Were the Early Christians Really Persecuted? by James Warner Wallace

Were the Early Christians Really Persecuted? by James Warner Wallace

In Cold Case Christianity, I discuss the evidential value of the martyrdoms of the original eyewitnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus. When evaluating the reliability of these witnesses, their potential bias can be assessed on the basis of their willingness to die rather than recant their testimony. Many skeptics, however, doubt these martyrdoms occurred in the first place. The deaths of the Apostles are recorded by a variety of ancient authors; some of these accounts are, admittedly, more thorough and reliable than others. Critics of Christianity have accused early Christians of inventing these apostolic martyrdom stories. In fact, some skeptics have denied the systemic persecution of early Christians altogether in the first two centuries. Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, has written a book, (The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom) challenging the early persecution of Christians (including the Apostles) prior to the 3rd Century. I think her task is daunting, however, given the impressive cumulative case demonstrating the dramatic mistreatment of the earliest Christians:

The Persecution of the Apostles Was Anticipated by the Gospel Authors
The New Testament Gospel authors (writing the earliest accounts of the life of Jesus and his followers) described the threat of persecution even while Jesus was alive. They documented Jesus’ repeated warnings to his followers related to persecution (i.e. Matthew 24:9, John 15:18-21, John 16:1-4, Luke 14: 25-33).

The Persecution of the Apostles Was Described by the Author of Acts
Luke described the immediate persecution of the disciples following the Ascension of Jesus in his Book of Acts (written in the 1st Century):

Peter and John were arrested (Acts 4:3 and Acts 5:18),

Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 6 and 7),

The believers were persecuted as a group (Acts 8:1),

Members were pulled from their homes and taken to prison (Acts 8:3),

King Herod put James (the brother of John) to death and arrested Peter (Acts 12).

The Persecution of the Apostles Was Described Personally by New Testament Authors
Paul (writing again the 1st Century) described his consistent persecution (i.e. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28) and Luke corroborated Paul’s suffering:

In Jerusalem, Paul spoke openly and challenged the Hellenists. They, in turn, tried to kill him (Acts 9:28-30)

In Antioch, the Jewish leadership encouraged persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and eventually expelled them from the area (Acts 13:48-52)

In Iconium, both Jews and Gentiles attempted to stone Paul and Barnabas, forcing them to flee to Lystra (Acts 14:5-6)

The Jewish residents of Lystra convinced the citizenry to stone Paul as well. He nearly died from this stoning but was rescued by the disciples (Acts 19-20)

Paul and Silas were beaten openly and thrown into prison in Philippi (Acts 16:19-40)

In Berea, the Thessalonian Jewish believers incited the crowd and forced Paul to flee by sea (Acts 17:13-14)

Paul was eventually arrested in Caesarea and taken Governor Felix (Acts 24:1). He was ultimately taken to Rome where he was placed in house arrest under guard (Acts 28)

The Persecution of the Apostles Was Described by the Second Generation of Christian Authors
The early students of the Apostles described the martyrdom of their teachers in ancient non-Biblical documents. They also described the persecution of other early Christians.

Clement of Rome (80-140 AD) confirmed Peter “endured not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory” (1 Clement 5:4). Clement also confirmed Paul “had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned” (1 Clement 5:5) and “when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance” (1 Clement 5:6). Clement also described “sudden and repeated calamities and reverses which are befalling us” (1 Clement 1:1).

Ignatius (105-115 AD) described Paul as a martyr (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 12). He also described himself as a “a condemned man” and anticipated his martyrdom in Rome, where he would “become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Chapter 4). Ignatius also referred to the persecution of the Church in Antioch (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Chapter 10).

Polycarp (110-140 AD) described the martyrdom of Paul “and the rest of the Apostles” in addition to the martyrdom of “Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus” along with “others also who came from among yourselves” (Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians 9:1)

The Persecution of the Second Generation of Christians Was Described by Subsequent Authors
Followers of the Church Fathers wrote about the martyrdom of these early Church leaders, claiming they were following the examples of the Apostles.

Clement was banished from Rome by Emperor Trajan and forced to work in a stone quarry reportedly drowned as a martyr (c. 99AD)

Ignatius was reportedly martyred in the Roman Colosseum under Emperor Trajan (c. 117AD)

Polycarp was reportedly martyred (along with six others) by Antoninus Pius (c. 160AD). After refusing to recant his faith, he told his persecutors, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong, how then can I blaspheme my king who hath saved me?”

Justin Martyr was prosecuted (together with his companions) by Junius Rusticus. Justin was ultimately beheaded as a martyr (c. 165AD)

The Persecution of 1st and 2nd Century Christians Was Described by Ancient Non-Christians
Early non-Christian sources confirm the persecution accounts of the early Church.

Tacitus described the persecution of Christians in Rome (c. 64-68AD) within 30 years of Jesus’ crucifixion. “Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians.” According to Tacitus, some Christians “were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race.” These early Christians were brutally executed, “and perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps.” (Annals)

Suetonius (69-122AD) also described the persecution of the early Christians. He said Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) “expelled them from Rome,” (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Claudius 25) and reported that, under Nero, “punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition” (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; Nero 16)

Pliny the Younger (Governor of Pontus / Bithynia) confirmed the persecution of Christians in his letter to Emperor Trajan (c. 112AD). He asked the Emperor “whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.” Pliny told Trajan, “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed.” Pliny excused those who rejected Christ and proved their allegiance to the Roman gods: “Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.” Trajan, in his response to Pliny, confirms the means by which early Christians could avoid persecution: “If they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it, that is, by worshiping our gods, even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.”

The Persecution of 1st and 2nd Century Christians Was Described by Ancient Christians
Early Christian leaders wrote about the ongoing persecution of believers

Justin Martyr (100-164AD) described the continuous persecution of the Christian community in a letter to Emperor Augustus Caesar. He wrote, “You can kill us, but cannot do us any real harm” (The First Apology of Justin Martyr)

Tertullian (160-225 AD) described the suffering of the early Christians as he wrote to Roman governors in an attempt to stem the persecution of Christians in his era (Apologeticus)

Even the most skeptical critics of Christian history typically accept the 3rd and 4th Century records of large scale persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius (c. 250’s AD), Valerian (c. 260’s AD), Diocletian (c. 280’s AD) and Galerius (early 300’s AD). These four emperors persecuted Christians vigorously. Under Valerian alone, many well-known known Christian leaders were martyred, including Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage), Sixtus II (Bishop of Rome) and Saint Lawrence.

The evidence for the early persecution of Christians is robust, including the 1st Century Biblical record, the 1st and 2nd Century Christian non-Biblical record, and the accounts of ancient 1st and 2nd pagan historians and writers. Like any cumulative case, the strength of this evidence is compounded by the diversity of the sources. Is the early persecution of Christians simply a myth created by Christians to advance the cause of Christianity? Those who propose such a theory must account for the following:

The records of persecution originate over the entire course of Christian history, from New Testament era to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation of Christian believers

The records of persecution originate in geographically diverse locations

The records of persecution originate in culturally diverse Christian communities

The records of persecution originate from both Biblical and non-Biblical authors

The records of persecution originate from both Christian and non-Christian authors

The records of persecution were unopposed by ancient objectors

While skeptics in our day may deny the ancient Christian claims of martyrdom, the opponents of antiquity were silent. The Christian record remains the one unopposed, dominant voice from antiquity, describing the persecution of ancient Christians and identifying this persecution with their refusal to “[reject] Christ and [prove] their allegiance to the Roman gods.”

 

 

“If Christianity is True, Why Are So Many Christians Depressed?”

Here is an excellent  post from my friend, the immortal Pastor Matt Rawlings

By Matt Rawlings

Every week I field great questions from my readers and every week I try to answer at least one of them. Last week, a commenter asked why so many Christians suffer with depression. This is a great question.

Let me state up front that I am not a professional counselor. I have been a pastor for more than fifteen years but I believe too many pastors attempt to counsel those with serious emotional issues when they should be referring them to pros. I understand that most pastors are people pleasers and that some folks refuse to see a professional counselor because they believe there is a stigma attached to such treatment. I disagree but I digress.

As a pastor, I can only offer a few observations I have gleaned over the years from experience and reading. For example, David Switzer, a former professor at SMU, argues that depression is often “swallowed anger.” Switzer writes, “Usually depression is hostility turned inward because the individual is afraid to express it openly toward the original target of the anger.” (see The Minister as Crisis Counselor (Abingdon 1986).

Too often Christians have been taught expressly or implicitly that anger is a sin. This is simply not true. Anger may rise from a sinful, selfish attitude of entitlement. But the roots of anger may also be found in indignation at true injustice. I have seen Christians who have truly been abused and betrayed feel as though they are sinning for being angry at such situations. This is, to use a good Appalachian phrase, “hogwash.”

To read on, click here:

 

The 8 E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

Epistemology: Knowledge By Testimony

We all know that many events that we study in history are things in the past. Since historians can’t verify the events directly (they weren’t there to participate in the events), they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. As a Christian, I share the faith of the early witnesses to the life of Jesus. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. We as humans come to know things by a variety of ways such as reason and logic, intuition, by making inferences, personal and religious experience, the scientific method, listening to authorities on a subject matter, and trusting the testimony of others. There is some overlap with this post and another post I did about the inability to trust eyewitness testimony here.

Epistemologically speaking, one of the tools that plays an important element in discovering the past is the testimony of witnesses. New Testament faith is portrayed as knowledge based upon testimony.

Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. (1)

As Paul Barnett notes,

“Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (2)

Let’s Look at The Eight E’s of Testimony in the New Testament

1. Early Testimony

We don’t want to forget the advice of historian David Hacket Fisher who says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (3) So keeping that in mind, when I am asked as to why Christians don’t put as much weight into extracanonical Gospels, here is something to think about. The Gospel of Mary has been dated at 160 A.D, the Gospel of Peter at 170 A.D. etc. One of the earliest records for the death and resurrection of Jesus is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 contains a creed that can be traced back possibly as early as three to ten years after Jesus was crucified!. So keeping in mind the comment by Fisher, what source is more reliable? To read more about this click here.

2. Ethical Testimony

There is no reason to distrust the character of those that wrote about the life of Jesus. Given they were predominately Jewish, they were familiar with the principles of the Torah. As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. 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). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.

3. Eyewitness Testimony

One book that has recently handled the issue of the Synoptic Tradition is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.

As Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period.

These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4). As Bauckham says, “This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

4. Embarrassing Testimony

Another issue that speaks to the character and trustworthiness of those that wrote about Jesus is what is called The Principle of Embarrassment- a test that was put forth by John P. Meier in his A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1. This criteria seeks out material in the Gospels that would have been would create awkwardness or difficulty for the early church. This type of material would most likely have not been created by the early church because it would have been provided material useful for the early church’s opponents.

Let me go ahead and give an example: All four Gospels attest to Jesus’ baptism by John at the very beginning of his ministry. Would the Gospel authors make up such a tradition? In the Jewish culture, it was understood that the one who was being baptized was spiritually inferior to the baptizer himself. A careful reading throughout the Gospels demonstrate embarrassing issues such as where the disciples portray themselves as dim-witted, uncaring, uneducated, cowardly doubters who are rebuked by Jesus.

Furthermore, it can be observed that the disciples did not believe in Jesus’ prediction of his own resurrection (Mark 8:31–33; 9:31–32; 14:27–31). Given that the disciples had spent time with Jesus and had personally witnessed His messianic sayings and actions, what benefit would it be for Mark to leave such an incident in His Gospel? Furthermore, after the resurrection, Mary does not recognize Jesus (John 20: 11-15) and Thomas is seen as disbelieving it (John 20:24-25). It seems that if John wanted to convince his audience of the truthfulness of the event, he would portray Jesus’ followers in a more positive light. The fact that John decided to leave these details in the story only lends credibility to the authenticity of the event.

But the one embarrassing detail that stands out in the Gospels is the proclamation of a crucified Messiah. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal.

The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”- the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. A crucified Messiah would be a tough sell to a Jewish audience that was still waiting to return to the glory days of the Davidic Dynasty (2 Sam. 7:5-16; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37). To see more on this, see here:

5. Excruciating Testimony

If you read through the book of Acts, it is obvious that the early Messianic community was willing to die whether than recant their faith in the risen Lord. It is true that martyrdom doesn’t make a belief true. People die for things that they think are true all the time. But many of the disciples/apostles were given the opportunity to live, if they would only say that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. A witness who is willing to die rather than change his story is a very strong witness.

Chuck Colson, one of the well known participants in the Watergate scandal who is now a Christian says the following:

“Critics of Christianity often try to explain the empty tomb by saying the disciples lied–that they stole Jesus’ body themselves and conspired together to pretend He had risen. The apostles then managed to recruit more than 500 other people to lie for them as well, to say they saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. But just how plausible is this theory? To support it, you’d have to be ready to believe that for the next fifty years those people were willing to be ostracized, beaten, persecuted, and (all but one of them) suffer a martyr’s death–without ever renouncing their conviction that they had seen Jesus bodily resurrected.

Does anyone really think the disciples could have maintained a lie all that time? No, someone would have cracked, just as we did so easily in Watergate. Someone would have acted as John Dean did and turned state’s evidence. There would have been some kind of smoking gun evidence, or a deathbed confession. Why didn’t they? Because they had come face to face with the living God. They could not deny what they had seen. The fact is that people will give their lives for what they believe is true, but they will never give their lives for what they know is a lie. The Watergate cover-up proves that 12 powerful men in modern America couldn’t keep a lie–and that 12 powerless men 2000 years ago couldn’t have been telling anything but the truth.”(4)

6. Extra-Biblical Testimony

Jesus of Nazareth is mentioned by ten non-Christian sources, including Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, and the Jewish Talmud! For example, Jesus’ crucifixion is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3.

Even John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the Jesus Seminar (not some hyper-evangelical group) says the following:

“Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus.” (5)

7. Enemy Testimony

Historian Paul Maier notes that “positive evidence within a hostile source is the strongest kind of evidence.” There are several places where we can see a hostile source testifies to the events in the New Testament. Enemy attestation can be recognized in the fact that the Jewish leadership did acknowledge that Jesus’ tomb was empty (Matt. 28:11–15) as well as the confirmation about the resurrection from the conversion of many of the Jewish priests (Acts 6:7).

8. External Testimony

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence. In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37. To read all 59 points, see here:

The Book of Acts

One book in the New Testament that plays as indispensible role in evaluating the resurrection is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian.There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. To see the list made be Hemer, see here:

Conclusion
What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are. I hope the 8 E’s help in your study of the New Testament.

Sources:

Note: The 6 E’s (early, excruciating, extra-biblical, eyewitness, expected embarrassing, were created by my friend Frank Turek. He actually appeals to 6 E’s. But I have expanded on them a bit (I added enemy and ethical testimony) and left out the part about expected testimony. But to see more on this, see his book which he co-authored with Norman Geisler called I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist.

1. Reid, D. G., The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004, 460
2. Barnett, P., Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, 138.
3. Fisher, D.H., Historian’s Fallacies:Toward a Logic of Historical Thought: New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.
4.Colson, C. The Impossible Cover Up. Available at http://www.breakpoint.org/commentaries/2094-the-impossible-cover-up
5. Crossan, J.D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994, 145.

A Look at Pauline Apologetics: What Can Apologists Learn From Paul?

In this post, I want to examine some of the methods and apologetic approaches that Paul used in reaching his culture for the Gospel. There has been a lot of debate on the topic of apologetic methodology.  Which approach should we take in following Paul’s example? Presuppositional or Evidential? Many will quote one Pauline text and assert Paul favored one approach more than then the other. Sadly, this is not helpful at all. We need to look at various approaches Paul used before declaring there is only one approach to use in our present culture. I have noted elsewhere about the educational background of Paul.

Paul’s use of General Revelation

General revelation  serves to explain the worldwide phenomenon of faith. Many people are religious, because they have a type of knowledge of God. All people have knowledge of God although it may be suppressed to the extent of being unrecognizable or unconscious. It is still there, and there will be areas of sensitivity to which the message may be effectively directed as a starting point.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. ;For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.;For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”-Romans 1: 18-21.

First, Paul says God’s “divine nature” should be evident to all. This means we can see the non-moral attributes of God in creation such omnipotence in the created order. “Perceive” means to “perceive in the mind.” “What has been made” means God’s workmanship can be seen. The created order is more than a physical act, but the work of design, or art where the craftsman brings his will, thoughts or emotions, love and skill into it.

Remember, the Greco-Roman religious world which Paul is addressing would have assumed that only the wise were the ones who had knowledge of their gods. Also, being that Paul was Jewish, he knew that Jewish people would have seen the pagans as having no knowledge of the one true God. So Paul is turning things upside down here in saying that knowledge of the true God is  available to all. Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature).

When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose).

Moral Knowledge

 “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge. It is instantaneously apprehended. The issue of moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law (The Torah).

The argument Paul is making is not whether people know they have moral knowledge. From an epistemological standpoint, they most certainly do!

Paul’s Use of  Historical Revelation: Messianic Prophecy

In many cases  Paul’s audience were Jewish people who were already theists. Paul is seen going to the Jew first  (Rom. 1: 16) in The Book of Acts. Paul goes to the synagogue first in Salamis (13:5), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2), Berea (17:10), Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19 and 19:8). In other words, they were already believed in the God of Israel. Hence, Paul had no need to establish whether there was a God with them. That is why his apologetic methodology was to go right into the Jewish Scriptures.

Let’s see where Paul utilizes prophecy:

Acts 13

In his sermon at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13: 16-41), Paul says Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.

Paul also says Jesus is the fulfillment of Ps. 2:7 and Ps.16:10 (see Acts 13:33-37).

Let me mention some other Pauline passages:

“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” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

We see here:

1.The Messiah died according to the Jewish Scriptures (most likely he is referring to the entire redemptive plan of the Old Testament).

2.He was raised according to the Scriptures (once again, he is probably referring to the redemptive plan of the Old Testament ).

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-7:

 “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, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We see that:

1  Paul says that the information about the coming Messiah was written about beforehand in the Jewish Scriptures.

2. Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).

3. Remember, the New Testament authors unanimously declare Jesus as the one who is from the “seed of David,” sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; 2 Tim:2:8; Rev. 22:16). As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two ways for this prophecy to come to pass. Either God could continually raise up a new heir or he could have someone come who would never die. Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

Acts 17:1-4:

“Paul went into the synagogue reasoning and giving evidence that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead.”

In this passage, Paul appeals to fulfilled prophecy which is probably a reference to Isa. 53:1-12; Ps. 22:1-16;16 or the entire redemptive plan of the Old Testament.

What about today? Can we use Paul’s approach with Jewish people? The answer is yes and no. When I debate Orthodox Jews or anti-missionaries(e.g.,Jews for Judaism), we are always debating prophecy and the issues in the Old Testament. So it depends on the Jewish person. However, there are many Jewish people that are not Jewish theists. They are agnostics or in many cases atheists. The majority of Jewish people that I have spoken to on a major college campus don’t have any strong convictions about whether God exists or not. Hence, I have to establish that God exists with them.

Paul’s Preaching and The Crucified Messiah

For Paul, “Christ Crucified” is central to his preaching and apologetic.

Donald Juel dicusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

“The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive”  (1)

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

A Misunderstood Text?

1 Corinthians 1: 19-21: ” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

This is the text that many presuppositional apologists like to point out. For them, any apologist who tries to appeal to mankind’s fallen reason is on shaky ground. In response, no mature apologist thinks reason alone could give anyone a relationship with God. I have been at this long enough to know that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. In other words, sin affects the whole person—mind, emotions, and will. Human beings are radically depraved in their being. People can and do harden their hearts towards God. Sometimes they can reach the point where they are desensitized towards the ways of God. Furthermore, in relation to the text above, Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (2)

From Idolatry to Devotion to Jesus

Given Paul was a Torah observant Jew, he was well aware of the prohibitions against idolatry. For example:

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day.   Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.  For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land.  Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you.  For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deut 4: 15-24.

So here we have a prohibition against creating any male or figure into an idol. But Paul says the following:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”- Phil 2: 5-11.

Following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, the Jews no longer fell prey to physical idolatry. Also, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament(1 Cor. 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph. 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8).  Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor. 5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even  commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act and but then later speak against idolatry?  It seems rather inconsistent.

They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. In several of Paul’s Letters Jesus is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios) (e.g., 1 Cor 8:6-8). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

Also, as pointed out by Richard Bauckham in his work on this topic, Paul believed that  Jesus was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving  monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things

2. God is the Sole Creator of all things

3. God is the only being deserving of worship

So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:

1. Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things

 Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

 

 Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being ”far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

Here, Jesus is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

Jesus is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.

Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

3. Jesus as worthy of worship (see Phil 2 text above).

As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Jesus. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship.

Paul and Work of the Holy Spirit

Paul insists that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14).. But Paul does not say that the undegenerated person cannot perceive truth about God, but that they do not receive (Gk. dekomai, “welcome”) it. Paul emphatically declared that the basic truths about God are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20). The problem is not that unbelievers are not aware of God’s existence but that they do not want  God  to exist because of their desire to live an autonomous life apart from God.

Anyone who does evangelism will generally experience several objections to the Christian faith.  Hence, it is almost impossible to do evangelism apart from some  apologetic training. Josh McDowell has gone on record saying, “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not.,”

Therefore, the mature apologist knows the  Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process.  Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium but the mature apologist knows faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. For example, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. But just because the demons think God exists, this doesn’t mean they have saving faith. Objectively speaking, apologetics or 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 Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15).

What Can Apologists Learn From Paul?

1.Know your audience: As we see, Paul knew when to use general or historical revelation.

When Paul appeals to the evidence for design in nature (Rom 1:18-21), that takes us to the Intelligent Design debate. ID scholars have written enough on that topic. I  will leave it up to the reader to pursue further study.  Also, to use Romans 1 and to walk up to a skeptic and shout “You know God and are suppressing the truth” probably will fall on dear ears. This doesn’t mean I doubt what Paul is saying. I do think God has given knowledge of himself. But I have yet to have any success by telling people “You already know God.”  It just may be a matter of how we explain this text.  Maybe we can ponder the following comment by Alvin Plantinga:

“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.”

2. Paul’ use of messianic prophecy: I am not going to hold back here: many popular level apologetic books  are too simplistic on this topic. If you really want to engage the topic, see our bibliography here. I don’t advise using the common line, “There are over 300 messianic prophecies and they are all fulfilled in Jesus.” Skeptics and Jews as well have written on the problem with this approach. So while the good news is that there are answers, Christians need to work harder on this topic. Furthermore, given all the supersesessionism that permeates the Church ,many Christians don’t know the role of Israel and Jewish missions (Rom 1:16).

3.Education: I gave some background on Paul’s education. It is evident that God used Paul’s  education and background to reach different audiences. So the question is the following: Who is your audience? What area of study should you target?

4. The Power of the Gospel: Paul preached the crucified and risen Messiah. This is the first task of our outreach efforts.  We are called to be faithful and let God handle the results.

Sources:

1.  Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith (Word &World Supplement Series 3 :St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

2. J.P Moreland  and  W.L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 13.

3. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000), 214-125.

How Do We Tell One Story of Jesus?: The Plurality of the Four Gospels and the “So Called Historical Jesus”

Here is a great article by at Patheos.

By

I continue to struggle with how to factor in the plurality of the four Gospels when presenting the story of Jesus. On the one hand, I am uncomfortable with the harmonizing and minimizing tendencies of my evangelical tradition when it comes to alleged contradictions in detail. Francis Watson I think is right when he recently wrote about alleged contradictions among the four Gospels:

There are very many of them, and they often relate to issues at the heart of Christian faith and life. More importantly, to trivialize the alleged contradictions is also to trivialize the differences that constitute the individual gospels in their discrete identities. The problem of alleged contradictions can only be resolved by recognizing that the criterion of correspondence to factual occurrence is already rejected in the canonical form itself. As Origen recognized but Augustine did not, the apparent contradiction demonstrates the inadequacy of this criterion and compels the reader to seek the truth on a different plane to that of sheer factuality (Gospel Writing, 14, emphasis added).

On the other hand, I am nearly a complete skeptic when it comes to the tools for establishing historical authenticity. Even recently, I read the discussion of historical Jesus scholars and continue to be troubled by the flimsy methodology and so the usefulness of the entire endeavor. There are improvements being made on the method, particularly in the recent work of folks like Anthony LeDonne and others drawing on the recent work on memory in the social and cognitive sciences along with the rejection of positivistic historiography with its quest for “what really happened”. But it remains the case that the so called historical Jesus will be remote to us no matter the methodological improvements. What’s more, Martin Kähler’s claim continues to be true that “a so called historical Jesus” – stripped as he is from his canonical particularities – is not a Jesus which births and sustains faith. The Jesus of Christian faith is the Jesus of the four gospels in all their particularity, their story structures, their renditions of Jesus’ sayings, their settings, plot and characters. And, as Kähler claimed, so do I: the real historical Christ is the Jesus who is preached.

There must be a third way that rejects the Jesus of the Harmony on the one side and the Jesus of historical criteria on the other; one that nevertheless remains historical, theological and biblical. Has anyone figured that out that path?

I’m sympathetic to Martin Kähler’s provocative, rhetorical question: “Is it really a deficiency when the origins of this image [the Jesus of the four gospels] remain shrouded in obscurity?”

It seems that Watson is attempting to lay a foundation for a third way in his book Gospel Writing. Here is an insightful exerpt that gets at the heart of the matter, and points to the positive, rather than negative, value of gospel difference one the one hand, and, on the other, names the fourfold canonical “gospel” as the final one story of the gospel:

The fourfold retelling of Jesus’ story complicates the relationship between that story and empirical historical reality. Within its new fourfold context, the individual gospel’s claim to retrace the exact course of historical events proves hard to sustain: when one gospel tells how Jesus preformed a certain action as he approached Jericho, its claim is thrown into question when another gospel states that he performed this action on leaving Jericho. Innumerable small-scale divergences such as this together constitute the irreducible difference that establishes the gospel’s plurality; without them there would not be four gospels but four copies of a single gospel. An indirect relationship to empirical occurrence and sequence is therefore integral to the fourfold canonical narrative. Like metaphor, narrative can further the communication of elusive truth precisely as its literal-historical sense is suspended; the event of the Word made flesh cannot be adequately communicated by conventional historical method. Yet plurality is also a feature of normal historiography, however much an individual historian may strive to monopolize his or her subject matter. The glossing of ευαγγελιον as ευαγγελιον κατα . . . acknowledges the perspectival nature of all history writing. Where difference is seen as a problem or weakness that calls for elaborate harmonization procedures or critical unmasking, the root cause is a dissatisfaction with canonical pluralism as such and a determination to reduce it to singularity. But that is to overlook the hermeneutical significance of the canon itself, which strives to integrate the voice of the individual witness into an encompassing polyphony (615-16)

 

Why Christians Need to Renew Their Commitment to Share the Gospel

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I have previously offered two blog posts on something that has been on my heart. First, I gave an overview of the different ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible. Second, I talked about some of the reasons why we may be ashamed of the Gospel.

But given the pressing issues of the world around us, I am convinced that Christians (and of course all apologists), need to make the Gospel the center of everything. In other words, proclaim it, share it, and please don’t be ashamed of it. Why do say this? If you havent noticed, the evidence for fallen humanity is all around us.  Just turn on the news for an hour or so. Hence, the world hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus.

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). (1)

Therefore, Jesus helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). (2)

Notice Jesus came to liberate the captives and people that are enslaved. Yes, people were held captive to demonic oppression in that day and they were enslaved to various sins.  But when I look around, I see all kinds of people enslaved to many things. Let me point out some of them:

The War Between Israel and the Palestinians

First, we have an ongoing war in Israel that never ends. We have people there that are enslaved to hatred and anger. It just drags on and on. The Gospel is the only thing that can change a heart that is filled with that kind of hate. That’s why Jesus is the ultimate answer to the problem there. Governmental intervention is nice. But that won’t change the human condition.

Racism

As country, we are more racially divided than ever. The recent riots and debate over what happened with the Ferguson situation shows we still have a long, long, ways to go on this issue. It is clear we still have racism on both sides. Granted, this has come out even more since Obama took office. For people that enslaved to racism, this is sin and part of the fallen condition. And the Gospel is the only thing that can change the heart on that issue as well. By the way, for Christians that have succumbed to racism, you need to repent! That goes for both sides!

Terrorism

The things that are taking place overseas with the group ICIS is horrific. Christians and other people groups in Iraq are being butchered. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred, and here we see man’s inhumanity against man. Also, a real case of spiritual warfare is everywhere. While I am for a military intervention on a grand scale,  the Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart in this situation.

Anti-Semitism

With the growing problems in the war in Israel, we see anti-Semitism is on the rise. I thought we made some progress after the Holocaust. But we see there is still plenty of hatred for the Jewish people. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred here. The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart here and set people from the being captive to this sin.

So remember, Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ).  When you preach the Gospel to anyone, they are enslaved to something. It may be an addiction, pride, hatred, or a false ideology.  But these sins are a symptom of a greater problem which is their rejection of the Gospel and a broken relationship with their Creator.

I could go on and on. But the point is that the evidence for fallen humanity is staring at us right in the face. Do we view people as being held captive and enslaved to things that are going to destroy them and others? Will you renew your commitment to preach the Gospel to people all around you? Please go the Lord in prayer and ask him to grant you he boldness you need to share the message that can set people free!

Sources:

Sources:
1. J. Knox Chamblin “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
2. Ibid.

11 Quotes From Ravi Zacharias On Humanity’s Predicament

Thanks to Luke Nix for this excellent post. Luke blogs at Faithful Thinkers.

 

“When we look into the human heart we see the lust, the greed, the hate, the pride, the anger, and the jealousies that are so destructive. This is at the heart of the human predicament, and the Scriptures call this condition sin.”

“The more we see the unconscionable ends to which the human spirit can descend when it is determined to remain autonomous, the more our confidence in human methods diminishes.”

 
“None of us like the concept of law because none of us like the restraints it puts on us. But when we understand that God has given us his law to aid us in guarding our souls, we see that the law is for our fulfillment, not for our limitation. The law reminds us that some things, some experiences, some relationships are sacred. When everything has been profaned, it is not just my freedom that has been lost– the loss is everyone’s. God gave us the law to remind us of the sacredness of life, and our created legal systems only serve to remind us of the profane judgments we make.”
 

“I am convinced that all our attempts to change the letter of the law and to reeducate people have been, and are, merely band-aid solutions for a fatal hemorrhage. The system will never change because our starting point is flawed. The secular view of man can neither give the grandeur that God alone can give, nor can it see the evil within the human heart that God alone can reveal and cure, for atheism implicitly denudes each individual of the grand image God has imprinted upon His creation.”

“Attempting to satisfy the passions that rage inside us and the longings that motivate us, we invent spirituality, lean on political solutions, create new villains, turn our backs on Jesus, and blame a thousand tyrannies– but we never come to terms with the source of the problem deep within the heart and inclination of every human being.”

“When I do things my way, I exhaust pleasure very quickly. It is not that Christianity has failed to teach
me how to delight in God’s presence; it is that I have failed by seeking pleasure through godless ways or by resisting God’s provision for me because it is not what I want.”

“The cross stands as a mystery because it is foreign to everything we exalt- self over principle, power over meekness, the quick fix over the long haul, cover-up over confession, escapism over confrontation, conform over sacrifice, feeling over commitment, legality over justice, the body over the spirit, anger over forgiveness, man over God.”

“The Christian faith, simply stated, reminds us that our fundamental problem is not moral; rather, our fundamental problem is spiritual. It is not just that we are immoral, but that a moral life alone cannot bridge what separates us from God. Herein lies the cardinal difference between the moralizing religions and Jesus’ offer to us. Jesus does not offer to make bad people good but to make dead people alive.”

“In the gospel message, the beginning of change occurs in the heart of each individual. This heart change makes a difference in the home, then in the community, and ultimately in the nation– and in turn it shapes the future of a cultural ethos.”

“The grace of forgiveness, because God Himself has paid the price, is a Christian distinctive and stands splendidly against our hate-filled, unforgiving world. God’s forgiveness gives us a fresh start.”

“Christianity is not a political theory. It is not even a cultural theory. It is, at its root, all about changing the heart of each man and woman, boy and girl, so that we begin to think God’s thoughts and act in accordance with his character.”

All these quotes were found in three of Dr. Zacharias’ books: 
Has Christianity Failed You 
Can Man Live Without God
The Grand Weaver