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

Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Both Christian and non-Christian scholars have come to have great respect Paul. Allow me to mention a few comments here:

“Without knowing about first century Judaism, modern readers—even those committed to faith by reading him—are bound to misconstrue Paul’s writing…Paul is a trained Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles.” –Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), xi-xii

“Paul has left us an extremely precious document for Jewish students, the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jew…Moreover, if we take Paul at his word—and I see no a priori reason not to—he was a member of the Pharisaic wing of first century Judaism.”–Daniel Boyarian, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.

“Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of Torah.”-Rabbi Jacob Emeden (1679-1776)–cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 18.

Apologetic Methodology?

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

Paul’s Background

In this case, I have adapted much of this material from A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians (The Jewish Roots of the New Testament) by Joseph Shulam and Hilary Le Cornu. I have taken most of these points from their section called Paul: A Biography, pgs, 435-469.

Paul’s Background:

1.While it has been generally accepted that Paul had a Jewish name (i.e.,Saul), the scholarly consensus is that “Paul” represents a Roman and not a Jewish name. Paul states that he had been born into Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28). Roman citizenship was normally acquired either through inheritance (citizen-born) an en bloc grant, completion of military service, manumission, the granting of special (imperial) favor, or for financial considerations. The fact that non Jewish names are not clearly forbidden is evident from their widespread use, lack of criticism, of the practice of rabbinical literature, and the recognition that not all names are clearly Jewish or non-Jewish.

2. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Southwestern Asia Minor. There are several references to  Tarsus (cf. Acts 21:39; 22:3), and he is identified as “a man from Tarsus” (Acts 9:11).

3.He came from a family of Pharisees of the tribe of Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin along with Judah, constituted the core of post exilic Judaism, is well documented. Saul and Mordechai were both Benjamites (cf.1 Sam.9:21; Est 2:5).

Paul’s Education

1. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel.

2. Hillel the Elder was nicknamed “the Babylonian” because he was descended from a family of Babylon.

3. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.”

4. The house of Hillel was unique in that it was an example of a family of who originated from the diaspora, with no priestly connections, which attained the position of hereditary leaders of the nation until, in the time of Rabbi Judah ha Nasi (170-200 C.E.), its members were officially recognized as by the Roman government as Patriarchs.

5. Beit Hillel ended up having three successors, Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder being the first Sage esteemed with the honorific title of Rabban—“our master.” The New Testament evidence demonstrates that Paul belonged to Beit Hillel rather than Beit Shammai. This is supported by Paul’s halakhot (with the possible exception of his view of the legal status of women), his tolerance and openness of Gentiles, some of his no literal interpretations, and his anthropocentric rather than theocentric emphases.

5. The Talmudic sources distinguish between the beit sefer (i.e., the house of the book”) wherein the (sofer) taught the reading of the written Torah- and the beit talmud (i.e., the house of learning). Children would learn the alphabet and how to read in the former, the teacher would write the letters on a wax tablet with a stylus and the pupils would recite them aloud. Reading skills were attained through repetition after the teacher and auditive memory since the scriptural text was not yet vocalized, students were dependent on the teacher’s precision in orally transmitting the precise reading for every passage.

6. Young children were taught how to read and understand the Torah and Prophets, to recite the Shema and the basic blessings over the food, and received instruction regarding their future roles in family and command of life. Following years of Bible study, students moved on to the study of the Oral Torah. School studies would finish at the age of twelve or thirteen (bar mitzvah age) and of the boy was gifted and so inclined he would then enroll at a “beit midrash” to study Torah with other adults who devoted themselves to Torah study in their spare time.

7.  If he showed further ability and willingness he could go to one of the famous Sages and learn from him for a number of years. Gamaliel would of served as one of the foremost teachers of the “beit midrash” (e.g., a college or “seminary”) conducted by pharisaic leaders within the Sanhedrin. Therefore, given that Gamaliel was such a distinguished teacher, it may be possible that Paul began to study with him only after he had displayed great promise and reached an age whereby he could profit from learning under a great master like Gamaliel.

8. In the relationship between the students and teacher, a deep bond could be established which led to great love and respect. The subject matter of study revolved around three main areas: Bible, midrash (creative biblical interpretation), aggadah (narrative elaboration of the biblical text). Since Paul’s letters demonstrate a strong familiarity with biblical text among other ways, since he quotes from the Tanakh over ninety times in his letters, the standard hermeneutical rules are displayed both halakhically and aggadically.

9. Paul spoke mishnaic Hebrew/Aramaic as well as Greek (cf. Acts 21:37), in addition to possessing a reading knowledge of biblical Hebrew. Paul also demonstrated he was familiar with Greek poets (e.g., Epimendies, Aratus, Euripides, Memander).  Therefore, since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas.

10. There are some parallels to what Paul says about his education and to what Josephus says about his own education. Paul says “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen (Gal 1:14). Josephus describes his education in a similar fashion when he says:

“Brought up with Matthias, my own brother by both parents, I made great progress in my education, gaining a great reputation for an excellent memory and understanding. While still a mere boy, about fourteen years old, I won universal applause for my love of letters; insomuch that the chief priests and the leading men of the city used to constantly come to me for precise information on some particular in our ordinances. At about the age of sixteen I determined to gain personal experience of the several sects into which our nation is divided….” (Life 8-10).

11. Being that Paul was a student of Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3;Gal.1:14), Paul would of most likely have been in a very good standing with the Sanhedrin. However, he never claims in his lists of his other status positions that he was ordained-a necessary step before becoming eligible to assume public office (cf.Steeinsaltz, Talmud:23).

12.  There is evidence in Acts that Paul could have been viewed as official representative  of the Sanhedrin-whether or not the persecution in which he engaged constituted as an “official” initiative.

To see Part Two, click here:

Doing Resurrection Apologetics: Starting with Paul’s Letters

Introduction

In discussions about the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, it is common to start with the Gospels. But in my opinion, I think it is best to  back up and start with Paul. After all, Paul’s writings are the earliest records we have for the resurrection of Jesus.

Paul, who was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ was a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. There are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul.

But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians.  Bart Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

In this book, he discusses the Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausible case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.

One common tactic by skeptics is to say Paul yielded no information about the earthly Jesus. In other words, Paul only speaks of the “heavenly Jesus.” Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy tackle this issue in greater detail in their book  The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition. I have written more on that here in my post called “What Can Paul Tell Us About Jesus.”

or Paul and the Historical Jesus: A Case Study in 1 Corinthians by Stephen J. Bedard.

Another tactic is to assert that since Paul never met Jesus his writings are of no great value. I have heard this objection on several occasions. In response, do you just pitch every writing you have written about someone else if the author never met the person they are writing about?  I doubt it. Secondly, remember the following:

As Louis Gottschalk says:

“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).

As we see, since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

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

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

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

A little time line may be helpful: Remember Paul’s Letters are dated 48 A.D to 60 A.D. However, the information he receives about the death and resurrection of Jesus predate his writings.

The death of Jesus: 30 A.D.—–33A.D

Paul comes to faith between 33 and 35 A.D.

Paul’s Death: 60-65 A.D.

Temple Destroyed: 70 A.D.

Here are some of Paul’s remarks about the resurrection in his letters:

Romans: Date: 55-56 A.D

Romans 1: 1-5

“ Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh   and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Here we see that:

1. Jesus is a descendant of David

2. Jesus was spoken of in the Tanakh (the O.T.)

3. Jesus rose from the dead

Romans 6: 1-5

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

We see here:

1. Jesus died

2. He was buried

3. He rose from the dead

4. Paul can’t exhort his readers to understand their identity in Jesus without these historical facts

1 Thessalonians: Date: 50 A.D

1 Thess.1: 9 “ For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,   and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

We see here that 1. Jesus rose from the dead

1 Thess.4: 13-14

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Here we see that:

1. Jesus died

2. Jesus rose from the dead

1 Corinthians: 50-55 A.D.

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” (“παραλαμβάνω”) is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

“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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Here, Paul mentions:

1. Jesus died

2. He was buried

3. He rose

One of the key words in this text is “receive.” While the word “received” (a rabbinical term) can also be used in the New Testament of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine (1 Cor.11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal. 1:9, 12 [2x], Col 2:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6), it also means means “to receive from another.” This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. At that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19).This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38.

Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan  writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” -Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, 254.

To read more about this in detail, see my post here called The Earliest Record for The Death and Resurrection of Jesus: 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7.

The point is that Paul received this information long before he even wrote his letter.

Conclusion:

In the end, when it comes to the resurrection, I understand some apologists like to start with the Gospels. But from a tactical perspective, I think a wiser approach is to start with Paul.

Note: To see our post on a supposed contradiction between a passage in Galatians 1 and 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, see here.

Also,  see “But Paul Never Met Jesus”And Other Bad Arguments About Paul On The Internet

A Closer Look at the Genre of the Gospels: Ancient and Modern Historiography: What are the Gospels?

Introduction

I had previously written on this topic. But I wanted to add some new tidbits. Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). There is still an overall skepticism towards them that permeates the culture and college campuses. I have found that many skeptics have never stopped and asked the question, “What Are The Gospels?”

What Are The Gospels?

When we discuss the Gospels with others I don’t think we can ignore the advice of New Testament scholar Ben Witherington who says, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (1)

For starters, one view of this topic was Dennis R. MacDonald’sHomeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. But there was several problems with this approach. To see some of the issues with this approach, see here: Or, to see whether the Gospels are some sort of historical fiction and the problems with this approach, see Glen Miller’s Were the Miracles of Jesus invented by the Disciples/Evangelists?

Therefore, in asking whether the available sources for the life of Jesus are legendary, we should carefully evaluate the genre of the Gospels. In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written.” Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it.” (2)

Burridge placed special attention on the prologue, verb subjects, allocation of space, mode of representation, length, structure, scale, literary units, use of sources, style, social setting, quality of characterization, atmosphere as well authorial intention and purpose. Because of the gospel’s similarities to these ancient biographies, Burridge concluded that the genre of the gospels is what is called an ancient bioi which bear some similarities to Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. But just because it can be concluded that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biographies, does that mean they are historical in nature? We probably should take the advice of David Aune when he says, “Greco Roman biography was “intrinsically concerned with history.” (3)

Some of the other aspects of an Ancient Bioi:

Ancient Bioi centered on a particular person and sought to present adequate characterization of that person. The biography would include information about other persons and groups of people, but the major focus of the work would be on central character. The goal of the ancient biographer was often hortatory or exhortational. Burridge says, “Ancient Bioi was a flexible genre having strong relationships with history, encomium and rhetoric, moral philosophy and the concern for character.” (4)

Other issues of Ancient Bioi:

1.The modern desire for precision must not be imposed on ancient authors because they wrote in general fashion. Ancient authors were content to use adverbs and other terms for time in a metaphorical or less that precise way. Example- Luke says “Jesus was about 30”

2. The ancient author utilized historical data about the central figure but did so with different purposes.

3. The goal of ancient bioi was to create a lasting impression on the reader.

4. Objection: “Why do the gospels not include more about Jesus’ childhood and early adult years? Because another aspect of an Ancient Bioi placed little focus on childhood development of the person in question since it was believed that character was basically static and did not develop over time, but rather, was merely revealed.

5. The author’s goal was not to recount all the historic events of the person’s life. The goal was to reveal who the person was through a portrait of words and deeds. If the person’s death took place in a glorious fashion, an ample amount of space had to be devoted to the biography to explain significance of event. The reason for this is the following: in antiquity that how one died revealed one’s true character. Since Jesus was crucified and no one in antiquity saw this as a noble way to die, this explains why the gospels include so much information about this event.

6. The tendency to apply modern historiographical expectations to the gospels makes it difficult to recognize ancient conventions and genre traits that are used in the Gospels such as:

1. Exhaustive or comprehensive accounts 2. Value-free commentary 3. Ascribing all events to natural causes –ancient authors did not hesitate to mention supernatural events in their narratives of historical events. 4.The avoidance of rhetorical devices and effects (5)

Charles Talbert, who had written the groundbreaking What Is a Gospel? says the following about the Burridge book, “This volume ought to end any legitimate details pf the canonical Gospel’s biographical character” (see his review in Journal of Biblical Literature, 112 (1993).

The Jewish Background of the Gospels

Michael Bird has recently noted the following about the genre of the Gospels:

“The Gospels are rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. They explicitly function as the continuation and fulfillment of the story of Israel. That is why they are replete with citations, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament. The religious content and theological texture of the Gospels is heavily indebted to the worldview, socio-political landscape, and sacred texts of Judaism. Roman biography and Greek legends could refer to various religious literary works such as Delphic oracles or Homer’s Iliad. But for the Gospels, the story and worldview of Israel’s Scriptures are very much what the Gospels are about, namely, the God of Israel inaugurating his kingdom through Jesus the Messiah. It should not raise anyone’s eyebrows to say that the Gospels comprise a form of post-biblical Jewish literature with messianic faith in Jesus as its primary content. The main point of contact with the Gospels is that Jewish biographical literature contains a theography, a story about Israel’s God, working through an agent of deliverance, such as a prophet, king, or teacher. The protagonist leads the Jewish people at a time of national crisis or performs some miraculous deed at an important moment in Israel’s history. The Gospels possess a theological worldview, a geopolitical setting, didactic content, and a deliberate replication of Old Testament literary types that make some kind of connection with Jewish sacred literature irrefutable.”—-Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 229). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Bird also says:

The Gospels are the textual imprint of the oral phenomena of Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus. Viewed this way, they are Christian documents related to the needs of Christians in corporate reading, worship, apologetics, and proclamation. So in that sense they are a unique genre with no precise literary counterparts. However, their uniqueness is in many ways inconsequential because they remain largely analogous to Greco-Roman biography, and the biographical genre was typified by innovation and adaptation. The content of the Gospels is singularly determined by Jewish Christian content, while the literary form of the Gospels is a clear subtype of Greco-Roman biography.- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 270), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Gospel Genre and Historical Intention

In the latest book by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy called The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (pgs 334-335) they note Willem van Unick’s study of how ancient historians understood their work based on Lucian’s How To Write History and Dionysis of Halicarnassus’s Letter to Pompei. From these two works van Unick formulates “ten rules” of ancient historiography. Ancient historians were expected to:

1. Choose a noble subject 2. Choose a subject that would be useful to the intended audience 3. Be impartial and independent in researching and composing their history 4. Construct a good narrative with an especially good beginning and ending 5. Engage in adequate preparatory research 6. Use good judgment in the selection of material, exemplifying appropriate variety 7. Accurately and appropriately order one’s material 8. Make the narrative lively and interesting 9. Exercise moderation in topographical details 10. Compose speeches appropriate to the orator and rhetorical situation

Daniel Marguerat has analyzed Luke’s history writing in the light of Unnick’s ten rules and has arrived at the following conclusion:

“Comparisons of Luke-Acts with the list of historiographal norms confirms that the Lucan writings corresponds to standard Graeco-Roman historiogrpahy. We…find that Luke follows eight of ten rules: his transgression of the other two (the first and the third) points us toward the specificity of Luke’s project. The instructions observed by Luke are also followed by the majority of historians of Hellenistic Judaism, especially Flavius Josephus.”

Boyd and Eddy note that Luke’s apparent violation of rule number one is instructive. Rather than a culturally appropriate noble subject, Luke and his fellow Gospel writers chose as their central focus the life of a Galilean carpenter who was eventually crucified as a false messiah and blasphemer—hardly a “noble subject. “ –pgs 334-335

Modern Biographies?

Brent Pitre,  Author of  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ says the following about the Gospels as ancient biography.

“The four Gospels are not just any kind of ancient biography. They are historical biographies, two of which explicitly claim to tell us what Jesus actually did and said and to be based on eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:20-24). The reason the historical character of the Gospels is important is that some scholars claim that the authors of the Gospels did not even intend to give us the historical truth about the words and deeds of Jesus. The only way to hold such a view, however, is to ignore the fact that ancient biographers often insist that they are recording the truth about what someone did and said. For example, in his biography of the philosopher Demonax, Lucian makes sure to let the reader know that he was an eyewitness and a disciple of Demonax himself: I speak with reference to the Boeotian Sostratus…and to Demonax, the philosopher. Both these men I saw myself, and saw with wonderment: and under one of them, Demonax, I was long a student. (Lucian, Life of Demonax, 1)24 One reason that Lucian may stress this point is that elsewhere in his writings, he insists on the ancient historian’s obligation to tell the truth: The historian’s task is one: to tell it as it happened…. This is the one peculiar characteristic of history, and to truth alone must sacrifice be made. (Lucian, How to Write History, 39, 40)25 Along similar lines, the first-century Jewish writer Josephus insists on the historical truth of his autobiography:

Having reached this point in my narrative, I propose to address a few words to Justus, who has produced his own account of these affairs, and to others who, while professing to write history, care little for truth, and either from spite or partiality, have no scruples about falsehood. The procedure of such persons resembles indeed the forgers of contracts, but having no corresponding penalty to fear, they can afford to disdain veracity…. [But] veracity is incumbent upon a historian. (Josephus, Life, 336–39) Notice that there is no trace of the idea that accounts in a biography can be true “whether or not they happened.” To the contrary, Josephus insists that the biography he is writing is a subset of “history” (Greek historia). This means that an author ought to tell the “truth” (Greek alētheia) about what happened, rather than “falsehood” (Greek pseudos). Of course, scholars may dispute whether or not Josephus or any other biographer was successful in telling the truth. But they can’t dispute that the genre of his writing is historical biography, and that he is purporting to tell what actually happened. As a result, any scholar who were to compare Josephus’s autobiography to “folklore” or “fairy stories” would be considered ridiculous. Nonetheless, this is exactly how scholars such as Rudolf Bultmann portray the Gospels. If we look at what the four Gospels actually say about what kinds of books they are, we discover that two of them emphasize that they are recording what Jesus actually did and said. They also claim that they are based on eyewitness testimony. In other words, they insist that they are historical biographies.

Consider, once again, the prologue to the Gospel of Luke:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write carefully in order for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the facts concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Luke 1:1-4)

In order to understand the importance of Luke’s prologue for our argument, four points need to be explained.

First, as many scholars point out, Luke’s prologue is strikingly similar to the prologues found in ancient Greco-Roman histories, by authors such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Josephus.27 Like the prologues of other ancient histories, Luke’s prologue is intended to signal to the reader that the Gospel is historical in character. Second, Luke uses the word “narrative” (Greek diēgēsis) to describe his book. As Joseph Fitzmyer has shown, ancient Greco-Roman authors often use this word specifically for “the writing of history” (see Josephus, Life, 336; Lucian, How to Write History, 55).28 Third, Luke insists that his historical narrative is based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses (Greek autoptai) from the beginning” of Jesus’s public ministry. Now, why would Luke emphasize the eyewitness nature of his sources if he were just telling folktales? Clearly, Luke wants his readers to know that what he says about Jesus can be corroborated by those who knew him. Fourth and finally, Luke explicitly states that he is writing so that his audience might know “the facts” (Greek asphaleian). Although some English Bibles translate the Greek word asphalēia as “truth,” elsewhere Luke consistently uses it to refer to secure and verifiable facts (see Acts 21:34; 22:30; 25:26).29 In other words, the Gospel of Luke begins by insisting that it is an accurate, factual account, based directly on eyewitness testimony of what Jesus did and said.” – Brent Pitre,  The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ, Kindle Locations, 1383- 1427

The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Second Edition by Richard Bauckham

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 by Richard Bauckham. In this book, Bauckham offers a new paradigm called “The Jesus of Testimony.”

New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. How do we know something? The role of testimony is one of the primary ways humans can know anything about historical events. Bauckham does a superb job in evaluating how testimony can be treated as historical knowledge.

Bauckham also notes the following:

“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. Above all, these historians valued  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).”

Conclusion:

It is my hope that more people will take the time to look at the genre of the books of the Bible and actually attempt to know what it is they are trying to interpret. While this may be a challenge for some people, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Sources:

1. Ben Witherington III, New Testament History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001), 14-28.

2. Richard Burridge And Graham Gould, Jesus: Then And Now (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2004), 2.

3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 2007), 411.

4. See Richard Burridge, What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco Roman Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Second Edition, 2004).

5. These six points can be found in Witherington’s New Testament History.

6. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books. 1999), 431.

Responding to David Hume’s Arguments Against Miracles

There is no doubt that the legacy of David Hume caries on. I still run into plenty of skeptics that seem to utilize his arguments. Of course, atheist apologists seem to utilize his materials as well. Anyway, here are some good responses to Hume.

John DePoe on Ex-Hume-ing Miracles 

Miracles and Modern Scientific Thought by Norman Geisler  

Responding to David Hume’s Argument Against Jesus’ Miracles

Hume’s Critique of Miracles 

A Critique of David Hume’s On Miracles 

Are Miracles Logically Impossible?

24 Suggested Readings on Paul

Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. But how much do you know about Paul, his background, and theology? There have been hundreds of books written about Paul. Here are some of my picks:

  1. Michael F. Bird, An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans
  2. Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
  3. John M. Mauck, Paul On Trial The Book Of Acts As A Defense Of Christianity
  4. Eckhard Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods
  5. Robert L. Plummer, Paul’s Missionary Methods: In His Time and Ours
  6. Magnus Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul: A Student’s Guide to Recent Scholarship
  7. David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity
  8. N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective
  9. James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (New Testament)
  10. Richard Longenecker, The Ministry and Message of Paul
  11. David Wenham, Paul and Jesus: The True Story
  12. Paul Barnett, Paul, Missionary of Jesus: After Jesus, Vol. 2
  13. Brian J. Dodd, The Problem with Paul
  14. Gabriele Boccaccini, Carlos A. Segovia: Paul The Jew: Rereading the Apostle as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism
  15. Michael F. Bird, Douglas Campbell, Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
  16. M. Luther Stirewalt Jr., Paul, the Letter Writer
  17. F.F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free
  18. Chris Tilling, Paul’s Divine Christology
  19. Martin Hengel, The Pre-Christian Paul
  20. Ben Witherington III, The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus
  21. Calvin J. Roetzel, Paul: The Man and the Myth (Personalities of the New Testament Series)
  22. Pamela Eisenbaum,Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle
  23. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (The IVP Bible Dictionary Series)
  24. Garwood Anderson, Paul’s New Perspective: Charting a Soteriological Journey

Evidential Apologetics: Three Kinds of Messianic Prophecy

Introduction

Is anyone still interested in studying prophecy? I am well aware that when many hear the word “prophecy” it can conjure up thoughts of Nostradamus, Harold Camping, or imaginary prophecy books that are sitting on the shelves of Walmart. So let us move beyond that and discuss the importance of Biblical prophecy.

Why Study Biblical Prophecy? Practical and Apologetic Issues

1. Biblical prophecy should motivate us to holy living . It should also cause to re-evaluate our priorities. Many of us live for the moment and have no sense of the kingdom of God. While the kingdom of God has broken into human history, it still has a future aspect to it. Therefore, the message of the Gospel is “present” but “future” as well.

2. The Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be The Word of God. Messianic prophecy has apologetic value in that it confirms the Bible as a true revelation.

3. Historical Verification: Has God revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this?

4. Fulfilled prophecy is a distinctively accessible and a testable kind of miracle. The prophecy was made and its accuracy cannot be explained either causally (for example, on the ground that it brought about its own fulfillment) or as accidental, and hence that it was probably miraculous (see J.L. Mackie in Swinburne, Miracles, 90).

Three Types of Messianic Prophecy:

1. Prophecies About the First Coming of Jesus
2. Prophecies About the Entire Redemptive Career of Jesus
3. Prophecies About the First and Second Coming of Jesus

The Messiah

The word “Messianic” has a much wider range of meaning than “Messiah.” “Messianic” usually refers to everything in the Hebrew Bible when it refers to the hope of a glorious future. The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was one of the official titles for Jesus within the New Testament. The “one who is anointed” was commissioned for a specific task. Some of the titles for the Messiah are Son of David (Matt. 1:1); Son of Man (Dan. 7:13); My Son (Ps. 2:7); My Servant (Matt. 12:18); My Elect One (Is. 42:1); The Branch (Zech. 3:8; 6:12); Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).

In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic. Even 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). And as of today, within Judaism, there is a wide range of thought about the Messiah. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential Messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age.

Remember, in relation to direct/predictive prophecy, a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria:

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.
2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.
3. The prediction actually came true.
4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

A Prophecy About The Messiah’s First Coming: The Timing of Messiah’s Coming: Gen. 49:8-10

The Messianic title “Scepter” is related to the timing of Messiah’s coming in Gen. 49:8-10:
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. “Judah is a (I)lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

We see the following about this passage:

1. The Messiah has already been declared to be a man, descended from Abraham (Gen. 22:18)
2. His decent is now limited to being a son of Judah
3. He is going to be a King
4. The Scepter and Rulers staff indicate royalty

Although the eleven brothers did not fall down before Judah himself, their descendants did prostate themselves before David the first member of the tribe of Judah to reign as king. Genetically, the descendants of the brothers in the brothers did not bow before both Judah and his posterity including his greater son, Jesus Christ. The word “Shiloh” means “to whom it is.” According to Jacob, the scepter, or symbol of self-government concept ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (A.D. 70). “Shiloh” had to come before that event. (1)

This verse indicates that He (The Messiah) will have to come before the Tribe of Judah loses its identity. The records which by tribal identities were maintained were kept in the Jewish Temple. Genealogical records were so carefully maintained by families and tribes that a Jew in the first century could trace his lineage back two thousand yrs to the 12 sons of Jacob. All these records were lost in 70 A.D. Within in a generation, all the tribes of Israel with the exception of the tribe of Levi lost their identity. The rabbis passed laws which would preserve the identity of the tribe of Levi, but Jews from other tribes lost their identity. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D. How is this relevant today? If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah. (2)

2. Prophecies About The Messiah’s Entire Redemptive Career

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) describe these passages as being about the Messiah. How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

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. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 God declared that the Messianic blessing for all the world would come from the seed of Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18). Even Paul states that “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Paul did not state that the promise said ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:16).

Hence, 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. 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).

In relation to Jesus’ Messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity is now the home of 1.4 to 2 billion adherents Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus? Furthermore, the work of Jesus is still being fulfilled. More Gentiles are coming to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob every day. Is it just a coincidence that when the Messiah came, He is rejected by the majority of Israel (as seen in Isa, 53), and the door opened to the nations to come to faith in the God of Israel?

3. Prophecies About the First and Second Coming of Jesus

A look at Psalm 2

“Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’” Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!” (NASB)

After reading this, a few things stand out:

1.The figure in the Psalm is called “The Lord’s Anointed” (v 2), his King (v 6) and his Son (vv. 7, 12).

2. Psalm 2 should be read as a coronation hymn, (similar to 2 Kings 11:12) and today marks the moment of the king’s crowning.

3. Is this passage referring to King David? 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).

How does Jesus fulfill this text?

Let’s look at Romans 1:1-5: Paul says through the resurrection, Jesus is installed (by God) as the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Paul is not saying Jesus is being appointed as The Son of God is a change in Jesus’ essense. The appointment is not in terms of his nature but in terms of his work as a mediator—the messianic age has dawned. Jesus is the Lord—the anti-type of the previous “sons” in the Old Testament (Adam, David, Israel).
But does Jesus have universal dominion over the nations? We must remember that part of Psalm 2 is not fulfilled. This is what we call “prophetic telescoping.” Psalm 2 is one of several texts in the Hebrew Bible where part of the text is fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

Conclusion

The Christian should not shy away from studying messianic prophecy. It is through the study of prophecy that the Christians can gain a greater understanding of what God has done and is currently doing in the world around us.

Sources:
1. Gromacki, R.The Virgin Birth (The Woodlands, Texas: Kregal Publications. 2002), 164.
2. Fryland, R. What The Rabbis Know About The Messiah: A Study of Genealogy and Prophecy (Columbus, OH: Messianic Literature Outreach, 2002).
3. See Jenson, Murphy. Hebrews: A Self-Study Guide. Chicago, ILL: Moody Press, 1970.

“What Did the Word ‘Christian’ Mean in the First Century?”

Believe it or not, when someone hears the word “Christianity,” it can conjure up thoughts about the Republican Party or moral positions in the political arena. Sadly, in many cases, nobody is talking about Jesus. It is the name “Christianity” and all that is attached to it that people are rejecting. But what did it mean to say you were a “Christian” in the first century? From my own experience, I can say without hesitation that many people in our culture are oblivious to this issue.

The name “Christ”

For most Christians, they say they follow Jesus Christ. But what does that mean? “The comparable New Testament Greek word is Christos, from which we get the English word “Christ.” But this Greek word carries the same connotations as the Hebrew word — “the Anointed One” which is is where  the word “messiah” comes from. “Messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed for a specific purpose such as priests (Exod. 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev. 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam. 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam. 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; 1 Chron. 11:3; 5:17; 127; 2 Sam. 19:11; 1 Kgs. 1:34, 39, 45; 5:15;19:15,16; 2 Kgs 9:3, 6,12;11:12; 23:30; 2 Chron. 22:7; 23:11; 29:22; Ps 89:21), and even prophets.

 

But notice these figures were all in the present. None of these texts speak of a future figure. Even though mashiach occurs thirty-nine times in the Old Testament, only nine of those instances have a possible reference to the coming Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10, 35; Pss. 2:2; 89:51; 132:10, 17; Dan. 9:25, 26; Hab. 3:13). Even in Isa. 45:1 where God “anoints” the pagan king Cyrus for the task at hand (Isa. 41:2-4, 45). Yes, even the pagan king Cyrus was used to restore Israel while the nation was under attack (Isa. 44:28;45:13). One of the most dominant messianic themes is the expectation of a descendant of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection: (Isa. 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezek. 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hos. 3:4-5).

Michael Bird’s comments are helpful:

“The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163.

What’s the point? For someone to be a Christian in the first century would mean they would have known the Messiah can’t be understood apart from Israel’s story.  Furthermore,  linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century was not seen as a single “way.” Thus, there were many Judaisms (i.e.,the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots). The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes”(24:5). Hence, the first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism. A survey of the book of Acts shows us that the apostles continued to go to the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:20-21). They continued to go to the synagogue (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4, 19; 19:8); and  continued to observe the feasts and the law (Acts 20:6; 21:24) While the word “Christian” is used three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16),  if you were called a “Christian,” you would have been part of the Jewish world. Also, given Israel’s calling it should be no shock that in Ephesians 2: 11-3:6, the Gentiles recipients are addressed as those who were formally without the Messiah. They were “aliens from  the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise\, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2: 12). So Israel was already near (Eph. 2:17), but the good news is that now along with Gentiles they even brought closer to God (Eph. 2:18). Thus, Christianity hadn’t become a completely separate religion apart from the Jewish world.

For example, as Craig Evans says;

 “Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the convers…ion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.

A Slave to Jesus

Also, to say you were a follower of the Jewish Messiah meant you were a “doulos.” Gary T. Meadors notes in Bakers Dictionary of Evangelical Theology the following:

Christ plays on the concept of servant to image his own mission ( Mark 10:45 ; Luke 22:27 ). The epistolary literature focuses on the figurative usage of slave. These books frequently use the primary term for slave, doulos[dou’lo”], as a metaphor of being a servant to God ( Rom 1:1 ; Php 1:1 ; 2 Tim 2:24 ; Titus 1:1 ; James 1:1 ; 1 Peter 2:16 ; 2 Peter 1:1 ), to fellow believers ( 2 Cor 4:5 ), and even to sin ( Rom 6:20 ). This is a most striking metaphor because a Greek person linked personal dignity and freedom together. Freedom was power and something about which to be proud. The use of doulos [dou’lo”] to image relationship to God and fellow believers sent a message of commitment and abandonment of autonomy ( 1 Cor 7:22 ; Eph 6:6 ; Col 4:12 ).

In other words, if you were to profess Jesus, you were giving him your commitment and abandonment of your own autonomy.

Following a Cursed Messiah?

Golgotha

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

There is a relevant verse about crucifixion in Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified (Acts 5:30; 13:29; Gal 3:13;1 Pet.2:24). To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. So what is seen in these verses is not the execution itself but what is done to the body after the person is executed–it is displayed as a warning to others. For Jewish people at the time of Paul, the a crucified victim could be viewed as either a victim or a villain. If it is the latter, the person being condemned as a criminal would be considered cursed by God because of their actions.-Pamela Eisenbaum, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 144-145.

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

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

One of the most challenging statements of all is the following:

“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “- Luke 9: 23

The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, it is clear that to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor. Rather, the cross was a sign of rejection and embarrassment. When the disciples heard Jesus talk about the cross and self-denial here, they knew to make Jesus the Lord of their lives was going to be a life of commitment and abandonment of autonomy.

Obviously much more can be said.  However, we can conclude one thing for sure: There is a lot more to following Jesus then simply praying a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die.

Resources on the “What Caused God?” Objection

Over the last two days, I have had three atheists ask me the common pop atheism objection, “What caused God?” I have been asked this no less than a 100 times over the last several years. Given the internet and popular culture, this objection will  probably never go away.  Hence, people confuse two categories- the made and the Unmade. Of course, to assume that there are no immaterial realities is patently false. Remember, the nature of the object determines how we know it. Whatever is made has composition. Obviously, from the Orthodox Christian view, God has no composition. The Hebrew word for one is “echad” which leaves room for a plurality within a unity of substance- but there is no implication of a plurality of beings or parts within a being. Scripture admonishes mankind about making any physical image of God (Exodus 20:4). God is pure spirit ( John 4:24). He has no parts and is an immaterial Being. Hence, the God of the Bible is unmade. Anyway, here are few resources that may help:

J.P. Moreland: What Caused God? 

Video: J.P. Moreland: What Caused God?

Edward Feser” “So You Think You Understand The Cosmological Argument?” 

Paul Copan; If God Made the Universe, Who Made God?