Greg Ganssle on Arguments and Evidence for God’s Existence

Greg Ganssle (Yale University) discusses the role of argument and evidence in deciding what to believe, both in philosophy and more generally. He discusses evidence that falls short of proof, and the fact that that’s the kind of evidence we almost always have. His main example for exploring these issues is evidence concerning the existence of God.

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How Biblical Prophecy is Unclear and Why- Michael S. Heiser

Here is a helpful clip by Michael S. Heiser again. I always find with either Jewish anti-missionaries or atheists, they always want the what Richard Longenecker calls “mathematical precision.”  Longenecker says:

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

Anyway, if you want to also know why prophecy seems a bit cryptic of not explicit at times, I also suggest reading Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery by Beale and Gladd. Then if you are really bored, you can see out post here called “Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?”

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Why Jesus is Qualified to be called the “Messiah.” A Look at the Miracles of Jesus

Introduction

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions with people about Jesus. I can say without hesitation that one of the most common objections I hear is the following: “I think Jesus was a good teacher, but I don’t take those miracle accounts in the Gospels as literal events.”

It is evident that this objection to the miracles of Jesus are mostly philosophical in nature. Many skeptics attempt to claim that it was during the Enlightenment period that any so called miracle claim was cast into the domain of superstition and pre-modernism. After all, modern people can’t believe such silliness. This is really just a hangover from David Hume’s work. To see a response to him, see the book Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles. Or, you can read more about that here and here.

As N.T Wright says:

“The natural/supernatural distinction itself, and the near-equation of ‘supernatural’with ‘superstition’, are scarecrows that Enlightenment thought has erected in its fields to frighten away anyone following the historical argument where it leads. It is high time the birds learned to take no notice.” (1)

As the miraculous, I think a more balanced approach is seen here in the comments by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona:

” Our knowledge of the world around us is gained by gathering information. When we cast our net into the sea of experience, certain data turn up. If we cast our net into a small lake, we won’t be sampling much of the ocean’s richness. If we make a worldwide cast, we have a more accurate basis for what exists. Here is the crunch. If we cast into our own little lakes, it is not surprising if we do not obtain an accurate sampling of experience. However, a worldwide cast will reveal many reports of unusual occurrences that might be investigated and determined to be miracles. Surely most of the supernatural claims would be found to be untrustworthy. But before making the absolute observation that no miracles have ever happened, someone would have to investigate each report. It only takes a single justified example to show that there is more to reality than a physical world. We must examine an impossibly large mountain of data to justify the naturalistic conclusion assumed in this objection.”(Habermas & Licona 2004:144)

I am in full agreement with James Sire that Jesus is the best apologetic that the Christian can offer to a dark and needy world. Therefore, I would like to examine the miracles of Jesus. There is not a ton of disagreement that Jesus was a miracle worker and  considered to be a exorcist. As Christopher Price notes in the article here:

Any fair reading of the Gospels and other ancient sources (including Josephus) inexorably leads to the conclusion that Jesus was well known in his time as a healer and exorcist. The miracle stories are now treated seriously and are widely accepted by Jesus scholars as deriving from Jesus’ ministry. Several specialized studies have appeared in recent years, which conclude that Jesus did things that were viewed as ‘miracles’.” B.D. Chilton and C.A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, pp. 11-12 (NTTS, 28.2; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998).

• “[T]he tradition that Jesus did perform exorcisms and healings (which may also have been exorcisms originally) is very strong.” R.H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles, p. 39.

• “[B]y far the deepest impression Jesus made upon his contemporaries was as an exorcist and a healer. . . . In any case he was not only believed to possess some quite special curative gifts but evidently, in some way or other he actually possessed them.” Michael Grant, An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, pp. 31, 35.

• “Yes, I think that Jesus probably did perform deeds that contemporaries viewed as miracles.” Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, p. 114.

• “There is no doubt that Jesus worked miracles, healed the sick and cast out demons.” Gerd Theissen, The Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition, p. 277.

• “In most miracle stories no explanation at all is given; Jesus simply speaks or acts and the miracle is done by his personal power. This trait probably reflects historical fact.” Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician, p. 101.

• “There is agreement on the basic facts: Jesus performed miracles, drew crowds and promised the kingdom to sinners.” E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, p. 157.

• “Yes, we can be sure that Jesus performed real signs which were interpreted by his contemporaries as experiences of an extraordinary power.” H. Hendrickx, The Miracle Stories and the Synoptic Gospels, p. 22.

• “That Jesus performed deeds that were perceived as miracles by both him and his audience is difficult to doubt.” Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, page 155.

• “[W]e must be clear that Jesus’ contemporaries, both of those who became his followers and those who were determined not to become his followers, certainly regarded him as possessed of remarkable powers.” Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God , p. 187.

• “[T]he tradition of Jesus’ miracles has too many unusual features to be conveniently ascribed to conventional legend-mongering. Moreover, many of them contain details of precise reporting which is quite unlike the usual run of legends and is difficult to explain unless it derives from some historical recollection; and the gospels themselves show a remarkable restraint in their narratives which contrasts strangely with that delight in the miraculous for its own sake which normally characterizes the growth of legend.” A.E. Harvey, Jesus and the Constraints of History, p. 100.

But What is a Miracle? A Clear Definition

Five clear senses or types of miracle can be distinguished: This is adapted from David Hume’s Fatally Flawed Arguments Against Miracle Reports: by Hendrik van der Breggen:

Miracle (1) A “miracle” in the sense is positive and unexpected. Someone might shout, “It’s a miracle!” merely to express a subjective reaction, such as surprise or astonishment, to winning the lottery, for example. Such events are easily explained naturalistically, as coincidence. A religious believer might interpret the event (questions concerning the ethics of lotteries aside) as a result of God’s providential care. By “miracle,” however, people frequently mean something stronger than a prearranged coinciding.

Miracle (2) A “miracle” in this sense is mildly unusual, natural (therefore expected), and yet deemed marvelous. People may use the word miracle hyperbolically to express a positive reaction to such an event’s complexity and mystery. A young couple might speak of the “miracle” of birth as they look adoringly at their baby who was born without complication, even though they expected no complication. We typically use a more literal sense of miracle, however, and thereby mean something more than marvelous, though certainly not less.

Miracle (3) A “miracle” in this sense is allegedly uncaused and therefore inexplicable. A scientist might talk about the “miracle” of a quantum particle popping into existence causelessly because it arises out of a quantum vacuum. This use of miracle, however, flies in the face of the philosophical and reasonable principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Quantum particles certainly come on the scene spontaneously; nevertheless, they are embedded in a physically necessary set of causal conditions and so are not causeless.

Miracle (4) An event is a “miracle” in this sense if and only if: (1) it is extraordinary or unusual with respect to the regular course of nature; (2) it wholly involves natural principles operating in existing matter or energy to transform that matter or energy; (3) it is produced by an agent (whether human or supernatural) of superior knowledge and/or ability who taps into generally unknown natural principles to manipulate existing matter or energy; and (4) it is religiously significant. An example of this sense of miracle would be so-called psychosomatic, mind-over-matter, “faith healings.”

Miracle (5) An event is a miracle if and only if: (1) it has an extraordinariness or unusualness that consists of a “violation” of the usual course of nature (i.e., the event contrasts with what nature’s laws would predict if there were no intervention); (2) nature is incapable of producing it, either at all or via the natural causes at the scene at the miracle’s occurrence; (3) it consists of a creation and/or annihilation of complex specifically-structured matter or energy; (4) it is directly caused by a powerful, intelligent, and nature-transcending source of matter or energy, that is, God or a God-like being; and (5) it is religiously significant.

Examples of the fifth sense of miracle include Jesus’ healing of a leper (Luke 17:11-19), His multiplication of a few fish and loaves of bread to feed several thousand people (Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-9), and His virgin birth (Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-7) and resurrection (John 20-21). In Jesus’ resurrection, matter and energy are created to generate or renew the various seriously damaged tissues in Jesus’ crucified body (though some wounds were only partially healed, according to the record). Jesus’ resurrection would be unreasonable to believe if Hume’s arguments were successful.

The Context of Jesus’ Miracles-God’s Relationship With the Nation of Israel

The historical and religious context for the miracles of Jesus is God’s interaction with the nation of Israel. Even during thousands of years of Bible history miracles were clustered in three very limited periods:

(1) The Mosaic period: from the exodus through the taking of the promised land (with a few occurrences in the period of the judges)

(2) The prophetic period: from the late kingdom of Israel and Judah during the ministries of Elijah, Elisha, and to a lesser extent Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Is.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1).

(3) The apostolic period: from the first-century ministries of Christ and the apostles. Occurrences of miracles were neither continuous nor without purpose. (2)

Jesus as the Inaugurator of the Kingdom of God: The Actions of the King

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43).

In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. But if the kingdom is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

Within the context of first-century Jewish miracle workers, how much weight should be given to Jesus’ miracles?As Ben Witherington III says:

“The miracles themselves raise the question but do not fully provide the answer of who Jesus was; what is important from an historical point of view is not the miracle themselves, which were not unprecedented, but Jesus’ unique interpretation of the miracles as signs of the dominion’s inbreaking, and also the signs of who he was: the fulfiller of the Old Testament promises about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the like.” (3)

Wolfgang Trilling, a German New Testament scholar argues for a consensus in New Testament scholarship that Jesus performed some sort of miraculous acts ascribed to him in the Gospels. Jesus’ authority is evident as His role as an exorcist. He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, than the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

This is significant for three reasons: (1) It shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over evil (2) It shows Jesus believed the kingdom of God had arrived; in Judaism, the kingdom would come at the end of history (3) Jesus was in effect saying that in Himself, God had drawn near, therefore He was putting Himself in God’s place. (4)

In Matthew 11:13, John the Baptist, who in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question:

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus’ responded by appealing to the evidence of his miracles. As Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matt. 11:4-6).

Jesus’ evidential claim can be seen in the following syllogism:

1.If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3.Therefore, I am the Messiah. (5)

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6:

“He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (6)

Jesus as the Sign Prophet of Deut 18: 15-18:

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

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

In order to be like Moses, this prophet will have to be a “sign prophet.”

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

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

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

How does Jesus fulfill the role of a “sign prophet?”

Remember, “sign” (Gr.sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels).

“Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Yeshua from the grave.

Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Yeshua predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).

Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

Some Jewish people object to the miracle issue as not being a vital piece of evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. After all, Elijah did miracles as well. Perhaps he is the sign prophet ‘like Moses?’ Regarding Elijah, yes he did miracles because it was another case where God was confirming a true prophet. But to be like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18), Elijah must fulfill all the requirements which he does not. Also, Jesus did his signs in the context of the in breaking reign of God. They were done more to confirm the messianic claim (not just the prophetic claim like Moses and Elijah).So if Jesus did rise from the dead (which he said would be a sign), that would make him rather different from Elijah.

Jesus and His Contemporaries

During the time of Jesus, there were other “holy men” are what are called “Hasidim.” A Jewish Hasid was someone who had a close relationship with God and had the ability to call upon God for power over the natural realm. Two examples of Hasid’s are Honi, “the Circle Drawer” and Hanina ben Dosa. In comparing the miracles of Jesus and Honi the Circle Drawer, the records of Honi’s miracles are from are the Mishnah (c. A.D. 200) and from Josephus (c. A.D. 90):

In comparing these healers with Jesus, we also see some other glaring differences. First, the earliest portions of the Misnah date no earlier than roughly a.d. 200, becoming part of the Talmud even later. Josephus relates other cases of Jewish holy men, but his account was written perhaps a.d. 93–94, at the very end of the New Testament period. Also, Honi had no control over the forces of nature, but he could ask God for rain. Other Jewish exorcists resorted to power other then themselves through prayer to send away demons. They even invoked “powerful” names such as those of God and Solomon. Jesus was quite different because when He did a healing He did not “receive” power before he drove out the spirits; He did it with a simple, powerful word that was His own. Rather than invoking the name of Solomon, he said “Behold, something greater than the wisdom of Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42). Furthermore, Jesus did not ask God to quiet the storm or calm the waves; He did with His own word. (7)

Hellenistic Divine Men?

There have been other comparisons between Jesus and Hellenistic divine men such as Apollonius of Tyana. Philostratus, his biographer, tells that Apollonius cast out a demon from a young man and ordered it to provide a sign that it had left. A nearby statue promptly fell down. This example sounds like the account of Jesus expelling the demon from the Gadarene man (Mark 5:1–20). Did this account influence the Jesus story?

Gary Habermas points out four problems with the Hellenistic Divine Men theory:

The first problem is that Jesus was obviously Jewish and was probably even widely considered by some to be a Jewish holy man. We are told that he was sometimes addressed as Rabbi (John 1:38, 49; 3:2; 6:25), as was John the Baptist (3:26). Still, we have no clear signs of mimicry. The ancient definition of magician, one who was involved in such practices as incantations, sorceries, spells, and trickeries, hardly seems to have applied any influence on the Gospel depiction of Jesus.

Secondly, there are few parallels between the magicians, divine men, and Jesus. Clearly, the Gospels are much more closely aligned with the Old Testament, Palestinian Judaism, and rabbinic literature. But given this, it becomes very difficult to establish the influence of pagan ideas on the Gospels. As Habermas notes, historian Michael Grant has shown that Judaism strongly opposed pagan beliefs, helping us understand why these ideas never gained much of a foothold in first-century Palestine.

Thirdly, the evidence for Apollonius is rather scant. While the miracles of Jesus pass the test of multiple attestation, the single account of Apollonius was recorded by Philostratus nearly 2-300 years later. This means it may have borrowed from the Jesus story, not the other way around.

Fourthly, Christianity centers on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this message is not borrowed from the beliefs of others. Habermas also notes that the late Martin Hengel asserted, “The Christian message fundamentally broke apart the customary conceptions of atonement in the ancient world and did so at many points.” (8) .

Scholar Werner Kahl provides some insights about three characteristics of miracle workers: First, the person who has inherent healing power is called a “bearer of numinous power” (BNP). Kahl uses the term “petitioner of numinous power” (PNP) for those who ask God to perform the miracle. Between both (BNP) and (PNP) is what Kahl calls the category of a “mediator of numinous power” (MNP), which can apply to an individual who mediates the numinous power of a BNP in order to produce a miracle. Kahl concludes being a MNP or PNP clearly is not the evidence of deity, whereas being a BNP could possibly be evidence of a deity. (9)

Eric Eve makes another valuable contribution to this topic in his published dissertation The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles. Eve observes that only the God of Israel is the only BNP while Moses is an example of an MNP and Elijah is an example of a PNP. After studying the miracle accounts in Josephus, Philo, the wisdom and the apocalyptic literature of the period, as well the Qumran texts and Jewish literature such as Tobit, Eve concluded that it can be demonstrated that the God of Israel is the only BNP. Hence, Eve contends that the Gospels display Jesus’ miracles as departing from Jewish tradition since Jesus is shown to be a BNP and his miracles point to him as being the incarnation of the God of Israel.

The Gospels provide valuable insight into the relationship between prayer and the miracles of Jesus. Jesus has no need to pray before performing any miracle, and the exceptions are prayers of only thanks or blessing, not prayers asking God to effect the miracle (Mark 14:9; 15:36; Mark 6:41; 8:6; Luke 9:16; John 6:11; 11:41-43). Eve concludes that the Gospels show no hint of Jesus being a “petitioner of numinous power” (PNP). (10)

It must not be forgotten that Jesus did not perform any of his miracles independently of the Father; instead Jesus did all his miracles in union with the Father (John 5:36; 10:38; 14:10-11) so that His audience would see the unique relationship between the Father and the Son.

Conclusion

It is evident that Jesus’ miracles are best understood within the context of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. Most importantly, God took the initiative by revealing to mankind a fuller part His kingdom program through the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ miraculous deeds, healings, and power over nature as well as His role as a Suffering Servant was another stage of inaugurating the kingdom of God. Jesus, being the divine Messiah exhibits the same attributes as the God of Israel. One day, Jesus will return to fulfill the promise of completing the earthly aspect of His kingdom work. May all of us as wait with eager anticipation.

As the Apostle Peter said,

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat” (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Sources: 1. Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, Minneapolis. 2003), 707 n63.

2. Geisler N.L., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 468-469.

3. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 12.

4. Craig, W. L. Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaten, ILL : Crossway Books.1984, 233-54.

5. Douglas Groothuis, “Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist,” http://www.theapologiaproject.org/JesusPhil.pdf/2002{accessed January 10, 2011}.

6. See Evans, C.A., and P. W. Flint, Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1997). Qumran is the site of the ruin about nine miles south of Jericho on the west side of the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in nearby caves. The Dead Sea Scrolls contains some 800 scrolls with parts or the entirety of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, discovered in the caves near Qumran.

7. Skarsaune, O. Incarnation: Myth or Fact? (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House: 1991), 35-36.

8. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. 2001), 112-113.

9. Kahl, W, New Testament Miracle Stories in Their Religious- Historical Setting: A Religionsgeschichtliche Comparison from a Structural Perspective (FRLANT 163. Gottingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 76; cited in Eric Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, JSNTSSup 231 (London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 15; cited in R. M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195-206.

10. See Eve, E, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles, JSNTSSup 231 (London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 15; cited in R. M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195-206.

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Interview: Dr. Clay Jones: Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It

Here was an interview for our weekly campus apologetics meeting at The Ohio State University. Here we interview Dr. Clay Jones: about his new book Immortal: How the Fear of Death Drives Us and What We Can Do About It.  Some of the questions that are discussed are the following:

  1. What led you to write this book?
  2. How much do people fear their deaths?
  3. You write that the fear of death drives people, what do you mean by that?
  4. What do you mean by literal immortality projects?
  5. How successful are literal immortality projects?
  6. Many movies and TV shows talk about computers becoming conscious and we hear a lot about things like brain uploading and the singularity. What’s that about?
  7. Is it realistic that one day we’ll be able to upload our brains?
  8. An increasing number of people say they intend to be frozen, is that going to work?
  9. What are symbolic immortality projects?
  10. What’s wrong with symbolic immortality projects?
  11. How do atheists handle their fear of death?
  12. Many in our society have rejected belief in an afterlife, what is that doing to them? 
  13. You mention in your book that a lot of Christians fear death, why is that?
  14. What is the Christian’s answer to the fear of death?
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James Tour: Origin of Life Lecture at The Ohio State University

Dr. James Tour is a very well respected  synthetic organic chemist, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Syracuse University, his Ph.D. in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry from Purdue University, and postdoctoral training in synthetic organic chemistry at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. After spending 11 years on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, he joined the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Rice University in 1999 where he is presently the T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Materials Science and NanoEngineering. Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular motors and nanocars. He has also developed strategies for retarding chemical terrorist attacks. For pre-college education, Tour developed the NanoKids concept for K-12 education in nanoscale science, and also Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero science packages for elementary and middle school education: SciRave (www.scirave.org) which later expanded to a Stemscopes-based SciRave. The SciRave program has risen to be the #1 most widely adopted program in Texas to complement science instruction, and it is currently used by over 450 school districts and 40,000 teachers with over 1 million student downloads.

Tour has over 680 research publications and over 130 patent families, with an h-index = 141 and i10 index = 634 with total citations of 95,000 (Google Scholar). Based on the impact of his published work, in 2019 Tour was ranked in the top 0.004% of the 7 million scientists who have published at least 5 papers in their careers.  He was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in 2015. Tour was named among “The 50 Most Influential Scientists in the World Today” by TheBestSchools.org in 2014; listed in “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch.com in 2014; and recipient of the Trotter Prize in “Information, Complexity and Inference.”

Read more about him here. 

Back in 2019, Dr. Tour lectured at our Ohio State University apologetics chapter. Here is the lecture. To support what we do at The Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College, see here. 

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Does the Old Testament Teach Two Comings of the Messiah?

Introduction

Jewish people and even some skeptics like to assert that Christians are the ones who have come up with two act play about the coming of the Messiah. In other words, since Jesus failed at the messianic task, Christians then had no choice but to make up a second coming of Jesus. I already have a post called “Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?” here.

While there is much to discuss about this topic, the real question at hand is whether the Old Testament teaches two comings of the Messiah. Let me attempt to offer some helpful tips:

First, Jewish messianism is a concept study. The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”

So we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament. Second, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However,  what are we to do with the several texts in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the following:

  1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
  2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
  3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
  4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
  5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.

One text that is cited about a peaceable kingdom where we see the end of violence in both human society and the world of animals is Isaiah 11: 1-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom as mentioned here? It seems only a Messiah who is supernatural could do such a thing!

But that leads me to my next point. In many cases, while the word ‘Messiah” is not mentioned, there are names used for the messianic person  such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root,  Servant of the Lord, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth. For example, we just read a name for the Messiah in Isa. 11:1-9 which is “Branch.” It is texts like these that prompt the following objection:

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

Another text that is similar to Isaiah 11:1-9 is the following:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days   that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,   to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways   and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,  neither shall they learn war anymore.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk  in the light of the Lord.- Isa 2: 1-4

Here we see again there is no mention of the word “Messiah. ” But again, there is mention of a figure that will judge between the nations and there will be a time of peace. Another passage that used the name “Branch” is Jer. 23:5-8:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”

In these texts, it is clear Israel will dwell securely in the land. Another similar text that mentions the nations going to Jerusalem to worship a messianic figure is in Zechariah 14. I won’t copy the text. But you can read it here.

The Reigning Kingly Messiah and the Suffering/Rejected Messiah 

 Let’s look at one of these names for the Messiah: Daniel 7:13-14: The Glorious, Ruling King.
  • In this passage, we see the following:
  • God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

  • The figure will be given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language will serve him.

  • He is given a kingdom by the Ancient of days, so he must be interpreted as an individual, namely a king.

  • Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (“God appearances”).

  • Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).

  • How the Son of Man is used in the New Testament
  • The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha)  expression  is employed to the earthly ministry of Jesus  (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37).

  •  Son of Man is used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33).

  • Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).

The Suffering, Lowly Rejected Messiah

After the time of Jesus, the rabbis tried to reconcile the passages about the suffering and rejected Messiah with the ruling, kingly Messiah. For example, we just looked at Daniel 7:13-14. But let’s look at the following:

Zechariah 9: 9

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king  is coming to you,  a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey,  on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,  and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

“The Bible hints that two different figures will play important roles in Israel’s redemption. During the Second Temple period, the prophet Zechariah offered an oracle about the people of Jerusalem “lamenting to [God] about those who are slain … showing bitter grief as over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). The book of Daniel also contains a cryptic reference to “an anointed one [who] will disappear and vanish” (Daniel 9:26). These fallen would-be heroes came to be identified with the Messiah ben Joseph.” -Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope,

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David:

There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. 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).

“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; …[b. Sukkah 52a]

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

  • He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.
  • He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).
  • He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.
  • For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.
  • Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary. There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures. Instead, in contrast to this rabbinic model, the New Testament applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Remember Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah

Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once. Remember, the Bible speaks of a suffering/atoning, rejected Messiah: (Psalm 22; 118: 22; Isaiah 52:13-53.12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10) and well as a the ruling/kingly Messiah: (2 Sam 7:10–14; Pss. 2:7; 72:1 Pss. 89:4, 26, 35–37; 132:11–12, 17–18; Dan 7:13).

There are  texts that are  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).

Sources

  1. Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing
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The Parting of the Ways: How Christianity and Judaism Became Two

When I have asked Christians who is the founder of Christianity  I receive a look of dismay. After all, didn’t Jesus, a Jewish Torah teacher, break decisively with the foundations of Judaism and all of its institutions such as the Temple, the covenants, the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath and start a new religion called “Christianity?” Unfortunately, this is an anachronistic reading of the Bible. I talk about this more in the clip here.

 

 

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