Author Archives: chab123
By Bill Pratt at Tough Questions Answered
We can surmise that the acts and sayings of Jesus were memorized and transmitted orally for many years after his death and resurrection, but before the Gospels were written. Another question to ask is this: Were there written documents that the Gospel authors also used as source material?
Richard Bauckham, in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, believes that there likely were written sources for the Gospels that supplemented the oral traditions. Bauckham first explains the practices of rabbis in ancient Palestine:
Any discussion of this issue must recognize that in the predominantly oral culture of the ancient world, including the early Christian movement, writing and orality were not alternatives but complementary. For the most part writing existed to supplement and to support oral forms of remembering and teaching. But as a supplement to orality, more for the sake of reminding than of remembering, it had a place even among the later rabbis, those who insisted on the necessarily oral character of the Oral Torah, as Gerhardsson already explained. Martin Jaffee has recently argued for a thorough “interpenetration” of oral and written composition in the rabbinic traditions behind the Mishnah. But what we know the rabbis used were not so much books as private notebooks. They were notes of material known in oral transmission and were not in any sense intended to replace the oral traditions but rather to serve as aids to memory precisely in learning and recalling the oral traditions.
How might these private notebooks played a role in the early Christian movement?
Such notebooks were in quite widespread use in the ancient world (2 Tim 4: 13 refers to parchment notebooks Paul carried on his travels). It seems more probable than not that early Christians used them. It is true that the extent of literacy in Jewish Palestine is debated and may have been very small, but we should also notice that the followers of Jesus, both during his ministry and in the early Jerusalem church, were drawn from all classes of people.
There would undoubtedly be some who could write and more who could read. These would be not only members of the educated elite but also professional scribes and copyists. The old suggestion that, among the Twelve, it would be Matthew the tax collector who would most likely, owing to his profession, be able to write might after all be a sound guess and a clue to the perplexing question of the role he might have played somewhere among the sources of the Gospel of Matthew. We can be fairly confident that some quite sophisticated scribal activity, in the form of intensive work on expounding the biblical prophecies with reference to Jesus and his followers, akin to the learned commentaries produced by the Qumran community, went on at a very early date, presumably in the Jerusalem church, whence its influence can be seen throughout the New Testament writings.
This is a very interesting article by John Frame. Enjoy:
[Tabletalk 21:3 (Mar., 1997), 8-11. Also published in Immanuel 107 (Mar., 1997), 3.]
Homosexuals today commonly claim that they cannot help being homosexual. Homosexuality, they argue, is innate: perhaps genetically determined, in any case so deeply ingrained in their very being that it is, for them, an inescapable condition. Therefore, they conclude, church and society should accept homosexuality as natural and normal. Surely, they insist, it is unfair to condemn people for what they cannot help doing.
Indeed, those homosexuals who want recognition as Christians interpret the “inescapability” of their condition theistically: “God made me this way.” How can Christians, then, condemn a condition that God himself created?
This question comes up in many areas of discussion other than homosexuality.
The rapid progress of genetic science has led to lively discussions concerning whether some behavior patterns are innate. Some years ago, it was learned that an abnormally high proportion of boys with a double “y” chromosome engages in anti-social or criminal behavior. Does this discovery imply that criminality, in some cases, at least, is an innate and inescapable condition? What then? Should we abort children who have this genetic combination? Should we test children early for this condition and take special pains to steer xyy boys into constructive paths? Should we seek ways to change the genetic makeup of such children?
Later came the discovery that a certain gene is associated with a relatively high percentage of alcoholics. And still more recently, Simon LeVay, a gay activist and neuroscientist, published a paper in Science(253:1034-1037) arguing that there are some minute but statistically significant differences between heterosexual and homosexual men in the size of the “INAH-3″ region of the anterior hypothalmus, part of the brain. Some have argued that this discovery tends to establish what gay activists have long been saying, namely that homosexuality is an innate condition rather than a “choice,” that it cannot be helped, and therefore it should be accepted as normal.
I am not competent to evaluate LeVay’s research. I do think that we are wise to suspend judgment until LeVay’s work is corroborated by others who are more objective on the question. However, we should note as others have that there is an unanswered “chicken and egg” problem here: how do we know that this condition (or perhaps the larger unexplored physical basis for it) is the cause, and not the result, of homosexual thought and behavior?
And of course we must also remember that these discoveries were made through studies of the brains of people who were exclusively homosexual, compared with brains of people who were presumed to be exclusively heterosexual.1 But there is a wide spectrum between these two extremes. The exclusively homosexual population seems to be between 1% and 3% of the population (the widely used Kinsey figure of 10% is now largely discredited). But many more people have bisexual inclinations, and still others are largely heterosexual but willing to enter homosexual relationships under certain circumstances (experimentation, prison, etc.) Is there a genetic basis for these rather complicated patterns of behavior? Neither LeVay nor anyone else has offered data suggesting that.
But let’s assume that there is an innate physical basis for homosexuality, and for alcoholism, and indeed for general criminality. I suspect that as genetic science develops over the years there will be more and more correlations made between genetics and behavior, and that will be scientific progress. What ethical conclusions should we draw?
This was written by my friend Luke Nix at his blog Faithful Thinkers
This is true regardless of which worldview that one holds. However, many people act as if that they require complete knowledge and understanding of a worldview before they decide to accept it as true. They argue that since they don’t want to blindly accept a worldview that may be false, they must not accept a worldview unless they have certainty that it does not contain any falsehoods. On the surface, this is being quite careful. But we must remember that while we are investigating one worldview, we are holding another- that we are not investigating (maybe we haven’t ever, maybe we have in the past). I’ve heard it commonly put that “the skeptic must be skeptical of his skepticism” to avoid being dishonest. Even skepticism must be investigated and justified.
This Requirement Applied in Crime Investigations However, this doesn’t really come up as an issue until someone possesses much evidence for the truth of the worldview that they are investigating but still do not accept it, due to some unanswered questions or some mystery that they want prior to acceptance. In chapter 6 of his book “Cold-Case Christianity” homicide detective J. Warner Wallace (of PleaseConvinceMe.com and Stand to Reason) compares this situation to his own investigations of crime scenes:
When we have overwhelming evidence pointing in a particular direction we may have to get comfortable with the fact that there is some ambiguity related to other items at the scene (Wallace, pg 104).
Wallace goes on to explain that every detail of a crime cannot necessarily be known, neither will the detective be able to make sense of every item present, but that does not prevent the detective from concluding from the majority of the evidence at the scene that a crime took place, what crime took place, and who committed the crime. These are all sufficient for a jury to convict a criminal. The jury doesn’t need to know every minute detail. If that was the standard for conviction, then every criminal would walk; they would commit more crimes, and conviction would fail again for the same reason, and the cycle would begin again. This is not a wise requirement for investigating crimes, and neither is it a wise requirement for investigating worldviews.
Consequences For This Requirement
First, if the worldview holds that consequences are eternal for not accepting its truth, then the sooner the skeptic accepts it, the better. With a crime, the consequences of such a requirement will end for the members of the jury when they die (naturally or unnaturally- perhaps at the hand of the suspect they released due to their unwise requirements for conviction), but the consequences of such a requirement will never end. Of course, depending on the worldview that is true, we may or may not be conscious to experience those consequences.
This was an interesting article on the ne Noah movie. Why People of Faith Can Embrace the ‘Noah’ Movie
Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Both Christian and non-Christian scholars have come to have great respect Paul. Allow me to mention a few comments here:
“Without knowing about first century Judaism, modern readers—even those committed to faith by reading him—are bound to misconstrue Paul’s writing…Paul is a trained Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles.” –Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), xi-xii
“Paul has left us an extremely precious document for Jewish students, the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jew…Moreover, if we take Paul at his word—and I see no a priori reason not to—he was a member of the Pharisaic wing of first century Judaism.”–Daniel Boyarian, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.
“Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of Torah.”-Rabbi Jacob Emeden (1679-1776)–cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 18.
From about AD 48 until his death, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. So let’s take a look at the common objections to using Paul as a source for what we can and can’t know about Jesus:
The Evidence We Want:
`#1 “Paul needs to have met Jesus and hung out with him for a while before he became a follower. After all, since Paul never met the historical Jesus, we can’t use him as a source for knowing anything about Jesus.”
#2: “I want Paul to give us some biographical details about Jesus.”
#3 “We can’t have any different writing styles or different theological emphasis in letters that were written to churches. If we do, then this means Paul didn’t write it.”
#4 “I can’t accept Paul because he is no different than Muhammad or Joseph Smith. He claimed to have some sort of revelation of Jesus.”
I will respond to this with what is called “Evidence We Should Expect”
#1: This has to be one of the silliest objections of all. As we have said elsewhere, there is what is called primary or secondary sources.
As Louis Gottschalk says:
“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).
A little time line may be helpful: Remember Paul’s Letters are dated 48 A.D to 60 A.D. However, the information he receives about the death and resurrection of Jesus predate his writings.
The death of Jesus: 30 A.D.—–33A.D
Paul comes to faith between 33 and 35 A.D.
Paul’s Death: 60-65 A.D.
Temple Destroyed: 70 A.D.
I will let the reader decide whether Paul is a primary or secondary source. .
Also, we should not expect that just because someone who didn’t directly meet the person they are writing about doesn’t automatically mean the writer can’t record accurate history about them. If we were to dismiss all writings because the author never met the person directly, we might not know much of anything in history. Once again, this is an unrealistic expectation and a gross oversimplification. Furthermore, Paul makes it clear that he knew all about the early Jesus movement.
#2: Given Paul’s Letters are not biographies and they are predominately dealing with the needs of the community (e.g., doctrinal issues), we shouldn’t expect Paul to provide an abundance of biographical details about Jesus. In other words, since he is writing the believing communities and addressing the doctrinal issues of each community there is no need to establish historical evidence for the life of Jesus. However, we can note that Paul does list some details about the life of Jesus such as:
1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16)
2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3)
3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4)
5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5)
6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7)
7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7)
8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5)
9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16)
10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9)
11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7)
12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1)
13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3)
14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14)
16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7)
17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9)
18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14)
19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9)
20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15)
21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25)
22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21)
23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3)
24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20)
25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15)
26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4)
27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4)
28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8)
29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and
30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34).
#3: According to Bart Ehrman,
“There are seven letters that virtually all scholars agree were written by Paul himself: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. The “undispusted” letters are similar in terms of writing style, vocabulary, and theology. In addition, the issues that they address can plausibly be situated in the early Christian movement of the 40’s and 50’s of the Common Era, when Paul was active as an apostle and missionary”- Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 288.
I will defer to Darrell Bock’s treatment on those that question Pauline authorship on the rest of Paul’s Letters. See the list of articles here.
#4: The argument here is that the claim that Paul’s revelatory or visionary encounter with Jesus is no different that Mohammed and Joseph Smith. In other words, a frequent claim among world religions is that truth has been grounded in revelation.
In response, each revelatory claim needs to be studied in its own context. We need to ask:
1. What is the claim? 2. What is the evidence for the claim? 3. What is the religious and historical context for the claim.
Let’s look at Paul’s revelatory encounter. When we come to Galatians 1:11-12, Paul defends his ministry by discussing the manner of how he received the Gospel:
“ For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12).
Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5:
“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.”
So what is the truth? Paul says in Galatians that he received it by divine revelation. But what about the creed in 1 Corinthians 15? How do we respond to this? First, while we always need to look at the context of where the word “recieved” is used, in both 1 Cor. 15:3 and Galatians 1:12, the word “received” (“παραλαμβάνω”) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. In other words, according to Paul, he did not create the Gospel story. It was something he received from another source.
So in this case, what is helpful here is to differentiate between essence and form. The essence of the gospel, that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, was revealed to Paul (he received it) on the life changing moment on the Damascus road. Paul realized that the Christians that he had been persecuting had been right all along about Jesus being the Messiah.
As far as the form the gospel, this includes the historical undergirding of certain events, certain phraseology used to express the new truth and doubtless many other things that were passed onto Paul by those other than him (see Carson, Moo, Morris, An Introduction To The New Testament Survey, pg 220).
Biblical apostles had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:7–8). Also, the revelation given by Mormon prophets and apostles clearly contradicts the revelation decisively (“once for all”) handed down by the first-century apostles (Jude 3). The point is that while Paul did claim to have received the Gospel by revelation, he was one of several witnesses who had seen the risen Messiah. His experience was publicly corroborated by the other apostles. Also, regarding whether Paul had an actual vision, see our post called “What did the Disciples See?”
Furthermore, eight of the eleven witnesses left the Mormon church or were excommunicated.
And while there is a wealth of archaeological confirmation to the Biblical record, this can’t be said for the Book of Mormon. For example, there is a story of about a Nephite civilization in the New World. But unfortunately there is no archaeological evidence to support the onetime existence of such a civilization in North America or a huge battle in New York. The National Geographic Society, in a 1998 letter to the Institute for Religious Research, stated “Archaeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere’s past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon.“ (see http://irr.org/mit/national-geographic.html ). If you want to go deeper and learn more about Mormonism, this is a good place to start.
Likewise,at age 40, Muhammad began claiming to receive dreams and revelations, but was unsure of their source. But given the fact that this is one man’s private revelation, the proof is in the pudding. For example, as my friend Wintery Knight points out here:
Consider this argument:
- To be a Muslim, you must believe that the Koran is without error.
- The Koran claims that Jesus did not die on a cross. (Qur’an, 4: 157-158)
- The crucifixion of Jesus is undisputed among non-Muslim historians, including atheist historians.
- Therefore, it is not rational for me to become a Muslim.
I’m going to support the premise that Jesus was crucified by citing historians from all backgrounds (including atheists and agnostics, Jews, and non evangelical scholars)
“Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Gert Lüdemann
“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” J.D. Crossan
“The passion of Jesus is part of history.”–Geza Vermes
Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain”–Pinchas Lapide
“The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.” —Paula Fredriksen
“The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned, and was executed by crucifixion.” L.T. Johnson
“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Ponitus Pilate.”— Bart Ehrman
Furthemore, the Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence that has just been discussed tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an.
I had an unfortunately futile back and forth with an atheist over the last few days. He took the Sam Harris’ view that objective morality can be established by scientifically establishing “human flourishing.” When I pointed him to the debate Harris lost to William Lane Craig over this topic and linked to the debate, he responded that, while Craig is brilliant, he wins these exchanges with atheists through “debate tricks.”
I have heard this several times before and I find it fascinating. After all, a person wins a debate by clearly and succinctly stating his or her argument. A person loses if they cannot present a compelling argument and/or effectively respond to his or her opponent’s case. These are not in any way shape or form tricks–this is simply effective argumentation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a person can “win” a court case or make an opponent look silly by resorting to clever insults or witty, albeit irrelevant, lines or emotional appeals. The very first trial I participated in as a “second chair” attorney (i.e., gopher) was a disaster. I helped represent a client who was being sued for a crash involving my client’s truck and the plaintiff’s “four-wheeler” ATV. The plaintiff was on a public road, driving without a helmet and had his young son sitting on the handlebars (also without a helmet)!
Thanks to CRI for this one. It is outstanding!
By: Douglas Groothuis
This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 04 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/
Apologetics is a necessary discipline for the Christian faith. Jesus and the apostle Paul regularly defended their beliefs through rational arguments. The apostle Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15). This lost world needs to hear and believe the gospel of God, so, when unbelievers ask questions about the truth and rationality of Christianity, we must be ready with sufficient answers, trusting in the Holy Spirit to apply the message to their souls (Acts 1:8).
Some apologetic arguments, however, have virtually no chance for success and are destined to fail right from the start—no matter how sincerely or repeatedly stated. These nonstarters fall flat and do not serve the cause of Christ simply because they are bad arguments. Four of these arguments are so common and so detrimental to the cause of rational Christian witness that they need to be addressed. As T. S. Eliot wrote in his play Murder in the Cathedral, “The last temptation is the greatest treason/To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” Defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent is right; to do so for the wrong reasons is wrong.
Nonstarter #1: Since we do not know everything, no one can disprove the existence of God. God might be somewhere outside of our knowledge. Moreover, if we knew everything—which is the only way to disprove God—we would end up being God ourselves and, thus, atheism would be false!
This argument starts from a legitimate insight, but extends that insight wrongly. It typically is harder to prove a universal negative statement than it is to prove an affirmative statement. A man once insisted to me that the Bible contained the sentence, “God helps those who help themselves.” (It is regrettable that many Christians believe this as well.) I denied this and informed him that I had read the Bible many times, but never read those words. He replied, “It must be in there somewhere.” (This encounter occurred before computer searches made things simpler.) Proving that the Bible does not contain this statement was considerably more difficult than proving that the Bible does contain the statement: “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
The existence of God, however, is not like the placement of a statement in the Bible. God is not a finite object that can be perceived empirically the way that a sentence is perceived. God is not directly visible under normal conditions. (Theophanies—or divine appearances—occur in Scripture, but are unpredictable. At death, however, we will all see God.) Arguing for or against God’s existence is, therefore, a more involved and multidimensional endeavor.1 Simply appealing to people’s ignorance as finite beings in no way by itself shows that unbelief in God is not justified.
One need not know everything, moreover, to deny the existence of some objects. The belief that there are no unicorns is rationally compelling, even though I cannot rule out the possibility that a flesh‐and‐blood unicorn may be hiding somewhere. The odds are tremendously against the unicorn being anything other than a fantasy animal. One does not have to know everything even with respect to perceptible objects in order to rule out the existence of some types of entities. The same argument applies to centaurs, fairies, pro‐life Democratic candidates for the U.S. presidency in 2008, and so on.
The astute apologist nonetheless should argue that if the unbeliever has not sufficiently investigated the case for the existence of God, then she is not in a good position to deny God’s existence or even to remain skeptical. Just as the person who has heard only a few pieces of jazz music is not qualified to make an aesthetic judgment on jazz, so the philosophical ignoramus is in no position to make an informed and wise judgment about God’s existence. Serious intellectual work needs to be done, especially given the prudential benefits and losses relative to one’s relationship to the God of Christian theism: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
Nonstarter #2: People do not die for a lie. The apostles died for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, however, so they must have died for the truth.
On the contrary, people die for lies all the time in our fallen world. The Muslim hijackers of 9/11 died for the belief that they would be rewarded for their savagery with attending virgins in paradise. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker still believing in Nazism.
The problem with this nonstarter is that it is nearly true, but it nevertheless misses the truth. The truth is something like the following: People do not die for what they know to be a lie, unless they can find some tremendous prudential advantage in so doing. It therefore makes no sense to think that Jesus’ first disciples went to their deaths for their belief in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah if they in fact knew He was moldering in a tomb. One might argue that they created the idea of the resurrection in order to benefit themselves in some way, but this does not hold water. There is no evidence that they would have bettered themselves in any earthly way by this tactic. Nor is there any reason to think that they should believe themselves to be in that advantageous position even if they were not. Preaching a dead messianic pretender as the Lord of Life had no sales potential whatsoever. Even if the disciples were benighted religious opportunists who thought that the scheme might work, they surely would have recanted in the face of the sword; yet, there is no evidence that they did. As Pascal so wisely put it:
Resurrection and Worldview
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you….In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.’ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ – Acts 17:22,30-32
The earliest followers of Jesus were emphatic about the centrality of the Resurrection to the gospel, the core message of Christianity. To those in the city of Corinth who were questioning the necessity and perhaps even the factuality of the Resurrection, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (1. Cor. 15:17). The reason for this connection is clear if we understand the gospel itself. The gospel of Jesus does not say: “Here are the rules; if you obey them, God will bless you. Otherwise, God will curse you.” Rather the gospel says: “You have broken God’s rules and deserve God’s curse. But Jesus was crucified for your sins and raised to life as a declaration that payment was made in full. You can now be accepted by God not on the basis of what you have done but on the basis of what Jesus has done for you.” Without the Resurrection, says Paul, Christians would have no assurance that they are accepted by God or that Jesus has truly paid their debt in full. Consequently, the factuality of the Resurrection is of utmost importance to Christians.
Over the years, I have heard the objection that Jesus is just one of many messianic figures in the first century. In this objection, it is assumed that there is nothing unique about Jesus. In other words, He is just another messianic figure that challenged the political powers of his day.
Quite frankly, the statement, “Jesus is just one of several messianic figures in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”).
There is a significant comment made in Acts 5: 33-39, by Gamaliel I, who was a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin:
“But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
It can be observed that Gamaliel was aware that there had been other Jewish revolts that featured a messianic element. Unfortunately, these revolts had all failed. Even the Jewish historian Josephus mentioned that Judas of Galilee had rebelled against Quirinus’s census and ended in defeat. (Antiquities 18: 1)
Josephus lists some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah.
1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56; Ant.17.271-72) 2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77) 3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84) 4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444) 5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54; 4.503-10, 529; 7.26-36, 154) (1)
Out of the all the messianic movements within Judaism, I will mention some that I believe are rather significant.
Simon bar Giora of Geresa (as mentioned above)
According to Josephus, Simon led a rebellion against the Romans in the spring of 69 C.E. (J.W. 4.9.12 §577). Among the leaders of the rebellion “Simon in particular was regarded with reverence and awe . . . each was quite prepared to take his very own life had he given the order” (J.W. 5.7.3 §309). Finally defeated and for a time in hiding, Simon, dressed in white tunics and a purple mantle, made a dramatic appearance before the Romans on the very spot where the Temple had stood (J.W. 7.1.2 §29). He was placed in chains (J.W. 7.2.2 §36), sent to Italy (J.W. 7.5.3 §118), put on display as part of the victory celebration in Rome (J.W. 7.5.6 §154), and was finally executed (J.W. 7.5.6 §155). (2)
Simon Bar Kochba
It is still disputed whether Simon Bar Kokhba ever made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Justin Martyr even noted that Bar Kokhba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6) Unfortunately, the revolt led by Bar Kochba failed and as a result and both he and rabbi Akiba were slain. Even though it is said that Rabbi Akiba hailed Bar Kokhba as the Messiah, (cf. y. Ta‘an. 4:5), the slaying of Bar Kokhba had nothing to do with any accusation of blasphemy. He did not make the same messianic claims of Jesus by asserting His authority to be the Son of Man, nor did he ever claim to have the authority to forgive sins. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. The war ended in 135 CE. Simon was subsequently remembered as Simon ben-Kozebah (“son of the lie”). (3)
Another messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi. Sevi was a seventeenth-century Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and was heralded by a contemporary named Nathan. It is said after Sevi’s death in 1676 that his brother found his tomb empty but full of light. If anything, the Sevi story sounds like it was borrowed from the resurrection story about Jesus. The Sevi story has little historical backing. In contrast to the resurrection claim of Sevi, in the case of Jesus, there are multiple eyewitness appearances after his resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). What is more ironic is that Sevi later left the Jewish faith for Islam.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Within Judaism, there is a sect called Hasidic Judaism. Within Hasidic Judaism, there are leaders who are called a “tzaddik” which is Hebrew for “righteous men.” A tzaddik is sometimes viewed as a Rebbe which means master or teacher. By the way, in the book of Acts, it was during Stephen’s famous speech that he refers to Jesus as a tzaddik : “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)
Such an example of a present day tzaddik was seen in Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1951-1994), the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. Some of the followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson think He is the Messiah and that He will come back from the dead (Schneerson died in 1994). Some in the Lubavitcher movement have even asserted that Isaiah 53 can be used as a proof text that the Messiah will rise from the dead. Of course, this has led to great controversy. Some in the Orthodox community have complained that the attempt to portray Schneerson as one who will rise from the dead and return a second time has too much in common with the Christian claim about Jesus.
What About Jesus?
The Tanakh discusses the timing of coming of Messiah (Gen. 49:8-12; Deut. 18:15-18; Dan. 9; Haggai 2); Gen 12:1-3: Forming of Israel will lead to Jewish Messiah who will enable millions of non-Jews to come to know the one true God; the manner of Messiah’s death and rejection: (Isa. 52:13-53:2; Psalm 22); divinity of Messiah (Gen. 49:8-12: Dan 7:13-14; Isa. 9:1-9).
To see additional reading:
1. Arthur Zannoni, Jews and Christians Speak of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.1994, 113-114.