis on the "deeds" or "actions" of the Messiah. Some of the visible actions of Jesus included the healing of the sick (Mark 1: 32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38), teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31), forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and showing the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 4:4-5). These "deeds" or "actions" demonstrate that Jesus is able to perform the same functions as the God of Israel.

As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words,“What difference does the Messiah make in the world?" There are prophetic passages that discuss God manifesting his kingdom in the world by presenting himself as the King (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 9:9; 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Isa.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Micah 5:4-6) The Bible also speaks of a worldwide peace (Isa. 2:1-22; Micah 4:1-4). Hence, since the enemies of God and Israel have not been defeated, death is not destroyed and the world is in a state of chaos, the Jewish community continues to object to the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah that is foretold in the Tanakh.
The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as "christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. As already discussed, the term "Messiah" is used of those who were of Davidic kings: past or present (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17) but it is also used of Cyrus in Isa 45;1 and in Hab 3:13- it is used of a reigning king. The term “Masiah” cannot be limited to one of the aspects of one of the major factors, for instance a ruling king.

There are other examples in the Tanakh where God would annoint a priest or prophet for a specific task. Moses, in his leadership role to Israel, was anointed by God in his role as a prophet and priest. He spoke as a prophet (Deut 18:20), but he also fulfilled the role of a priest or mediator for Israel in passages such as Numbers 11:11-21. The prophet was to listen to God and then speak God’s words to the people. The priests in the Tabernacle were annonted in their service as mediators between God and the Jewish people. The priests had to make atonement (Lev 4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31; etc).The act of atoning involved slaughtering the animal brought for sacrifice by the worshipers, the sprinkling of the blood (Lev. 17:6) and the actual offering on the alter (3:16). To make atonement involved intercession on behalf of the worshiper and the proclamation that was forgiven.

As already stated, in His role as a prophet, Jesus did not use the trademark formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, He spoke in His own aurhority. Also, Jesus goes beyond the function of the priests function in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation. In Leviticus 4:3, if the priest sinned himself, the guilt was not only on the priest, but on the whole congregation. The priest was responsible for offering up a calf without blemish to make atonement. The shortcomings of the priest were a foreshadowing for the need for a better priest as stated in Hebrews 9:11-14.

In Isaiah 53, the Servant of the Lord is seen as a trespass offering, and one who takes the sin of not just a few, but the entire world. This was understood by John the Baptist who proclaimed in John 1:29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. In Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:3 it is evident that the Messiah is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. Since Israel’s call was to be a light to the nations and the Messiah is the ideal representative of his people, it is no surprise that the He has the same role. Statistically, more Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus and continue to do so every day.These prophecies are still being fulfilled on a daily basis. It is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah.

In his book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Richard Bauckham has asserted that an ontic/functional Christology distinction is not the correct approach to New Testament Christology. While some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period consciously adopted some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.

While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God's divine identity.The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Psalm 97:7; Isa. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).


1. Groningen, G.V. Vol 1 of Messianic Revelation In The Old Testament. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. 1997, 23-38.
2. Ben Witherington III. The Many Faces of the Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond. New York. Crossraod Publishing Company. 1998.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is God Playing Hard To Get? Part Two

Show Me A Sign!

I have lost track of how many times skeptics have told me the only way for them to trust in God or Jesus is if God gave them a specific sign or manifestation of His power or presence. It is God's responsibility to prove to them that He exists! Interestingly enough, Jesus had the same problem in His ministry. His Jewish audience demanded a sign or miracle from him on several occasions. They wanted proof of His Messiahship.

In his article, Jesus as Philosopher and Apologist, Dr. Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary carefully looked at the variety of approaches that were utilized by Jesus in talking to His audience. He notes that one passage that is quite helpful to this issue is Matthew 11:13. In this case Jesus showed no reluctance to affirm His identity to John the Baptist. John, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In response to John, Jesus did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Nor did He scold, “If you don’t believe, you’ll go to hell and miss heaven.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Luke 7:22). Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.

2. I am doing those kinds of actions.

3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treatment of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992). Miracles have a distinctive purpose: to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God.

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (John 3:1–2). In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).

As Howard Kee, specialist in the study of Gospel miracles says, "The OT Judaism God is the one who heals all of Israel's diseases. Jesus in effect takes God's place as the healer of Israel." Jesus' authority is evident as his role as an exorcist. He said, "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). This is significant for 3 reasons:(1) it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil; (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history; (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting himself in God's place. (1)

A good study in the book of Matthew shows an interesting relationship between Jesus' miracles and His audience. He did the miracles for those who were Beatitude people. In other words, go study the Sermon on the Mount. Are you a Beatitude person? Are you poor in spirit? Do you recognize your poverty before God? Are you thirsting for righteousness? And are you truly interested in the Bread of Life ? (see John Ch 6). Or do you just want a sign so you can say, "Oh, I guess that God exists, but I have no intention of placing my faith in God." As I said, there is a tendency to forget God’s relationship with mankind is not to simply prove He exists to people. God is not simply after what is called justified true belief that He exists. It says in James 2:19, that the demons believe that God exists. Jesus began to see when his audience had no interest in following Him. He did not do miracles for entertainment. Rather, he did them to evoke a response. And that response is the willingness to not just praying a prayer to get into heaven, but a commitment to following Him (Luke 9:23). For many, that is asking too much.

1. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Is God Playing Hard To Get? Part One

Is God Playing Hard To Get? Part One

With the publishing of biologist Richard Dawkin's, The God Delusion, Sam Harris's The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Christopher Hitchens's How Religion Poisons Everything, atheists are becoming more vocal about offering a viable alterative to religious faith. Granted, these books are only one of the factors that are contributing to the skepticism in our culture. Furthermore, there have been several rebuttals to these books. The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “Do we really know what we think we know-especially in religion- when our beliefs are not properly based on evidence?” And in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? Now I know in this article, you may say attempting to use the Bible is begging the question. After all, how do we know we can trust the Bible? I am going to bypass that issue for another article. Anyway, we to remember that the Bible stresses that people are in the dark. In other words, since the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin, this has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Isa 6:9-10; Zech 7:11-12; Matt 13:10-13; 2 Cor 4:4).

Hence, the acceptance of revelation, therefore, is, of fundamental importance to our faith. The word "revelation" comes from the Greek word "apokalupsis" which means "an "uncovering," or "unveiling." One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. The problem we have in our culture is that many people cannot accept the limitations of the knowledge process. Furthermore, there is a tendency to forget God’s relationship with mankind is not to simply prove He exists to people. It says in James 2:19, that the demons believe that God exists. Objectively speaking, evidence for God may help someone believe that God exists. However, the individual still needs to place their trust in God. This can only be done with the help of the Ruach Ka Kodesh (John 16:12-15).

The Jewish people came to know their G-d predominately by His covenantal actions. As the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds." And because of this knowledge, G-d called the Jewish people into active participation. According to the Hebrew view of knowledge, the opposite of knowledge is not always ignorance and error. Instead, it is often related to disobedience, rebellion, and sin. Just as the God of Israel revealed Himself by His actions, Yeshua continually appealed to His "deeds" or "actions" that testified to His Messiahship (John 5:36-5:36; John 10:37; John 10:38; John 14:10).
God has acted in our behalf by revealing Himself through the created order.

And as I said, in the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, we have to use induction. Induction is the method of drawing general conclusions from specific observations. For example, since we can’t observe gravity directly, we only observe its effects. We also can’t observe the human mind directly, but only its effects. Paul understood this issue when he writes in Romans 1: 18-21, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn't glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened.” Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer, His “everlasting power and divinity” (this is the cause) are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).

If we look at this Scripture, people do perceive general revelation. The problem is they do not receive it. I think Paul would be happy to see the following comments about Romans 1:18-21 by the following apologists and theologians:

1. The revelation of God in nature is mediate, but it is so manifest and so clear that it does not necessitate a complex theoretical reasoning process that could be achieved only by a group of geniuses. If God's general revelation is in fact "general," in that it is plain enough for all to see clearly without complicated cosmological argumentation, then it may even be said to be self evident. The revelation is clear enough for an unskilled and illiterate person to perceive it. The memory of conscious knowledge of the trauma encounter with God's revelation is not maintained in its lucid, threatening state, but is repressed. It is "put down or held in captivity" in the unconsciousness. That which is repressed is not destroyed. The memory remains though it may be buried in the subconscious realm. Knowledge of God is unacceptable, and as a result humans attempt to blot it out or at least camouflage it in such a way that its threatening character can be concealed or dulled. (Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, John and Arthur Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.1984, 46-59).

2. Former atheist J. Budziszewski:
I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. ( Giesler, N. L. and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49).

3. Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements. (Plantinga, A. Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).

The amazing thing about our Lord is that He saw fit to reveal more of Himself through the person of Messiah. While general revelation manifests God as Creator, it does not reveal Him as Redeemer. Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, they are all without an excuse" (Romans 1:20; Romans 2:12), it is not sufficient for salvation. As Heb. 1:1–2 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son." Yeshua did comment on how people respond to Him by saying, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God" (John 3:19-21). And finally, remember that we are agents of God’s revelation. As messengers of the Messiah, we are the normative way God communicates to humans. Therefore, it is imperative for all us to ask whether we are willing to be obedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Five Views of Death

Okay, so I know this is not an uplifting topic. But a good worldview will have an explanation for what happens at death. Here are some views- this was adapted from Richard Longenecker's Life After Death: The Resurrection Message in the New Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Death: Five Views

1. Death is an illusion: this views stems from Eastern philosophy: (1) physical death is denied; (2) the training of the mind to enounce reality of everything material is emphasized; (3) the human “spirit” or “soul” is viewed as “death,” returning as returning to the world of the spiritual (whether that world is understood to be personal or impersonal terms) and/or as reincarnated into another seemingly corporal existence, with that further reincarnation being only another step toward a final, eternal, noncorporeal, nonpersonal existence.

2. Death is a perfectly natural phenomomenon:
This view stems mostly from a naturalistic or atheistic heritage: In this view (1) resignation in the face of the natural and inevitable is stressed; (2) training the mind to accept death as part of the world process of change and decay- and so, not to think in personal terms; (3) making the most of our human lives, both personally and on the behalf of others.

3. Death is the Release of One’s Immortal Soul:
This attitude is from a Greek or Platonic philosophy though it may carry with it some nuances drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, or some forms of Confucianism. In this view, responses to death usually include (1) sorrowful resignation with regard to the “departure” of a person at death; (2) a welcoming of death as the liberator of the person; (3) comfort in thinking of the deceased person as now living a “soulish” existence in some spiritual realm apart from the physical world- with often, though not always, (4) an expectation that at some future time, whether at death or some distant period of time, those departed souls will be reincarnated into new bodies.

4. Death Ends Human Existence, Yet There Is Hope in God:
In this case, death brings to an end the existence of the whole person, both physically and spiritually; yet that death is ordained by God and under his providence, and so there is hope both corporately and individually for God’s people. This hope is expressed in some form of resurrection language. This is an attitude that stems from Judaism, with its roots in Scripture with developments taking place during the periods of Second Temple Judaism and Talmudic Judaism. With such a stance, the result is the following: (1) A mixture of grief, sadness, even anger; (2) Though also acceptance over the termination of human life at death, there is a corporate preservation and prosperity, with a belief that the deceased personal ideals will have a part in influencing for good that corporate life; (3) Hope in God for the restoration of God’s faithful ones somehow in the future, with that restoration at times visualized in some form of personal resurrection.

5. Death is the Last Enemy, But The Resurrection of the Messiah Provides Life: This viewis held by Messianic Judaism (and Christianity) and shares much of the Jewish vision regarding death, life, and the afterlife but goes beyond what is contained in the Hebrew Bible.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Christianity As A Knowledge Tradition

Christianity as a Knowledge Tradition
by J.P. Moreland

Our society exalts science as the one true way to knowledge. But when science is the only way to know anything, it causes people to turn to emotion and the satisfaction of desire for happiness. This, however, leads to a narcissistic empty self. Dr. Moreland explains.

Summing It Up
In the first two installments of this series, I have sought to establish two main themes:
A worldview functions as a set of habit-forming beliefs — these beliefs cause us to notice or fail to notice various features of reality. Habit-forming beliefs do not stand between a person and reality like glasses do. Rather, they habitualize ways of seeing and thinking. Through effort, these beliefs can be changed or retained when compared with reality.

Given naturalism and postmodernism as the two worldviews competing with Christianity in the marketplace of ideas, the central, defining feature of our secular culture is this: There is no non-empirical knowledge, especially no theological or ethical knowledge. Science — and science alone — carries authority in our culture. Knowledge grants authority, and only science is perceived to possess knowledge.

In this article, I want to show how important it is to take Christian teaching as a source of knowledge of reality. And in my next article, I will explain more fully just what knowledge is and show how grasping its nature makes it more obvious that Christian teaching is, indeed, such a source.

I want to show how important it is to take Christian teaching as a source of knowledge of reality.
Secularism as a View About Knowledge

It can hardly be overemphasized that the primary characteristic of modern secularism is its view of the nature and limits of knowledge. This particular idea is critical, for in our culture, knowledge gives one power. We give surgeons, and not carpenters, the right to cut us open precisely because surgeons have the relevant knowledge not possessed by carpenters. Those with the culture-granted say-so — those who determine who has knowledge and who doesn't — will be in a position to marginalize and silence groups judged to have only belief and private opinion.

There simply is no established, widely recognized body of ethical or religious knowledge now operative in the institutions of knowledge in our culture (e.g. the universities and schools.) Indeed, ethical and religious claims are frequently placed into what Francis Schaeffer used to call the upper story — a privatized realm of non-factual beliefs whose sole value is that they are "meaningful" only to the believer. These beliefs are judged to have little or no intellectual authority, especially compared to the authority given science to define the limits of knowledge and reality in those same institutions.

This raises a pressing question: Is Christianity a knowledge tradition or merely a faith tradition?
Is Christianity a knowledge tradition or merely a faith tradition?

Those who believe knowledge is limited to science would posit that Christianity is merely a faith tradition — it cannot be known to be true, and therefore, must be considered weaker than knowledge. But how should the Christian view and answer this question?

Secularism and the Marginalization of Christian Claims
At least two reasons suggest why this may well be the crucial question for Christians to keep in mind as they live out their discipleship in the contemporary setting. For one thing, Christianity claims to be a knowledge tradition and it places knowledge, not merely truth, at the center of proclamation and discipleship. The Old and New Testaments, including the teachings of Jesus, claim not merely that Christianity is true, but that a variety of its moral and religious assertions can be known to be true (Luke 1:4, John 10:4, Romans 1:19).

Second, as I mentioned above, knowledge provides the basis of responsible action in society. Dentists, not lawyers, have the authority to fill our cavities because they have the relevant knowledge — we trust that they'll treat our teeth responsibly. If Christians do little to deflect the view that theological and ethical assertions are merely parts of tradition, then they inadvertently contribute to the marginalization of Christianity. They do so precisely because they fail to rebut the contemporary tendency to rob it of the very thing that gives it the authority necessary to prevent that marginalization — its legitimate claim to give us moral and religious knowledge. That's why I believe the following statement is so important:
Both in and out of the church, Jesus has been lost as an intellectual authority and Christians should carry out their discipleship in light of this fact. We have a duty to present Jesus Christ and the Word of God as a source not only of salvation and meaning, but also of authoritative knowledge about all areas of which Jesus and His Word speak.

The Absolutization of Desire and the Empty Self
The pervasive claim that truth, knowledge and rationality do not exist outside the hard sciences has left people without hope that true, knowable forms of wisdom can be discovered as guides to a flourishing life. As a result, people have turned to emotion and the satisfaction of desire as the decisive factors in adopting a worldview. In turn, this affective approach to life, now embodied in art and culture generally, has created the conditions for the emergence of a new personality type that psychologists claim is present in epidemic proportions in American society. Never before in the history of Western culture has this personality type been seen so pervasively and profoundly; indeed, it is a post-60s phenomenon. It is called the empty self.1

The empty self is narcissistic, inordinately individualistic, self-absorbed, infantile, passive and motivated by instant gratification. It experiences a loss of personal significance and worth, as well as a chronic emotional hunger and emptiness. People with the empty self personality satiate themselves with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists.

People with the empty self personality satiate themselves with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists.

The empty self does not value learning for its own sake, is unwilling to defer gratification under the demands of discipline, and prefers visual stimulation to abstract thought. Applied to education, a classroom of empty selves will reinforce a view of education in which learning exists to make the student happy, to satisfy his/her emotional hunger, and to fulfill his/her own plans for success.

Moreover, with the idea that no truth, knowledge or reason exists outside the hard sciences, secularism has contributed to the absolutization of satisfaction. Secularization says we can't know absolute truth outside of science, so people have given up on seeking non-scientific truth and, instead live for desire satisfaction.
With truth and reason dethroned as guides for life, something had to take its place. And the heir to the throne is the satisfying of one's desires. Secularism helps to prop up this value in the culture not only by denying truth and reason in matter of worldview, but also with its promulgation of a naïve and destructive notion of tolerance.

Finally, with the secular relativization of truth, knowledge and reason outside the hard sciences, a growing loss of hope for objective meaning in life emerges in the face of a cold, mechanistic universe. The only relief (outside of Christianity) consists of temporary flirtations with postmodernist irrationality. An example of this would be the idea that anyone's view of God or morality is just as "valid" as anyone else's and we should not judge that some religious or moral views are wrong and destructive.

[Consider] … the view now held by most physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless indeed some great body dashes into the sun and thus give it fresh life. … Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress.2

Hardly a robust word in a world where people need real, sensible hope and objective, knowable meaning to cope with suffering. Absent of any religious and moral knowledge, the culture is mired in stagnating trivialities. Its collective view of the meaning of life doesn't rise much higher than the slogan I recently saw in a Valvoline commercial: "You're born, you die; in between, you work on cars."

Until Next Time
This situation has contributed to a deep societal hunger for spirituality. Unfortunately, without the rails of biblical truth, our nation of empty selves consumes contemporary "spirituality"; the unbridled satisfaction of our desires becomes our only guide. For example, I believe the current preoccupation with promiscuous sex is a symptom of the failure of this sort of "spirituality" to address the human condition.

What do you think of Dr. Moreland's proposition about secularized truth and knowledge leading to a loss of hope for meaning in life?.Join the discussion!
The possession of knowledge — especially religious and moral knowledge — is essential for a life of flourishing. The question remains: What exactly is knowledge and what does it mean to say Christian teaching provides it? We'll examine this question in the next installment.
See chapters 1 and 5 of my book, Kingdom Triangle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) for more information and sources about the empty self. Back^
Cited in The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. by Nora Barlow (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1959), p. 92. Back^
About the authorJ.P. Moreland is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and director of Eidos Christian Center. He has contributed to over 40 books, including Love Your God With All Your Mind (NavPress), and over 60 journal articles. Dr. Moreland also co-authored the 2006 release, The Lost Virtue of Happiness: Discovering the Disciplines of the Good Life (NavPress, 2006).
© 2007 J.P. Moreland. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.Back to top

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Choosing a Faith?

How does one go about picking a faith? Do we base our choice on a mystical experience or do simply make our choice based on the fact that the faith works for us? Does it matter if the faith is true? Here is an excellent resource on this topic.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

By Richard Bauckham(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006), 504 pages, $32.00.
Reviewed by Ben Witherington

There are books that are interesting, there are books that are important and then there are seminal studies that serve as road markers for the field, pointing the way forward. Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is in the latter category, to be sure. It thus deserves a thorough review, but a little background is in order.

Richard Bauckham and I have been friends for many years and have encouraged each other’s work. I was in St. Andrews University, in Scotland, last July to spend a week with Richard just before a wonderful conference on the Book of Hebrews, and the proofs of this book were sitting on his coffee table. He offered to let me read it, and I did. I realized at once the book’s importance, and Richard himself told me, in his reserved and understated British way, “I think this may be my most important book thus far.” I agree; it is indeed a seminal study, and we may be grateful for it coming now in the midst of so much nonsense being published about early Christianity and its documents.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is to a great extent based on a close reading of the Papias traditions found in Eusebius and elsewhere. Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis, in Turkey, and was one of those bridging figures in Christian history who lived during the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century A.D. and thus had occasional contact with eyewitnesses to events in the New Testament and with those who had heard the eyewitnesses. Though Papias was a literate man, like so many in his oral culture he preferred the viva voce, the living voice, of oral testimony.

Bauckham believes very much in the importance of eyewitness testimony, including that of Papias, which suggests that there was a close connection between various of the canonical Gospels and eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus, with Mark connected to Peter, and John connected to at least John the Elder (otherwise known as John of Patmos, the author of Revelation but not of the other Johannine documents), whom Papias himself met and discoursed with.

Part of Bauckham’s intention is to show that the old form-critical ways of looking at Gospel traditions were wrong. According to classic form criticism (the basis of the work of the Jesus Seminar), early Christian traditions circulated anonymously in communities that were viewed as if they were faceless collectives (for example, the “Q community”). Bauckham thinks this theory is deeply flawed and suggests instead that there were personal links from the Jesus tradition to known and named tradents (carriers of tradition) throughout the period of transmission right down to when these traditions were included in the Gospels. Bauckham is quite right to insist that analogies with modern folklore to explain how ancient Gospel traditions were handled are simply wrong and anachronistic. The period between the time of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels is relatively short (between 30 and 60-some years, depending on the Gospel), and during that entire time there were still eyewitnesses who could act as checks and balances to the formation of the early Christian tradition. The “period between the ‘historical’ Jesus and the Gospels was actually spanned, not by anonymous community transmission, but by the continuing presence and testimony of eyewitnesses, who remained the authoritative sources of their traditions until their deaths,” Bauckham writes.

The Papias traditions, as Bauckham reminds us, are available to us only in fragments, mainly in quotations from Eusebius. Eusebius had no high opinion of Papias, but for a particular reason. He called Papias a “stupid” man because he was a millenarian, which means that Papias believed that when Jesus returned from heaven there would be a paradise-like state upon the earth for some one thousand years. Eusebius’ dislike for this eschatology led to his dislike for those who promoted it, such as Papias. But, begrudgingly, Eusebius allows that Papias had some important contacts and knew some important things about the first two generations of Christians. Papias was personally acquainted with the daughters of Philip the Evangelist (Acts 21:8-9) and he also had met and talked with John the Elder. From these sorts of people he learned about the Twelve and other original apostles and eyewitnesses (see Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 3.39.9).

Bauckham is not merely inclined to think that Papias tells us the truth about such things as the origins of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John; he is convinced that these documents are based ultimately on reliable eyewitness testimony. Bauckham throughout the study seeks to provide a model for considering the issue of eyewitness testimony that comports with the early Jewish environment from which these testimonies came. He believes that trustworthy testimony can and should be believed, but he is not appealing to some sort of uncritical or pre-critical way of handling such data, nor does he accept the old canard that ancient historians and biographers, such as the writers of the Gospels, were incapable of thinking critically about history and other related matters. For instance, Bauckham quotes Polybius one of the foremost Greek historians of the Hellenistic era, who describes the historian’s task as “to believe those worthy of belief and to be a good critic of the reports that reach him.”

As the book progresses we discover that Bauckham deals in some detail with how sacred and historical traditions were passed down in early Judaism and then in early Christianity. As he points out, the Gospel traditions were not anonymous to begin with, nor were the Gospels themselves. The traditions and then the documents were linked to named persons—well-known named persons—and it was the early Jewish practice to memorize sacred traditions so they could be passed on faithfully from one tradent to another. There was not a long period of transmission of these traditions, and there was often a direct link, or a close link, with eyewitnesses. The analogy Bauckham draws between modern oral historians and ancient Gospel writers, both of whom sought out eyewitnesses to hear the stories “from the horse’s mouth” is plausible, indeed far more plausible than the view that early Christian traditions underwent a long gestation period that is analogous to the way folk literature and myth develop.
Bauckham also reminds us that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined. This is why, for example, Luke’s preface in 1:1-4 reads as it does. Unlike modern historians, who range over a much longer chronological trajectory examining sources that they certainly cannot double-check by turning to eyewitnesses, most ancient historians and biographers (especially the former) limited themselves to subjects that could be addressed while the living voice and the eyewitness were still available.

One of the more interesting analogies Bauckham draws is between modern eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust and ancient testimonies about the Christ event. Very few modern historians would discredit all such Holocaust testimonies (the President of Iran not withstanding), and indeed most find such eyewitness testimonies very credible and personal, even if they should be critically sifted and even though we are now some 60 years beyond the end of the Second World War. Bauckham’s point is that people such as the Gospel writers, and Papias after them, operated in a similar environment—dealing with history-making events that were vividly remembered and often faithfully reported. Further, those writers, like modern Holocaust survivors, were anxious that the story be told straight and that it get out and be widely disseminated. Finally, there is also the point that the distance in time between modern Holocaust survivors’ current testimonies and the events, and the Gospels and the events they record is the same—even in the case of the latest of the Gospels to be written, the Fourth Gospel, called John’s.

There is much more to interact with and commend in this fine book, but in a brief review we must be content with asking, What is the upshot of Bauckham’s discussion? It is that the original Christian Gospels need to be taken far more seriously as sources of reliable historical testimony about the life of Jesus, his words and deeds, his disciples and demise, and the aftermath thereto. They were neither created nor passed along in the form that modern form critics (such as Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius) thought. We do not have in those Gospels “cleverly devised myths” or stories only loosely based on history, but rather eyewitness testimonies and traditions that in many cases the witnesses were prepared to die for, so profoundly did they believe them to be true.
The Gospels were written by people who were indeed in touch with vivid eyewitness testimony about events that had been seared into their memory and had left indelible impressions. As it turns out, we may know more about the historical Jesus and his first followers than modern skeptics have suggested—far more, if Bauckham is right.

Ben Witherington is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University, Scotland.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How To Keep From Getting Spiritually Weird

This is a great article about how to maintain balance in the Christian Life.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Talking to Jewish People About the Messiah/Part 2

The Job Description of Messiah

Given Maimonides job description of Messiah, it was no surprise that these Hasidic Jewish men rejected our explanation of Messiah. As far as they were concerned, Jesus does not fulfill the job description. Even though I went ahead and explained how there is a basis for a suffering, or atoning Messiah in the Bible and other Jewish writing, the Hasidic response was it was an impossibility for Jesus to be the Messiah. When I attempted to give them an oral reading to them from Isaiah 53 (and in this case, I said the Messiah would be rejected by his own people), they seem confused. They also said I nor anyone else could interpret anything in the Tanakh apart from a teacher such as a rabbi, etc.

I pointed out that the The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:
They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]. (5)

I also pointed to the Zohar, which is the foundational book of Jewish mysticism. In this book, we see a text about the relationship between Isaiah 53 and atonement: "The children of the world are members of one another, and when the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, He smites one just man amongst them, and for his sakes heals the rest of the rest. Whence do we learn this? For the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ [Isa. 53:5].i.e., by letting of his blood- as when a man bleeds his arm- there was healing for us-for all the members of the body. In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation." (6)

One of the Hasidic students even said to me that perhaps he (this student) was the Messiah. The student said, “After all, my name is “Immanuel” which means “God With Us.” The student was almost making a mockery out of the Christian assertion that Jesus is called “Immanuel” (taken from Isa. 7:14). The student also said he (himself) was a descendant of David. He asked, perhaps he could also qualify as the Messiah? I quickly objected that it was impossible for him to fulfill the Davidic requirement. In response to the Davidic aspect of the Messiah, while God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:3), He also promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17:6; 49:6; Deut. 17:14-15). Within the Tanakh, the term “messiah” was used in a general sense in relationship to kings, priests, and prophets. While the term “messiah” meaning “anointed one,” is used of those who were of Davidic kings (Ps18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1.

Therefore, every legitimate king could be a messiah (1 Sam;16:13; 2 Kg 11:12). Even though there were kings that were anointed to perform specific tasks, the biblical writers spoke of a greater king who was coming (2 Sam. 7: 12-17; 1 Chron. 17: 11-14; Ps 89: 28-37; Is. 9:2-7; Jr. 23:5-6) who would rule on David’s throne forever. In other words, while a king could be a “messiah,” there was a figure who was coming that would be the “Messiah.” As we see in Psalm 2:1-12, to reject God’s anointed king is equivalent to rejecting God. This theme makes perfect sense in the New Testament passage, John 5:22-23, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”

Also, in Isaiah 9: 12-17 it says, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.” The significance of this passage is the phrase “there will be no end.” In observing the immediate context of this passage, one might assert that this passage is referring to Hezekiah’s reign. This assertion is problematic since Hezekiah’s reign was one that was rather limited in an international sense. (7) It also says in Targum Isaiah:

"The prophet saith to the house of David, A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and He has taken the law upon Himself to keep it, and His name had been called from of old, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, He Who Lives Forever, The Anointed One (or Messiah), in whose days peace shall increase upon us.” (McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (San Bernardino, CA: Here's Life Publishers) 1972, pg. 151).

This figure mentioned in Isaiah 9:6 cannot fit the Maimonides description that “the Messiah will not possess supernatural qualities” since it states that the Messiah has to be divine (“Mighty God”) and human (“to us a child is born”). The name in Isaiah 9:6 is "El Gibbor" which literally means "Mighty God." Furthermore, it has been already mentioned that Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy for saying He was the Son of Man (which referred to a divine title as seen in Dan 7:13 in association with Psalm 110:1) in the trial before Caiaphas (Mark 14:60-64). The term ”Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan 7:13). Jesus’ claim that He would not simply be entering into God’s presence, but that He would actually be sitting at God’s right side was the equivalent to claiming equality with God. By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, He was exercising the authority of God. Furthermore, Jesus’ usage of the “Son of Man” title exhibited that it was not Jesus who was on trail, but the leadership itself.

The term “Masiah” cannot be limited to one of the aspects of one of the major factors, for instance a ruling king. Jesus fulfills all three offices: priest, prophet, and king. Our conversation with these Hasidic Jewish students only confirmed for me what I already knew. The Jewish people have mostly forgotten about the priestly, or atoning work of Messiah. From the Christian perspective, if Jesus’ intention was to perform the role of a priest in an eternal sense, He would have to be sanctified, or consecrated for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the world. Jesus comments on this issue in John 17:19: “For them I sanctify myself, that they may too be truly sanctified.”

It is also clear that just as for Maimonides, the messianic idea is so much more pragmatic for Jewish people. In other words, “What difference does the Messiah make in the world?" After all, there are prophetic passages that discuss God manifesting his kingdom in the world by presenting himself as the King (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 9:9; 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Isa.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Mic. 5:4-6) The Bible also speaks of a worldwide Messianic Age (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:6-9;65:17-25 Mic. 4:1-4). Hence, since the enemies of God and Israel have not been defeated, death is not destroyed and the world is in a state of chaos, the Jewish community continues to object to the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah that is foretold in the Tanakh.

Another objection that I brought up was that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. While several of the Servant of the Lord passages in Isaiah 40- 53 refer to the nation of Israel (Isa. 41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48: 20) , there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Isa. 42:1-6; 49:3;5-7; 50:10; 52:13-53:12). Even in Isa. 52:13, it says the Servant of the Lord will be ‘raised’ and ‘lifted up.’ It is asserted by the Jewish community that Isaiah 52-53 is talking about the nation of Israel and not an atoning, or priestly Messiah. From the Christian perspective, if Jesus’ intention was to perform the role of a priest in an eternal sense, He would have to be sanctified, or consecrated for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the world. Jesus comments on this issue in John 17:19: “For them I sanctify myself, that they may too be truly sanctified.”

For the assertion that the interpretation of Isaiah 52-53 is about Israel is not found in the Talmud, Targums or Midrashim (basically all the classical, foundational, authoritative, Jewish writings). Also, when did Israel ever live as a righteous nation? The Servant did not sin. Israel as a whole has (Is-53 :4-6:12).The Torah says if Israel is righteous, they will be blessed, not rejected or despised. The Servant is depicted as righteous and lowly, afflicted, despised. How can Israel be presented as a totally righteous guiltless, Servant of the Lord? When in the history of Israel have they ever lived as a righteous nation? Also, Isaiah 53 was recently applied to Rabbi Schneerson who was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe (spiritual leader) of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He died in 1994. And the 2nd oldest Jewish source--the Jewish Targum of Isaiah--identified the Servant as the Messiah: "Behold, My servant the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be exalted and great and very powerful. ( Targum Isa 52.13).

Of course, one of the early messianic passages that was used by Christians was Psalm 110:1-4. In this passage that the Messiah is an (1) an eternal office holder, and (2) a Melchizedeck priest-king. In other words, the Messiah is after the order of Melchizedeck but he exercises his office after the pattern of Aaron. In Gen. 14:1-17, wee see the story of Melchizedeck who was a king of Salem. Melchizedeck brought forth bread and wine and blessed Abraham, telling Abraham he owed his military victory to God. The word Melchizedeck is derived from “melchi,” which means “king” and “zedek’ which means “righteousness.” Therefore, Melchizedeck means “king of righteousness.”

In Isaiah 42:1-7 it is evident that the Messiah is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. Of course Matthew picked up on this theme in Matt.12: 15-21. Just as Israel’s calling was to go beyond it’s own borders, the Messiah’s mission was to not only reach the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:6), but the Gentile nations as well. Since Israel’s call was to be a light to the nations and the Messiah is the ideal representative of his people, it is no surprise that the He has the same role. Statistically, more Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus and continue to do so every day. These prophecies are still being fulfilled on a daily basis. This is why it is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah.

Targum Isaiah 42:1-4 reads, “Behold my servant, I will bring him near, my chosen whom my Memra is pleased; I will put my Holy Spirit upon him, he will reveal my judgment to the peoples, He will not cry or call or lift up his voice outside. The poor who are like a bruised reed he will not break, and the needy who are like a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will bring forth judgment for his truth. He will not tire or be weary till he has established judgment in the earth; and islands wait for his law.” (Bruce Chilton, trans. And ed. 1987. The Isaiah Targum. ArBib 11. Wilmington, DE: Glazier). Note: The Aramic Targums employed the term “Memra” that translates into Greek as “Logos.”

The Hasidic Jewish students were unfamiliar with this issue. They clearly thought the Messiah was only supposed to fulfill His role to Israel by fulfilling the Maimonides messianic description. In relation to the Messiah being a light to the nations, we should take some advice from Paul. Since the Apostle Paul was a Pharisee, he was raised in the Jewish Scriptures. For Paul, the coming King that was promised in the Jewish Scriptures was to be a descendant of David. As Paul says in Romans 1: 1-4, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul realized since Jesus fulfills the Jewish predictions about the Messiah, he has the responsibility to call the nations to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah by saying, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake.” Paul understood that Jesus had to be not only the king of Israel, but the king of the entire world when he states in Romans 10:12, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him.”

Jesus and the Kingdom
Biblical scholar J. Julius Scott Jr. has noted that in the ancient world, “kingdom” referred to “lordship,” “rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than simply a geographical location. Scott asserts “sovereignty (or rule) of God” would be a better translation than “kingdom of God,” since such a translation denotes God’s sphere or influence or control and includes any person or group who, regardless of their location, acknowledge His sovereignty (8). Jesus offered the political, earthly, aspect of the kingdom of God to Israel (as seen in Matt. 4-12), and they rejected it. A good study of this issue isMatt. 12: 22-45 which discusses the issue of the Jewish leadership attributing Jesus’ miracles to Beelzebul. While some biblical scholars disagree about the nature of the kingdom, we do see as change in Matt. 13. Jesus went on to tell of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming.

While Jesus shows the seriousness of the Jewish leaderships accusation that his miracles could be attributed to Satan (Matt.12: 24), He never insisted that national Israel’s rejection of His identity as the Messiah forfeited their calling as God’s chosen people In relation to the kingdom of God, Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21). It is true that only a remnant of Israel did believe in Jesus as the Messiah (Rom. 9:6-8;) while the majority of Israel still rejected His claim of Messiahship. Because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, it is now the responsibility of the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom 11:11). One day, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national or political aspect of the kingdom of God (Isa. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Micah 4:7-8; Zech 14:1-9; Matt 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, Jesus will fulfill the earthly aspect of the Davidic Covenant by being King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

There is no kingdom without a king (Heb.“melek”) In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “ ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (John 3:1–2).

In his great sermon on Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).” Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles? As Ben Witherington III says, "The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like." (9)

In Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus’ responded by appealing to the evidence of his miracles. As Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matt. 11:4-6). Jesus’ evidential claim can be seen in the following syllogism: If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
1. I am doing those kinds of actions.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah (10)

Messianic Movements: There are only three Messianic movements that have survived after their founder has died. The first is Messianic Judaism or Christianity. This has survived for 2,000 yrs or more. As N.T. Wright says, ”If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his explicit or implicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian, see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and to regard him as the Messiah. There were several other Messianic or quasi-Messianic movements within a hundred years either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by authorities, or by a rival group. If your Messiah is killed, you conclude that he was not the Messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family (But note: Nobody ever said that James, the brother of Jesus, was the Messiah.) Such groups did not go around saying that their Messiah had been raised from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless they were telling the truth.” (11)

The second is Sabbatai Sevi: Sabbatai Sevi was a seventeenth-century Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and was heralded by a contemporary named Nathan. It was reported many years later that, after Sevi’s death in 1676, his brother found his tomb empty but full of light. Many of Sevi’s followers refused to believe he had really died, so they refused to believe he had risen from the dead. Whatever happened to him, no one ever reported seeing him again. His disappearance has characteristics of an apotheosis legend. Such legends lack historical support. (12) In contrast to the resurrection claim of Jesus, there are multiple eyewitness appearances of Jesus after his resurrection (see 1 Cor 15).

The third Messianic movement is the present Lubavitcher movement. Some of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s followers think He is the Messiah and that He will come back from the dead. Some in the Lubavitcher movement have even asserted that Isaiah 53 can be used as a proof text that the Messisah will rise from the dead. Of course, this has led to great contraversy. The Orhodox community have complained that claiming that asserting that Schneerson will rise from the dead sounds incredibly similar to the Chrisitan claim about Jesus.
Did Jesus turn people back to Torah?

Most of the Jewish believers in Jesus that I have met all have a greater appreciation of Torah. To say that Jesus has led Jewish people away from Torah is to commit the reductive fallacy. Reductive fallacies are attempts to reduce a complex issue to a single point that does not accurately represent or flatly ignores the complexity of the issue. Furthermore, as far as Jesus’ teaching and speaking authority, the rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even loosing one’s life for his sake. Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). (13)

The End of a Fruitful Discussion

I have such a great love for the Jewish people. As we concluded our talk with these Hasidic Jewish students we both agreed that we both couldn’t be right about the Messiah. Either Jesus is the Messiah or He is a false Messiah. My faith can’t make him the Messiah. We all departed on friendly terms. I hope for more of these discussions in the future.


5. Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn, N.Y.Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original; cited in Michael Brown. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000, 224.
6. Ibid, 32-38.
7. M. Brown. Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 3. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2003, 157
8. J. J. Scott Jr, Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995. 297.
9. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.
10. Groothuis, D. Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist: Available at
11. John Dominic Crossan and N.T Wright. The Resurrection of Jesus. Minneapolis, MN, Fortress Press. 2006, 71.
12. N. L.Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker Books, 1999, 650.
13. See O. Skarsaune, In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity. Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 2002.