The Background of the Suffering Servant Concept in the New Testament

Over the years 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 so 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.  However, 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).

Something else we need to remember is the following: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. Messianism is a concept study. While it can be seen that 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,” it must be remembered that “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. This is why the reader must not assume every time they read where a priest, prophet, king, or even Cyrus in Isa. 45:1 is anointed, this automatically means the individual is “The Messiah.” Furthermore, other names 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.”

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:

Possibility #1: One can observe atoning features about the Maccabean martyrs. Note: this info is adapted from J. J. William’s book, Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement: Did Martyr Theology Shape Paul’s Conception of Jesus’s Death?



  • The books of 2 and 4 Maccabees record that God judged the Jews through Antiochus Epiphanes IV because of the nation’s religious apostasy (cf. 1 Maccabees 1; 2 Macc 7:32).
  • God poured out his wrath against Israel through the invasion of Antiochus because of its disobedience to the Torah prior to 4 Macc 17:21–22 (1 Macc 1:1–63; 2 Macc 5:1–7:38; 4 Macc 4:15–6:29).
  • 4 Macc 6:28–29 states that Eleazar offers his “blood” to be a “ransom” so that God would “be satisfied.” A passage in 4 Macc 17:21–22 states that the Jewish martyrs die a propitiatory death for the nation.
  • The martyrs die as penal sacrifices of atonement for the nation’s sins because the fundamental reason behind their deaths was Israel’s disobedience to Torah, and they died to end God’s judgment against the nation’s sin and to save the nation from his wrath (2 Macc 7:32–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:21–22).
  • 2 Maccabees 7:37-38: “I [the youngest of the seven sons martyred one by one in front of their mother], 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, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
  • 4 Maccabees 6:27-29: [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 Macc. 6:27–29: Eleazar (one of the Jewish martyrs who died for the nation) asked God to use his blood to be a ransom so that he would be the means by which he purified, provided mercy for, and to be the means by which he would satisfy his wrath against the nation. The author interprets the significance of the martyrs’ deaths in 4 Macc. 17:21–22 by stating that they purified the homeland, that they served as a ransom for the nation, and that their propitiatory deaths saved the nation.
  • 4 Maccabees 17:22: “And through the blood of those devout ones and their deaths an atoning sacrifice divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated.”
  • 4 Maccabees 18:4: “Because of them [those who gave their bodies in suffering for the sake of religion; 18:3] the nation gained peace.”

To summarize: 

1.The martyrs suffered and died because of sin (2 Macc 7:18, 32; 12:39–42; 4 Macc 4:21; 17:21–22; cf. Lev 1:1–7:6; 8:18–21; 16:3–24).

2. The martyrs’ blood was the required price for the nation’s salvation (2 Macc 7:32–38; 4 Macc 6:28–29; 7:8; 17:21–22).

3.The martyrs’ deaths ended God’s wrath against the nation (1 Macc 1:1–64; 2 Macc 7:32–38; 8:5; 4 Macc 17:21–22).

4. The martyrs’ deaths provided purification and cleansing for the nation (4 Macc 6:28–29; 17:22; cf. Lev 16:16, 30; Isa 53:10).

5. The martyrs’ deaths spared the nation from suffering the penalty for their own sin in the eschaton (2 Macc 5:1–8:5; cf. 2 Macc 7:1–14).

6. The martyrs died  vicariously for the nation (2 Macc 7:18, 32; 4 Macc 4:21; 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.” -Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007, 124.

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.” pg 126.

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 Hebrew Bible). Hence, he could be talking about a typological prophecy from the Binding of Isaac story. Or, maybe Paul saw the Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4. Also, in the context of Zechariah 6- the crown placed on the head of the high priest named Joshua who is then referred to as the “Branch” which is a Messianic title. The Messiah has a dual role- as a priest he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. If we just jump to Isaiah 53, that brings up the issue of whether Paul is using  the LXX (THE Greek Septuagint). See the article The Use of Quotations from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in the New Testament.

But let’s get back to Collins and his comments about how a suffering Messiah shows up later in Jewish literature. We do see a case for a suffering Messiah in the 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]. (1)

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.” (2)

Solomon Schechter apeaks about this issue in his book Aspects of Rabbinic Theology:

The 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]. (3)

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

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

And let us not forget that Maimonides, a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages also quotes Isaiah 53;2; 52:15 as being about the Messiah.

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. (4)

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 be 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).

Conclusion:

I don’t see any evidence the first followers of Jesus invented the Suffering Messiah story.There were are certainly implicit cases where we see a case for a Messiah who will be an atonement for sin. But just like many other issues in the Tanakh, what was implicit becomes more explicit in the New Testament. We see that the best way to tackle the issue is to examine the evidence in the Jewish literature (including the Bible).

Sources:

1. Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000),157. 2. Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original. 3. Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology. London: 1909. Reprint. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1994, 310-311. 4. 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.

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Handling an Objection: We Can’t Trust Eyewitness Testimony!

Introduction

Can we trust eyewitness testimony? I have seen this conversation arise in my own outreach efforts. Perhaps you have as well. Generally speaking, testimony is one of those common sense beliefs that  we take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them. We rightly accept what others tell us without having first established that they are worthy of trust. Without testimony, we could never be able to learn a language or accept something we learned before checking out for ourselves.

But in  my experience of talking with skeptics about eyewitness testimony, it generally boils down a worldview issue. In other words, skeptics are only hyper skeptical about the issues of the testimony of the witnesses of the New Testament because they just can’t bring themselves to ever say a resurrection has taken place. So in the end, we are back to the same arguments that David Hume put forth against miracles. I think there has been sufficient answers to Hume. So I won’t waste this post in dealing with him. If you want to read up on that issue, see here , here, or here.

A Look at Eyewitness Testimony in the New Testament

Hopefully, both the Christian and the non-Christian should be able to agree that since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. It is common for the Christian to cite some of the following passages:

• Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

• Acts 3:14-15: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

• 1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

• Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

• Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

• 1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.”

• 2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

• John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

Despite the Christian’s appeal to testimony and witness in the New Testament, the skeptic assumes that it has been shown that eyewitness testimony is very unreliable in a court of law. How can the Christian possibly try to propose that eyewitness testimony is one of the reasons we can trust the events in the New Testament?

A Response

The problem with this objection is that it is a case of dicto-simplicter or what is called a sweeping generalization. This is the fallacy of making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case.

Secondly, when it comes to antiquity, how do we evaluate eyewitness testimony?

One book that has recently handled the issue of eyewitness testimony issue within the New Testament is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony  (Second Edition)  by Richard Bauckham.

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

As Bauckham notes:

“Trusting testimony is indefensible to historiography. This trust need not be blind faith. In the “critical realist” historian’s reception and use of testimony there is a dialectic trust and critical assessment. But the assessment is precisely an assessment of the testimony as trustworthy or not. What is not possible is independents verification or falsification of everything the testimony relates such a reliance on testimony would not longer be needed.

Testimony shares the frugality of memory, which is the testimony’s sole access to the past, while also, when it predates living memory, existing only as an archived memory, cut off from the dialogical context of contemporary testimony. But for most purposes, testimony is all we have. There are indeed, other traces of the past in the present (such as archaeological finds), which can to a degree corroborate or discredit testimony, but they cannot, in most cases, suffice for the study and writing of history. They cannot replace testimony. In the end, testimony is all we have.” (7)

As Bauckham notes:

 ” The Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted. Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” (8)

In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses). Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5–8; Gal 1:16), Luke(Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.

Historically speaking, eyewitness testimony is generally considered more reliable than testimony that is heard from a second-or third hand source. But as Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), means that the historian was a firsthand observer of the events. But what if those recording the historical events in the Gospels were not direct eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus?

As Bauckham says:

“Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy). This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

The Jewish People and Bearing False Witness: What About a Character Test?

One of the primary stipulations in the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people was that bearing false witness had serious ramifications (Exod 20:16). As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb. 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

How can the witnesses in the New Testament remember and record the information accurately?

We all know memory can be a tricky thing. But as Bauckham has noted, a high impact event such as the Holocaust or an event such as the death and resurrection of Jesus would leave a lasting impression on the witnesses to the event. Many of us have experienced events in our own lives that can be recalled reasonably free without error even decades later.

And given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Like many of the great Jewish rabbis and sages, Jesus employed didactic techniques. He taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme.

As Paul Barnett notes, “Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, pg 138).

Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. In the rabbinic tradition, disciples were taught to memorize, repeat, and recite (and often write) their masters teachings exactly and accurately, and were often rewarded for doing so. Novelty, expansions, and additions, and free interpretations were neither taught nor rewarded. (James R. Edwards, Is Jesus The Only Savior? pg, 59).

The External Test: Is there a way to cross-check the testimony of the events that the witnesses write about?

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence.

Perhaps another illustration will help. I graduated from high school in 1987. If someone accurately described my hometown that year by pointing out specific politicians, laws, the town’s topography and geography and then told me they had gathered the information from people who had been there, should I assume this individual can’t be trusted? Should I just dismiss it? So keeping this in mind let’s look at The Gospel of Luke as well as The Gospel of John.

In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

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

To see a complete list, click here:

Luke’s Gospel

Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

We see that Luke:

  1. Was not a direct eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel
  2. He was acquainted with earlier accounts
  3. He had used personal information from those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.”
  4. The results of his won careful research had simulated him to write his gospel.
  5. He was a man of scholarly methods and could claim thoroughness, accuracy and reliability of his production.
  6. He was a man of considerable literary ability. This is evident in the from the balanced literary structure of the prologue. This shows Luke was probably familiar with other classical writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybious.

Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island.

Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (see See Geisler, N. L., BECA, pg 431).

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

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4–5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the proconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of the Sergii Pauli is attested.
2. The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
3. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
4. The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
5. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25).
6. The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1).
7. The proper form of the name Troas (16:8).
8. A conspicuous sailors’ landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
9. The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the river Gangites near Philippi (16:13).
10. Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20, 35, 36, 38).
11. The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1).
12. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
13. The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
14. The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
Accurate representation of the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28).
15. The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort in the Fortress Antonia to suppress disturbances at festival times (21:31). The flight of steps used by guards (21:31, 35).
16. The two common ways of obtaining Roman citizenship (22:28). The tribune is impressed with Paul’s Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29).
17. The correct identifications of Ananias as high priest (23:2) and Felix as governor (23:34).
18. Identification of a common stopping point on the road to Caesarea (23:31).
19. Note of the proper jurisdiction of Cilicia (23:34).
The proper title protos (tes nesou) for a man in Publius’s position of leadership on the islands.
20. Correct identification of Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry a ship through the strait (28:13).
21. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as stopping-places along the Appian Way (28:15).
22. Common practice of custody with a Roman soldier (28:16) and conditions of imprisonment at one’s own expense (28:30–31).

To see the complete list, check here:

What About Bias?

A common objection is that since the New Testament documents were written by the “insiders.” After all, if the witnesses were “believers,” does this means we can’t trust their testimony? After all, they are biased, right? Once again, this is an unqualified generalization. It is also a gross oversimplification. Many historians admit that some bias is a good thing. If bias means they didn’t tell the truth, than how is it that Luke is such an accurate historian? (see above). Also, as Norman Geisler says:

“The objection that the writings are partisan involves a significant but false implication that witnesses cannot be reliable if they were close to the one about whom they gave testimony. This is clearly false. Survivors of the Jewish holocaust were close to the events they have described to the world. That very fact puts them in the best position to know what happened. They were there, and it happened to them. The same applies to the court testimony of someone who survived a vicious attack. It applies to the survivors of the Normandy invasion during World War II or the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The New Testament witnesses should not be disqualified because they were close to the events they relate.”

” Related to the charge that Jesus lacks testimony by unbelievers is that there is strong evidence, but a lack of weak evidence. Suppose there were four eyewitnesses to a murder. There was also one witness who arrived on the scene after the actual killing and saw only the victim’s body. Another person heard a second-hand report of the killing. In the trial the defense attorney argues: “Other than the four eyewitnesses, this is a weak case, and the charges should be dismissed for lack of evidence.” Others might think that attorney was throwing out a red herring. The judge and jury were being distracted from the strongest evidence to the weakest evidence, and the reasoning was clearly faulty. Since the New Testament witnesses were the only eyewitness and contemporary testimonies to Jesus, it is a fallacy to misdirect attention to the non-Christian secular sources. Nonetheless, it is instructive to show what confirming evidence for Jesus can be gleaned outside the New Testament.” (BECA, pg 381).

What about the other so-called eyewitness testimony in other religions?

For starters, in evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know?
2. How does it claim to know it?
3. What is the evidence for it?

We should avoid false analogies and sincerely attempt to evaluate each claim in it’s own theological and historical context.

Conclusion:

The skeptic shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the reliability of the New Testament because of the supposed unreliability of eyewitness testimony. If we truly care about this issue, we should do our homework and evaluate the usage of testimony and witness in antiquity-especially in the New Testament.

Note: Here are some more sources on this topic:

Are the Gospels a Reliable Eyewitness Account of the Life of Jesus?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

The Hearsay Objection: How Can the Gospels Be Eyewitness Accounts If They Include Things the Writers Didn’t See?

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable?

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? The Test of Personal Names

Can A Witness Be Trusted If He Can’t Be Cross-Examined?

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A Look at Messianic Prophecy: Four Ways the New Testament Authors Use the Jewish Scriptures

Note: Some of this was adopted from the recommended readings here:

1.Fruchtenbaum, A.G, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 146-152.

2. Cooper, David L. Messiah: His Historical Appearance (Los Angeles; Biblical Research Society, 1933), 174-177.

Other recommeded readings:

1.G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation

2. Craig Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature

Introduction

When I was a new Christian I remember reading books on Christian Apologetics. In many cases these books would say there are over 300 so- called prophecies in the Hebrew Bible which were all fulfilled by Jesus. The problem was that the majority of these books explained very little about the hermeneutical methods of the New Testament authors. Much has been written on this topic. Richard Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period is one source that covers this topic. The Messianic Hope. Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? is a more current resource.

Starting Points:

We need to understand the context of first century Judaism. Remember, the Holy Spirit superintended the biblical writers while not violating the writer’s personality, style of writing, or vocabulary. Hence, the Holy Spirit’s practice of not overwhelming the writer’s background explains why the New Testament authors used several ways of quoting the Hebrew Bible that were similar to the rabbinical methods of the Second Temple period.

Four Ways the New Testament Authors Used The Old Testament In Regards to Messianic Prophecy

Direct Fulfillment/Predictive Prophecy/Literal Prophecy Plus Literal fulfillment:

In this case, the NT author wants to show something happened in the life of Jesus or in the lives of his followers is a fulfillment of a direct verbal prophecy from an OT passage. Sometimes there is an introductory fulfillment of various types (e.g., ‘that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled” or “it is written”). In other cases we don’t see any introductory formula.

Examples:

Matthew 2:5-6: Matthew quotes Micah 5:2 about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. We see that in the original context of Micah 5:2, the prophet is speaking prophetically and says that whenever the Messiah is born, He will be born in Bethlehem of Judah. Thus the literal meaning of Micah is that the Messiah will be born in the Bethlehem of Judah and not the Bethlehem of Galilee.

Other examples: Other prophecies that fall into this category include:

o Psalm 22 (describing the death of the Messiah).
o Psalm 110:1 (the Messiah will be seated; on the right hand of God).
o Isaiah 7:14 (the virgin birth); 40:3 (the forerunner of the Messiah); 52:13-53:12 (the rejection, atoning death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah). 61:1-2a (the prophetic ministry of the Messiah).
o Zechariah 9:9 (the ride into Jerusalem on a donkey); Zechariah 11:4-14 (Messiah will be sold out for thirty pieces of silver).
o Malachi 3:1 (the forerunner of the Messiah); etc.
o Remember: some of the direct prophecies used in the New Testament only refer to the first appearance of the Messiah.

Literal Plus Typical (Typology):

1. Passages which interpret their present experience in terms of a person, event, place, rite, etc, from the historical past. These events that were ‘set up’ typologically in an earlier, predictive passage, and interpreted so after the predicted event occurred.

An Example: Matthew 2:15 which quotes Hosea 11

The context of the Hosea passage is not even a prophecy but refers to an historical event, that of Exodus 4:22-23 which refers to Israel as the national son of God. Thus, according to Hosea, when God brought Israel out of Egypt, He divinely called His son out of Egypt. Pro-Judaic hermeneutics. The literal meaning of the Hosea passage refers to the Exodus under Moses. There is nothing in the New Testament that can change or reinterpret the meaning of the Hosea passage nor does the New Testament deny that a literal exodus of Israel out of Egypt actually occurred. The literal event in the Tanakh becomes a type of a New Testament event. In Matthew, an individual Son of God, the Messiah, is also divinely called out of Egypt. Remember, the passage is not quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy since it was not a prophecy to begin with. Rather, it is quoted as a type.

Other Examples Include:

Isaiah 29:13 (Israel has become religious only in the outward sense, obeying man-made commandments while ignoring the divine commandments) quoted in Matthew 15:7-9. Israel becomes a type of the Pharisees and their traditions which made them very religious. They were religious based upon man-made traditions while actively disobeying divine law such as honoring father and mother). Isaiah 6:10 (speaks of Isaiah’s ministry that will be largely rejected) quoted in John 12:39-40 (Isaiah’s ministry becomes a type of Messiah’s ministry which was also largely rejected). Psalm 118:22-23 (the rejected stone) quoted in Matthew 21:42 (a type of the rejection of the Messianic stone that becomes a stone of stumbling). Exodus 12:46 (prohibition against breaking any bone of the Passover lamb) quoted in John 19:36 (that prohibition is now a type for not breaking the bones of the Passover Lamb of God).

Literal Plus Application:

An Example: Matthew 2:17-18 which quotes Jeremiah 31:15.

In the original context, Jeremiah was not prophesying of an event in the far future, as was the case with Micah, or dealing with an event that was long history as was the case with Hosea.

Jeremiah was prophesying about a current event happening in his own time, the beginnings of the Babylonian Captivity. As the Jewish young men were being taken into captivity, they went by the town of Ramah, a town not far from where Rachel was buried. Rachel had become the symbol of Jewish motherhood. As the young men were marched toward Babylon, the Jewish mothers of Ramah came out weeping for sons they would never see again. Jeremiah pictured the scene as Rachel weeping for her children. This is the literal meaning of the Jeremiah passage.

The event is quoted as an application. The one point of similarity here is that once again there are Jewish mothers weeping for sons they will never see again. The Jeremiah event happened in Ramah, north of Jerusalem; the Matthew event happened in Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. In the Matthew passage, the sons are killed; in the Jeremiah passage, the sons are not killed but taken into captivity.

The literal meaning of the Jeremiah passage is dealing with the Babylonian Captivity. But by means of drash, (Matthew investigates and finds, the meaning deduced by investigation), the verse is quoted as an application because of one point of similarity. Another example: Acts 2:16-21: Joel 2:28-32: Just as Israel’s national salvation will be when The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all Israel, there is one point of similarity in that there was an outpouring of the Spirit in Peter’s day.

Perhaps an English expression will help explain this: “He met his Waterloo.” The expression points to an historical event which had to do with Napoleon’s imperial ambitions which collapsed at Waterloo. Because of one point of similarity, we use this story as one point of similarity when we express the ambitions of someone whose ambitions were suddenly destroyed by some climatic event in their life.

Other Examples of Literal Plus Application:

An example is Isaiah 53:4 (where Isaiah is speaking of the spiritual healing of Israel as a nation from their sins by means of the blood atonement of the Messiah) in Matthew 8:17 (applied to the physical healing of Jewish individuals by Jesus). The point of similarity is the healing by the Messiah. Isaiah deals with the spiritual healing of the Jewish nation resulting from Messiah’s atonement; Matthew describes the physical healing of Jewish individuals at a point of time when Jesus had not yet died and therefore no atonement had yet been made. Isaiah 6:9-10: (which describes the nature of Isaiah’s ministry) quoted in Matthew 13:14-15 (which applies to the ministry of Jesus). The point of similarity is that both speak in a way the unbelieving Jewish audience will not be able to understand.

Summation

Summation is not based on a single passage of Scripture nor a quotation of any specific scripture. It tended to summarize what the Scriptures said on a subject. Example: Matthew 2:23: “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.” There is no such actual statement anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. While many try to make a reference to Isaiah 11:1, the only point of similarity is the sound of netzer, but that passage is not dealing with a town called Nazareth. Matthew is not quoting a specific statement but is summarizing what the Hebrew Bible said. The Prophets did teach that the Messiah would be a despised and rejected individual (Isaiah 49:1-13; 52:13-53:12), and this was well summarized by the term Nazarene.

What was a Nazarene? In the first century, Nazarenes were despised and rejected people (see John 1:45-46). Nathaniel’s question “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” reflects the people’s low opinion of Nazarenes. Nazareth was viewed as a poor, despised village. Another example is Luke 18:31-33: Jesus said he must fulfill all the things written in the prophets (plural). That includes the following: going to Jerusalem, the Jews turning him over to the gentiles who will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him, and also rising again on the third day. Here again, no one prophet ever said all this. However, putting the prophets together, they did say all this. Therefore, this is a summation of what the prophets said about the Messiah but not a direct quotation. Ezra 9:10-12 is an example of same thing: In this passage, his quotation can’t be found anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. Rather, he is summarizing the teachings found in Deut. 11:8-9; Isa. 1:19; Ezek. 37:25.

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“What Do You Mean By That?” A Look At Questioning Evangelism: Responding To Five Common Objections On A College Campus

Ohio State University Faces Outbreak Of Mumps Cases

 

Over the years I have heard hundreds of objections to the Christian faith on a major college campus. In this post, I want to give the top five objections that I have heard on a regular basis. I also want to show how I generally respond to these objections. I employ what is called “Questioning Evangelism?” which happens to be the title of a book. I don’t necessarily respond to people by using the guidelines in the book. But I do ask a lot of questions. Here are five examples:

  1. “There is no evidence or proof for God”:

    In this case, I always ask what the individual means by ‘proof’ or ‘evidence.’  I discuss some of the issues that are mentioned in the chart above. I also ask them what would convince them God exists. In most cases, they will generally respond three ways. They will say “I have never thought of that before?” Or, they will say they want scientific evidence. We will look at the science issue in point #3. They also may say that they think God should show them some sort of sign that He is real.

    2. Religious Pluralism: “How do we know which religion is true?” When a student asks me this question, they generally assume it is impossible to navigate through all the different world religions and we simply can’t know if any of them are true. My response to this question is “How would we know any of them are true?” In other words, “What method would we use?” Furthermore, I always ask “If God exists, does it make sense he would speak somewhere within the course of human history?” This last question creates a plausibility condition. If the person says they do think it is plausible that God can reveal his plans and purpose for humanity within the context of human history, we can go forward and examine the evidence for each religious claim.

    3. Science: I am never surprised to hear students tell me they want scientific evidence for God. In other words, they want what they call ‘observable’ or something they consider to be ‘testable.’  In response to this issue, I simply ask “What is science” and whether modern science is even set up to provide evidence for the existence of God. Allow me to give a definition of science: Science the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm.”(Del Ratzsch,Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 15.

    If we are going by this definition, the nest question is,Is God natural or non natural?”  How would science ‘prove’ or provide evidence against the non-existence of God? For example, if God created the universe from nothing (think, Big Bang), then all naturalistic attempts to explain the universe’s beginning are going to run into problems! Now having said this, I think there there are traces of God’s fingerprints in the natural world.  Can we observe God directly? No! But since science is a search or causes, we can observe the effects in the world and make rational inferences (i.e, is the cause of what we observe the result of natural causation or intelligent causation?) If the person is open to look a the evidence, then we can discuss issues such as biological information, molecular machines, or the universe. But here’s the kicker: even if we do have strong evidence for intelligent causation, that would only allow us to arrive at a deistic God or general theism.

    4. “But there is no evidence Jesus never existed.” Sadly, many college students hear this objection and it still gets thrown around the university. I used to respond to this objection by providing several tests for the historicity of the New Testament. But now I simply ask the individual the following: “If there is good evidence that Jesus existed and rose from the dead, would you follow Him?” In many cases skeptics respond by saying “No!” Hence, I am under no obligation to spend an hour going over the basics  of how we approach history and investigate someone in antiquity such as Jesus.

    5. Pragmatism: The most popular view today seems to be a pragmatic view of truth. I see it everywhere! Many people tell me that all that matters is the benefit of a religious belief. In other words, if it makes a difference and helps someone is the test of truth. So what does this mean for us? Realistically speaking, I suppose Mormons can testify as to why Mormonism helps them have strong families. Black Muslims can testify in prison that Islam has helped them be more responsible. I could go on with more examples. Hence, many people are not asking whether it is objectively true. Comments like “I don’t see what difference Jesus would make in my life” and “I don’t think it is relevant whether God exists or Jesus is the Son of God” are somewhat common.This shouldn’t be surprising given our entire culture is built on pragmatism. After all, people go to college to get a job that will work for them and help them get a good job.

    Furthermore, the Church has been embracing pragmatism for a long time. Not much has changed.  If I see students are lapsing into a pragmatic or subjective view of truth, I simply say “So the first question is whether the Christian story is actually true.” In other words, I just bring the person back around to the issue of objective truth. Believe it or not, many people say tell me that once they think about what I am saying it is clear that it does matter if Christianity is objectively true. How they feel about whether God exists or the resurrection of Jesus won’t change the fact as to whether it is objectively true and corresponds to reality. So I think it is incumbent upon me to explain what objective truth is and how the person can’t avoid it!

    There are many other objections on a college campus.Learning to ask the right questions can be a huge asset in your conversations with people. Press on!

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Book Review: Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (Veritas Books) by Ian Hutchinson

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (Veritas Books) by [Hutchinson, Ian]

Can a Scientist Believe in Miracles?: An MIT Professor Answers Questions on God and Science (Veritas Books) by  Ian Hutchinson. 288 pp. IVP Books.

Ian Hutchinson is a plasma physicist and professor of nuclear science and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was educated at Cambridge University, and received his doctorate from Australian National University. He has done several Veritas Forums. I first became familiar with Hutchinson when I read his book Monopolizing Knowledge.

The format of this book is set up as a question and answer book. It is exhaustive in nature and Hutchinson is more than qualified to answer these questions. His scientific background is clearly demonstrated in this book.   One of my favorite questions Hutchinson is asked is the following:
“ Are there reasons, grounds, for belief in something beyond the finite? What is the compelling reason to believe there is a God upholding the universe? For nonscientific beliefs, what types of evidence do you rely on?”

Hutchinson responds by saying that hardly any of our beliefs rest on one supporting reason alone. Belief in God is no exception. He cites five different types of reason for belief in God, following the  mnemonic AEIOU:

Arguments:  Philosophical and logical arguments for God.

Evidence:  Public observations that support God’s existence.

Individual:  Immediate personal religious experience.

Order:  Perception that the idea of God makes sense of everything.

Utility:  That it is useful, beneficial, or prudent to believe in God

Another question that I have pondered was mentioned in the book as well. Hutchinson answers the question as to if there is growing evidence that humans are hard-wired to detect agency, does this mean that religion is less plausible and should be pushed into the shadows? Hutchinson says:

 

“When it is said that humans are hard-wired to detect agency, what is meant is that we have well-tuned mental and physiological abilities to perceive agents, such as animals and other humans. Does this ability render religion less plausible? The antitheistic argument is approximately that the ability is “overactive,” that we have a built-in tendency to detect agency even when it is not there. And that, it is said, explains religion, ghosts, demons, and other superstitions: we are detecting agents that aren’t there because our agency-detecting circuits are overactive. An evolutionary advantage is conveyed by agency-detecting ability, since it helps us (and many other animals) find prey and avoid predators. However, these arguments are not science and affect the plausibility of theism hardly at all.

First, it is completely obvious, regardless of any modern research, that we possess strong and sensitive agency-detecting abilities. The most elementary observation of an infant can persuade anyone of that. Casual observation also reveals humans’ tendency toward anthropomorphism: attributing quasi-human attributes (especially agency) to nonhuman entities. Skeptics have for centuries taken the anthropomorphic language of most religious expression to indicate that religion is nothing but anthropomorphism. Science adds little to that presumption.

Second, there is to my knowledge no demonstration, experimental or otherwise, or persuasive argument that the agency-detecting ability is systematically overactive. In fact, if evolution is responsible for it, one would expect it to be active to just about the optimal degree: not too much, not too little, so as to make our survival chances about the best they can be. And that seems to be roughly true by inspection. Certainly, our agency detection is imperfect and subject to errors. Sometimes we detect an agent when one is not there; we see what we take to be a sheep when it is really a rock. Sometimes we fail to detect an agent that really is present, and it surprises us, maybe bites us! But that is insufficient for a demonstration that it is overactive. It is (so far as I can see) just as often underactive. I’d say we might be detecting God when he is not there, or we might be not detecting God when he is there.

What is at work, then, when evolutionary psychology “explains” an aspect of religion is a scientific attempt to explain away a higher-level perception by offering a scientific-sounding alternative explanation. The presumption is that reductionist scientific explanations are always preferable and supersede other types of explanation. However, once you concede that our agency-detecting ability is actually very good at detecting agents, it is just as plausible to say that a God who wants us to “detect” him as agent (because he wants us to have a personal relationship with him) arranges to make agent-detection capability a part of our standard mental equipment. If evolution is some (or even most) of how he did that, it changes nothing. It simply reaffirms what we knew already: that the ability is natural. We do not say that our having a hard-wired ability to detect agents renders our friends less plausible; why would it do so to God?”- pp, 90-91.

As one reads the sections on creation, evolution, and science,  some may not agree with Hutchinson’s conclusions. He does agree that the standard Neo-Darwin model has been established. But he doesn’t see God and evolution in conflict. Despite this, there are plenty of gems in this book. It is a tremendous contribution indeed!

 

 

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Book Review: How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith, A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith by Joshua Rasmussen.

How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher's Bridge to Faith by [Rasmussen, Joshua]
How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith, A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith by Joshua Rasmussen. 208 pp. IVP Academic

I became familiar with philosopher Joshua Rasmussen when I purchased his book The Bridge to Reason: Ten Steps to See God. In this book, Rasmussen employs the instruments of reason and common experience to build a case for God’s existence. Anyone who is familiar with Edward Feser’s work (Five Proofs for God’s Existence) or other Thomistic philosophers may be familiar with the direction of this book. The difference is Rasmussen uses his own language and makes some of the arguments Feser makes more digestible.

For example, Rasmussen starts with what he calls the “The Foundation Theory.” He says this  makes sense of three things:

“ First, it makes sense of how the totality of everything can lack an outside cause or outside explanation. Reason and experience together testify that totals of dependent things are themselves dependent; from dependence comes only dependence. Purely dependent things cannot, then, be the basis for the self-sufficiency of the totality of things. Instead, the root of self-sufficiency is an independent nature. Second, the Foundation Theory makes sense of the difference between potential realities and actual ones. A potential reality is actual only if something actualizes it. If, instead, the totality of dependent realities lacks any actualizer, then nothing accounts for its actuality. The entire totality would be a mere potential. Nothing, then, would be actual. Something is actual, however. Therefore, there is an actualizer of dependent realities.” This actualizer is actual by nature, with no potential not to be actual. In other words, it has a necessary nature. This necessary nature accounts for how the foundation can be an independent foundation. Finally, the Foundation Theory makes sense of how there can be anything at all. With a foundation in place, there is something rather than nothing because the foundation has necessary existence.(Pg 33-34).

Note Rasmussen doesn’t use the word “contingent” here. Instead, he utilizes the word “dependence.” Dependent things exist because of things they depend on while an Independent Foundation exists because of the necessity of its own nature. As Rasmussen says “ The Principle of Actuality predicts that every actuality is either (1) foundational—with no potential to not exist—or (2) actualized by something prior. In the case of Creation, the only thing that could be prior is the necessary foundation itself. This foundation “actualizes” Creation not by directly actualizing it. Rather, foundation actualizes Creation by directly actualizing some event e, and this basic act of actualization then entails the existence of Creation. Again, no circularity is required.” (Pg 50).

Rasmussen builds a case for the foundation’s nature. Whatever the foundation of existence is, this the five features of the foundation are that has the following features:  (1) self-sufficiency, (2) independence, (3) necessity, (4) ultimacy, and (5) eternality. On a more abstract level, the foundation’s “pure actuality” means it has simplicity and inner purity. In other chapters, Rasmussen then spends time taking the Foundation and connecting it with four dimensions of reality: (1) mental, (2) material, (3) moral, and (4) mathematical (Pg 136).

As I just said, if you have read Edward Feser’s Five Proof’s book, or other Thomistic writings, this book may be familiar territory. However, the way Rasmussen presents the material is both unique and creative. In his chapter called “Challenging the Bridge” Rasmussen does answer common objections. He has done his homework here. In the end, for the non-philosopher, this book might be a little challenging. However, as I said, I find it to be less technical than some other books on the topic.

Given I direct two campus apologetic ministries, I think this book is very helpful for my work. I enjoyed and strongly recommend to others.

 

 

 

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“Am I Just My Brain?”

Biblical anthropology is the study of the human (“anthropology”) as it relates to God.  One aspect of anthropology is that it studies the innate nature or constitution of the human, known as the nature of humankind.

When it comes to this topic, there is an ongoing debate about the relationship between the mind and the brain.  Traditionally,  many Christians have held to some form of dualism.  There are several forms of dualism (i.e., substance dualism, holistic dualism, and others).  Thus, the view that the soul is an immaterial thing, consciousness, or the mind is different from the body and brain. Our core personalities—whether we label them souls, spirits, persons, selves, or egos—are distinct and, by God’s supernatural providence, can exist apart from our physical bodies after death.

In contrast to this, physicalism or materialism says all things and events in the world consist of physical stuff and operate according to physical laws. In the material world, everything that happens is causally determined with the possible exception of subatomic randomness.  Obviously, this is incompatible with dualism. I should note there are some Christians who label themselves Christian physicalists. I don’t have time to unpack that position here.

Furthermore, reductive physicalism says the mind and brain are identical. Thoughts, memories, and emotions are the firing of neurons. No more. No less.  The mind is reducible (hence “reductive”) to the physical workings of the brain (hence “physicalism”).  There isn’t really such a thing as the mind, but only the activity of the brain.

These issues are discussed in the latest book by Sharon Dirckx called “Am I Just My Brain?”
Dirckx has a Ph.D. in brain imaging and held research positions at Oxford, Cambridge and in the USA. She is now Senior Tutor at OCCA in Oxford. Dirckx isn’t convinced that reductive materialism is the answer to this debated topic. The book is short and is fairly easy to understand. If you want to see an online clip that discusses this topic, Inspiring Philosophy’s clip here is a good starting point.

 

 

 

 

 

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