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 http://www.theapologiaproject.org/JesusPhil.pdf.
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.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Talking to Jewish People About the Messiah/Part One

Talking to Jewish People About the Messiah/Part One

In a recent outreach attempt to the Ohio State University campus, we had the opportunity to talk to several Jewish people about spirituality and the Messiah. As we arrived at OSU on an early Tuesday afternoon, I told my friends that they should not be surprised if God sent us several Jewish people to talk to about spiritual issues. Sure enough, the first four people we talked to were all young Hasidic Jewish men. This was not the first time I had talked to a Jewish person from a Hasidic background. However, it was the first time my two friends had experienced anything like this. Hasidic Jews are called Hasidim in Hebrew. The Hasidic movement is very focused on the joyful observance of God’s commandments (mitzvot), heartfelt prayer, and boundless love for God and the world He created. Many ideas for Hasidism are directly realted to a mystical movement in Judaism called Kabbalah. Hasidic leaders are called "tzadikim" which is Hebrew for “righteous men."

A tzadik in the is sometimes viewed as a Rebbe which means master, teacher, or mentor. Such an example is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. After he died, he has been called "The Rebbe" by Lubavitcher Hasidim and even by many non-Lubavitchers. With the fall of communism and the miracles during the gulf war, the Rebbe stated that these are heralding a time of peace and tranquility for all mankind, the time of Moshiach (messiah). (1) To this end the Rebbe placed much emphasis on the traditional Jewish teachings regarding the time of Moshiach, placing great emphasis in the studying of these concepts.(2) In 1992, at the age of ninety, the Rebbe suffered a stroke; he passed away two years later, on June 12, 1994. Shortly thereafter, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressmen Charles Schumer, John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, and Jerry Lewis to bestow on the Rebbe the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill passed both Houses by unanimous consent, honoring the Rebbe for his "outstanding and lasting contributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity".(3)

As we talked to these Hasidic Jewish students, it was clear their view of Messiah was taken from the famous Moses Maimonides. What did Maimonides teach about the Messiah?

In his Mishneh Torah, Book of Kings, Maimonides institutes a two-tiered approach to messianic identification. Meeting the attributes in tier one qualifies one as a messiah potential. Fulfillment of tier two confers the title of King Messiah upon the candidate.As pertaining to tier one Maimonides writes:

And if a king shall arise from the house of David who studies the Torah and is occupied in doing the commandments as his ancestor David according to the written and oral Torah, and compels all Israel to walk in its ways and to strengthen its foundation, and fights the battles of G-d — then it is presumed that he is the Messiah. The qualifying round may be summarized as follows
1. He traces his lineage to the house of David2. He studies Torah 3. He performs good deeds, in accord with Written and Oral Torah 4. He reinstates widespread Torah observance 5. He fights battles for the LordThe fulfillment of these “Five” qualifies the person as a messiah potential, a type of messiah-in waiting.

According to Maimonides, the 2nd century Bar Kosiba, who led a revolt against the Romans in 162 C.E. in an effort to reestablish the sovereignty of Israel, was a messiah potential. He allegedly fulfilled the Five prerequisites. Nonetheless, he was clearly not the Messiah, but instead wrongly dubbed so by Rabbi Akiva, the chief rabbi of the time, and one of the Ten Martyrs in Judaism. Bar Kosiva was slain before he fulfilled any of the second tier activities. Maimonides continues in the method of identifying Messiah by stating: “If he succeeded in accomplishing these [five things], and he subdued all the surrounding nations and he built the Temple in its place, and collected the dispersed of Israel — then this is the Messiah for certain.” Hence, Maimonides believed that there have been messiah potentials throughout the ages, but that the messiah certain had not arisen as yet.

The second tiered characteristics may be summarized as follows: 1. He subdues Israel’s enemies 2. He rebuilds the Temple at the ancient site 3. He re-gathers the dispersed of Israel.Probably, the closest to fulfill these conditions was Zeruvavel, who rebuilt the Second Temple, and some of the dispersed of Israel returned. However, it is obvious that Maimonides was speaking of a future King Messiah who was yet to arrive. Neither did the Christian Messiah fulfill Maimonides’ eight requirements. According to Maimonides, “if he did not accomplish all those [eight things] or was killed, then it is understood that he is not the one that the Torah promised.” Jesus failed to overcome Israel’s enemies, rebuild the Temple and regather the dispersed ofIsrael. And, he was slain before he accomplished these requirements.

Hence, Maimonides, in establishing a type of formulae for identifying messiah, accomplished a number of objectives. He was able to quench the frenzy and the memorization that often accompanies a messianic pretender who arrives on the scene and makes promises to an oppressed and gullible community. At the same time he was able to convey faith and hope in a coming messiah who would indeed restore the oppressed and the dispersed to the inheritance in the Land promised to them by the L-rd. This “wait and see” approach is a practical one that is intended to eliminate the risk of false messiahs. They are not the Messiah until they deliver on the Torah promises. This is exactly the presentation the Yemen community needed to hear. It was premature to believe that the “mad pretender” was the Messiah; and, in fact, he had already disqualified himself by a number of failings.

Maimonides’ conception of the Messiah was rational. This is not surprising. As a philosopher who harmonized Greek rationalism with Jewish law, he paints messiah as a natural person who ushers in a natural order in fulfillment of scripture and tradition. Everything is transitional. Nothing is radical and apocalyptic. Maimonides was truly moderate. He rejected the kabbalists, who embraced mysticism and practically deified messiah, and ascribed supernatural powers to him. He strengthened those whose faith was in danger of being shipwrecked. He fused the Jewish G-d with the Greek mindset and created a harmonized universe. His position, like he prescribed for others in Hilchot Da’ot,80 was the one in the middle, and that is the one that made all the difference for Maimonides and his followers.

His position concerning the Messiah was also pragmatic. Neither is this surprising for one steeped in rationalism. His letters spoke to real issues confronting communities and people who were living in a world of persecution. He could empathize. It was his experience as well. Thus, he tells the community in Yemen that they should reject the pretenders but await the true messiah who will come, and probably in the not-too-distant future, as evidenced by the prophecies and the signs. Maimonides had suffered terribly in his life, with persecution and personal tragedies. He was a rationalist in the mode of the Greek mind, who sought to explain matters in rational terms. Moreover, it was a world of Christians and Mohammedans. They pressed the Jews to convert, and often became brute beasts in their attacks on the Jews. Maimonides was well aware of the need to live and the need to stay faithful to Torah. At great risk to his life he refuted the Islamic Prophet and the Christian Messiah, and encouraged the Jews, in near and distant lands, to hold fast to Torah and to believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah and though he tarry, to wait, and not think that he will be late. (4)

1. Congressional Gold Medal Recipient Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Avaialble at http://www.congressionalgoldmedal.com/RabbiMenachemMendelSchneerson.htm. Retrieved March 11, 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. This info was taken form my friend Elliot Klayman’s article called A Composite of the Characteristics of Messiah: A Maimonidean View. Available at http://www.thinkapologetics.com/content/judaismchristianity/CompositeCharacMessiah.html

Monday, March 9, 2009

Which Revelation is True?

In a recent outreach attempt on a college campus, I had the opportunity to speak to a student who had become a Mormon while attending college. I then talked to a student who had been meeting with Mormon missionaries. He was thinking about being a Mormon as well. I do not doubt the sincerity of both of these students. Of course sincerity is not a test for truth. I have been sincerely wrong about many things. Anyway, after talking to both of them, they both said that the test for the truthfulness of the Mormon faith is a religious experience. In this case, the confirmation of the Mormon faith happens through the heart confirming through what is already true in the mind. In other words, the Mormon appeal to a religious experience sounds a bit like the Christian appeal to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit.

This brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? The apostle Paul uses the Greek word “plerophoria” which means “complete confidence, full assurance,” to indicate that the believer has obtained the knowledge of the truth as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work (2 Col 2:2; 1Thess 1; Rom 4:21; 14;5, Col 4:12). (1) But what epistemological rights does the Christian have in saying their faith is true? While we do not want to discount the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, critics object that several other religions that are not compatible with Christianity lay claim to a self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit. Do not all existential experiences need an external test for truth?

In appealing to the Book of Mormon the Mormon says:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (2)

And so we see with the Mormon, all that is required for truth is the subjective testimony of the Holy Spirit. How does the Christian explain the Mormon’s confidence that the burning in their bosom is really not an authentic experience with the Holy Spirit? Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed an angel appeared to him and directed him to what are called the golden plates. Smith then showed them to eleven others. Smith is supposed to be responsible for translating these plates into The Book of Mormon. Like the apostles of Jesus, Smith suffered and died for his beliefs. However, there is a major difference between the eleven witnesses to the gold plates and the apostles of Jesus. (3) While six of the eleven witnesses left the Mormon Church, we have no record of the apostles of Jesus (Paul, James and John, others) even leaving the early Christian movement. (4)

Atheistic philosopher Michael Martin has argued that religious experience cannot qualify as a test for truth. After all, the testimonies of Muhammad, as well as the founders of several religious movements such as Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon and Jim Jones all attest to having a testimony that God gave them a revelation from heaven. (5) While Martin makes the mistake of depending on religious testimony as the only source for testing the truthfulness of a religious claim within a historical context, his points are valid for the Christian. How could the Christian argue sincere people of other faiths do not experience God as some sort of Being or loving Father, in which they depend upon? Fortunately, Jesus has left his people with an external test to demonstrate He is the Son of God. One of the external evidences (and I emphasize one!) that the subjective experience that the Christian experiences is truly from God’s Spirit is Jesus' resurrection. We do want to avoid the rationalism associated with Enlightenment period which is what Francis Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason," which is the haughty human attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God. (6) However, the “revelation only” view has some criticisms. This is why it is impossible to avoid using reason in evaluating religious claims. In evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines: 1. What does it claim to know? 2. How does it claim to know it? 3. What is the evidence for it?

We also should not forget the difference between certitude and certainty. Certainty is the confidence that something is true. Sometimes, certainty is distinguished from certitude. Certainty is objective, but certitude is subjective. A first principle or self-evident statement is objectively certain, whether a person is sure about it or not. Certitude involves a knower’s assent to that which is certain; it is a subjective acceptance of what is objectively so. In common usage the terms are used interchangeably. The difference is that certainty exists where there is objective reasons or evidence that are commensurate to the degree of certainty claimed. With certitude, however, there need to be a commensurate degree of objective reasons or evidence for the degree one possesses. (7)

I would conclude with the following:

Norman L. Geisler and and Paul D. Feinberg show the relationship between reason and revelation in their book Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective:

There is some truth in all of the basic views on reason and revelation: (1) “Reason is over revelation” is correct in that reason is epistemologically prior to revelation. The alleged revelation must be tested by reason. (2) “Revelation is over reason” is right in the ontological sense. God created reason and it must be His servant, not His master. (3) “Revelation only” is correct in the sense that ultimately and ontologically all truth comes from God. (4) “Reason only” has some truth, since reason must judge epistemologically whether the alleged revelation is from God. (5) “Revelation and reason” is correct because it properly assigns a role to each and shows their interrelationship. One should reason about and for revelation, otherwise he has an unreasonable faith. Likewise, reason has no guide without a revelation and flounders in error.

1. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 32
2. Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004, 27.
3. Ibid, 185-188.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 282.
6. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 14.
7. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 124-125.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Jesus Studies

The Jesus Studies

For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

The First Quest Period-1778-1906: marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)
The No Quest Period-1906-1953: Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970: Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:
Anti-supernaturalism: Miracle accounts and any references to the supernatural are immediately rejected. This is unjustified. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6)It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament 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).

A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, 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. (8)

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
Something that all historians consider in evaluating a historical document is the usge of eyewitness testimony. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. How do we know something? The role of testimony is one of the primary ways humans can know anything about historical events. Testimony as an epistemological enterprise plays a large role in the most recent work by British scholar Richard Bauckham in his book called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Bauckham does a superb job in evaluating how testimony can be treated as historical knowledge. He also compares the use of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels and the survivors of the Holocaust.
In the Bible, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Tanakh legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

In recording the historical events that are related to the life of Jesus, we see the usage of testimony and witness in the following passages:
Luke 1:4: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigating everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Acts 2:32: This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses of it.
1 John 1:1: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of life.
Acts 10:39: We are witnesses of all that he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross.
Acts 4:19-20: Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
1 Peter 5:1: So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.
2 Peter 1:19: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
1 Corinthians 15:1-17: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul's lists the elements of the Gospel:
The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
He then appeared to all the apostles.
He then appeared to 500 brethren at one time.
He appeared to James.
He appeared to Paul.
If the Messiah is not risen, their faith is in vain and they are false witnesses of God

Misunderstanding of “myth”: Most of the people who are involved in these quests misunderstand the nature of “myth.” Just because an event is not empirical does not mean it is not historical. C.S. Lewis, who wrote several fantasy novels said "First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading . . . If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he had read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." (9)

Genre Issues: In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written. Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it."(10)

As Burridge diligently searched for a genre, he compared the content of the gospels to other Hellenistic bioi (“lives” or biographies), such as Isocrates’s Evagoras, Xenophon’s Agesilaus, Satyrus’s Euripides, Nepos’s Atticus, Philo’s Moses, Tacitus’s Agricola, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, Lucian’s Demonax, and Philostratus’s Apollonius of Tyana. Burridge placed special attention on the prologue, verb subjects, allocation of space, mode of representation, length, structure, scale, literary units, use of sources, style, social setting, quality of characterization, atmosphere as well authorial intention and purpose.Because of the gospel’s similarities to these ancient biographies, Burridge concluded that the genre of the gospels is an ancient bioi as well. The desire to place modern historiographic expectations on an ancient biography is a continual apologetic issue that can be resolved by studying the conventions that the ancient authors used. (11) Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent. However, as Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (12)
A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on: 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.(13) 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.(14)
Some of the other 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.” (15)

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (16)

Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386.
Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182.
Geisler, pgs 385-386.
B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167.
Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, 154-55.
Burridge R. and G. Gould. Jesus Now and Then. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004,pg 48.
Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 218. See Burridge, R. What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco Roman Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Second Edition, 2004.
Witherington, 18.
Craig, 240-241.
Sheller, 191.
Craig, 240-241.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Son of God

This article is from 4TRUTH.NET

Son of God
By Ben Witherington, III
One of the big mistakes in Christian apologetics is just focusing on what Jesus publicly claimed to be. The truth is that what a person is and what they claim to be can be two very different things. In the case of Jesus, public claims are but a small subset of what Jesus taught His inner circle, and that also was but a small subset of what Jesus believed about Himself, and revealed in various ways, including in some rare cases by public claims. We need to understand as well the nature of the culture in which Jesus lived. Jesus did not live in a late western culture that stressed individualism or striving to be an individual. Rather one's identity was defined by one's key relationships. Notice that almost all the so called titles predicated of Jesus are actually relational terms—Jesus is Son in relationship to God, He is Son in relationship to humankind, He is God's anointed (the meaning of Messiah/Christ), He is Lord in relationship to those He rules, He is Son in relationship to David. One of the crucial reasons that Jesus did not run around Israel making enormous direct claims for Himself to total strangers is because they were bound to be badly misunderstood in a world where standing out from the crowd was seen as abnormal and undesirable. So for example, even with His disciples Jesus asks them "who do people say that I am" (Mark 8:27. NASB). Normally in Jesus' world, people were defined by others and by the tribe they were a part of.

The phrase "Son of God" often connotes divinity in modern Christian discussions, but it seldom did so in Jewish antiquity. It is true that sometimes angels were called sons of God (see Gen. 6:2) but when Jews thought about a Son of God they normally thought of a king anointed by God. For example, it is perfectly clear in Psalm 2 that the discussion is about the Davidic king who has been anointed by the high priest, and thereby coroneted as king. "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One…the Lord scoffs at them…'I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.'" Then the king himself declares "I will proclaim the decree of the Lord…You are My Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance" (Ps. 2:2-8, NIV). These last verses should be familiar since they are quoted in part at Jesus' baptismal event (see Mark 1:11 and par.). In Judaism it was believed that the king had a special relationship with God, and was in fact adopted by God as His own child at the point of coronation. What is especially interesting about Mark 1:11 is that the second phrase "today I have become your Father" is omitted because Mark does not want to suggest that Jesus was merely adopted as God's Son at the point of His baptism. Rather the baptism is the juncture where the Father confirms to the Son the identity He has always had and will now be publicly revealed.

There can be no doubt however, that Jesus did not view His relationship to God as simply identical to the relationship King David had with God. For one thing, it tells us a lot about Jesus that He prayed to God as Abba which is the Aramaic term of endearment which means dearest Father (see Mark 14:36,Abba is not slang, it does not mean "Daddy.") This is frankly inexplicable if Jesus only saw Himself as a King, or a prophetic figure, because no Jew, not even the king before Jesus' day prayed to God as "my dearest Father." This would have sounded like shocking familiarity. Notice that God is very seldom called Father in the Old Testament, and never prayed to as Abba. This is something new, and it reveals something special about how Jesus viewed His relationship to God. He believed He had a distinctively intimate relationship with God the Father. Even more striking is the fact that He taught His own disciples to pray to God as Abba, suggesting He could give them an intimate relationship with God unlike any they had had before. This is why we find several places in our chronologically earliest New Testament documents, the letters of Paul, where Paul says that Christians pray to God as Abba, indeed the Holy Spirit prompts them to do so, for they have become sons and daughters of God like Jesus though on a lesser scale, through their relationship with Jesus (see Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15.) And of course the very first word of the Lord's Prayer, which Jesus taught to His disciples in Aramaic was Abba (see Luke 11:2.) One has to ask, What sort of person could Jesus be if He thought He could not only save people, but give people alienated from God a relationship with God unlike any that human beings had had previously? This in itself implies a lot about Jesus' self understanding.

A further insight into Jesus' view of Himself as God's Son comes from a close examination of a text like Matthew 11:27, NIV, "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." The first half of this maxim is unexceptional. Anyone could say "no one really knows me except God my maker who knows all." But it is the second half of the saying which reflects Jesus' distinctive self-understanding. He sees Himself as knowing God in a way and to a degree that others do not, and furthermore, He sees Himself as the conduit or unique mediator of that knowledge to other human beings. Not only so, but Jesus is said to get to choose whom He reveals this intimate knowledge to. While this does not in itself prove that Jesus thought of Himself as divine, this saying puts Jesus in a unique and unprecedented position when it comes to the knowledge of God, and also in His role as the dispenser of the knowledge of God. It is not a surprise that Paul some 35 or so years later would stress "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:5-6, NIV). Later Christian theology was right to draw the inference that if Jesus was indeed the mediator of the saving knowledge and power and presence of God, and it was right to see Himself as a mediator then He had to be able to represent God to humankind, and humans to God. In short, He had to partake of both the nature of God and the nature of human beings.

One of the important though indirect ways that Jesus revealed His identity to His disciples and others was through various forms of wisdom or sapiential speech, for example the telling of parables. Mark 12:1-12 immediately comes to mind. In this parable the last and climactic agent and emissary of God to His vineyard is His Son. The vineyard was of course a long time symbol of God's Jewish people (see Isa. 5) and the tenders of the vineyard were of course the religious leaders of Israel, whether prophets, priests, or kings. Notice how the Son is called "the one whom he loved." The Jewish phrase "beloved son" often was a synonym for "only begotten son" and hence especially cherished. Jesus then in this parable sees Himself as a Son of God in some way that is distinctive from other Jews such that He could be called "the beloved Son." Did He understand that he had a unique relationship to the Father because of His distinctive origins (see Matt. 1 on the virginal conception)? This seems a plausible deduction.

The title Son of God, while more frequently conveying royalty than divinity in early Judaism, nonetheless had overtones of divinity for the very good reason that in the wider culture which surrounded Israel, kings were quite readily believed to be God's Son in a divine sense. Certainly, when this title was used by someone like Paul to speak of Jesus in the Greco-Roman world to Gentiles, the title must have sometimes carried this sort of significance. It is important to recognize then that it was Jesus' own use of the term Son of Himself that set this train of thought in motion, even though it was more fully amplified, explained, and expounded on after Jesus' death by Paul and various others as the Jesus movement spread west across the empire and became increasingly a Gentile phenomenon. For more on this subject one should consult Witherington, The Many Faces of the Christ, (Continuum, 1995).

Monday, March 2, 2009

What Can We Know?

This is a great article written by my friend Doug Beaumont. It shows the importance of the relationship between epistemology and metaphysics. Can we have one without the other?