Is Victoria Osteen Right That The Most Important Thing Is That We Are Happy?

 Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably noticed that Victoria Osteen‘s recent comments have created a firestorm. The video can be seen here. But in it, she says:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it — we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy.

“So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen

 

Now I have no idea if this is just a case where she said something before thinking.  Perhaps she will explain what she said. But in the end, let’s take a look at this.

Golgotha

The problem is it that her comments don’t match what the Bible teaches at all. Yes, it is true God wants us to find satisfaction and joy in him. But, what about the cross? Is the message of the death of Jesus really about us just being happy? Is that all that God cares about?

What did Jesus mean when he said the following:

 “Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”- Luke 9: 23-26

How many cross necklaces have you seen around the necks of people? What about the crosses that are seen on the necks of movie stars and sports figures? If you ask the average person who is wearing a cross what it means, they may say the following:

” Jesus died for me on the cross”

” The Cross is a symbol of love”

“The Cross saved me”

“I don’t know”

The First Century

What  is interesting is that many of us don’t know how the cross was viewed in the first century. According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.” –See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977.

Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts.

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in 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. So what is seen in these verses is not the execution itself but what is done to the body after the person is executed–it is displayed as a warning to others. For Jewish people at the time of Paul, the a crucified victim could be viewed as either a victim or a villain. If it is the latter, the person being condemned as a criminal would be considered cursed by God because of their actions.-Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 144-145.

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)

 

Blessing and Curses

In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse.

The blessing is for those who obey the stipulations of the covenant while the curse is upon those who violate the stipulations.

Deuteronomy 27:6 says “ Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”

 

We see this in the following passage:

 

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all the commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:1-2).

For a Jewish person to be blessed was to be in the presence of God and enjoy his presence and all the benefits that this entailed.  The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, to be cursed was to be outside the presence of God. To be declared “unclean” or defiled meant was an offense to the Jewish people. So for Jesus to die on a crucifixion stake was not a sign of blessing from God.  If anything, it was the opposite.

The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, it is clear that to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor but instead a sign of rejection and embarrassment.  Therefore, when Jesus told his disciples that they couldn’t follow him unless they were willing to deny themselves and take up their cross, they knew that wouldn’t always equate to personal happiness. It would be hard and it would involve suffering. In the end, can we find satisfaction and joy in obeying God? Yes! But this is something that is learned over time. And remember, God is more interested in our holiness than our personal happiness.  Hence, If we preach to people that the Gospel is all about us and our personal happiness, that is no Gospel at all!

 

 

 

A Look at Six Christological Titles of Jesus

Christology is the study of the person and work of Jesus. In this post, I discuss six Christological titles pertaining to Jesus:

1. The Son of God

What does it mean when Christians say “Jesus is the Son of God?” Even though divine sonship appears in the Hebrew Bible with regards to persons or people groups such as angels (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan 3:25), and Israel (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos 11;1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Messiah is the king. When the divine sonship is used in the context of the relationship between Israel and the king (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7;89:26-27), the sonship theme places a large emphasis on the fact that the king has a special relationship to God and is called or elected to a specific task as well. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-37). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a person whose eternality will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom and throne forever.

The existence of Israel is directly related to God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s relationship to God as the King. The Davidic covenant established David as the king over all of Israel. Under David’s rule, there was the defeat of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. David also captured Jerusalem and established his capital there (2 Sam. 1-6).

As seen in 2 Sam. 7:1-4, David wanted to build a “house” (or Temple) for the Lord in Jerusalem. God’s response to David was one of rejection. However, as just mentioned, God did make an unconditional promise to raise up a line of descendants from the house of David that would rule forever as the kings of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16; 1 Chr.17:7-15; Ps.89:28-370. The desire for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty became even more fervent after the united kingdom of the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, at the time of King Rehoboam.

The late Geza Vermes, a Jewish scholar, thought that one of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are part of the Pseudepigrapha which is written 200 BC to 200 A.D. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon, they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

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

 

” Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.”(Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30). (1)

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? That is exactly how Paul understood Jesus’ Messiahship in Romans 1:1-5:

“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.”

2. Son of Man/Elect One

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, the Son of Man was to suffer and die and rise from the dead (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Third, the Son of Man would serve an eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31). In other words, there is a correlation between the returning Son of Man and the judgment of God.

The term “Son of Man” in the time of Jesus was a most emphatic reference to the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14). The title reveals divine authority. In the trial scene in Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Dan. 7:13 and Ps. 110:1 to Himself. 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.

The Pseudepigrapha commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD. Even though these works are not part of the Protestant Canon they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Therefore, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. The following examples were taken from The Messiah Texts by Raphel Patai.

“And there I saw him who is the Head of Days, and His head was white like wool, and with him was another one whose countenance had the appearance of a man And his face was full of graciousness, like one of holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things about the Son of Man: Who is he and whence is he and why did he go with the Head of Days? And he answered and said to me: This is the Son of Man who has righteousness, With whom dwells righteousness, And who reveals all the treasures of the crowns, For the Lord of Spirits chose him.” (1 Enoch 46:1-3)

“He shall be a staff for the righteous. Whereon to lean, to stand and not to fall,And he shall be a light to the nations, And hope for the troubled of heart. And all the earth dwellers before him shall fall down, And worship and praise and bless and sing to the Lord of Spirits. It is for this that he has been chosen and hidden before Him, even before The creation of the world and evermore.”(1 Enoch 48: 4-6)

I Enoch 51.3: “The Elect One will sit on [God's] throne”

I Enoch 52.4: “And he said to me, ‘All these things which you have seen happen by the authority of his Messiah so that he may give orders and be praised upon the earth’”

I Enoch 62.5: “…and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory”

I Enoch 62.7: “For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones.”

I Enoch 62.14: “The Lord of the Spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever…”

I Enoch 69.29: “Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.”

3. Prophet

One of the most pivotal texts that speak about the first coming of the Messiah is Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

What is the purpose of a prophet?

A prophet (Heb. nabi) was an individual who received a call from God to be God’s spokesperson, often connected with some crisis that was about to occur, and then announced God’s message of judgment and/or deliverance to Israel and the nations. The word “prophet” occurs over 300 times in the Hebrew Bible and almost 125 times in the New Testament. The term “prophetess” appears 6 times in the Hebrew Bible and 2 times in the New Testament. (2)

In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 , God listed five certifying signs by which a true prophet of God could be recognized:

  1. A prophet must be an Israelite, “from among [his] own brothers“ ( Deut. 18:15 ) (Balaam is the exception that proves this rule). 2. He must speak in the name of the Lord, “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” (Deut. 18:19). 3. He must be able to predict the near as well as the distant future -”If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken” ( Deut. 18:22 ). 4. He must be able to predict signs and wonders (Deut. 13:2). 5. His words must conform to the previous revelation that God has given (Duet .13:2-3).(3)

The Context of the Passage (Deut. 18:15-22)

God, through Moses, warns Israel to remain separate from the evil practices of the surrounding nations (Deut. 18:9-12) and instructs Israel how to tell the difference between a “true prophet” and a “false prophet.” After God had warned Israel about attempting to get supernatural information from bogus pagan sources ( Deut. 18:9-14 ), he announced that he would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own brothers” (v. 15). Any prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord and his words do not come true is a “false prophet.” God has not spoken through him.

In the same context God tells Israel He will send prophets who will truthfully speak for Him. What’s more, Israel can someday expect a prophet who will be “like Moses,” that God will specially raise up. The word “prophet” is in the singular, so it must refer to some individual prophet in the future. God would “put his words in the prophet’s mouth and the prophet will tell the people everything God commanded him” (v. 18). The wider context (Deut. Ch. 16-18) describes the offices of king and priest. Therefore, this would support the text (Deut. 18: 15-19) being about the Messiah because He is the head of both those offices.

Some critics like to point out that Deut. 34: 10-12 which says that “No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Does this prophecy mean the end of prophecy had come? Certainly by the time of the final completion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch as a whole, there had been no prophet who had arisen in Israel like Moses. But this does not mean there is not someone who will come in the future to fulfill the prophecy. After all, if prophecy had ended than why is it in the time of Jesus many Jewish people seem to be looking for the prophet of Deut. 18:15-22? For example:

The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)

Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).

Also, Peter refers to Jesus as the prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.—Acts 3: 17-24

To see Part Two, Click Here:

To see Part Three, Click Here:  

4. Lord (Gk. Kyrios)

One of the most common Christological title that Luke uses in the book of Acts in regards to Jesus is “Lord.” In Acts 1:24, the disciples address Jesus as “Lord” and acknowledge that he knows the hearts of all people. 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.

As Baker”s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes:

“While kyrios was common as a polite, even honorific title for “sir” or “master, “calling Jesus “Lord” to imply divine associations or identity was by no means a convention readily adopted from the Roman world. In Jesus’ more Eastern but militantly monotheistic Jewish milieu, where the title’s application to humans to connote divinity was not only absent but anathema, the title is an eloquent tribute to the astonishing impression he made. It also points to the prerogatives he holds. Since Jesus is Lord, he shares with the Father qualities like deity ( Rom 9:5 ), preexistence ( John 8:58 ), holiness ( Heb. 4:15 ), and compassion ( 1 John 4:9 ), to name just a few. He is co-creator ( Col 1:16 ) and co-regent, presiding in power at the Father’s right hand ( Acts 2:33 ; Eph. 1:20 ; Heb. 1:3 ), where he intercedes for God’s people ( Rom 8:34 ) and from whence, as the Creed states, he will return to judge the living and dead ( 2 Thess. 1:7-8 ).” (4)

5. Jesus is given “The Name”

What is even more significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other NAME under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer. James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identifi cation of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus.” (5)

So just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior.

6. Messiah

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Hence, they could be viewed as “a messiah.” However, this does not mean they are “the Messiah.” Also, just as a king could be viewed as “a son of God,” it does not mean the king is “the son of God.” The term “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament. The “one who is anointed” was commissioned for a specific task.

In looking at the Messianic task of Jesus, His work is broken up into a series of stages:

  1. The Messianic King was presented at John’s baptism (Matt. 3:1-17). In other words, this is when He was consecrated for the messianic task.
  2. The Messianic King presented His miracles as evidence of His messiahship: (Matt. 11:4–6; see also Lk. 7:22). The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Is.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1).
  3. The Messianic King was crucified (Isaiah 52: 13-53: 1-12). He then rose from the dead and ascended to the Father (1 Cor.15:1-17; Acts 1: 9-11).
  4. Jesus’ current messianic work is a priest-advocate (1Jn. 2:2; Hebrews 7:1-27).
  5. One day, Jesus  will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God. (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

 Sources:

  1. G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (New York. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980), 251.
  2. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. “Prophet, Prophetess, Prophecy,” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 641.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Robert W. Yarbrough, “Jesus Christ, Name and Titles of” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 410.
  5. These issues were pointed out in Edwards, J.R., Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005.

James Warner Wallace to Appear at The Ohio State University, Sept 29th, 2014

 

Our Ratio Christi at The Ohio State University will be hosting an apologetics event this month on the campus.

 When: Monday, September 29

7:00pm – 9:30pm

Where: Great Hall Meeting Room, in the Ohio Union, 1739 N. High St, Columbus, Ohio

 

James Warner Wallace is author of Cold Case Christianity. He is a former atheist and homicide detective. He is a very in demand speaker. He will be using his unique approach to the Gospels by answering questions such as:

How is the evidence used to make a case? What counts as evidence? What are the principles of cold-case investigations? What counts as eyewitness testimony? What is the ‘chain of custody’? Are the Gospels too biased to be trustworthy?

The event is free and open to all. Invite a friend.

Can We Believe the Gospel Without a Historical Adam?

I am about to embark on reading the book Four Views of the The Historical Adam. There has been much discussion as to whether it matters if Christians believe there was a real Adam that is mentioned in the several places in the Bible. Naturally, there is plenty of agreement as well as disagreement on this topic. Let me just mention a few things:

It is rather difficult to postulate that we can have just hold to the Gospel and reject a real, historical Adam. The first question to ask is what is the Gospel? If Christians can’t agree on what sin is and where it comes from, we will have hard time agreeing on the Gospel. There is no doubt that two central elements of the Gospel are that the Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23) and that He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).  But why did Jesus have to die and rise again from the dead?

After our federal head (Adam) fell, God pronounced a curse on them that we who sin like them have inherited (Genesis 3:17–19). Death entered the human experience and with it all sorts of affliction and trouble. Genesis and Romans teach that Adam and Eve did not sin for themselves alone, but, from their privileged position as the first, original sinless couple, act as representatives of the human race. Since then sin, sinfulness, and the consequences of sin have marred all. Every child of Adam enters a race marked by sin, condemnation, and death ( Rom 5:12-21). These traits become theirs both by heritage and, as they grow into accountability, by personal choice, as Cain’s slaughter of Abel quickly shows. (1). Also, because of the Fall,  Adam and Eve were also informed that although they could be spiritually restored (delivered from spiritual death), they would experience physical death. This means that some of us will  die both physically and spiritually.

When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” it is clear that he had come to reverse this curse. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Paul’s discussion on the “first Adam” who is born of “dust” and the “second Adam” who is Christ and is a “life-giving spirit” has as its goal the statement “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” In other words, spiritual rebirth is necessary to enter the eternal kingdom of God. (2) Paul, under the Spirit’s inspiration, wrote that through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners ( Rom 5:19 ) and therefore all suffer the consequence of sin: all died in Adam ( 1 Cor. 15:22 ).

But why do humans need a rebirth? Because of sin and the relationship we have to Adam. And there is no rebirth apart from the resurrection of Jesus.

Now I don’t want to dive into all the scientific issues about whether the science supports a Historical Adam. Others such as Hugh Ross, John Collins, and Casey Luskin along with Ann Gauger and Doug Axe have discussed this issue in great detail.

I go into the book Four Views of the Historical Adam with great enthusiasm. I will try to write a review soon.

Sources:

  1. Daniel Doriani “Sin” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 736-739.
  2. Eric W. Adams “Resurrection” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 678-679.

Is Jesus the Messiah? A Look at the Messianic T.A.S.K.

Introduction

Over the years I have been asked why Jewish people don’t think Jesus is the Messiah. From my own experience, when I have talked to Jewish people about the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah, there is a wide range of thought. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age. One thing for sure: To assert that there has always been one view of the Messiah is total nonsense.

In this post I would like to give a  simple acronym that will help explain why Jesus is the Messiah. It is called T.A.S.K.

T: TITLES

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Jewish Scriptures records how “messiah” is a description of those anointed  with oil such as priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and even prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special task within  the Jewish community. Hence, they could be viewed as “a messiah.” However, this does not mean they are “the Messiah.” Also, just as a king could be viewed as “a son of God,” it does not mean the king is “The Son of God.” The term “messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament.

To ask whether Jesus is the Messiah needs a bit of clarification. A better questions to ask is whether we can apply messianic titles to Jesus.  In  other words,  names were used to describe the messianic person other than “Messiah.” The messianic concept also has a much wider dimension than the royal, priestly, and/or prophetic person. Included in this wider view are the characteristics, tasks, goals, means, and consequences of the messianic person.  So the pressing issue is whether we can we apply messianic titles such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One to Jesus? In this case, the answer is yes.  I have written more about that here:

A: APPEARANCE

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first appearance of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen 49:8-12)-NASB

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

We see the following about this passage:

1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)

2. His decent is now limited to being a son of Judah

3. He is going to be a King

4. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

5. The nations of the earth shall benefit (i.e., on the idea of a beneficial rule see comments on v. 11, 12) is in keeping with the author’s view of God’s covenant promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

David Baron (1857 – 1926) a Jewish believer and scholar was author of “The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah”, “ Types Psalms and Prophecies,” and “The Servant of Jehovah” says the following about Gen. 49:8-12:

“With regard to this prophecy, the first thing I want to point out is that all antiquity agrees in interpreting it of a personal Messiah. This is the view of the LXX Version [Septuagint—KB]; the Targumim of Onkelos, Yonathan, and Jerusalem; the Talmud; the Sohar; the ancient book of “Bereshith Rabba;” and among modern Jewish commentators, even Rashi, who says, “Until Shiloh come,that is King Messiah, Whose is the kingdom.” (see Israel and the Plan of God (Oxford, England, Kregal Classics, 2000).

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

“A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations.”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or  it may refer to the person of the Messiah. In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.

In the Midrash on Proverbs 19:21 (c 200-500 AD) it says: Rabbi Hunah said, “Eight names are given to the Messiah which are: Yinnon, Shiloh, David, Menachem, Jehovah, Justi de Nostra, Tzemmach, and Shiloh.”

In his book The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? author Michael Rydelnik notes that the NIV may have the best translation which says  “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, “Shiloh” is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27. We see that Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy?

1. This verse indicates that He (The Messiah) will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity.

2. Tribal identities were kept in the Jewish Temple. All of these records were lost in with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

3. The rabbis passed laws which would preserve the identity of the tribe of Levi, but Jews from other tribes lost their identity.

4. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

5. If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah.

6. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.

To read more, see here:

S: SERVANT OF THE LORD

A good study of the Abrahamic Covenant shows the Messianic blessing for all the world. Hence, all peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). The Abrahamic promise of blessing of the nations is repeated in Ps. 72:17; Isa.19:24-25; Jer. 4:2; Zech 8:13.

Keeping this in mind, within the book of Isaiah there are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.” How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

In order for the prophecy of Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. Remember, Isaiah 49:1-7 predicts that that the Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us ask the following questions:

1. Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of gentiles?

2. There are only a handful of major world religions, about five, so the search among the possibilities is rather manageable (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism Christianity/Messianic Judaism). Before the first century A.D. only the Jewish people and a few Greek philosophers were believers in one God, and only a small percentage of the world’s population had any awareness of the Hebrew Scriptures.

3. But now, 1.4 to 2 billion people profess to be followers of Jesus. And these are mostly if not all Gentiles. So while we are not saying large numbers makes a religion true, we do see a specific prophecy here that lays out the criteria for what God wants to do with Israel, the Messiah, and the nations.

4. How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion? A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.

5. Since the world has produced about five founders of major religions and since about one in 300 persons are Jews, a guesstimate for the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true is highly improbable.

6. This expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal.

7. Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. [1]

Also, Isaiah 53:2–12 predicts twelve aspects of  the Servant of the Lord all fulfilled: The Messiah

1. was rejected

2. was a man of sorrow

3. lived a life of suffering

4. was despised by others

5. carried our sorrow

6. was smitten and afflicted by God

7. was pierced for our transgressions

8. was wounded for our sins

9. suffered like a lamb

10. died with the wicked

11. was sinless

12. prayed for others.[2]

K: KEY

The Messiah is the one who unlocks the key to understand the entire Bible. As Jesus said to his disciples:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,  that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then  he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus  it is written,  that the Christ should suffer and on the third day  rise from the dead, and that  repentance andforgiveness of sins should be proclaimed  in his name  to all nations,  beginning from Jerusalem.

Remember the dual aspect of Messiah’s work as actually two comings of Messiah (the first time to suffer and the second time to reign). In the end,  fulfilled prophecy does show that certain events that come to pass are evidence of God’s special activity in the world.


[1] Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman, “Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons That Count Across Worldviews” {accessed May 10, 2012) at http://www.drjbloom.com/public%20files/PubTheoMethod.pdf.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Books, 1999), 611.

Is There A Relationship Between Logic and God?

Some say that there is no relationship between the discipline of logic how this relates to the God of the Bible. So here are some of the common objections and responses:

Objection: There are no laws of logic that are absolutely certain.
Response: The laws of logic are undeniable and self-evident. When attempting to deny them as one actually affirms them. For example, the statement “There are no laws of logic” assumes the very principles the statement seeks to deny, namely, it employs the laws to makes a distinction between the existence and non-existence of law of logic.

Objection: Logic is only man’s reasoning and does not apply to God.
Answer: This objection is self-defeating since it utilizes “man’s reasoning” and is a logical statement about God. Either the objection is logical or it is not. If it is logical, then the objection defeats itself. If the objection is not logical, then it is illogical, with no reason for anyone to believe the objection is true.

Objection: Using logic makes God subject to human logic.
Response: This objection confuses the source of logic. Logic flows from the nature of God, not from humans. God determined logic; humans only discovered it. Theology and apologetics do not scrutinize God with logic. Only our statements about God are evaluated with logic. Since logic comes from God, we are not testing our statements about God by a standard outside Himself.

Objection: God can and often does work against logic (Isaiah 55:8-9) and human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:19-2:16).
Response: God may- and indeed does- often act and think beyond the human ability to understand, but never contrary to local laws (Isaiah 1:18; Philippians 4:8, Romans 12:1-3; 1 Timothy 6:20). The objection fails to make the distinction between human wisdom that is “of this world” and godly wisdom that derives its source from heaven (1 Corinthians 1:20-21; Proverbs 1:7; 8:10-11).

Objection: God violates the laws of nature through miracles; he therefore can violate the laws of logic.
Response: Although God does break or suspend the laws of nature on occasion through miraculous acts, natural laws are of a different kind from the laws of logic. Natural laws are descriptive and, as such, only describe the way nature operates, not how it must operate. Laws of logic are prescriptive, directing the way people should think, not how they do think.

Objection: If God can do the impossible (Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37), he can break the laws of logic.
Response: It is true that God can do the “impossible” if one is speaking of doing, what is humanly impossible. But God cannot do what is actually impossible, such as creating a triangular square, lying (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18), changing (Malachi 3:6) or denying himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

Objection: Logic cannot save anyone, so why bother using it?
Response: The purpose of logic is not salvific, though thinking logically may cause one to perceive better claims of the gospel. Much of that is truth is not directly related to the fact of redemption, but is important for living and thinking correctly about God and His truth. Logic, knowledge, or wisdom cannot save anyone. Nether can moral conduct, since it is only through faith that a spiritual rebirth takes place (John 3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). But does this mean people should abolish moral living? No.

Objection: People do not always think logically, so why bother utilizing logic?
Response: Since people do not always act morally, should we give up living a moral lifestyle? No.

Info adapted from Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences by H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden. Copyright 2006 by H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden. Used by permission of Zondervan. To find out more info about Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences, see http://www.Zondervan.com. ISBN# 031021937X

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.”