Responding to Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe?

This is a popular clip that tries to provoke some thought about why religious people believe what they believe. Do we know why we belive what we believe? If the clip wants people to examine what they believe I am all for it.

However, this clip attempts to point out that there is no way test a revelatory model. Furthermore, what about all those contradictory revelations?  Is there one God who gives a clear revelation? Or, is there a God, or “god” who gives conflicting and contradictory revelations? Futhermore, if religious people start with their Holy Book (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question as to how they know their sacred text has it right. Furthemore, everyone seems sincere about what they believe. So is sincerity a test for truth?  No, I am afraid not. I seem to recall that there have been alot of books written on this topic.

Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims  about Him from various faiths:

Orthodox  Christianity/Messianic Judaism: Jesus is  both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as  foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts  of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the  Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil.  2: 5-11).

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and  man. Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold  in the Tanakh. Jesus may be simply  regarded as a prophet or teacher but not divine. In the case of Islam, Islam’s founder is Muhammad who was forty   years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions   during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are  called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the  Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore,  never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life   of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. For further study, see Answering Islam and Is Jesus the Messiah? Resources For Further Study.

Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to  have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being. For further reading, see Why Mormonism is not Christianity– the Issue of Christology

The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: In the Bible, Jesus is the  second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John  1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11). This is rejected by Jehovah Witnesses.

Buddhism/Hinduism: are not theistic faiths, they are pantheistic (all is  God). Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches  that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a  good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal,  supreme being. For further reading, see Why Jesus Instead of the Buddha?

After examining the differences in each of these faiths, John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:

“No sane person tries to accept as  authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be  such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be  intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real  contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are  created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both  will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel;  therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it.” -Newport, John C. Life’s Most Important Questions: A  Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas,   Texas. Word Publishing. 1989, pgs  452-453.

In some cases,  it seems to be much easier to just complain about conflicting revelatory claims and say there is no possibility to navigate through them  and arrive at the truth. I generally respond in the following way:

First, historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask when and where God has broken through in human history. So to say there is no way to test revelatory claims calls for some clarification. I generally ask three questions:

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

When we do this we will see that while there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God.  However,  they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation.

As a Christian, I don’t think God wants the world to be confused. If God wants the world to know Him, it seems to me that he would give a clear revelation to humanity.

So I  fully agree with the skeptic that there are contradictory revelatory claims. For example, to assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor. 15: 3-8 is dated only 3-5 years after the death of Jesus. The Quran is dated much later and says Jesus did not die and rise from the dead. I tend to stick with the  historians on this one. They want the record that is closest to the original event.  Furthermore, as we see above,  what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s? Mormonism (which has very little if any external evidence) and the Watchtower Society) both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim.  If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.

In the end, we need to dispense with the complaint that there is just no possible way to look at various religious claims and find the truth. For those that are willing to have an open mind and do the homework, it can be a rewarding experience. When I took this approach to Christianity and other religions, I arrived at the following conclusion:

1. A miracle is an act of God that confirms a messenger from God.

2. Jesus offered a cumulative case that confirms He is the incarnation of the God of Israel—His fulfillment of prophecy, His sinless life, His messianic actions/messianic miracles, His speaking authority, and His miraculous resurrection.

3. Therefore, Jesus offered several lines of evidence that  confirm that He is the incarnation of the God of Israel

Conclusion: Do You Want to Be a “Doulos”?

In the end I think the real issue behind the skeptic’s complaint is whether people want a God who has given a clear revelation to humanity. For if God does intervene into the world, we as humans are accountable to him.

This leads me to my final point about the issue of slavery in the New Testament:  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 ). [1]

To become a slave of Christ was a tough sell in the first century (who would make up such a thing?) and it is tough thing to swallow today. Also, in a culture that demands personal autonomy and personal rights, it is only going to get harder.  Perhaps this is why Jesus said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”- Matthew 7: 13-14.

Who wants to be a “Doulos” for Christ? If not, admit the fact that  you hope God has not given a clear revelation to humanity in the person of Christ.

Sources:

1. Walter A. Elwell ,  Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books) 1996.

Were the Disciples/Apostles Idol Worshipers?

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

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

This quote was taken from the Jews for Judaism website:

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

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

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

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

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things

2. God is the Sole Creator of all things

3. God is the only being deserving of worship

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

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

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

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

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

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

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

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

3. Jesus as worthy of worship

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

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

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

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

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

#1: Religious Syncretism

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

#2 Hellenism or Polytheism?

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

#3: The Deity of Jesus is Legend?

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

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

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

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

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look At Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity

Ontology is a branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as, “Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?”

Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Trinity since Orthodox Christians attempt to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence. As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words, “What difference does the Messiah make in the world?” One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 23: 5-8; Mic. 5:4-6), and unite humanity as one (Zech. 14:9).

The Messiah is also supposed usher in a period of worldwide peace, and put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is. 2:1-22; Mic. 4:1-4). Hence, since the world is not in a state of peace and the Jewish people are not dwelling securely in the land of Israel, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

Within the Hebrew Bible, there are Messianic texts such as Isaiah 52:13-53; 61:1-3, that focus upon the Messiah’s works rather than his essence or being. Perhaps this shows us that one of the starting points in Jewish-Christian dialogue is to understand the importance of the relationship between not only who the Messiah IS but also what the Messiah DOES. In his famous book, The Prophets, Abraham Heschel said, “Biblical ontology does not separate being from doing.” (1) Heshel goes on to say, “What is acts. The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds.” (2) In contrast to ontological Christology, functional Christology emphasizes the actions of the Messiah.

Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he continually appealed to his actions as evidence of his Messiahship. Some of the visible actions of Jesus included the healing of the sick (Mark 1: 32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38), teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31), forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and showing the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5).

From a Christian perspective, the work of the Messiah is accomplished in a series of stages: (1) The consecration at John’s baptism, (2) Messiah’s death, (3) Messiah’s resurrection, (4) Messiah’s present role as priest and advocate for His people which is presently happening (1 John 2:2; Romans 8:34), (5) Messiah’s current positional rule or Lordship over the Church and His enemies. And we see in the final work of the Messiah will be in the future. Jesus will return and establish the earthly,  aspect of the kingdom of God. (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).

In his book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity, Richard Bauckham has asserted that an Ontic/Functional Christology distinction is not the correct approach to New Testament Christology. While some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period did utilize some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.

While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God’s divine identity. The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Is. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Ps. 97:7; Is. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).

Jesus’ divine identity is affirmed by the fact that He is given the same attributes as God. Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus comes to participate as God’s sovereign Ruler over all things (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44;26:64; Acts 2:33-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; 1 Cor.15:27-28; Phil. 2:6-11; Eph. 1:21-22; Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus is seen as the object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28: 9,17; Jn. 5:23; 20:28; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12). He is also the recipient of praise (Matt. 21:16-16; Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14) and prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17,21; 22:16,19;1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor.12:8). Jesus is also the Creator of all things (Heb. 1:2; Jn. 1: 1-3; Col. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 8:6). For Bauckham, the divine identity of God is seen in Jesus’ suffering, death, and glory.

It is a great read. Check it out!

Sources:
1.Abraham J. Heshel, The Prophets (New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers 2003), 44.
2.Ibid.

Does Jesus Answer Life’s Biggest Questions? Featuring Dr Paul Gould at the University of Toronto

This is a really good presentation. Also, the Q&A is worth checking out.

28 Suggested Readings on Christology

Here are some my picks on the topic of Christology. The word “Christology” comes from two Greek words meaning “Christ / Messiah” and “word” – which combine to mean “the study of Christ.”  There are numerous important questions that Christology answers such as  “What Does it Mean to say Jesus is the Son of God?” or “How did the early followers of Jesus see his divinity?”

Happy Reading!

  1. LarryW. Hurtado: Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity
  2. Larry W. Hurtado: How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus
  3. Larry W. Hurtado: One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism
  4. Dean L. Overman: A Case for the Divinity of Jesus: Examining the Earliest Evidence
  5. Robert M., Jr. Bowman, Edward Komoszewski. Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ
  6. Raymond Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology
  7. Mark Allan Powell, David R. Bauer,  Who Do You Say That I AM?: Essays on Christology
  8. Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity
  9. Oskar Skarsuane, Incarnation: Myth or Fact?
  10. Oskar Skarsuane, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity
  11. F.F. Bruce, Jesus: Lord and Savior
  12. Ben Witherington, The Many Faces of Christ (Companions to the New Testament)
  13. Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question
  14. Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
  15. Michael F. Bird, Craig Evans, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine nature—a Response to Bart D. Ehrman
  16. Paul Copan, Craig Evans, Who Was Jesus?: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue
  17. Seyoon Kim, The Son of Man As The Son of God
  18. Seyoon Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel
  19. Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Richard B. Hays, Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
  20. N.T Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?
  21. N.T Wright, Jesus and The Victory of God
  22. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2: Theological Objections
  23. John Ronning, The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology
  24. John B, Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God
  25. Christopher W. Morgan The Deity of Christ (Theology in Community)
  26. Darell Bock, Herbert Bateman, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King   [JESUS THE MESSIAH] [Hardcover]
  27. Richard N Longenecker,  The Christology of Early Jewish Christianity
  28. Magnus Zetterholm, The Messiah: In Early Judaism and Christianity

Why A Theology of Mission is the Starting Point for Learning Apologetics!

Image result for PICTURES OF THE GLOBAL MISSION

As I reflect on teaching apologetics for quite some time, I am more convinced that the starting place for motivating people to defend the Christian faith in the public square starts with a proper understanding of a theology of mission. Almost every time I have  taught an apologetics class, I always start with this topic. After all, why should we as Christians want to reach out into the culture around us with the Gospel? Why should we even want to defend the Christian faith in the marketplace of ideas? I find that many Christians aren’t motivated to learn about apologetics because they are not engaging the culture. And if they aren’t engaging the culture, they aren’t  getting challenged in their faith. So I want to go ahead and give a small overview of a theology of mission in the Bible.

Mission in the Bible

Sometimes, it is assumed that mission starts with Matt 28:19. This is incorrect:  A theology of mission starts in Genesis.  It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

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

The  promise of a Redeemer would to be the “offspring” or “seed” of the women.  The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.) which takes the Serpent of Gen 3:15 as a symbol of the Devil who will be ultimately overcome at the end of the times by the “King Messiah”:

Vs 15: “And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

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

We next turn to God’s calling upon Israel. Israel’s calling was to have an inward focus in that  that parents were expected to repeat the stories of deliverance to their children (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 6:4-9; Isa. 38:19): “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.”

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works” (Ps. 145:4, 5). The account of God’s goodness was to be passed on from each generation to the next. “Tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex. 10:2) is God’s crucial instruction. Israel was also called to an ethical distinctiveness (Lev. 11:44, 45; 18:3; Micah 6:6-8). They were to be committed to a to be a holy nation because people would either be attracted or repulsed by their witness to the true God.

Israel also was called to have an outward focus. We see the unique calling in this area in the Abrahamic Covenant .  The promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations. Therefore, the Messianic blessing is for all the world . All peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time- would be beneficiaries of the promise-(Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). So it could not be clearer that  God intended to use Abraham in such a way that he would be a channel of blessing to the entire world. The election of Israel was for a universal goal which is the redemption of humanity.  Also, the worldwide  purpose of Israel is made even clearer in Ex. 19:. Israel as a whole nation was to be  “a priestly kingdom,” “a royal priesthood.”

The prophets also wrote  about Israel’s calling to the nations.  In Jeremiah 1:5, the prophet is chosen by God, not simply as a prophet to Israel, but as prophet “to the nations.” Other prophets like Jonah or major writing prophets,  included large portions of their works  discussing the Gentile nations of their day (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32).  Even in Isaiah 19:19-25: Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will eventually become the three peoples of God. Isaiah includes Israel’s enemy from the past (Egypt) as well as an enemy from the present (Assyria) among the future people of God. Even in  Isa. 49:1-7 we how the Servant The Servant of the Lord is a chosen instrument by the Lord will be used to help Israel fulfill their calling to the nations. (1–3). The Servant glorifies the Lord before Israel and brings back the remnant of Israel ( 5–6). He has calling to all the nations (Gentiles). Kings and princes shall see and bow down to the Servant (vs. 7). Yet, for the sake of the glorified name of the Lord, this Servant also suffers (vs 4), being despised and abhorred by Israel (vs 7).

Furthermore, the temple in Jerusalem will be the mega-world center for true worship (Isa. 2:2) and everyone will come there and learn how to worship the true God (Isa. 2:3, 4; 56:2-8; 62:9-11). “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23).

The Gospel of Matthew: God’s Plan for Israel and the Nations

Given the Messiah is the ideal representative of His people, it should be no surprise that Matthew 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. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill its calling in the following passages:

 “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10: 5-6);

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 15: 24)

At the end of Matthew that Jesus commands his followers to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

We go onto read 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).  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).  The Messiah had done marvelous work by breaking down the barrier between Jew and Gentile. We are one new man! (Ephesians 2:13-17).

As we move to Romans 1:16, Paul discusses how the Gospel is  “to the Jew First, but also to the Greek.” The Greek word for first is “proton.” Paul was writing to the Jew first, not regarding a past activity, but as his present and active.  Paul went to the synagogue first in Salamis (13:5), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2), Berea (17:10), Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19 and 19:8).  Paul showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5), (Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11).

Israel’s National Restoration

Romans 11: 12 indicates a staged progression in blessing the Gentiles. The “riches” Gentiles are experiencing now during the state of Israel’s “stumbling” will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). The 10 references to “Israel” in Romans 9-11 refer to ethnic Israel so the Israel who will be saved in Rom 11:26 must refer to ethnic Israel. Israel will experience a national restoration and salvation at some point in the future.  There is no reason to think that “Israel” in Rom 9-11 is referring to ‘spiritual Israel’ which is composed of Jews and Gentiles.  Also, there is no use of “Israel” in the Gospels/Acts which does not refer to the Jewish people/nation, the Israel of the Jewish Scriptures.  Israel will be grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles leads it to respond (Rom 11:11-12; 15, 30-32).  [2]

The Messiah Has Come

In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Jewish Scriptures. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). Although general revelation shows man is under condemnation, it is not sufficient for salvation. The ultimate special revelation that God has given to mankind is the person of Jesus the Messiah.

As Heb. 1:1–2 says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil 2:5-7; Col 2:9;Titus 2;13; Heb 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1). Furthermore, Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12).

While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it know that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah. (Rom. 3: 9; Acts 20:21). For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18).

The Primary Way God Reaches People: A Messenger

The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of the Gospel by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in Acts 10, Cornelius is shown to be a God fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).

One of the largest obstacles in motivating people to obey the Great Commission is a fear of rejection, misunderstanding, or ridicule. Perhaps we forget that Paul wrote to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). The fear of being rejected by people does not come from God. Since the primary role of the Holy Spirit is to magnify the person of Jesus (John 16:12-15), He is faithful to enable us to share the gospel with the people He brings into our lives. The motivation for communicating the gospel is a compassion for people and a desire to bring glory to God. It is incumbent upon each follower of Jesus to ask whether they will make a commitment to obey God.

Conclusion

In the end, the net result of teaching on the role of mission in the Bible should be a fresh zeal for sharing the Gospel with a lost and needy world.  The God of the Bible is a missionary God!  Starting with Abraham, the plan was set for the entire nation to be involved in a ministry of being priests and witnesses to the entire world. Jesus has now authorized his followers to do the same (Matt 28:19).  When Christians start sharing their faith on a regular basis, the objections will come. Hence, they should see the need for apologetics.


[1] Jaques Doukhan, On The Way To Emmaus: Five Major Messianic Prophecies Explained ( Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012), 30.

[2] These points are laid out in Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (Nashville, TN : B&H Academic, 2010)

The Top Four Apologetic Posts of the Week

Here are my four picks for the week. Happy Reading!

 Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive by James Warner Wallace

Atheist Matt Dillahunty Goes After Intelligent Design — and Stumbles

God of the Big Bang: An Interview with Leslie Wickman, Rocket Scientist

Responding to the Muslim Objections of the Bible | David Wood & Sam Shamoun

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