“How Do Jewish People Atone For Sin When They Have No Temple And Sacrificial System?”

Introduction

Over the years, I have had the chance to talk to several Jewish people about spiritual issues. A common Jewish objection that I continue to hear is that Jewish people don’t believe that a human can be sacrificed for sins. In other words, a human can’t atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Furthermore, Christians often ask me given the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and their is no sacrificial system, how do Jewish people receive atonement?

First, let me give some background to the idea of atonement in Judaism. For Jewish people Yom Kippur (which is this time of the year) which is also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. As I just said, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D, the religious and social life changed forever for the Jewish people. The Jewish people no longer had a sacrificial system in the Temple. Therefore, the atonement structure was changed to repentance which entails prayer, fasting, and doing mitzvah (good deeds). Remember that there were other times when the Jewish people had no functioning Temple (read Daniel). They would pray directly to God and he would hear their prayers. But the reality is that even if God did hear their prayers and accept them, the real issue today is whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.  Dr. Michael Brown says:

“According to b. Yoma 39b, God did not accept the sacrifices that were offered on the Day of Atonement for the last forty years before the destruction of the [Second] Temple. (This was known to the people by means of a series of special signs, all of which turned up negative for those forty years; see b. Yoma 39a).

The Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, so from 30-70 CE, a period of fort years, the annual atonement sacrifices were not a accepted. What great event happened in the year 30?

Yeshua was rejected and nailed to a cross. Is it possible that God no longer accepted the atonement sacrifices because the Messiah had offered himself as the perfect, final sacrifice, making himself as a “guilt offering,” as it is written in Isaiah 53:10?”
– The Real Kosher Jesus pg. 176

The Importance of Atonement

One of the  Bible’s central messages is atonement. Hence, God has provision for humankind to come back into harmonious relation with him is one of the central themes in Scripture. The Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God) or peace between two countries. Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. The Hebrew verb ‘to atone’ (kaphar) means ‘cover.’ In other words, we need a covering for our sins.

The Servant of the Lord

Keeping this in mind, one of the titles for the Messiah is “The Servant of the Lord.” 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).

In relation to the Servant of the Lord being a Servant-King, we see the one of the clearest representations of this in the following passage:

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).

Many Christians can’t understand why Jewish people can’t see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53. It would be nice if it was that simple. One of the most common questions is whether the New Testament authors were familiar with Isaiah 53 or any other texts in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) that pointed to a suffering messianic figure. After all, they were Jewish and had read the Scriptures all their lives. But there is no doubt that the early followers of Jesus had a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus was going to suffer and die: A couple of passages prove my point:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you! (Matt 16:21).”

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:31). “

Also, with the exception of 1 Peter 2: 24-25, the New Testament passages that quote Isa. 53 don’t address the atoning significance of the Servant’s suffering. There is no doubt that the authors of the Gospel stress the death of Jesus. Paul’s citation of Isaiah 53:1 (Rom 10:16) with John’s (John 12:38) make the same point: the Jewish people have rejected the Gospel. We do see Jesus is a Passover sacrifice (e.g, Jn. 19:14;1 Cor. 5:7-8); an unblemished sacrifice (1 Pet.1:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7: 26-28; 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:21-25); a sin offering (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21) and a covenant sacrifice (e.g., Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Peter uses Old Testament prophecy in Acts 3:18, where he declares: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.” Where in the prophets are we told that God’s “Christ (or Messiah) should suffer”? Isaiah 53 is possibly what Peter is alluding to. Or, he may be referring to the overall redemptive plan of the Jewish Scriptures.  Probably the most explicit case for Isaiah 53 being used is in Acts 8: 32-34 in the exchange between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Where anti-missionaries and some Christian apologists can go wayward is not heeding the advice of  Richard N. Longenecker:

So-called ‘proof from prophecy’ of a direct nature has always been a factor in both a Jewish and a Christian understanding of fulfillment. Sadly, however, some see this as the only factor, and so lay out prophecy-fulfillment relations in a manner approximating mathematical precision. Starting from such basic theological axioms as that there is a God in charge of human affairs and that historical events happen according to his will, they point to a few obvious instances where explicit predictions have been literally fulfilled (as Mi. 5:2, quoted with variation in Mt. 2:5-6) and move on from there to construct an often elaborate and ingenious ‘biblical’ apologetic that is usually more ‘gnostic’ than biblical.

To read on, click here:

Many scholars have asked what might of led to the acceptance of a Suffering Messiah. Let’s see if we can trace the history here:

The Binding of Isaac Story and the Maccabean Martyrs

The Binding of Isaac or the “Akedah” tells the account of when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Because of Abraham’s faith God would be able to resurrect the slain Isaac. The sacrifice of Isaac corresponds to “that of Christ in the following respects: (1) They both involve the sacrifice by a father of his only son. (2) They both symbolize a complete dedication on the part of the offerer.

Mark Kinzer notes in the post- Biblical tradition, the Akedah story took on a new significance: it becomes the model for martyrdom: This is first seen in texts dealing with the martyrs of the Maccabean period:

 I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, 38 and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.” (2 Maccabees 7:37-38, NRSV)

[Eleazar prays] “You know, O God, that though I might be saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs (4 Maccabees 6:27-29, NRSV).

And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated (4 Maccabees 17:22, NRSV).

Because of them the nation gained peace, and by reviving observance of the law in the homeland they ravaged the enemy (4 Maccabees 18:4, NRSV).

Kinzer goes onto say:

At a later date, the Akedah story is associated with the martyrs who suffered Roman persecution (as seen in Gen Rab 56:3 who compares Isaac’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice of the one who carries the execution stake). Israel’s martyrs, . . . show the same commitment to God and the same self-serving love of Abraham and Isaac. In this way the Akedah links martyrdom with the temple sacrifices, and makes it possible to see martyrdom as likewise having an atoning efficacy (4 Maccabees 17:21-22).

John C. Collins talks about the case for of a pre-existing suffering Messiah:

“In the late-first century CE apocalypses of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch the messiah dies. His death, however, does not involve suffering and has no atoning significance. In 4 Ezra 7:29-30, the death of the messiah marks the end of a four-hundred-year reign and is the prelude to seven days of primeval silence, followed by the resurrection. In 2 Bar 30:1, “when the time of the appearance of the messiah has been fulfilled” he returns in glory, and then all who sleep in hope of him rise.” Neither scenario bears any similarity to Isaiah 53.” (2)

But Collins also says the following:

“The Christian belief (in a suffering Messiah) in such a figure, and the discovery of prophecies relating to him, surely arose in retrospect after the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that any first century Judaism expected such a figure, either in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 or on any other basis. The notion of a suffering and dying messiah eventually found a place in Judaism.” (3)

It was after the resurrection that Jesus said:

“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 and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Unfortunately, Jesus does not list any specific texts that say the Messiah will suffer and die. Also, Paul says the following: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15: 3-4). Once again, the problem with this passage is that Paul does not list what texts he is referring to in the Tanakh (the Old Testament). He is probably referring to the entire redemptive plan of the plan of the Old Testament. Or, given his use of Jesus as a sacrificial atonement (see Romans 3:25-26), he may be alluding to Isaiah 53. But if we just jump to Isaiah 53, that brings up the issue of whether Paul is using the LXX (THE Greek Septuagint).

The Targum and Isaiah 53

Remember the following:

  1. Targums are the Aramaic Translations of the Jewish Scriptures (The Tanakh), that were read in the synagogues on the Sabbath and on feast or fast days.
  2. Scholars usually assume the Targums were needed because the loss of Hebrew fluency by Jewish people growing up during the exile
  3. Targums are supposed to represent rabbinic Judaism after C.E. 70. Targums originated in Palestinian Judaism but later editions were done in Babylon.
  4. All of the extant Targums seem to date from 2nd century C.E. and later, yet a number of the translations would preserve readings that were current in the first century. (4)

Part of the passage reads this way (with italics indicating departures from the Hebrew): ( The translation is based on Bruce D. Chilton, The Isaiah Targum (ArBib 11;Wilmington: Glazier, 1987), 103–5. For Aramaic text and English translation, which at points differs somewhat, see John F. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), 178–81).

Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper, he shall be exalted and increase, and shall be very strong. Just as the house of Israel hoped for him many days—their appearances were so dark among the peoples, and their aspect beyond that of the sons of men—So he shall scatter many peoples . . . Who has believed this our good news? . . . And the righteous shall be exalted before him . . . his appearance is not a common appearance and his fearfulness is not an ordinary fearfulness, and his brilliance will be holy brilliance, that everyone who looks at him will consider him. Then the glory of all the kingdoms will be for contempt and cease; they will be faint and mournful, behold, as a man of sorrows and appointed for sicknesses . . . Then he will beseech concerning our sins and our iniquities for his sake will be forgiven; yet we were esteemed wounded, smitten before the Lord and afflicted. 5And he will build the sanctuary . . . (if) we attach ourselves to his words our sins will be forgiven to us. He beseeches, and he is answered, and before he opens his mouth he is accepted . . . 8From bonds and retribution he will bring our exiles near . . . for he will take away the rule of the Gentiles from the land of Israel; the sins which my people sinned he will cast on to them. 9And he will hand over the wicked to Gehenna and those rich in possessions which they robbed to the death of the corruption . . .53: 10Yet before the Lord it was a pleasure to refine and to cleanse the remnant of his people, in order to purify their soul from sins; they shall see the kingdom of their Messiah . . . .

Now let’s go back to this point: If the Targum was read this way, Craig Evans notes that this is what we should see if the Messiah has come and Israel is restored. 1. The exiles are brought home. 2. Atonement is made for the sin of the people.3.The oppressive nations are put in their place. 4. Israel is exalted and those who obey the Law will prosper, etc. (5)

But let’s get back to Collins and his comments about how a suffering Messiah shows up later in Jewish literature. The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:

They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]. (6)

In the Zohar, which is the foundational book of Jewish mysticism, we see a text about the relationship between Isaiah 53 and atonement:

The children of the world are members of one another, and when the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, He smites one just man amongst them, and for his sakes heals the rest of the rest. Whence do we learn this? For the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ [Isa. 53:5].i.e., by letting of his blood- as when a man bleeds his arm- there was healing for us-for all the members of the body. In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation.” (7)

Some anti- missionaries have complained about the use of the Zohar here. In the end, I think the critique only strengthens the case for what the Zohar says about the Suffering Messiah issue.

Solomon Schechter apeaks about the issue of a righteous person atoning for sin his book Aspects of Rabbinic Theology:

Atonement of suffering and death is not limited to the suffering person. The atoning death extends to all the generation. This is especially the case with such sufferers as cannot either by reason of their righteous life or by their youth possibly have merited the afflictions which have come upon them. The death of the righteous atones just as well as certain sacrifices [with reference to b.Mo’ed Qatan 28a].‘They are caught (suffer) for their sins of the generation.’ [b Shabbat 32b]. There are also applied to Moses the Scriptural words, ‘And he bore the sins of many’ (Isaiah 53), because of his offering himself as the atonement for Israel’s sin with the golden calf, being ready to sacrifice his very soul for Israel when he said. ‘And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of my book (that is, from the Book of the Living), which thou hast written’ (Ex. 32) [b. Sotah 14a; b Berakhoth 32a). This readiness to sacrifice oneself for Israel is characteristic of all the great men of Israel, the patriarchs, and the Prophets citing in the same way, whilst also some Rabbis would, on certain occasions, exclaim, ‘Behold I am the atonement for Israel’ [Mekhilta 2a;m. Negaim 2:1]. (8)

And Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Berel Wein says regarding the sufferings of the Jews being a means of atonement:

“Another consideration tinged the Jewish response to the slaughter of its people. It was an old Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times that the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins the nation or the world. The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant of the Lord, the sacrificial service in the Temple – all served to reinforce this basic concept of the death of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of other men. Jews nurtured this classic idea of the death as an atonement, and this attitude towards their own tragedies was their constant companion throughout their turbulent exile. Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the fact that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind somehow was advanced by their “stretching their neck to be slaughtered.” What is amazing is that this abstract, sophisticated, theological thought should have become so ingrained in the psyche of the people that even the least educated and most simplistic of Jews understood the lesson and acted upon it, giving up precious life in a soaring act of belief and affirmation of the better tomorrow. This spirit of the Jews is truly reflected in the historical chronicle of the time: “Would the Holy One, Blessed is he, dispense judgment without justice? But we may say that he whom God loves will be chastised. For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation”–Berel Wein, The Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990 (Brooklyn:Shaar, 1990), 14.

We also see a case for an atoning Messiah in the Prayer Book For Day of Atonement-The Musaf Prayer:

“Messiah our righteousness is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have no one to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgressions. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wounds, at the time the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, By the hand of Yinnon.” -Written by Rabbi Eliezer Kalir around 7th century A.D (9)

Here are some more rabbinical sources:

Messiah of Justice [Meshiah Tsidenu], though we are Thy forebears. Thou are greater than we because Thou didst bear the burden of our children’s sins and our great opresssions have fallen upon Thee….Among the peoples of the world Thou didst bring only derision and mockery to Israel…Thy skin did shrink, and thy body did become dry as wood; Thine eyes were hollowed by fasting, and thy strength became like fragmented pottery –all that came to pass because of the sins of the children-Pesiqta Rabbati, Pisqa 37 (10)

The Messiah King …will offer is heart to implore mercy and longsuffering for Israel, weeping and suffering for Israel, weeping and suffering as it is written in Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions,” etc: when the Israelites sin, he invokes upon them mercy,as it is written: “Upon him was that chastisement that made us whole, and likewise the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And this is what the Holy One—let him be blessed forever!—decreed in order to save Israel and rejoice with Israel on the day of the resurrection. (Bereshit Rabbati on Genesis 24:67) (11)

“Who are you, O great mountain?”…..This refers to the King Messiah. And why is He called “great mountain” Because He is greater than the patriarchs, as it is written in Isaiah 52:13 “Behold my Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.” He will be more “exalted” than Abraham, more “extolled” than Moses and more “high” than the ministering angels. (Tanhuma on Genesis 27:30). (12)

Also, “The Rabbis said: His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. [Isaiah 53:4].” – Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b.

We must not forget Moses Maimonides;(1135-1204 A.D.) His systematic compilation of the Jewish law is known as the Mishne Torah, and is the standard legal text for Judaism to this day. Note: He didn’t think for one bit that Jesus was the Messiah. He says:

What is to be the manner of Messiah’s advent, and where will be the place of his appearance? . . . And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother of family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of the dry earth, etc. But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth will be thrown into terror at the fame of him — their kingdoms will be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact, their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence, and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands upon their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.” (13)

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah ben David

Much of modern Judaism knows the the traditional view of Messiah ben David who is a descendant of David and of the tribe of Judah. But there is another messianic view in Judaism that speaks of Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim. This figure will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for it’s final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace. (14)

What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah ben David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a). (15)

The Rejection of a Dying Messiah

Despite the fact that there is a case for a suffering Messiah in some of the Jewish literature that post dates the New Testament, I should note that the apologetic work called Dialogue with Trypho the Jew demonstrates the challenge of a dying Messiah. Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. In one part of this work, He replies:

It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so. (16)

Furthermore, let’s look at some other quotes about the failure of Jesus to meet the messianic credentials. This is seen in the following statements by the following rabbis:

Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444).

We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521. (17)

Why the rejection of a dying Messiah?

The New Testament writers expanded on the theme in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 to include persons who had been crucified. A quick glance at Paul’s statement in Gal 3:13 confirm this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.” Therefore, to say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism within the first century is an understatement. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not be the Anointed One of God. 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 being 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.

Note: To see our series on Isaiah 52-53, see here:

Sources:

1.Mark S. Kinzer, A Vision for Messianic Jewish Covenant Fidelity (Eugene,OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers), 108-109.

2. John Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), 124.

3. Ibid, 126.

4. John Rolling, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology (Peabody Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 9-10

5. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encounering The Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2012), 145-170.

6. Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000),157.

7. Driver and Neubauer, Zohar, Numbers, Pinchus 2181 (English Translation), 15.

8. Prayer Book for the Day of Atonement (New York; Hebrew Publishing Company, 1931), 239.

9. Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology. London: 1909. Reprint. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1994, 310-311.

10. Jacques Doukham, One The Way to Emmaus: Five Major Messiainc Prophecies Explained (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 136-137.

11.Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. The Fifty Third Chapter of Isaiah According to Jewish Interpreters (New York: Ktav Publishing House, In. 1969), 5.

14. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.

15. Ibid.

16. Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949) pg, 208, 291.

17. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference,(Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.

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Were the Disciples/Apostles Idol Worshipers?

Anyone who studies historical method is familiar with what is called historical causation. Historians seek out the causes of a certain events. As historian Paul Barnett says, “The birth of Christianity and the birth of Christology are inseparable both as to time and essence.” (1) One thing for sure: the birth of Christology was very early and not something that was invented much later in Church history.

We must not forget that within Judaism there is a term called “avodah zara” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God i.e., idolatry. In other words, the acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zara. (2) As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds the position that Jewish people are forbidden to pray and worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). So to this day any Christian or Messianic Jew who says Jesus is divine is called out as an “idol worshiper.”

This quote was taken from the Jews for Judaism website:

“The Jew equates worship of Jesus with idolatry. A Jew sees  no room for discussion of this issue. A man cannot be God and that’s all there  is to it. The missionary effort to present scriptural quotations as evidence to  support his devotion to Jesus, is wasted on the Jew.  God gave the Jewish people an understanding of Himself before He gave them the  scriptures. The Jewish people read scripture in light of their understanding of  God. It was God Himself who gave the Jewish people their conception of God, and  it is through the lens of this fundamental teaching that we understand all  subsequent revelation. The words of the prophets do not have the power to alter  that which God Himself has taught us. The exact opposite is true. Our  conception of God is the criterion by which the prophet’s words are evaluated” ( http://www.jewsforjudaism.ca/resources-info/resources-in-judaism/essaysycb/the-testimony-of-scripture?vm=r&s=1

First, I thought the word’s of the prophets were God’s words as well. But let’s take a look at the New Testament and see if the disciples/apostles thought they were committing idolatry.

Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. We know that from about AD 48 until his death (60 to 65 AD) Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. To read any objections to Paul’s Letters, see here.

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

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things

2. God is the Sole Creator of all things

3. God is the only being deserving of worship

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

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

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

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

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

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

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

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

3. Jesus as worthy of worship

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

Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In their book  The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy say,

“During the reign of Pilate and Herod, when Caiaphas was high priest, we find a Jewish movement arising that worships a recent contemporary alongside and in a similar manner as Yahweh-God. To call this development “novel” is a significant understatement. In truth, it constitutes nothing less than a massive paradigm shift in the first century Palestinian Jewish religious worldview.” (3)

Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. So let’s weight the options on the table and see if we can come up with an explanation that explains the data at hand:

#1: Religious Syncretism

While there were various Jewish sects during the time of Jesus, religious syncretism is a form of idolatry. First, the Jewish Scriptures forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). Following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, it can asked whether Jews still fell prey to physical idolatry. Some skeptics assert that since Israel always had problems with idolatry in their early formation, it would not be a challenge to assert they could fall into idolatry again by worshiping one of their own countrymen as God. But this is problematic; To assert that Israel’s previous problems with idolatry which would lead to further into idolatry in the Second Temple period leads me to cry “anachronism.” Remember, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament( 1 Cor. 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph. 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8). Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor .5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9) (see Walter A. Elwell’s Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pgs 364-365). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act (by saying Jesus is divine) and but then later speak against idolatry? It seems rather inconsistent.

#2 Hellenism or Polytheism?

The syncretism objection is related to the Hellenism/Polytheism possibility. The first followers of Jesus were exclusively Jews. The book of Acts gives a reference to the early followers of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). However, it is asserted that as the Christian faith spread, it became a predominately Gentile based religion. By the time of Jesus, Jews had encountered the impact of Hellenistic culture for three hundred years. The word “Hellenistic” was given to describe the period of history that started with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and ended when Rome conquered Alexander’s empire in 30 B.C .It is also safe to say that several forms of Jewish culture during the Roman period were somewhat Hellenized. This is why it is often argued that the incarnation grew out of Hellenistic presuppositions. But as Paul Eddy points out in his article Was Christianity Corrupted by Hellenism? from the middle of the third century BC, while Jewish Palestine had already experienced the effects of Hellenism we need to remember that Hellenism did not tend to infiltrate and ‘corrupt’ the local religious traditions of the ancient world. Rather, people maintained their religious traditions in spite of Hellenistic influence in other areas of their lives. Also, there are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23).

#3: The Deity of Jesus is Legend?

As I already said, the earliest documents for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s Letters. In them, we have one of the earliest confessions of the deity of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

“For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

A glance at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 shows that according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord. In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

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. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

#4: The Christology of Jesus can be explained by the disciples experience with Jesus before the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances

I have already pointed out that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for many historical issues within the New Testament.. So at this point, I would have to assume that skeptics can only say that the birth of Christology is simply false because of their metaphysical starting points (e.g., Jesus can’t be divine because the natural world is all there is, etc).

For those that are still hung up on the reliability of the New Testament, see our resource page.

Sources: 1. 1. Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005), 8.

2.  David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, 160-174.

3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 132.

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Why Won’t God Show Me A Miracle?

 

Woody Allen

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.”- Woody Allen

Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there. “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.”

When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).

3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

  1. The word “sign”  is reserved for what we would call a miracle.
  2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the  resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
  3. Jesus  repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a  sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle,  but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).
  4. Nicodemus  said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one  could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
  5. “Jesus the  Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders   and signs, which God did among you through him, as you  yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).

So the pattern for miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

The Skeptics Complaint

Craig Kenner has written a two volume set called Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Naturally, some skeptics aren’t satisfied with Keener’s work. They complain that it is not enough to appeal to religious texts that contain miracle accounts. Also, Keener doesn’t give enough documented cases of miracles in our present day. In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God will show them a miracle. They seem to assume if God really does that one big miracle, they will bow their knee and profess Jesus as Lord and give their life to him. I find this to be very presumptuous. It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue.

At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (1)

This is why we need to remember the following. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.

Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God. There are several aspects of faith:

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

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

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

The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them.

Sources:

1. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.

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The Challenge of Idolatry in the Life of the Christian

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters  -     By: Timothy Keller<br /><br /><br /><br />

If you haven’t purchased Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, please do so. Keller defines idolatry as:

” It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”

Biblically speaking, we probably know Israel always had challenges with idolatry. Remember:

  • Idols are the products of human hands.

  • They have no power either to hurt or to help those who worship them.

  • Idols are supposed to mediate a deity’s presence and power.

  • The first commandment is to have no gods before God ( Exod. 20:3 ; Deut. 5:7). In addition, the construction of any images ( Exod. 20:23) or even the mention of the names of gods ( Exod. 23:13).

  • It isn’t wrong to have other loves, ambitions, or loyalties. But they can’t come before God.

Keller discusses some of these idols. Keep in mind, I agree with him that the key is to not make God’s gifts to us into ‘substitutes’ for God. Here are some of them. Note: I have added some of my own points and a few of my own.

Idol of Materialism

  • Our identity is in what we have and don’t have. “I am what I own.”

  • We worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.”

  • Where we live/our net worth.

  • Remember, the saying, ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys, Wins”?  This is incorrect. ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys” dies as well. You can’t take your possessions with you!“  Remember the text, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”- James 4:14

Approval Idolatry

  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry).

  • The need to gain constant approval from  others.

  • The constant need to be affirmed.

  • Our identity isn’t in what God thinks of or approves of. Instead, it is in what others think of us.

Career Idolatry

  • Millions of men—and increasingly more women can end up spending 60-70, even 80 hours a week working.

  • We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world.

Relationship Idolatry

  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry).

  • I need to be accepted by the opposite sex and I am looking for this person to meet all my needs/emotional, physical, and spiritual.

  • God is the only one who can meet all your needs.

Political Idolatry

  • We think the politics/politicians can fix all the problems of our culture.

  • We assume if we get the correct politicians in office, they can change the hearts of people.

  • The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart.

Image Idolatry

  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry) If I don’t have this image, people won’t accept me.

Idolatry of Happiness

  • All that God wants for us to be happy!

  • It is true God wants us to be happy. But he wants us to be satisfied and content in Him.

  • God is more interested in holiness than happiness.

So what is the cure for idolatry?

KNOW YOUR TRUE IDENTITY!

The power of the resurrection comes to us everyday in Christ.. As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Our true identity is in the one who died and rose again on our behalf. This identity isn’t dependent on other’s opinions and it isn’t built on any conditions. And it can’t be changed.  Mediate and chew on this truth daily

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Comparing Apologetic Systems: Methodology and Practice

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The word “Apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). Throughout Acts, Luke uses words such as reason, (trying to) persuade, eyewitness, witness, defense. It is true that many other religions have their own apologists. But in this post, I will focus on what are called apologetics systems. Thus, we will discuss various types of Christian apologetic systems

Classical Apologetics

Classical apologetics operates in a two-or three step process (philosophical, theistic, and evidential). Working from the vantage point of certain undeniable foundational principles, such as the laws of logic and self-existence, certain philosophical questions are addressed, such as truth, reality, meaning, and morality. Since a belief in God as creator is essential for an individual to become a Christian (Hebrews 11:6), the primary goal is to help the unbeliever understand reality untainted by false assumptions. The second step offers evidence for the existence of God, usually in the form of traditional theistic arguments and empirical data such as manuscript and archaeological evidence. Norman L. Geisler’s and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is an example of a classical method.

The outline of the book goes like this:

1.Truth about reality is knowable
2. Opposites cannot both be true
3. The theistic God exists
4. Miracles are possible
5. Miracles performed in connection with a truth claim are acts of God to confirm the truth of God through a messenger of God
6. The New Testament documents are reliable
7. As witnessed in the New Testament, Jesus is God incarnate
8. Jesus’ claim to divinity was proven by an unique convergence of miracles/his resurrection
9. Therefore, Jesus was God in human flesh.
10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) affirmed as true, is true
11. Jesus affirmed that the Bible is the Word of God
12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God

We notice in Point #1 that Geisler and Turek are aware that we are living in a somewhat post-modern culture. That is why they point to the issue that truth is knowable. As seen above, the classical apologist generally starts with the evidence for God outside the Bible and then works his way to demonstrating that such a God would want to reveal more of Himself to the human race through special revelation. Hence, classical apologetics relies heavily on natural theology. Of course, the classical apologist knows that many faiths try to use miracles to validate the truth of their religion. Therefore, the classical apologist demonstrates that many of the miracle claims outside the Christian faith are lacking in historical/evidential support.

While natural laws may be descriptive, they certainly are not prescriptive. Therefore, the classical apologist will demonstrate that there are good philosophical reasons to believe that miracles are both possible and actual.

Reasonable-Faith-Christian-Truth-and-Apologetics-by-Craig-William-Lane-and

Probably the most well know defender of the faith that utilizes the classical model is William Lane Craig. If you watch any of the debates with Craig, anyone can see Craig utilize cosmology and other arguments for God outside the Bible before providing evidence about the resurrection of Jesus.

Classical apologetics has also been practiced by Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists also include Winfried Corduan, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, and R. C. Sproul,.

Practical Application: In my conversations, classical apologetics is always utilized. So in many of the discussions between  the following topics come up:

  1. How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  2. How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  3. How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  4. How do you explain the Biological Fine-Tuning of Complex Life on Earth?
  5. How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  6. How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  7. How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  8. How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  9. How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  10. How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  11. How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  12. How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  13. How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  14. How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  15. How do you explain Ultimate
    Purpose
     in Life?

In regards to these questions, any attempt by theists to give scientific data (a peer reviewed document or book) is cast off as a “God of the Gaps” argument. Granted, I think we have provided answers to the “God of the Gaps” charge. And in return, the atheist just punts to a “nature and chance of the gaps” argument. In other words, whatever God explanation is given, some atheists assume that science (which is not a search for natural/material causes alone) will be able to show that eventually we will arrive at naturalistic explanation.

Historical /Evidential Apologetics

Historical Apologetics does have some things in common with classical apologetics in that they begin with evidence to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. Both the classical and historical apologist see historical evidence to be crucial to the defense of Christianity. However, the historical apologist doesn’t see the need for theistic apologetics (starting with evidence for God outside the Bible) as prior to historical apologetics. The classical apologist believes it begs the question to discuss the resurrection as an act of God unless one had first established that a God exists who can intervene into the world. The historical apologist argues that one can show that God exists by demonstrating from the historical evidence alone that an act of God occurred, as in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the supreme apologetic.

When looking at the New Testament, the approach of historical apologetics is to start with the historicity of the New Testament documents and then to use the miracles of Christ, particularly the resurrection, to point to the fact that Christ is the Son of God. This approach shows that there is a theistic God exists who can work miracles. Historical apologetics generally begins by attempting to show the historicity of the New Testament documents by using the following syllogism:

1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by a unique combination of His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3.Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So we see in this syllogism that another step would be to examine the New Testament claims of Christ to be the Son of the theistic God who offers miraculous proofs for his claims. The most important part of this type of evidence is that Christ was resurrected from the dead. Once the deity of Christ is established, it can be, and often is, argued that the Bible is the Word of God, since Jesus (who is God) affirmed it to be so. Two present day historical apologists are Gary Habermas and Mike Licona who specialize in the resurrection of Jesus.

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I recently finished reading the book called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona. In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

Licona is more than aware that just because there is a list of agreed upon facts that is agreed upon by historians and Biblical scholars will not make it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. As Licona says, “Something doesn’t become a “fact” just because the majority of scholars believe it.” (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, pg 279).

However, as Gary Habermas says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.” (see Norman L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2001), 152.

Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (See Christopher Blake, “Can History be Objective?” in Theories of History, Ed. Patrick Gardiner (New York: Macmillan, 1959), pp. 331-333; cited in Geisler and Hoffman, 152.

Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the Historical Bedrock that Licona mentions. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. Some of the critical scholars even included atheists, agnostics, Christians and Jews. So there was some impartiality in the study.

Bart Ehrman and The Historical Bedrock
What is interesting is Licona’s discussion of Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has become somewhat of a hero of the atheist community because of his popular works such as Misquoting Jesus, etc. I hope the atheist community knows Ehrman agrees with the Historical Bedrock.

For example:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion: Ehrman says: “One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate” (see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 261-262).

2. Very shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them: Ehrman says: “Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19).” ( see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 282).

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him: Ehrman says: “There is no doubt that [Paul] believed that he saw Jesus’ real but glorified body raised from the dead.” (see see see The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, pgs, 301).

Practical Application:  I generally can start with people by getting them to agree that there are at least three facts about the Historical Jesus that are held by most critical scholars and historians. I list some of those sources here. See here as well.

We can  then discuss the best explanation for the resurrection appearances. Former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen (see There Is A God? How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind(New York: Harper Collins, 2007). Another aspect of the historical argument  is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does not prove the existence of God, but it does show that events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity. See more here: Is Jesus the Messiah? The Messianic Task or  here: The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.   In the end, the debate over the resurrection is always going to be about metaphysics. One approach is what it called the a priori  approach while the other is called the a posteriori approachDeductive reasoning is called a priori (prior to looking at the facts) and inductive reasoning is called a posteriori (after seeing the evidence). If one has decided that many of the events in the New Testament are not possible (because of an a priori commitment to naturalism), it will impact how they interpret the evidence (after examining it). Some scholars may say they are open to taking an posteriori approach to the resurrection, when it comes time to actually examine the evidence. However, in many cases, they set the bar so high that no amount of evidence will ever convince them. So in many cases, if one is just utterly convinced that the natural world is all there is than we are back to natural theology and whether naturalism can explain reality better than theism.

Also, one reason historical apologetics will always come up is because even if someone does believe in some sort of Intelligence or Designer  in nature, they will eventually have to look into history to get a fuller picture of God and his plans for humanity. Another popular level book on evidential apologetics is James Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity. 

You can see him lecture here:

Presuppositional Apologetics

Another approach to apologetic methodology is called the presuppositional approach. This approach starts by assuming Christian truth about God and Jesus as revealed in Scripture and reasons from Christianity. The presuppositional apologetic to the unbeliever begins with reasoning “from” Christianity through special revelation (Bible). The presuppositionalist assumes the content revealed in Scripture to be true and encourages the unbeliever to do the same since these assumed biblical truths offer only possible foundation and explanation for life and godliness- a framework on which to make of the world and God the way they actually exist. Due to the noetic effects of sin (sin on the mind), the unbelievers presuppositions are deemed irrational and inadequate to understand or explain the basis for religion, morals, communication and beauty. In some instances presuppositionalists test consistency by using the laws of logic. The goal is to demonstrate in any of several ways, that only biblical presuppositions provide the tools for one to make sense of reality and show that Christianity offers the only foundation and framework on which on which to make sense of the world and God.

The apostle Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Therefore, the unbelievers problem is not one of not understanding the truth of God, but of suppression, which leads to not receiving the truth.

As former atheist J. Budziszewski says:

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

Presuppositional apologetics differs from classical apologetics in that presuppositional apologetics rejects the validity of traditional proofs for the existence of God. Also, the presuppositional apologist differs with both classical and historical apologetics in its use of historical evidence. The presuppositionalist insists that one must begin with presuppositions or worldviews. The historical apologist believes that the historical facts “speak for themselves.” They are “self-interpreting” in their historical context. The pure presuppositionalist, on the other hand, insists that no facts are self-interpreting, that all facts are interpreted and can be properly understood only within the context of an overall worldview.

One well known presuppositionalist was the late Cornelius Van Till. Van Till answered the objection that the presuppositionalist method is circular by claiming that every system of though is circular. For example, a rationalist can defend the authority of reason only by using reason. Also, the Christian worldview is the only one that renders reality intelligible in its own terms. To read more about Van Till, click here.

Depending on how one is defined, there are three or four basic kinds of presuppositionalism: (1) revelational presuppositionalism (2) rational presuppositionalism and (3) systematic consistency. Some view Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic as an example of a fourth variation that might be called practical presuppositionalism. Each approach differs in the way in which a worldview is judged for truth.

Practical Application: I can’t say I have utilized a ton of presuppositonal apologetics. I do agree with the Romans 1 text that people do suppress truth. But it can be a challenge to start with the Bible with people.

Cumulative Case Apologetics

Advocates:
1. Paul Feinberg
2. C.S. Lewis
3. C. Stephen Evans
4. Basil Mitchell
5. Richard Swinburne

Advocates of the “cumulative case” method say the nature of the case for Christianity is not in any strict sense a formal argument from probability. In the words of Basil Mitchell, the cumulative case method does “not conform to the ordinary pattern of deductive or inductive reasoning.” The case is more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law or that a literary critic makes for a particular interpretation of a book. The cumulative case method is an informal argument that pieces together several lines or types of data into a sort of hypothesis or theory that comprehensively explains that data and does so better that any alternative hypothesis. Paul Feinberg says that “Christian theists are urging that [Christianity] makes better sense of all the evidence available than does any other alternative worldview, whether that alternative is some other theistic view or atheism.” The data that the cumulative case seeks to explain include the existence and nature of the cosmos, the reality of religious experience, the objectivity of morality, and other certain historical facts, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” ( The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?” (1944), para. 24, p. 92). To apply what Lewis says, we can utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. Another example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

Also, using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue.

To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

Practical Application: I do like this approach. When talking to people, you can find common ground in that all humans observe the same things. Thus, they are both seeing many of the same features of reality. The question becomes is the most adequate explanation for what these features of reality.  Frank Turek has taken this approach in his latest book called Stealing from God.

One More Thing: The Issue of Evidence

Lionel Ruby in his text, Logic: An Introduction says:

“Every person who is interested in logical thinking accepts what we shall call the “law of rationality,” which may be stated as follows: We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence…. By “adequate evidence” we mean evidence which is good and sufficient in terms of the kind of proof which is required. There are occasions when we require conclusive proof, as in mathematics, and there are occasions when it is sufficient to establish the probability of a given conclusion, as in weather prediction. But in all cases the evidence must be adequate to its purpose.” (1960, p. 131, emp. added).

I have been told by some atheists that they just want sufficient evidence. But they just can’t get there. But in reality, this really translates as what Ruby just stated as “conclusive proof” as in mathematics and logic. While the atheist waits for the “conclusive proof,” they are allowed to live a life in complete autonomy from God.

Also, remember the advice of the late Ronald Nash about the issue of proofs. As Nash said:

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

Atheists may say they left the faith for intellectual or evidential reasons. However,  my experience shows me there are always emotional or volitional issues involved in the process. In approaching the God question, is it true that all of us are completely objective? Not a chance.

Sources:

1. House, H.W, and J. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences. Baker Publishing Group. Grand Rapids, 2007.
2. Geisler, N.L. BECA. Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 2007, pgs, 41, 154, 316, 607.
3. Cowan,S. editor, Five Views of Apologetics, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1999.

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Six Messianic Expectations and One Messiah

Jewish messianism is a concept study. 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 19:16). Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.” Hence, we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament.

Also, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah  comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However, most Jewish people think there is going to be a messianic age. Let me give an example:

The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by  famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” (1)

“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Varied Messianic Expectations at the Time of Jesus

#1: The Davidic King Expectation

While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam.7:12-17; 1 Chr.17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually culminate in the birth of a specific person who will guarantee David’s dynasty, kingdom, and throne forever.  Royal messianism is seen in the Psalms. For example, in Psalm 2  which is a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) is  the  moment of the king’s crowning. God tells the person to whom he is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8). While David did have conquest of all the nations at that time, (Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, Amalek, which is described as the conquest “of all the nations”  1 Chron. 14:17; 18:11) in Psalm 2, one day God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne. (2)

In Psalm 89, the Davidic King will be elevated over the rivers and seas (v.24- 25) and  is the most exalted ruler on earth (v. 27). He also  will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. As Israel went into the Babylonian captivity, the prophet  Hosea says that Israel will be without a Davidic king for many days (Hosea 3:4).However, in the last days, God kept his promise of the Davidic covenant by rebuilding Israel which includes the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom (Isa.11:1–2; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11–12).  The Davidic King will be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) and would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is.7:14-17; 9:6-7;11:1-10), even though he is not spoken of specifically  as “The Messiah.” Ezekiel also spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a “prince” and a “king” to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). There are other texts that speak of the Davidic King as the “Branch” who will reign and rebuild the temple and be a king-priest on His throne (Zech. 3:8; 6:12–15; Jer. 33:1–8, 21–22).

One of the most valuable 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 about the messianic expectations 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 G-d. 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)

Even though this is one expectation in the Second Temple Period, it is not the most prominent one in the New Testament.

#2: A Transcendent Messiah/The Son of Man

“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.

As Randall Price notes:

“ The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. It  should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision.” (3)

#3: A Miracle Working Messiah

Even though miracles are often overlooked in the traditional messianic expectation (as in the article I posted),  it is evident that Jewish people at the time of Jesus did look for signs/miracles to accompany the Messiah’s work. In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43). In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,  because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives  and recovering of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”- Luke 4: 18-19

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in the Luke 4 text:

“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (4)

Also,  Paul says:

“ For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:22-24

Paul notes here about how Jews demand signs. While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod. 4: 1-9). In the exchange between Nicodemus said to Jesus, Nicodemus said, We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Also, the signs of Jesus are part of the apostolic preaching:

#4: A Prophetic Messiah

Moses and Jesus both claim to speak the words of God. It is also evident at the time of Jesus, that Jewish people were looking for a prophet like Moses. 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

Peter is referring to the Deut.18: 15-18 text:

 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.

Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).

 We see  in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority.  Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent  from God.  In response, Moses  defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have.  Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord”  (Num.16:28).

 As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:

 So Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”  (John 7: 16-18)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me(John 12: 49-50).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).

Also,  while actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God.  Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that  the “signs”  will confirm his call:  

 God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign”  to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

“If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).

We see the signs are used to help people believe.

 Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

#5: A Priestly Messiah

The priest (Heb. cohanim) was anointed in his role as a mediator between God and the Jewish people because of his ability make to make atonement (Lev.4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31).  There are implicit passages in the Hebrew Bible that discuss a priestly aspect of the Messiah (Hag:1:12-14; 2:2-4; 20-23; Zech:3:6-10;4:2-5,11-14).  In the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus was convinced there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4.

As Harvey E. Finley says:

Psalm 110:4 reads: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This is a royal psalm. Two significant points are made about the One who is to sit at God’s right hand. First, the order of Melchizedek is declared to be an eternal order. Second, this announcement is sealed with God’s oath. Neither of these affirmations applied to the Aaronic order of priesthood. As with Melchizedek, Jesus was without the ancestral, genealogical credentials necessary for the Aaronic priesthood ( Hebrews 7:3Hebrews 7:13Hebrews 7:16 ), he was also before Aaron and the transitory, imperfect law and Levitical priesthood  ( Hebrews 7:11-12Hebrews 7:17-18 ; 8:7 ). Melchizedek, Aaron, and his descendants all died, preventing them from continuing in office ( 7:3).  Jesus has been exalted to a permanent priesthood by his resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God in the heaven (8:1). (5)

#6: A Suffering Messiah

As far as any expectation of a suffering Messiah, I talk more about that in greater detail here.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that the are a variety of Messianic expectations, I think Jesus is the most likely candidate to fulfill all six of the ones mentioned here.

Sources:

  1. David Berger and Michael Wyschogrod, “Jews and Jewish Christianity” A Jewish Response to the Missionary Challenge (Toronto: Jews for Judaism, 2002), 20; cited in Oskar Skarsaune,  In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 302.
  2.   Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012),  80.
  3. See The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament at http://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;
  4.  Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.
  5. Harvey E. Finley, Melchizedek” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).
Uncategorized

Did Moses Really Write About Jesus? A Look at Messianic Prophecy in the Torah

Introduction

Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.” But in this case, on more than one occasion, Jesus appealed to the fact that Moses wrote about him in the Torah. I will not take the time to argue for Mosaic authorship  in this post. That is dealt with elsewhere. Anyway, let’s look at where Jesus discusses this issue:

  How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”- John 5: 44-47

So can Jesus be found in the Torah? Jesus doesn’t list any specific texts here. First, we need to remember that there were other names that were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Genesis 12:1-3:

 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

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.” A study of the rabbinical literature (such as The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim) describes these passages as being about the Messiah. For the New Testament authors, these texts find their fulfillment in Jesus. How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). Hence, while God’s plans are national (Israel), it is evidence that the nation is an instrument to bring international blessings. Therefore, Israel’s Head, the Messiah, is called to restore the nation and use the nation to bring blessings to the other nations of the earth—blessings that are spiritual and physical.

 Genesis. 49:8-12:

“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Gen 49:8-12)-KJV: NOTE: I chose the KJV here because most other translations replace “Shiloh” שִׁילֹה with “until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs.” Please read on:

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.

 A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”

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 a proper name for the Messiah. This is seen in the Talmud in Sanhedrian 98b which answers the question of what the Messiah’s name is by saying, “Shiloh is his name, as it is said, “Until Shiloh Come.” In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.   The challenge is seen in that Shiloh can be rendered in six ways: (1) “until he come to Shiloh,” (2) “until Shiloh comes,” (3) “until a ruler comes,” (4) “unti this ruler comes,” (5) “until to him tribute comes,” or  (6) “until he comes to whom it belongs.” (1)

The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “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,  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. (2)

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.

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. (3)

We have been discussing the temporal element of this prophecy. Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s  coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.

But there is another aspect of this prophecy that remains partially unfulfilled. Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed came who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the “peoples” of not just Israel but the rest of the world (also see Gen 17:6; Exod. 15:16; Deut. 32:8). While the immediate context probably refers to King David, it also speaks to an eschatological ruler whom the Gentile nations will come to in submissive obedience! We should note that part of this prophecy has not been fulfilled. While there are many Gentiles who have submitted to the rule of Messiah (Jesus) in their lives, all the nations are not under the universal rule of the Messiah. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not the King right now. He most certainly is. However, there is more to come in the future.

Numbers 24:17-19:

In  Numbers 24:17-19, we see a similar theme is seen in that a ruler shall arise out of Israel and how a descendant of Jacob will have universal dominion:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob,  A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,  And tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.“One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.-NASB

The Messianic Interpretation of this prophecy is the following:

1. The context is about Balaam’s oracle. In vs 7 we see that there shall come forth a man who shall be Lord over many nations and his kingdom shall be exalted in Gog.

2. Balaam references two important points: First, “a star shall come from Jacob” and “a scepter comes forth from Israel.”

3. The figure is visible in the term” scepter” who is an earthly king who will use his earthly power to subdue the earth.

4. “Star” may refer to his heavenly origin. (4)

Furthermore, a text that is part of the Pseudepigrapha also has a messianic expectation that is also tied to the Numbers 24: 17 text:

 And after this there shall arise for you a Star from Jacob [Numbers 24:17] in peace. And a man shall arise from my posterity like the Sun of righteousness, walking with the sons of men in gentleness and righteousness, and in him will be found no sin. And the heavens will be opened upon him to pour out the spirit as a blessing of the Holy Father. And he will pour the spirit of grace on you. And you shall be sons in truth, and you will walk in his first and final decrees. This is the Shoot of God [Isaiah 11:1] Most High; this is the fountain for the life of all humanity. Then he will illumine the scepter of my kingdom, and from your root will arise the Shoot, and through it will arise the rod of righteousness for the nations, to judge and to save all that call on the Lord. (Testament of Judah, 24:1-6)

To read the entire article about Gen 49:8-12, see here:

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).

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.

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).

Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).

 We see  in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority.  Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent  from God.  In response, Moses  defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have.  Moses says, ” Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord”  (Num.16:28).

 As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:

 So Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”  (John 7: 16-18)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught meAnd he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life;therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).

To summarize, when Jesus speaks, it is not His own word that he gives to the people, but that of the Father; it is as if God is speaking to us.  Also, there is a similar relationship between those who do no heed the words of Moses and those who do not listen to the words of Jesus. For example, Moses exhorts and warns the people about the consequences of not heeding the Word of God:

“ See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,  loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30: 15-20).

Of course, one of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Likewise, Jesus, who is the Word incarnate and the new Moses gives a similar warning:

 ”The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5: 22-24).”

Signs and Miracles

While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God.  Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that  the “signs”  will confirm his call:  

 God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign”  to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

”If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even thesetwo signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).

We see the signs are used to help people believe.

Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

The Works of Jesus

“Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The worksthat I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very worksthat I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9)

To see the entire article, see here:

Conclusion

There are many other places in the Torah that point to the life and ministry of Jesus. For now, I hope these texts can spark some interest in  further study.

Sources

1. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darell L. Bock, and Gordan H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 46.

2. Ibid, 49-51.

3. Various translations of 4QPBless are found in Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking, 1958), 401; Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 53; cited in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 660

4. John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity, 385-386

Uncategorized

The Most Common Objection to God’s Existence on a College Campus

 

DISCLAIMER: From what I gather, atheists and skeptics have told me “Well, I never bring up the arguments to theists that are mentioned in this post. Thus, no atheist or skeptic that I know would bring up these objections.” My response: This is based on my experience from the last 12 years of doing apologetics on a major college campus. So whether you don’t accept it has nothing to do with my own personal testimony from what I have seen.

In 2004, I started going to the Ohio State University and engaging students for the truth claims of Christianity. I did hundreds of surveys with students and certainly begin to see some of the objections people had to the Christian faith. Around 2006 I moved away from the survey approach and started using a variety of approaches to reach out to the students here. Anyway, it was 2009 when myself along with some OSU students planted a Ratio Christi chapter on the campus. This was done out of the necessity for a stronger apologetics presence on the campus. Since we planted the chapter we have had some very well-known speakers come such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown, Paul Nelson, Michael Licona and James Warner Wallace. We have also had some student debates with the skeptic group on the campus. Keep in mind that Ohio State is a very large campus (60,000) students. Therefore, I do not mean to stereotype anyone or act like I speak as an authority for the entire campus. There are plenty of other campus ministries and people who might share different experiences that they have seen on the campus.

What About Skepticism?

Sure, skepticism has always been an issue on college campuses. But what kind of skepticism do I see? All kinds of skepticism! But as you will see in the objections below, I also see alot of pragmatism and some post-modernism, mysticism, etc.  I will also provide some resources to the objections I have heard over the last several years.

The more I have talked to hundreds of students about spiritual beliefs, the more I realize there is one objection that comes up more than any other. Now I realize this may not be the same for everyone else. But when the discussion turns to the question “How do we know God exists?”   I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, If God exists, how should God show people he is real? Now when I say “God,” I am referring to the God of the Bible (see more below). Obviously, when it comes to terms like “evidence” and “proof” we always have equivocation issues. But in many cases, this illustration come into the discussion:

The Most Common Objection: “Why Won’t God Show Me A Sign?”

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Yes, over the last several years, this is the most common objection that I hear. The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him. Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. The first question as to why won’t God just write it in the sky that He exists or make Himself known in an unmistakable way, leads to the response, “What do you mean by God?” And if the nature of the object determines how we come to know it, how would we determine what the nature of God is? If someone is referring to the God of the Bible, they might want to reconsider the demand for such a thing. Of course, in many cases, skeptics have created a god in their own mind which is idolatry. See Ed Feser’s post called “The One God Further Objection.”  But remember, God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation. Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel.

But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed.  Furthermore, perhaps the demand for such a sign assumes the individual is certain as to how they would respond to such a sign. After all, any assumption that a clear sign will lead to a full surrender of one’s autonomy over to their Creator is quite presumptuous.

Direct Evidence 

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 In this post,  we see how the author discusses the issue of objective evidence and the role our mind plays in the perception of the evidence.  After all, in many cases, people have access to the same evidence but they come to different conclusions based on their interpetation of the evidence. In this clip, you will see the issue of the demand for a sign or direct testimony/direct evidence will come up. Granted, the issue of our interpretation of evidence is always an issue.

And here we see the same topic discussed in this clip called ” I Would Believe If God Knocked On My Door” by Brett Kunkle of STR.

Unfortunately, many people (I was one of them) don’t know the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence.  One of the most helpful ways to approach the question of the existence of God is to utilize an approach that is successfully practiced in science, history, law, philosophy, and other areas. It is called “Inference to the Best Explanation.” For example, when we identify a range of data to be explained, formulate a pool of possible explanations, and judge that one is the best among that pool.  When this happens, the data provide evidence that the explanation is true. This is important because when we talk about the God question, so many people demand what we call “direct evidence.” In other words, they think they should be able to “see” or verify God directly. As I just said, that is a fruitless approach. Of course, Jesus is the full revelation of God. Thus, if you want to know what God is like, look to Him! But, when it comes to history, science, and many criminal investigations, we are dealing with many events that nobody was able to participate in. Thus, these events are in the past and aren’t repeatable. That’s why historians, scientists and criminal investigators, have to collect the information and then make a conclusion based on the combined weight of all the evidence taken together. Note: Please see our short post called a Chart on Approaches to God’s Existence and 30 Suggested Readings on Apologetic Responses to Atheism/Skepticism.

Miracles

Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there.

When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. The pattern for miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God should show them a miracle.  It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue. At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37).

This is why we need to remember the following.  In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say there are three components to faith:

  1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
  2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
  3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, signs and miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them. From my experience, 90% percent of the people that say they want a sign admit afterwards that even if they got it, they might think they are hallucinating.

In the end,  many people simply know very little about the nature of God. Perhaps we need to get back to Theology 101. NOTE: ALSO CHECK OUT PAUL MOSER’S PDF: “WHY ISN’T GOD MORE OBVIOUS?”

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