A Look at the God of the Gaps Fallacy

In studying the natural sciences, people are in agreement that those things which are directly observable or inferentially derived from the available evidence are truly real. Now, attempts to point to God as an explanation for the evidence is often what skeptics call the God of the Gaps fallacy. It works like this: a theist says that human knowledge, when using empirical science, reaches a point of mystery and the unknown. He or she might say, “We cannot explain the origin of the universe with science, so God must have created us.” On this line of thinking, there is a ‘gap’ in our knowledge, and ‘God’ fills in the gap which then provides closure to the mystery of cosmic origins. But then, a skeptic replies that when enough new information is gained, the gap in our knowledge closes, and ‘poof’—there goes the whole ‘God’ hypothesis. The whole idea of God as Creator went away as the gap closed!

The God of the Gaps fallacy is different from both abduction (inference to the best explanation) and Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason (while the PSR is explanatory in nature—much like the God of the Gaps fallacy, it uses the principle of causality in order to deny an infinite regress of explanations for why things exist. This is not the same as trying to ‘close a gap’ of knowledge with ‘God’). God of the Gaps arguments depend upon a lack of knowledge in order to sustain the belief that God exists. As long as one affirms theism because of one’s inability to explain some feature of reality, the skeptic can simply posit that science will soon provide an answer for the unexplained feature in the not-too-distant future. This is not the way a theist should make his or her case to a skeptic.

Instead, abduction affirms that given the evidence at hand, theism is the better explanation for what we observe, compared to chance or necessity. It has been stated that chance is not a thing that has power to do anything. In addition, chance is ruled out by measuring probabilities, and necessity is ruled out by simple reason. Consider the universe: as we have mentioned, there are several conditions necessary for the emergence of any complex life forms to arise in the universe. A low-entropy universe is necessary for the emergence, development, and complexity of life forms (a high entropy universe would run out of energy and not allow for the development of complex life forms). Therefore, the probability is far too low for the universe to have arisen by random chance. Roger Penrose, a world-class mathematician of Oxford, has calculated that the odds of low-entropy states existing by chance alone are 10^10^123 to one.[1]

Is the universe necessarily the way it is? Could it have been different? Of course! Is there any reason or amount of evidence which suggests that the universe is necessarily fine-tuned for life? No, it isn’t necessary that the universe is the way it is, or even that it is in the first place. This leaves us with the only alternative: design. Chance, necessity, or design; it is the latter that provides the best explanation given the evidence we have. So far so good. But, what if new evidence were to come about? Wouldn’t that provide the opportunity to return to chance, and thus make abduction no different than the God of the Gaps fallacy? Not at all. This is because God of the Gaps arguments punt to the notion of God’s existence based upon a lack of knowledge. Contrariwise, an inference to the best explanation relies on what is known: the scientific data shows that the universe is finely-tuned, and how such meticulous fine-tuning could not happen by chance or necessity. So, no, inference to the best explanation is not a God of the Gaps fallacy, and it is a viable way to understand evidence.

As stated earlier, empirical science has its limits. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reveals the modern sentiment regarding the relationship between ‘science and religion’:

Because science is limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is precluded from making statements about supernatural forces because these are outside its provenance. Science has increased our knowledge because of this insistence on the search for natural causes.[2]

As the NASEM states, there are epistemic limitations of science in terms of its explanatory power: supernatural explanations are not allowed, and this is because the province of science is limited to the sphere of the empirical. The method that is defined here is followed by most people in the academic world. The NASEM doctrine is reminiscent of the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) of paleontologist Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002). NOMA states that there are two domains—science and religion, and each domain has its own, unique area of authority. The domain science tells us how the starry heaven go, and the domain of religion tells us how to go to the starry heavens.

Rather than adopting the epistemology of NOMA however, we prefer to say that there are degrees of knowledge, rather than separate domains, as the NASEM states. For empirical science, as seen from the section on Thomas’ 2nd Way, leads us to discussing whether the objects of empirical study have natures or essences, along with principles of causality when investigating things like efficient causes.  When we start asking questions like that—and they are inevitable—then we enter into the realm of philosophy more broadly, and metaphysics in particular. (Metaphysics then leads us to discussing the question of the existence of God. So, empirical science leads us to God, although it leads us through degrees and up the ladder of abstract thought from sensible objects e.g. apples, humans, and dogs, to the nature and essence of these things, culminating in the divine Being who is Pure Act and whose essence is his existence).

From the NASEM doctrine, there tends to be a sneaky commitment—once again—to quasi scientism. By this, we understand NASEM to be saying that public, objective knowledge is found in science, while private, subjective knowledge is found in religion. Scientism is epistemological, saying only (empirical) science gives us the truth about the world. As we have seen, scientism holds to metaphysical commitments as well. In his review of Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, zoologist and biologist Richard C. Lewontin explains how scientists have their own biases, along with prior commitments to the philosophy of materialism (the metaphysical idea that only matter exists):

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.[3]

Notice that Lewontin is arguing that no matter where the evidence leads, the goal of science is to give naturalistic or materialistic answers. But Lewontin is confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. Methodological naturalism is a position that says science should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science. In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition, is arguing in a circle.

Scientism, then, is at fault for arguing in a circle due to its pre-commitment to metaphysical naturalism. As a helpful guide, C. John Collins offers some useful definitions regarding the difference between natural and supernatural:

Natural: God made the universe from nothing and endowed the things that exist with “natural properties”; he preserves those properties, and he also confirms their interactions in a web of cause-and-effect relations.

Supernatural: God is also free to “inject” special operations of his power into this web at any time, e.g., by adding objects, directly causing events, enabling an agent to do what its own natural properties would never have made it capable of, and by imposing organization, according to his purposes.[4]

Even though some people see a crucial distinction between the natural and supernatural, the Bible affirms that God is sovereign over creation, and thus the natural and supernatural are conjoined. Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes, “according to [serious theism], God is already and always intimately acting in nature, which depends from moment to moment for its existence upon immediate divine activity; there isn’t and couldn’t be any such thing as his ‘intervening’ in nature.”[5] Since, within theism, God is sustaining the world, God’s actions in the world through miracles, say, are not understood as rank interventions done by an otherwise passive deity, but as the extra-normal activity of a personal God who is interested in showing his goodness and mercy to human beings, even as he sustains them in their being moment by moment.

Skeptics retort against the notion of divine activity by saying that the universe needs no explanation at all, so all this talk about defining science, and the relationship between the natural and supernatural is moot, because the universe is simply a ‘brute fact.’ This was the view of the logical positivists Rudolf Carnap and Bertrand Russell in the early 20th century. Logical positivism was the extension of David Hume’s empiricism, and thinkers like Carnap and Russell asserted that only empirical science gives the truth about the world. Scientism is really just logical positivism in new garb. All the same, while the ‘brute fact’ response seems to be a simpler explanation for the reason why the universe exists, in the end, it shows the emptiness of the materialist worldview. All worldviews should possess adequate explanatory power, and saying the universe is a ‘brute fact’ dismisses the question with a wave of the hand.[6]

To wrap things up: empirical science is generally restricted to questions about the cause and effect relationships among features of the natural world. The assumption of scientism is that an understanding of these leads to the conclusion that the Ultimate is known, and that the Ultimate is not God, but simply the brute fact of the universe. To the contrary, mathematician and philosopher John Lennox reminds us that we can investigate a Ford motor car and see how the impersonal principles of internal combustion cause the engine to work. However, just because we can’t see Mr. Ford directly, it doesn’t mean there is no Mr. Ford who designed the mechanisms of the motor car.[7] How does this illustration apply to God and the universe?  Lennox explains:

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal Creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe.  In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or upholder.[8]

 Sources 

[1] Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), pp.  762–765.

[2] “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science,” Available at The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine (1998), accessed October 14th, 2017, https://www.nap.edu/read/5787/chapter/11.

[3] Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” Available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/, accessed May 17th, 2017.

[4] C.J. Collins, The God of Miracles: An Exegetical Examination of God’s Action in the World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), Kindle Locations, 1374 of 2742.

[5] Alvin Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism? Part 2,” Available at http://www.arn.org/docs/odesign/od182/methnat182.htm, accessed July 19th, 2017.

[6] Explanatory power is the ability of a hypothesis or theory to effectively explain the subject matter it pertains to.

[7] John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Grand Rapids: Kegel Publishing, 2011), 44.

[8] Ibid.

 

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Did Jesus Have To Do Apologetics?

Living the faith and defending the faith. Are they mutually exclusive? A common objection to the need for apologetics goes like this:

“If more Christians lived the faith and spent less time trying to figure it out. We could then have people see for them selves that the peace we have, can be there’s . Jesus did not have to defend his position, He spoke what the father said to speak. The defense of the Christian is to try and convert people and Jesus said all you have to do is believe. So by living it, people will see it and believe.”

So what is the truth here? Did Jesus have to defend his position? Was Jesus an apologist?  Since there was no New Testament canon at that time, it is not as if Jesus was walking around with the text 1 Peter 3:15-16 where we read, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. So I doubt that Jesus walked around saying, “ I have been called to be an apologist and I need to carry out my task in a faithful manner.” However, Jesus had to offer several reasons on several occasions as to why He is the Jewish Messiah and God incarnate. So let’s take a look at some of these and try to learn some things.

 1. Jesus Appealed to Evidence

Jesus knew He could not show up on the scene and not offer any evidence for His Messiahship. In his book On Jesus, Douglas Groothuis notes that Jesus appealed to evidence to confirm His claims. John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This may seem an odd question from a man the Gospels present as the prophetic forerunner of Jesus and as the one who had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, however, did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22). A published scroll from Qumran has helped confirm this:  According to 4Q521:

“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah and all that is in them will not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones … for (the Lord) will honor the pious upon the throne of the eternal Kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bowed down…. For he will heal the wounded, revive the dead, proclaim good news to the poor.”

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

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

2. Jesus Appealed to Testimony and Witness

Because Jesus was Jewish, he was well aware of the principles of the Torah. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that the Biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Unverifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony.

Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). In Jn. 5:31-39, Jesus says,” If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” Far from the verification, Jesus declares that singular self-attestation does not verify, it falsifies. We see in this passage that Jesus says the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the Father, the witness of the Word (the Hebrew Bible), and the witness of His works, testify to His Messiahship. (1)

3. Ontology: Being and Doing-The Actions of Jesus

Ontology is defined as the 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 are required to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence. In relation to ontology, the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “Biblical ontology does not separate being from doing.” Heshel went on to say, “What is acts. The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds.” (2) Jesus continually appeals to His “works” that testify to His Messiahship.  “Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to  Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The worksthat I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;  but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very worksthat I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

As far as miracles,  they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (3)

Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2). In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).

In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.

It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. Jesus did not do His miracles for entertainment. They were done to evoke a response. So perhaps Paul Moser is right on target in what he calls “kardiatheology” – a theology that is aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions. In other words, God is very interested in moral transformation.

We see Jesus’ frustration when His miracles did not bring the correct response from his audience. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation 

5. Jesus Appealed to His Own Authority

Another way Jesus appealed to those around Him was by His own speaking authority. The rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2). But Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even losing one’s life for his sake. Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). (5)

Conclusion:

So as we have looked at some of the apologetic methods of Jesus, perhaps we can concur with Douglas Groothuis when he says the following:

“Our sampling of Jesus’ reasoning, however, brings into serious question the indictment that Jesus praised uncritical faith over rational arguments and that He had no truck with logical consistency. On the contrary, Jesus never demeaned the proper and rigorous functioning of our God-given minds. His teaching appealed to the whole person: the imagination (parables), the will, and reasoning abilities. For all their honesty in reporting the foibles of the disciples, the Gospel writers never narrated a situation in which Jesus was intellectually stymied or bettered in an argument; neither did Jesus ever encourage an irrational or ill-informed faith on the part of His disciples.” (6)

So How Can We Live it Out?

So now  that we’ve settled the issue on the fact that Jesus did defend his claims,  let’s ask the question as to how we might attempt to live out what Jesus taught. I can think of two areas that come to mind. And they happen to be the two greatest commandments. Note:I tend to fall short on both of these:

Commandment #1: Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  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.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”- Mark 12: 28-31

Here, Jesus appeals to the Shema:

Deut. 6: 4-8:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

In Jewish thought , in the Shema hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. “ Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you;  you shall not bow down to a foreign god.” – Psalm 81: 8-9

Commandment #2: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”- Lev. 19: 17-18

To see the context, how about this:

  • Lev. 19:3: Respect for parents
  • Lev. 19:9-10: Provision for the Poor
  • Lev. 19:11: Respect for the property of others
  • Lev. 19:14: Care for the physically challenged
  • Lev. 19:15: Justice for the powerless
  • Lev. 19:16: Kindness in language about others
  • Lev. 19:17-18: Prohibition of hate and vengeance

Conclusion: How about these for starters?

Sources:

1. Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, J. and A. Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1984, 19.
2. Heschel., A.J. The Prophets. New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 2003, 44.
3. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.
4. Ibid.
5. Skarsaune, O., In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity. Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 2002, 331.

6. Groothuis, D., Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist: Available athttp://www.equip.org/articles/jesus-philosopher-and-apologist/

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Evidential Apologetics: Three Kinds of Messianic Prophecy

Introduction

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

Why Study Biblical Prophecy? Practical and Apologetic Issues

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

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

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

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

Three Types of Messianic Prophecy:

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

The Messiah

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

In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic. Even in the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus was convinced there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). And as of today, within Judaism, there is a wide range of thought about the Messiah. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential Messiah or a time when there will be a Messianic Age.

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

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

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

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

We see the following about this passage:

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

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

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

2. Prophecies About The Messiah’s Entire Redemptive Career

Within the book of Isaiah there are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12).

One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.” A study of the rabbinical literature (such as The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim) describe these passages as being about the Messiah. How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

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

Hence, it should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,” The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant. This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6).

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

3. Prophecies About the First and Second Coming of Jesus

A look at Psalm 2

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

After reading this, a few things stand out:

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

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

3. Is this passage referring to King David? God tells the person to whom he is speaking that He is turning over the dominion and the authority of the entire world to Him (v 8).

How does Jesus fulfill this text?

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Is the Message of the Messiah Simply a Message of Receiving “Fire Insurance?”

Image result for picture of person in hell

One of the most challenging objections I receive on a regular basis is the view that belief in Jesus is important for one reason and one reason only– the afterlife! In other words, it seems the only thing that matters is what happens to people after they die. Committed followers of Jesus ask people “If you were to die today, do you have assurance you are going to heaven?”

Skeptics complain that the message seems to be “Accept Jesus, or be tortured by God forever and ever.” This is sad and is also a misunderstanding of the original context of the Good News.  The first thing I find myself doing is telling the person that eternal life is a quality of life (i.e., in union with Jesus), and is a quantity of life (unlimited) that starts in this life (John 17: 3). So no, eternal life doesn’t start when we die. It starts the minute we come to trust in Jesus and we turn our lives over to him.

Let’s take a look at the how the “Good News” is presented by our Messiah: 

 Jesus and Isaiah

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ).  Here, we don’t see any message of the afterlife in this text.

 Jesus and the Kingdom of God Gospel

One point that is generally agreed on by all scholars is that the central message of Jesus was about the kingdom of God. He preached the arrival of the messianic age and its activity of deliverance, contrasting the greatness of the kingdom era with the era of John the Baptist, which had now seemingly passed (Luke 4:16-30; 7:22-23). In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess. 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43).

Steve Gregg also notes the following:

“Jesus’ message was not about going to heaven after death. Jesus compared His movement, which He called “the kingdom of God,” to a small seed, or a pinch of leaven, which was destined to expand and to permeate its environment (the earth). The expression “kingdom of heaven” (found only in Matthew’s gospel) does not refer to heaven; rather, it is Matthew’s synonym for “the kingdom of God,” the term used by the other New Testament writers referring to Christ’s messianic movement, which was, in the person of Christ Himself, and the company of those who embraced Him as King, launching an offensive against the devil’s domain (e.g., Matt. 3:1; Mark 1:14–15; Luke 10:9–11; 17:20–21; 16:16; Acts 17:7; Rom. 14:17; Col. 1:13)”– see Steve Gregg, All You Want to Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God?s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin, pg 59.

 The Gospel after the Resurrection: A Look at Paul

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” – 1 Cor. 15: 1-4.

For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection are central ( 1 Cor 15:1-4 ). Notice that the Gospel is a message that is rooted in the Tanak (the Old Testament).

 

Let’s see how Paul lays out the Good News in Romans 1: 1-7. Notice there is very little about the afterlife here.

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.”-Romans 1: 1-7

Michael Bird has an excellent summation of Paul’s passage here in Romans. He says:

“Romans 1:3-4 has political teeth as long as the Messiah is envisioned as the ruler of the world. Paul opens his letter to the Romans by weaving together a standard epistolary greeting with some traditional material about the “gospel of God” and “Messiah Jesus.” The gospel of God is the good news from God and also about God. The background of this “gospel” (euangelion) lies on the one hand in the Jewish world with the promise of the coming reign of God  to bring an “The title Christos (Messiah) in Paul has routinely been de-Judaized and depoliticized in Pauline scholarship by those who want to show that Paul did not have a messianic faith.  Yet the evidence overwhelmingly points in the other direction with messianism forming the hub of Paul’s Christology (see Rom 9:5; 1 Cor 10:4; 15:22; 2 Cor 5:10; 11:2-3; Eph 1:10, 12, 20; 5:14; Phil 1:15, 17; 3:7). Importantly, “Messiah” implies kingship in Jewish tradition (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:2, 7; 89:19-21, 26-27; Psalms of Solomon 17.32). Paul explicates this gospel “regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4). Importantly, lineage meant legitimation.  Jesus is linked to the house of David, from whose house Israel’s rightful king would come to fulfill the prophetic promises.  Yet Jesus is also the “Son of God,” which is both a messianic title and expresses Jesus’ unique filial relationship with Israel’s God. Contra much scholarship, what we have in Romans 1:1-4 is not some primitive adoptionist Christology that still lurks beneath Paul’s high Christology.

These terse remarks are not about adoption but accession to the throne beside God. Behind all of this stands a contrast between two kinds of sonship and two types of kingdoms.  The designation of Jesus as the “Son of God” does not follow on from the deification of his adopted father, nor is the title earned by any military battle. Jesus was rather designated the “Son of God” by resurrection from the dead. All the more significant because Roman religion did not believe in a resurrection. Consider also that resurrection was politically threatening as it constituted the vindication and victory of those killed for opposing imperial rule as it is in Daniel 12, 2 Maccabees 7 and Revelation 20. Resurrection implies a reordering of power, an apocalyptic upheaval of the world, an inversion of the pyramid of privilege, so that those ruled over in fear are raised to reign in divine glory. The resurrection of Jesus to kingship means the supplanting of all kingdoms that compete with it. Paul celebrates that a person put to death by Roman authorities as a royal pretender had been brought back to life by Israel’s God and is now installed as Lord of God’s coming kingdom.”-Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies, Scot McKnight, Joseph B. Modica, and Andy Crouch

The Gospel in the Book of Acts

Here we see the way the Good News is seen in Acts: 

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

What’s the point? 

When we look at the variety of ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible, it is a message that is much broader than the afterlife. In some cases, there is no focus on the afterlife at all. To tell people they only need to believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven when they die isn’t the full Gospel. For that matter, any message of the Gospel that is simply about the afterlife is a de-judiazed message. Anthony Saldarini elaborates:

“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.”-A. Saldarini, “What Price the Uniqueness of Jesus?” Bible Review, June 1999: 17. Print.

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So You Want To Be An Apologist?

Introduction

A ways back I remember reading an article by William Lane Craig about advice for people who want be an apologist. In all honesty, Craig probably knows many people who have come to him asking for advice. I think he would admit that many of them want to live the life he has and is living (e.g., lots of speaking gigs/debates, lots of fans, lots of attention, etc).  As I have said before, given the overload of reality TV shows and celebrity worship, the last thing we need are apologists who have a narcissism problem.  If you are craving attention and affirmation, than that can’t be motivation for being a player in apologetics. I am not saying that it is a bad thing to be encouraged and noted at all for contributions in the field of apologetics. However, we need to check ourselves in this area. However, let me state the following:  Given where we are at as a culture and in the local congregation,  we need apologetics more than ever!

The more I have thought about this issue, these are the kinds of questions that come up in my discussions with others on a regular basis:

#1: Can you do it full time?

When I mean “full time,” I mean being an apologist is how you make a living. In other words, if you have a family, being an apologist is how you support your family. How many apologists actually do this? Not many! Ravi Zacharias is one. Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason is another. James Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity was a homicide detective and obviusly has a pension. Frank Turek, co author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist has his own ministry called Cross Examined. He does it full time but he has a large platform.  Others like William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler and  J.P. Moreland, have all taught on an academic level. They write books, speak, debate, etc. There are other such as Josh McDowell and Dr. Michael Licona have their own own ministries. But for anyone that does it full time and isn’t a full time professor, leads me to my next point.

To do it full time, you have to be a good fundraiser. Do you like getting in front of people and asking them for money? Do you like communicating your vision in a public or private setting? Do you want to be dependent on others to give to you and the apologetic ministry you are involved with?  Or, you can always work a job and do some apologetics on the side. That’s what the majority of us do. Given that many in the church are still incredibly uneducated about the nature and role of apologetics, there will always be need to educate the local church on the topic. I have written more on the issue of why opposition mostly comes from the church here.

#2: Traveling

Something else to think about is the issue of traveling. Let’s say you write an apologetics book and people want to book you to speak at a conference or somewhere else. Are you open to traveling? Do you have a young family? Or, are you starting a family? Many apologists such as Frank Turek and James Wallace are empty nesters. Same with Michael Licona. This means they have some flexibility. Remember, your first ministry is your family. The last thing a wife wants is a husband that is away every week while she stays home and tries to raise the kids. And no, it won’t matter when you say “But I am called to do this!” Your kids need a parent  that is engaged with them. Now having said that, I am not opposed to some travel. But it is a weekly thing or once or twice a month?  Just remember that it won’t matter how well you can do apologetics if you can’t minister to your own family! Think it through and plan well. Perhaps you can just do some apologetics ministry at a local level. Get involved with a Ratio Christi chapter or start an apologetics ministry at your church. Brian Auten at Apologetics 315 has given us many tips about these issues here and here.

#3: Apologetic Degrees

I have some personal experience with this one. When I enrolled at Southern Evangelical Seminary to get a degree I thought getting an advanced degree in apologetics was perfect. But as I began to tell people about the degree I was working on, it became apparent the word ‘apologetics’ caused mass confusion. I also realized that a Masters in Apologetics might not open many doors to teach on an academic level. So I opted for an M.A. in Religious Studies. Granted, I had already been reading and studying apologetics for several years before I even got a degree. Also, in my degree program  I did take some apologetics and philosophy classes (epistemology, metaphysics, etc). Now that I look back on it, I am not opposed to getting an advanced degree in apologetics. But you have to think about where that degree will take you. Do you want to teach? Do you want to be a lay apologist in your church? Is your church have a favorable view of apologetics? Many ministry leaders are still in the dark about this field.  Do you want to write? Do you plan on doing more graduate work? Do you want a degree to help you be a more effective evangelist?   Do you want to direct a Ratio Christi chapter? Remember that most churches aren’t hiring apologists.

 #4: You Can’t Learn Everything!

Remember, when it comes to apologetics, you can’t learn everything. In other words, you can’t be an expert on every single topic (e.g., philosophy, ethics,  history, science, cultural apologetics). I think we should have a general understanding of these topics but then specialize in a few areas. For example, I tend to specialize in early Christology, Messianic Prophecy, cultural objections, the resurrection, worldviews, Jewish objections to Jesus, etc. Now I do love to dip into the science stuff as well. But most of us don’t have time to master every topic. And remember that there will always be questions!

#5: Get Out and Do Apologetics

The best way to learn apologetics is by doing it. You can read books and learn the material. But if you aren’t engaging people, you won’t see how well apologetics works in practice. Granted, I have been on a campus for many years and had many discussions with students about these topics. But all of us should be committed to sharing our faith and engaging people on a one on one level. That’s where the rubber meets the road. In my personal experience, many Christians aren’t motivated to defend their faith in the public square because they aren’t sharing their faith and they are not getting challenged.

I hope these tips are helpful. God bless!

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A Closer Look at the “Son of Man” Saying of Jesus

The Son of Man/Elect One

The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha) expression is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37). Second, the expression  was used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33). Thirdly, the Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).  Jesus spoke of this function in the following texts:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations , and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father , inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25: 31-36).

You, who have persevered with me in my tribulations, when the Son of Man  sits upon his glorious throne will also sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matt. 19: 28; Luke 22: 28-30).

One of the most pertinent issues is Jesus’ use of Son of Man in the trial scene in Mark 14.

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows (Mark 14: 60-65).

By Jesus asserting He is the Son of Man, he was exercising the authority of God. It is for this reason that we don’t want to minimize why Jesus earned the charge of blasphemy here. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal or capital offense. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? Jesus affirmed the chief priest’s question that He was not only the Messiah but also the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world and would sit at the right hand of God. This was considered a claim to deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Hence, Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.  We shouldn’t overlook the emphasis on how the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of God.  Both Peter and  Paul recognize this important characteristic of Jesus after he is resurrected:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,” ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool (Acts 2: 32-36).

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:17-22).

In relation to Mark 14:61-62,  R. Kendall Soulen says;

 An example of how Jesus shows reverence for the divine name by avoiding its direct use is found in Mark’s account of his trial before the high priest. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” (Mark 14:61–62)

“Here both Jesus and the high priest use circumlocutions in place of the divine name. “The Blessed One” and “the Power” are not freestanding designations that stand independently in their own right, like “God,” but stand-in names used in place of the divine name. Jesus and the high priest use different circumlocutions, but they have no difficulty in understanding each other. Each perceives the other to be making a veiled reference to the one God who is distinguished from every other reality in heaven and on earth by the bearing of the unspoken divine name. From a historical point of view, it is not surprising that the Gospels should portray Jesus as avoiding the direct use of the divine name. By the first century, such avoidance was normative across the variety of Second Temple Judaism’s, an axiomatic feature of what later rabbinic tradition would refer to as “oral Torah” or “oral law.” It would be startling if Jesus did not honor the practice. The more important question is whether Jesus assigned any importance to it, or whether he regarded it, as many Christians subsequently would, as something essentially perishable destined to become “dead and deadly,” along with the rest of Jewish ceremonial law.”- Soulen, R. Kendall , The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity.

Daniel 7:13-14 and the Son of Man

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven  there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion,  which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one  that shall not be destroyed. -Daniel 7:13-14

When it comes to this text, the debate is over the referent.  The figure in the text is given a rule over God’s kingdom. All people groups are seen as seen as serving and worshiping this figure. The ESV translates it as “a son of man” while the JPS translates it as “a human being” which is a paraphrase.[1] Some Jewish interpretations have interpreted the text to be about a human collectively (i.e., the people of God who are “personalized as the Messiah”).  The evidence for the collective interpretation is seen in the following texts:

But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”- Daniel 7:18

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.- Daniel 7:28 [2]

A quick glance here would seem to indicate that the collective interpretation has some merit. However, a closer reading reveals some challenges with interpreting the Dan 7:13-14 text as referring to a collective group.  First, this text reveals God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.[3]  If anything, the people on earth are supposed to find a tremendous future for themselves in this royal figure. Secondly, as already mentioned, all peoples, nations, and languages will serve the figure in Dan. 7:13-14. When “serve” is used here and in other parts of the book of Daniel it means to “pay reverence to” as seen in Dan.3:12, 14, 17, 18, 28; 6:1617; 20; 21; 7:14, 27. So now the question becomes how anyone can pay reverence to anyone other than God? 

This would make sense given the context shows this type of vision would be one of hope for the generation of people that would read this text.  Another challenge to the collective interpretation is that the figure in Dan 7:13-14 is coming with the clouds of heaven.  Daniel Boyarin says the following:

From the earliest layers of interpretation and right up to the modern times, some interpreters have deemed the “one like a son of man” as symbol of a collective, namely, the faithful Israelites at the time of the Maccabean revolt, when the book of Daniel was probably written. Other interpreters have insisted that “[one like a] son of man” is a second divine figure alongside the Ancient of Days and not an allegorical symbol of the People of Israel. We find in Aphrahat, the fourth century Iranian Father of the Church, the following attack on the interpretation (presumably by Jews) that makes the “one like a son of man” out to be the People of Israel: “Have the children of Israel received the kingdom of the Most High? God forbid! Or has that people come on the cloud of heaven?”…Aphrahat’s argument is exegetical and very much to the point. Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (Greek for “God appearances”) by scholars. J.A. Emerton has made the point decisively: “The act of coming in the clouds suggests a theophany of [YHVH] himself. If Dan vii.13 does not refer to a divine being, then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the Old Testament.[4]

Thirdly, the collective interpretation of Dan 7:13-14 faces some stern opposition in the Pseudepigrapha which commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD.

As Randall Price notes:

The concept of the Messiah as a “son of man” after the figure in Daniel 7:13 is expressed in a section of the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch  known as Similitudes, which has been argued to have a date as early as 40 B.C. It should be noted that scholars have found in Similitudes four features for this figure: (1) it refers to an individual and is not a collective symbol, (2) it is clearly identified as the Messiah, (3) the Messiah is preexistent and associated with prerogatives traditionally reserved for God, and (4) the Messiah takes an active role in the defeat of the ungodly. New Testament parallels with Similitudes (e.g., Matt. 19:28 with 1 Enoch 45:3 and Jn. 5:22 with 1 Enoch 61:8) may further attest to a mutual dependence on a common Jewish messianic interpretation (or tradition) based on Daniel’s vision. [5]

Even though the writings in Enoch  are not part of the Protestant Canon they are dated just before or around the time of Jesus. Thus, they help provide the historian with valuable information into the Jewish religious life and thinking patterns at the time of Jesus. The following examples are adapted from The Messiah Texts by Raphel Patai. [6]

And there I saw him who is the Head of Days, and His head was white like wool, and with him was another one whose countenance had the appearance of a man And his face was full of graciousness, like one of holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things about the Son of Man: Who is he and whence is he and why did he go with the Head of Days? And he answered and said to me: This is the Son of Man who has righteousness, With whom dwells righteousness, And who reveals all the treasures of the crowns, For the Lord of Spirits chose him. (1 Enoch 46:1-3)

He shall be a staff for the righteous. Whereon to lean, to stand and not to fall,And he shall be a light to the nations, And hope for the troubled of heart. And all the earth dwellers before him shall fall down, And worship and praise and bless and sing to the Lord of Spirits. It is for this that he has been chosen and hidden before Him, even before The creation of the world and evermore.(1 Enoch 48: 4-6)

1 Enoch 51.3: The Elect One will sit on [God’s] throne.

1 Enoch 62.5: …and pain shall seize them when they see that Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory.

1 Enoch 62.7: For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High One preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones.

1 Enoch 62.14:  The Lord of the Spirits will abide over them; they shall eat and rest and rise with that Son of Man forever and ever…

1 Enoch 69.29:  Thenceforth nothing that is corruptible shall be found; for that Son of Man has appeared and has seated himself upon the throne of his glory; and all evil shall disappear from before his face; he shall go and tell to that Son of Man, and he shall be strong before the Lord of the Spirits.[7]

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

[1] C.W Morgan and R.A. Peterson, Theology in Community: The Deity of Christ (Wheaten: Crossway, 2011), 53-55.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] D. Boyrian, The Jewish Gospels (New York: The New Press, 2012), 39.

[5] Randall Price, The Concept of the Messiah in the Old Testament athttp://www.worldofthebible.com/Bible%20Studies/The%20Concept%20…;

[6] See R. Patai The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), 1989.

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Five trends that contribute to the spirit of anti-intellectualism

For those of us that have spent our lives attempting to bring apologetics into the local churches and public square, there has always been an issue with a spirit of anti-intellectualism in both of these places. There is progress being made. However, most recently I was reading an essay in the book above in which the author  believes there are at least five trends that contribute to a spirit of anti-intellectualism:

1. Pragmatism: In today’s world, the first question about any idea is not “Is it true or right?” but “Does it work?” Pragmatism rules over both values and thought. Result-oriented social activists are often supporters of a cause without always inquiring too closely whether their cause has a good end or whether their action is the best means to pursue it.

2. Focus on Results: We have become an impatient generation. Students quickly become bored if there is not a lot of action. “Don’t talk about it—just do it” seems to be the byword. They want to get it done, get results the instant way, or give up on it if it requires extensive thought.

3. Preoccupation with Feelings: We have also become a feeling generation. Feeling triumphs over reason in our decision-making. “If it feels good, do it” is too often the principal criterion for behavior. A subjective experience becomes more important than revealed truth or absolutes in what has been described as our post-secular university thinking. We are admonished to get in touch with our feelings. This is good, especially for males, but requires that a balance with reason also be struck.

4. Ritualism: Ritualistic attitudes have encumbered our intellectual imagination and creativity. In the church it has become an escape route to avoid our God-given responsibility to use the minds that God has given us. In educational circles, it can be identified with rote learning, learning from the professor merely to pass the exam or to be politically correct. The danger of ritualism is that it is mere performance in which ceremony has become an end in itself, a meaningless substitute for intelligent consideration.

5. Intellectual Isolationism: Profound thinkers are being increasingly isolated from the mainstream of human activity. I was once introduced to a very prolific writer who had written several dozen books. He spent all his time thinking about what the world should be like. He sought to inspire others through his writings, but he was so out of touch with where his readers were in the real world that there were few readers to inspire. As a foreign policy planner, I found it relatively easy to write policy; the critical issue was the test of relevance in the light of current events. If the intellect is left on its own, it may become dry and humorless, leading to an academic intellectualism that is devoid of emotion, drive, and meaningful action.- taken from Donald Page, “Developing the Characteristics of a Christian Mind” adapted from Christian Worldview and the Academic Disciplines: Crossing the Academy (McMaster Ministry Studies Series Book 1)
Deane E. D. Downey and Stanley E. Porter.

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