A Look at Hermeneutics 101

 

Introduction

Hermeneutics is the art and science of Biblical interpretation. It is a crucial part of discipleship. Also, it is because of a lack of understanding of hermeneutics that people misunderstand the Bible.  So in this post I have created some rather simple pointers. This is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the subject.

Why Learn About Hermeneutics?

1. If we misunderstand the correct interpretation of Scripture, it most certainly can lead to improper conduct. Hence, one must be sure he is interpreting properly.

2. The Bible may be misused when you are ignorant about a certain topic.

3. The Bible may be misused when we take a verse out of context!

  • Example: 1 John 2:27 says, “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” Is this saying there is no need for teaching? Of course not. Otherwise we would not see the commands to teach and preach the word. If you look at the passage in context, it is discernment for truth and abiding in Him.

4. The Bible may be misused when we read something into a passage and have it say what it doesn’t say:

  • Example: Mark 16: 17-18: “These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues;  they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  Some think this passage commands Christians to do all the things listed here.

4. One of the primary tasks of the Christian is to know God: The Bible is the primary way we come to build our knowledge of God.

5. Paul exhorts Timothy to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

What is the the Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics?

1. The Bible, God’s Word, is “living and active” operative or effective” (Heb. 4:12; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13: 1 Pet 1:23).

2.The Spirit’s ministry does not mean He gives new revelation: His work is always through and in association with the written Word of God, not beyond it or in addition to it. The Holy Spirit and the Word operate together.

3. The role of the Holy Spirit in Bible interpretation means that the unregenerate do not welcome and apply God’s truth, though they are able to comprehend many of its statements cognitively: Paul insisted that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:14). They cannot even “know” him. But Paul does not say that natural persons cannot perceive truth about God, but that they do not receive (Gk. dekomai, “welcome”) it.

4. Remember a person’s preunderstanding:  Atheists, for example, come to the Bible with the preunderstanding that the miracles of Jesus must be interpreted as fiction/myth (they didn’t happen). Because atheists assume that there is no God, they cannot interpret these passages as literally true.

5. Carnality is a hindrance to understanding and interpretation: A worldly Christian, one who is not obeying the truth and is not yielded to the Lord, is unable to understand the Word fully (1 Cor 3:1-3) and “is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (Heb 5:13). Carnality is a hindrance to understanding and interpretation.

6.  The role of the Spirit in interpretation is no substitute for diligent study: The Holy Spirit works through the efforts of the individual as he reads the Bible, and studies it, meditates on it, and consults other works about it. Therefore, the Spirit’s work in biblical interpretation does not rule out the use of study helps such as commentaries and Bible dictionaries:  The Holy Spirit works with our hard work. He does not promote laziness!

 Remember this Terminology:

Exegesis: The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the original text which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance. This includes the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other aspects of exegesis include the study of literary genres , grammatical  (the relationship that words, phrases, or sentences have toward one another) and syntactical (relationship of words) features in the text itself.

Eisegesis: The opposite of exegesis (to draw out) is to do eisegesis (to draw in),  his or her own purely subjective interpretations in to the text, unsupported by the text. In other words, instead of asking “What did this passage mean to the original audience, we skip that and ask, “What does the text mean to me?”

Descriptive (it describes the situation in the passage/what happened then). Prescriptive (prescribes what we ought to do today/what we must do now).

Example: Matthew 10: 5-8: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.  Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

This passage describes the situation- Jesus is sending out his disciples with specific instructions. He tells them to only go to the Jewish people. But can this be prescriptive for today? Do all churches/Christians only evangelize Jewish people? No! After his resurrection Jesus commands his disciples to preach the Gospel to the nations.

Figurative or Literal? 

 Common Question: “Do you take the Bible literally?”

Response: “Did the original author mean for his original audience to take the passage literally?” A literal approach does not preclude or exclude figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, correct understanding of types, illustrations, metaphor, apocalypses, and other genres within the basic framework of literal interpretation.

Did the original author mean it to be literal or figurative? Example: Someone reject the miracles of Jesus as literal events. But is that the intention of the original author?

Literal refers to the thing itself, while figurative is generally an analogy, parallel, to the thing itself.

Equating literal with real and the figurative with the unreal:

1 Cor. 3:10-15 speaks of the judgment of Christians. Paul speaks of building on a foundation with materials that are either combustible or noncombustible. The fire will bring out the difference between two kinds of materials. All of this is a figurative way of saying that the motives of believers while performing Christian service will be judged by God himself. Only Christian work that originates from the right motives will be rewarded, and in that sense, enduring. There will probably not be a literal bonfire in heaven at the judgment seat of Christ, but that does not mean the judgment of the works of the Christians is any less real.

Assuming a single passage of Scripture must be fully literal or fully figurative:

In many cases, some passages alternate back and forth between the literal and figurative: John 1:10: Christ “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” In the first two occurrences of “world” it means the physical world, the globe. But in the third case, “world” means people who inhabit the globe.

Mark 10: 29-30: “Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” The relatives first mentioned are literal, as are the homes and fields. But the second mention of the relatives cannot be literal, since it is impossible to have 100 mothers.

Some Simple Tips in Studying the Bible:

 The Christian reads the passage and makes observations? Example: John 4:1-26

  • Why did Jesus ask for a drink? (4:7)
  • What was the name of the well (4:6)
  • Whom did Jesus speak to? (4:7)
  • How did Jesus capture the woman’s interest? (4:7-9-16;19-26)
  • When did the woman usually draw water from the well? (4:6)
  • Where was Galilee in relation to Judea? (4:1-3)

 The Christians then tries to interpret the passage:

What did the author mean to convey to the original audience? This takes into account the entire context and cultural background of the passage. How does the passage relate to the entire book? The meaning of any passage is nearly always determined, controlled, or limited by what appears immediately beforehand and afterward in the text.

Make sure to remember what multiple passages say something about a topic: All Scripture  assumes the unity and harmony of teaching throughout the Bible. In other words, when multiple passages say something about a topic (either explicitly or implicitly), then what those passages say about that topic should be consistent:

  • Example:  Psalm34:15 speaks of God having eyes and ears, whereas John 4:24 says God is spirit. We can reconcile them when we recognize that in Psalm34:15 the author is using a figure of speech and is not asserting that God has literal, physical eyes and ears. He is asserting, rather, that God watches over His people and hears their cries for help; whereas in John4:24 Jesus is asserting that God is not a physical being, therefore, the physical location of His worshipers is not what is most important to Him.

Interpret in light of progressive revelation (Heb. 1:1, 2). While God’s purpose for man has never changed, His strategy in accomplishing that purpose has changed.

Example: Theocracy was commanded in the Hebrew Bible, but secular government is affirmed in the New Testament. (Rom. 13:1-7; Mt. 22:21; )

 Application: An application should be tangible and realistic. Also,  application is also a process. Remember, surrender is the key of all application. Disobedience clouds our ability to discover and do God’s will.  The goal is changed living!

Questions to ask:

  • Is there a command to obey?
  • An example to follow?
  • A sin to forsake?
  • A new truth to learn about God?
  • An error to avoid?

One of the best resources for getting started on the issue of hermeneutics is Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Revised and Updated by: William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard Jr.  The section on this post called The Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics  by Roy B. Zuck was adapted from their text. Some of the other points in this post were adapted from  Studying, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible . I also suggest  Fee and Stewart’s How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth .

For an excellent online resource, see D.A. Carson’s on 12 Principles of Biblical Interpretation

Common Questions About Trying To Do An Apologetics Ministry On A Major College Campus

In 2004, I started going to the Ohio State University and engaging students for the truth claims of Christianity. I did hundreds of surveys with students and certainly begin to see some of the objections people had to the Christian faith. Around 2006 I moved away from the survey approach and started using a variety of approaches to reach out to the students here. Anyway, it was 2009 when myself along with some  students at The Ohio State University planted a Ratio Christi chapter on the campus. This was done out of the necessity for a stronger apologetics presence on the campus. Since we planted the chapter, we have had some very well-known speakers come such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown, Michael Licona,  Paul Nelson and James Warner Wallace. We have also had some student debates with the skeptic group on the campus. Anyway, I wanted to go ahead and share some of the trends and objections that I have seen on the campus over the last several years. Keep in mind that Ohio State is a very large campus (60,000) students. So what is it like to try to do an apologetics ministry on a major college campus? Here are some common questions that I tend to get asked:

#1: What kind of objections do you tend to hear on a large college campus?

I list some of the objections here.

#2:  Do college students know what apologetics is?

Some do while others have no idea what apologetics is. I can recall several times being out on the campus sharing my faith with our table talking to students about the Gospel and our apologetics ministry at the campus. More than one student has said “So what is apologetics?”  So in many cases we are always explaining the role of apologetics.  Once I ask students if they ever heard any tough objections to their faith on the campus or in the classroom, the light bulb goes off.  We educate and exhort people to learn to articulate and defend their faith. I have a clip from a ways back here where I am talking to a student about the need for apologetics campus.

#3:   What About  the Challenge of Post Modernism?

We have experienced some challenges with postmodernism on the campus. I also see alot of pragmatism, mysticism, etc. Also, take a look at the following clips and tell me if the objections you hear here sound more modern or post-modern to you.

 

#4: How do you know what  speakers to bring to the campus?

This can be a challenge. First, we have to think about what speakers are a good match for the campus. Is the speaker a good speaker? Do they connect with students? Are they difficult to understand? Are they really an authority on a particular topic? What will be a title for an event that will grab people’s attention? What is the cost of the speaker? Let me give an example: I brought William Lane Craig to the campus a several years back. He did a lecture on seven reasons for the existence of God. Some students said it was great. Others said it was too much information. Others said he was over their heads.  The next year I brought in Frank Turek.  Many students enjoyed Frank. Of course, the atheists didn’t like him. But that is no shock! The other challenge to bringing a speaker to the campus is that we have to work hard at promoting an event. This includes flyers, social media, word of mouth, etc. I recall one time when I was out promoting the Turek event on campus. A student walked up to me and said they were offended by the title ( I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist). That’s  no shock at all.

#5: Do you see results from this kind of ministry?

That depends on what you mean by results. We exist to strengthen the faith of Christians and help others see there are Christians that do care about the “what’”and “why” of what we believe. We also want to Christians confident in their witness to others. We have some testimonies here.

Feel free to watch some our speakers from the events we have had here:

Frank Turek, author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To An Athesist ’s Exchange with Jewish Atheist on the Hell Question

Michael Licona lecturing on the Resurrection of Jesus

Michael Brown lecturing on whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah

Does The Bible Provide an Adequate Answer to Suffering? Dr. Michael Brown vs Dr. Bart Ehrman

William Lane Craig answering questions at our Ohio State Event

Paul Nelson lecturing on whether we can detect design in the natural sciences

The Son of God/Son of David and The Good News

The Son of God/Son of David and The Good News

When it comes to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, there is no disagreement between Christians and Jewish people that the Messiah has to be a descendant of David. The area of disagreement is when Christians assert that Jesus is the divine Son of God.  What Christians tend to forget is that the designation “Son of God” is used in various ways in the Old Testament—not just to refer to God’s only begotten Son in the way Christians would assume. When Jewish people thought of the Davidic King as the Son of God, it had very little to do with the Second person of the Trinity. In other words, “Son of God” didn’t denote divinity. Even though divine sonship does appear in the Jewish Scriptures in reference to persons or people groups, such as angels (Gen. 6:2; Job 1:6; Dan. 3:25)  and Israel (Exod. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1; Mal. 2:10), the category that has special importance to the Son of God issue is that of king.

Not only did God promise that Israel would have an earthly king, (Gen. 17:6; 49:6; Deut. 17:14-15), he also promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever ( 2 Sam. 7:12-17; 1 Chron. 17:7-15). In other words, David’s line would eventually reach its climax in the birth of a person who would guarantee David’s dynasty and throne forever. For example, Psalm 2 (which is a coronation hymn, similar to 2 Kings 11:12) describes the king’s crowning. Just as 1 Chronicles informs us that “the fame of David went out into all lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him upon all nations,” [1] so 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). In addition, Psalm 2 declares that God will ultimately subjugate all nations to the rule of the Davidic throne.[2] In Psalm 89:24-27, the Davidic King is elevated over the rivers and seas and is the most exalted ruler on earth. He also will be the “firstborn” and enjoy the highest rank among all earthly kings. In Psalm 110, the Davidic King is invited to sit at God’s “right hand,” and is called “lord” and called a “priest” after the pattern of Melchizedek.[3]  John Collins, who is a specialist on this topic, says the following about the Davidic Messiah:

This concept of the Davidic Messiah, as the warrior king who would destroy the enemies of Israel and institute an era of unending peace constitutes the common core of Jewish messianism around the turn of the era. . .  . There was a dominant notion of a Davidic Messiah, as the king who would restore the kingdom of Israel, which was part of the common Judaism around the turn of the era.[3]

Collins goes on to say:

He is the scepter who will smite the nation, slay the wicked with the breath of his lips and restore the Davidic dynasty. Hence his role is in the eschatological war. He is the Messiah of righteousness, who will usher in an era of peace and justice. He is presumably a human figure, although he is endowed with the Spirit of the Lord. He is expected to restore a dynasty rather than rule himself.[4]

There is also a text in the Qumran literature, which predates the New Testament, about the Davidic King:

[And] Yahweh [de]clares to thee that he will build thee a house; and I will raise up thy seed after thee, and I will establish his royal throne [forev]er. I wi[ll be] a father to him and he shall be my son. (2 Sam.7.11c, 12b-c, 13, 14a). This is the Branch of David which will arise with the Seeker of the law and who will sit on the throne of Zion at the end of days; as it is written I will raise up the tabernacle of David which is fallen [Amos 9.11]. This tabernacle of David which is fallen (is) he who will arise to save Israel. (4Qflor.1.110-13) [5]

Furthermore, though Luke calls Yeshua the “Son of the Most High,” there is a similar theme in Qumran literature:

He will be called the son of God, and they will shall call him the son of the Most High. . . . until the people of God arises and makes everyone rest from the sword. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all his paths truth. He will judge the earth in truth and all will make peace. The sword will cease from the earth and all the provinces will pay him homage. The great God is his strength, he will wage war for him; he will place the peoples in his hand and cast them away before him. His rule will be an eternal rule (4Q246 II, I, 1-9).[6]

Collins goes on to concede that even if the dominant Messianic expectation mostly revolved around a Davidic warrior, hardly anything in the Gospels corresponds with the Jewish expectation of a militant messiah. Keeping these principles in mind, let’s look at Romans 1:1-5:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as 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 born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here we see Paul’s message of Good News is the following: Yeshua is the Son of God/The Davidic King (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:2, 7; 89:19-21, 26-27) and there will always be a King on the throne of David. Thus, Jesus  is “designated” or “declared” as the Son of God and this “Good News” was announced in the Jewish Scriptures. As seen in 2 Samuel 7:12-17, the immediate prophecy is partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon. However, as already said, the word “forever” shows there are future descendants to come. God promised David that his “seed” would establish the kingdom. There were two possibilities for a coming Davidic King to rule forever: Either God could continually raise up a new heir, or He could have someone come who would never die. Better yet, He had someone come who did die, but who rose again to live forever.  Does this sound like the need for a resurrection?

So now a pertinent question arises: “How many modern day Gospel presentations utilize what Paul says here in Romans 1:1-5 about the Davidic King?”

Sources:

[1] H. W. Bateman IV, D. L. Bock, and G. H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 80.

[2] Ibid, 97.

(3) Ibid.

[4)J. J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007), 68, 209.

[5]  C. A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill. 2001), 104.

[6]A. M. Mengestu, God as Father in Paul: Kinship Language and Identity Formation in Early Christianity (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 154.

 

Why the Apostles Creed Falls Short

Almost every Christian and almost every church has recited the Apostles Creed. I am not against this. But let me ask you a question: If you read this creed, how much would you find out about the humanity of Jesus? While there is a mentioning of his death under Pilate and his burial as well, would you ever read this and realize Jesus was Jewish? You may say, “well of course he was Jewish and everyone knows that!” You would be surprised. Here is the creed:

“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

As James Dunn says,

“The more significance we Christians, recognize in Jesus, God’s self revelation in fullest form possible within humanity, the more we need to recall that this incarnation took place  precisely in a Jew- Jesus the Jew”-The Parting of the Ways, Between Christianity and Judaism and Their Significance for the Character of Christianity, pg 258.  

And as Craig Evans says,

” If the interpreter has found the proper context, his or her interpretation will be the better informed and more accurate for it. Becoming acquainted with Jesus’ Jewish context is a must for sound exegesis; finding it brings us much closer to the Jesus of history and of faith.”-  Jesus and Judaism, Available at http://www.gci.org/jesus/Judaism

Building on what Dunn and Evans says, it couldn’t be more evident that without the proper context, we end up with a Jesus made into our own image. As Clemens Thoma says:

“Christians have torn Jesus from the soil of Israel. They have de-Judaised, uprooted, alienated, Hellenized, and Europeanized him. The consequences of these manipulations and whitewashings are hopeless confusion about the person of Jesus, the nature and tasks of Christianity, and the meaning of Judaism in religious history.”- A Christian Theology of Judaism, pg. 107.

As Anthony Saldarini says:

“Does Jesus the Jew—as a Jew—have any impact on Christian theology and on Jewish-Christian relations? . . . To wrench Jesus out of his Jewish world destroys Jesus and destroys Christianity, the religion that grew out of his teachings. Even Jesus’ most familiar role as Christ is a Jewish role. If Christians leave the concrete realities of Jesus’ life and of the history of Israel in favor of a mythic, universal, spiritual Jesus and an otherworldly kingdom of God, they deny their origins in Israel, their history, and the God who loved and protected Israel and the church. They cease to interpret the actual Jesus sent by God and remake him in their own image and likeness. The dangers are obvious. If Christians violently wrench Jesus out of his natural, ethnic and historical place within the people of Israel, they open the way to doing equal violence to Israel, the place and people of Jesus.

As Philip Yancey says,

“Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,”The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either.” – P. Yancey,  The Jesus I Never Knew. 55.

Jaroslav Pelikan also makes a significant comment:

“Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?”- Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture, pg 20.

Even though this was written a ways back,

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has made a great contribution to the continuity of Jesus’ relationship with Israel. He says:

“Scholarship is now recognizing that Jesus’ mission was directed toward the nation of Israel. This means that his understanding of God himself must be oriented toward an understanding of God that emerges from the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, which guided the history of the nation to the time of Jesus. The God of Jesus, accordingly, is the God of Israel, who is now restoring the nation and renewing its people as he had promised long ago.”- McKnight, S, A New Vision For Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context, pg  19.

Given N.T. Wright’s massive work on understanding Jesus in his Jewish context, it will be interesting to see where we go as we move forward on this topic.

J.P. Moreland: The Relevance of Rational Apologetics

Here is an excerpt from the fabulous book called Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland

“FOR THE PAST THIRTY YEARS and more, J. P. Moreland has tenaciously defended the idea that advancing apologetic arguments on behalf of the truth of Christianity is essential to the health and vitality of the cause of Christ. In countless articles, books, sermons, interviews, lectures, and debates, J. P. has taught and embodied the (perhaps initially) unexpected truth that there is no conflict between faith and reason, between what is known based on the Bible. Indeed, he has had the audacity to claim that apologetics is actually a “New Testament ministry.” Thus, as followers of Jesus, we’re obliged to engage in it. J. P.’s strong advocacy in this area has fanned into a flame the wake-up call originally issued to an intellectually slumbering Church by the apologetic giants of the last generation (Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, and others). We are all the better for it. Apologetics organizations, radio shows, conferences, websites, and blogs literally abound. In many ways, things have never been better in the world of apologetics. And yet there is little denying the fact that the predominant outlook and trajectory of the coming generation of evangelicals is decidedly anti-intellectual. Titles with highly relational themes such as Blue Like Jazz and Love Wins are instantly snapped up by young evangelicals, becoming bestsellers virtually overnight. We are not prophets (nor even the sons of prophets), but it seems clear to us that the apologetic torch J. P. has carried throughout his ministry—and which he has passed to us—might well be extinguished in a future evangelical subculture that scorns the very notion of rational, truth-based apologetics. No doubt we will be told that such an approach to engaging nonbelievers is intolerant, irrelevant, and non-relational. It advances itself by making objective truth claims, as opposed to participating in “conversations” where the aim is merely to appreciate one another, minimize our differences, and enjoy the process.

According to J. P., there are four reasons we should engage in rational apologetics. First, it is a biblical command (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15) for which we have pristine examples in the ministries of Jesus and Paul. We should obey the command and follow the examples. Since, in particular, “Paul reasoned with unbelievers and gave evidence for the gospel,”so should we. Secondly, apologetics serves to remove impediments to faith “and thus aid[s] unbelievers in embracing the gospel.”And of course that is a good thing. Third, it strengthens believers by (i) instilling in them the conviction that their faith is true and reasonable, and (ii) fostering spiritual growth by filling out their Christian worldview, thereby enabling them to better see God at work in His two books: the Bible and the book of nature. And then finally, apologetics contributes “to health in the culture at large.” It promotes the idea that Christianity can be argued for with publicly accessible facts. It can’t be culturally quarantined as a stream of emotive, cognitively meaningless nonsense. Now what’s truly striking about this fourfold purpose is just how relational it is. It speaks of the relation of the believer to himself (his own spiritual life), the believer to the unbeliever, and the believer to the larger culture. And the role of apologetics in each case (as J. P. sees it) is to help people become rightly related to the Ultimate Person—God Himself. So at first glance this worry about apologetics being anti-relational seems perplexing. If anything, the exact opposite seems to be true. J. P.-style apologetics is fully and completely relational.”– RICHARD BRIAN DAVIS AND W. PAUL FRANKS, What Place, then, for Rational Apologetics?, featured in Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland (p. 129). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Five Lessons on the Jewish Roots of Christianity

Over the years, I have had the privilege of teaching on Jewish backgrounds of the Christian faith. I am not part of the Hebrew Roots movement.  But I think it is significant that when Marvin Wilson released his book last year called Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal, David Neff, who is former editor of Christianity Today, said the following:

“As a historical religion, Christianity must own its Jewish origins and live up to the best of that heritage. Marvin Wilson, a pioneer in evangelical-Jewish relations, makes a compelling argument for renewing Christian faith by recovering our Hebraic heritage. If only there were more like him, we could have a healthier church.”

So what about the renewal aspect that Neff mentions here? Here are five  lessons Christians can learn from the Jewish roots of their faith.

#1: Jesus and the Name of God

Regarding the disciples prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), Jesus says:

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,  your kingdom come.”

Regarding the hallowing of God’s name, Scot McKnight says:

“At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus’ vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother” “Countless Christians repeat the Lord’s Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to “hallow” or “sanctify” the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus’ day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God’s awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. “Reverencing the Name of God” is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God’s Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of God in it’s behavior” (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).
God’s Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God’s Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence,” or “sanctify” the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in the context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites.” -Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans. Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85.

#2: Discipleship

The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now- not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving (by God’s grace) to be consistent follower of Jesus.

The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.

Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. For those that say they don’t need discipleship, you are setting yourself up for failure. Sorry to be so blunt. But there is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian.

Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. In an overly sensate culture, people need to be constantly stimulated and have a hard time focusing on something such as discipleship. In a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness.

#3: The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.-Deut 6:4-9

This was something every Jewish child would memorize at a very early age.In Deut : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We are to love him with everything. Not just our
heart and strength but with our very lives! We love our God with our emotions, our actions, and our entire beings (including our minds).

In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by quoting the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord
our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added to the
Shema a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Shema is the central creed for Jesus!

#4: Who Founded Christianity? Jesus, Paul, or Neither One?

Craig A. Evans

 
In it he 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 conversion 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.
Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century wasn’t seen as a single “way.” There were many “Judaism’s”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).  Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.

Let me add another quote by Evans:

But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation .

Take a look at both quotes from Evans in this post.  From my own experience, most Christians and Jewish people like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions- Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about as to how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine  and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion.

As Evans says, this was the result of complex factors

#5: What Does it Mean to say Jesus is the “Christ”?

There is no doubt that the major identity marker for a committed Christian is to say they follow Jesus Christ. But for the average Jewish person, the name “Jesus Christ” has no relationship to Judaism. And for the average Christian, there is little a very limited understanding as to what it means to even say Jesus is “The Christ.”  In my personal experience, many of my Christian friends are fully convinced  that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Millions of sermons as well as evangelistic appeals are given each year to people to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. But when it comes to thinking about whether Jesus is actually the promised Messiah of Israel and the nations, many Christians know every little about what it means to affirm Jesus is actually the Messiah. Michael Bird says it so well:

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 , Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163.

But if we probe deeper, the Greek word Christos, from which we get the English word “Christ” carries the same connotations as the Hebrew word — “the Anointed One” which is where the word “messiah” comes from. 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 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 (1Kgs.19:16; 1 Chron.16:22; Ps.105:15)

After teaching on this topic for several years, Dr. Brant Pitre summarizes the challenge that lays before us:

“Regarding Jesus, according to the testimony of the four Gospels, who did he claim to be? Who did his first followers believe him to be? And, even more important, why did they believe in him? As soon as we ask this question, we run into a bit of a problem—a paradox of sorts. I’ve noticed this paradox over the last ten years that I’ve been teaching the Bible as a professor in the classroom. On the one hand, if I ask my students what kind of Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for in the first century AD, they all seem to be very clear about the answer. Usually, their standard response goes “At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were waiting for an earthly, political Messiah to come and set them free from the Roman Empire.” On the other hand, if I ask students which prophecies led to this ancient Jewish hope for an earthly, political Messiah, they are often at a complete loss. The classroom quickly falls silent. They often get even quieter when I ask, “Which prophecies of the Messiah did Jesus actually fulfill?” or “What prophecies did the first Jewish Christians think he fulfilled?” Every time I pose these questions, the vast majority of the students (who are usually all Christians) can’t answer them. They often can’t name a single prophecy that Jesus fulfilled that would show that he was in fact the Messiah. Every now and then, one or two students may bring up the oracle of the virgin who bears a child (Isaiah 7) or the passage about the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52–53). However, that’s usually as far as it goes. If my experiences are any indication, many contemporary Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t necessarily know why they believe he was the Messiah, much less why his first followers thought he was the long-awaited king of Israel.”—B. Pitre, The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ(New York: Crown Publishing. 2016), 102-103.

I hope these five lessons can enhance your faith and help you to be a stronger disciple of Jesus.

Physicist Michael Strauss Discusses Christianity and Science at Stanford University

Well my friend Wintery Knight has been belting out the posts lately. Here is another good one:

This is one of my favorite lectures, by one of the people I admire the most for his scientific work and robust, evangelical Christian faith.

About Michael Strauss:

His full biography is here. (I removed his links from my excerpt text below)

Excerpt:

I had an interest in science and theology, so in 1977 I chose to go to Biola University where I could study both subjects in detail. I thoroughly enjoyed college and participated in intramural sports, was elected to student government, served as a resident assistant, competed in forensics, and studied a lot. As I neared college graduation my dual interest continued so I applied to seminary and to graduate school. After graduating summa cum laude from Biola, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in physics at UCLA.

During my first few years of graduate school, I developed an increased interest in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics and decided to do research in a field that dealt with these subjects. I joined a High Energy Physics experimental group doing research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to actively participate in research at SLAC. I graduated in 1988 with my Ph.D in High Energy Physics (a.k.a. Elementary Particle Physics). If you would like to know more about High Energy Physics, the Particle Data Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a very nice interactive adventure that teaches you all about the subject. My research advisor was professor Charles Buchanan and my disertation was titled “A Study of Lambda Polarization and Phi Spin Alignment in Electron-Positron Annihilation at 29 GeV as a Probe of Color Field Behavior.”

To read on and see the lecture with Wintery’s commentary, see here:

A Response to David Klinghoffer’s “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point In Western History”

David Klinghoffer is a observant Jewish person who happens to be a big advocate of the Intelligent Design movement. He also is the author of the book  Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History. I guess I have never understood the title of this book. First of all, did all the Jews at the time of Jesus reject him? Let’s look at the evidence. In the Book of Acts (Acts 2:41) we see 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7) “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands”; Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. Now I know not every single Jewish person accepted him as the Promised Messiah. But then again, since where  is the messianic qualification that the Messiah must be accepted by every single Jewish person (including all of the religious establishment)? The prophets were rejected by their people and Jesus is the ultimate prophet who is the one like Moses spoke about (Deut 18:15-18).  I won’t offer a full blown review of the book here. But I want to mention one major issue:

 Klinghoffer summarizes Israel’s messianic expectation, articulated in the prophets such as Ezekiel, in the following list: (1) gathering of Jewish exiles; (2) the reign of a messianic king; (3) a new covenant characterized by a scrupulous observance of the commandments; (4) eternal peace; (5) a new temple; and (6) the nations recognize God. Klinghoffer argues that these criteria disqualify Jesus for any messianic claim because none of them was fulfilled during Jesus’ lifetime.—David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 36.

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “heads, I win, tails you lose approach.”  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.”

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment.

Also,the other problem with the assertion by Klinghoffer is that it ignores the contingent element to messianic prophecy. In other words, the covenants that were made between God and Israel both have a conditional and unconditional element to them. Obviously, we see for Klinghoffer and Jewish people, the redemptive work of the Messiah is one act play that isn’t broken up into different time periods. We already quoted other Jewish authors who think the Messiah and the Messianic Age can’t be separated from one another. Thus, when the Messiah comes to bring his kingdom, it is to this world that he comes and in this world that he establishes his reign. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness. While God made unconditional promises to Israel in both of these covenants, Israel has to do their part to obtain the fullest blessings of the covenant. Obviously when we read the Jewish Scriptures it is evident that this didn’t happen. Thus, Israel was judged and sent into exile. Therefore, there is a delay in the blessings. Since God’s plan is to reach the non-Jewish nations, as for now, Gentile believers are grafted into Israel’s new covenant (Romans 11:17). As Michael Kogan says:

Has Jesus brought redemption to Israel? No, but he has brought the means of redemption to the gentiles—and that in the name of Israel’s God—thus helping Israel to fulfill its calling to be a blessing to all peoples. A Jewish Messiah for the gentiles! Perhaps, as I have suggested, an inversion of Cyrus’s role as a gentile Messiah for the Jews. Israel is redeemed by engaging in redemptive work. Perhaps redemption is not a final state but a process, a life devoted to bringing oneself and others before God. To live a life in relationship to the Holy One and to help the world to understand itself as the Kingdom of God—which it, all unknowingly, already is—is to participate in redemption, to live a redemptive life. This has been Israel’s calling from the beginning.”–Michael S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity (Oxford University Press. 2007), 68.

But even though the nations of the world have been allowed the opportunity to participate in the New Covenant, we need to heed the words of Paul who said that in the future God will fulfill his promises to Israel. For Paul, while Gentiles are experiencing spiritual blessings during the state of Israel’s “stumbling,” this will escalate with the “full number” of national Israel’s salvation (see Rom. 11:26). Hence, while Israel that has been hardened, in the future, all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Romans 11:26–29, quoting Isaiah 59:20–21).

As I said, this post isn’t meant to be a full review of the book. But I felt compelled to respond to this issue. Grace and peace!