The Problem of Assuming Faith Means to Have Absolute Certainty

I have been reading the book The Anatomy of Deconversion: Keys to a Lifelong Faith In a Culture Abandoning Christianity by John Marriot. In the book, he makes the following comments about the relationship between apologetics, faith, and certainty. He says the following:

” Former believers who were heavily into apologetics reveal that they assumed a particular definition of what it means to “believe,” and they depended on apologetics to provide them with it. And who could blame them? One needs only to glance at the titles lining the shelves of any Christian bookstore to see why. Without a Doubt, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, and Evidence That Demands a Verdict give the impression that the case for Christianity is overwhelming. Yet, when they encountered counter-apologetics, their belief was undermined, and they concluded that they were no longer believers. Why is that? I think the reason lies in the confusion they had over what it means to be a believer. Often, the Bible uses the English words believe and faith interchangeably. While there is a slight difference between the two, both words share the same root and indicate a range of meanings. But the primary meaning of both is to trust in someone or something. Consequently, what the Bible calls individuals to is to trust in the person and work of Jesus.

But when former believers encountered atheist apologists who undermined their confidence, they concluded that they were no longer believers because they equated real belief with being certain, or at least nearly certain. Naturally, then, if, to be a believer, one has to be near certain of what they believe, former Christians equated their doubt as a sign they had lost their faith. It’s at least conceivable that if former believers, who depended so heavily on apologetics to underwrite their faith, had a more biblical understanding of both apologetics and faith, they could have avoided their crises. Biblically speaking, as mentioned above, to believe is not to have certainty or necessarily a high degree of psychological confidence. Instead, it is to be persuaded enough that the claims of Christ are true that one adopts the Christian story as their own and lives under the lordship of Christ. This does not require certainty. It is, like every other kind of meaningful decision that one will make in life, fraught with a level of uncertainty.

Marriot gives a marriage analogy. When we get married ( I am married), we do take a risk. We have gaps of knowledge, some level of uncertainty, perhaps unanswered questions. Obviously, we assume everything will work out. But we still take a step of faith or trust. Thus, we commit to the other person. Yes, it can be a risk. To build on this, here is a biblical definition faith:

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day.

But when it comes to faith, there is no need for exhaustive knowledgeAs Paul Copan says in his article, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? A Response to SkepticismBeing less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.”

In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria:

(1)  It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation

(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

Remember, a judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

How many of our claims past the test of certitude? Not many! Does this mean we are left to blind faith? No! There are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds). The two kinds are not mutually exclusive: some defeaters function at both levels, including those that challenge the objective alethic reliability of one’s actual grounds (see Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, Epistemological Objections to Materialism in The Waning of Materialism).

Whenever I encounter skpetics on our campus, they will assume their worldview has no gaps of knowledge. I mention the following from author Bruce Sheiman in his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without.  He says the general atheist scenario is the following:

Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+luck X 3.5 billion yrs. In other words, the laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental occurrences).

Sadly, many students do concede that Sheiman’s scenario makes perfect sense. My response to them is, “How much certainty do you have for this scenario here?” or, “How much evidence can you provide that this is really true?”

Remember, if  we had a 100% doubt free belief system, there wouldn’t be any room for faith/trust in God. Any Christian that thinks they have a perfect, doubt free faith are setting themselves up for disappointment. Also, anyone who assumes apologetics is supposed to answer every single question exhaustively has misunderstood the limitations of apologetics. Thus, we if tell people faith/trust is equivalent to having absolute or almost prefect certainty, people will keep having a crisis of faith. It would also be helpful to know the basics of religious epistemology. Hopefully, we can correct this problem.

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Evangelism, Equipping, and Educating on College Campuses

Since 2005, I have been doing full time outreach and apologetics on The Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College here in Columbus, Ohio. Between both of these campuses, there is close to 100,000 students. We are the only apologetics ministries on these campuses. I direct two Ratio Christi chapters which presents students with the historical, scientific and philosophical reasons for why we think Christianity is the worldview that is the best explanation of reality. Besides talking to thousands of students in personal conversations, we have hosted apologists such as Frank Turek, Michael Licona, James Warner Wallace, scientists such as Dr. Michael Strauss and Dr. James Tour. You can see these on my You Tube channel.

Our ministry focuses on three E’s: Evangelism, Equipping, and Educating. This is what we do each year. I talk more about this in our short clip here.


With the advent of the internet and the state of the culture, the university is filled with students who have hundreds of questions. This past year, we saw more receptivity to the God question than ever before. My friend, James Warner Wallace, (the well known apologist) has given us a public endorsement. He says:

“Eric Chabot and the team at The Ohio State University is doing amazing work. If you are interested in becoming a good Christian Case Maker, I highly recommend joining Eric and the entire team at the Ohio State campus” – Jim Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity

If you interested in supporting us in the work we do, you can go to this link. We can only do this on a monthly basis with people who believe in what we do and who want to partner with us. Thank you so much!

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Apologetics Interview: Dr. Michael Brown: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus

Here, we talk to the premier Messianic Apologist , Dr. Michael Brown. His nationally syndicated radio show, The Line of Fire, airs throughout the United States. He regularly contributes articles to the Christian news platform the Stream as well as to the news site Townhall. Dr. Brown holds a Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Literature from New York University. Michael has authored several books. We discuss some of the common objections Jewish people have to Jesus being the Messiah of Israel and the nations.

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An Easy Way to Understand the Role of Apologetics in a Christian’s Life

For most of us in the apologetics endeavor, on many occasions I have found myself having to explain what apologetics is to my Christian friends. I have also noted elsewhere that I have had to give an apologetic for why we should see the need for apologetics. After the last election (in 2016), I  have found a very simple way to explain the role of apologetics. Given there were so many debates and so many Christians had to give reasons or justification for why they picked a specific candidate, I have used this as a springboard to explain the need for  apologetics.

I generally ask my fellow Christians if they had to give reasons for why they picked a specific candidate. They always say “yes.” Then I ask them if they have to had to ever give good reasons for why they chose a specific vocation or a specific major to study. Again, they agree they have had to do that as well. What about giving good reasons for why they picked a specific church? Or what about giving reasons for why they picked a specific spouse? Or what about giving good reasons for picking a specific place to live? Or what about giving reasons for why they follow a specific sports team? The list goes on. The point is we have had to give reasons for almost every position we have taken or choice we’ve made. In the book Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking, the authors note the following definitions: 

  1. Argument: the process of giving a systematic account of reasons in support of a claim or belief.
  2. We use effective argumentation to defend our position as a reasonable option among various choices.
  3.  Claims and beliefs go hand in hand. For anything you believe, you can state that belief in the form of a claim

So as we’ve just noted, almost all Christians have to give reasons to support their positions/claims or choices they’ve made. Therefore, why wouldn’t a Christian see the need to give good reasons for why they think there is a God and Jesus is His Son? It seems like this issue impacts one’s view of reality. So this is a huge issue. Once I explain it this way, most Christians see the need to learn apologetics.  Also, if the Bible is the Word of God, we see plenty of places where Jesus and the Apostles gave reasons for their claims and asked others to do the same. For example:

The word “apologia” means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). The apostles approach to spreading the message of the Gospel is characterized by such terms as “apologeomai/apologia” which means “to give reasons, make a legal defense” (Acts 26:2; 2 Tim. 4:16; 1 Pet 3:15). Furthermore, Paul wrote of ‘defending and confirming the gospel’ (Phil. 1:7). Luke records that Paul spent time reasoning and explaining that Jesus suffered and rose from the dead. (Acts 17:2–3). Also,” Every Sabbath [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Paul also appealed to what is called ‘natural theology’ in Rom.1: 18-21. Here, Paul lays out the basic principle of cause and effect. Paul says since God is the Designer (God is the cause), His “everlasting power and divinity” are obvious, “through the things that are made” (this is the effect).   When John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus likewise appealed to the evidence of his works (cf. Matthew 11:4–6).   Peter commands Christians to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15) The Greek translated as ‘give an answer’ in 1 Peter 3:15 is apologia – from which we get the word ‘apologetics.’

In his book Evangelism and the Early Church, author Michael Green notes that the early church advanced the gospel through the first four centuries because of three things: (1) The ability to engage in persuasive apologetics and outthink her opponents, (2) The transformed character and biblical compassion of believers, (3) The manifest power of the kingdom of God.

After doing outreach for the past fifteen years, I am saddened to say that one of the predominant reasons our culture rejects our faith is because of a lack of information. Therefore, it is the Christian’s responsibility to give the individual the right information so they can make an informed decision about the gospel. Furthermore, many people are simply rejecting a caricature of our faith. And most importantly, if parents or pastors cannot articulate what they believe to a teenager or a college student, they may be showing that their faith is not important to them. I once heard a story of a father who had raised his daughter in the faith. After going to college, she returned home to tell him she had left the Christian faith. His daughter, along with so many other young people had attended plenty of youth activities and pizza parties. However, she had never been taught about why her faith was true. Stories like these could be multiplied. Therefore, it is incumbent upon parents and pastors to have apologetic training. In an age of intellectual skepticism, both teenagers and college students walk away from the faith because of unanswered questions.

“But Doesn’t Faith Come From Hearing the Word of God?”

Most recently, I had a discussion with another fellow Christian about the role of apologetics in evangelism. I was discussing how difficult it is to do outreach on a college campus without apologetics. The fellow Christian proceeded to tell me that apologetics isn’t the issue. Instead, her response was that students come to faith by hearing the Word of God (Rom 10:5-13). I responded that she was confusing evangelism and apologetics. I have seen this happen on several occasions. Mark Denver summarizes the confusion:

“People mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we’ve considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel. Apologists for Christianity argue for its truth. They maintain that Christianity better explains that sense of longing that all people seem to have. Christianity better explains human rationality. It fits better with order. They may argue (as C. S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity) that it better fits with the moral sense that people innately have. It copes better with problems of alienation and anxiety. Christians may – and should – argue that Christianity’s frankness about death and mortality commends it. These can be good arguments to have. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what’s wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel. For that matter, Christians can raise questions with their non-Christian friends about the purpose of life, what will happen after death, or the identity of Jesus Christ. Any of these topics will take work and careful thought, but they can easily lead into evangelism. It should also be said that apologetics has its own set of dangers. You might unwittingly confirm someone in their unbelief by your inability to answer questions that are impossible to answer anyway. To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”—  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism,  (pgs. 76-79).

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Tips in Dealing with Disappointment with God and others

There are many people out there who have said they used to a Christian. Or, they may say they are dealing with a faith crisis and whether they will stick with the faith. Others have experienced disappointment with God and others. They had expectations of God and other people and have been let down. In this clip, we discuss some of these issues. We also discuss issues of apostasy.

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Can We Reconcile The Messiah Ben David and The Messiah Ben Joseph Tradition in Judaism?

Is Yeshua the Jewish Messiah? by [Eric Chabot]

One topic I discuss on my book on whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is the following:

Should Christians try to share the message of the Jesus the Messiah with their Jewish neighbors? This has always been a thorny topic. Anyone who has studied Church history knows that our relationship with the Jewish people hasn’t always worked out for the best.

Christians need to remember that 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 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations. 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. Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

In relation to the work of  Jesus, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity is now the home of 1.4 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? As a Gentile Christian, I and others have benefited from the Abrahamic Covenant.

We see in the Book of Acts that the apostles preached that everyone needs to believe explicitly in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles. Even Peter said to God-fearing Cornelius, that it is “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43). Paul also made an appeal to the Jewish audience at Pisidian Antioch to believe in Jesus because it is “through Jesus [that] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified” (13:38–39, NIV).

Also, Christians need to follow Paul’s example in that he showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5;10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the Good News of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Don’t assume Jewish people believe in a personal Messiah. Many of them have never thought about it. Furthermore, if there is a Messiah, he is not divine. For the most part all Jewish people  know  that Jesus is not for them.

Remember, regarding the Messiah issue: 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; prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

Notice these figures were all in the present.

None of these texts speak of a future figure.  Of course, there are texts that speak of a future figure. For example, Daniel 9:25-26 where it speaks of an “anointed one” who will ‘finish transgression, put and end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy Place” (Dan. 9:24) .

There were names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

A Look at Daniel 7:13-14

God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

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

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

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

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

The Suffering/Lowly and Rejected Messiah

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

Zechariah 9: 9

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

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

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

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David

There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

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

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.

He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).

He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.

For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary.

How do we reconcile both of these messianic figures? 

There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures.The suffering/atoning, rejected Messiah: (Psalm 22; 118: 22; Isaiah 52:13-53.12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10) and the ruling/kingly Messiah: (2 Sam 7:10–14; Pss. 2:7; 72:1 Pss. 89:4, 26, 35–37; 132:11–12, 17–18; Dan 7:13) applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sources:Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing.

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Book Review: Changed into His Likeness: A Biblical Theology of Personal Transformation by J. Gary Millar 

Changed into His Likeness: A Biblical Theology of Personal Transformation by J. Gary Millar IVP Academic. 288.pgs.

Do you ever ask yourself the following questions: “If the Gospel is true and I have come into a relationship with God, why do I still struggle with the same sins?” or, “Why do I struggle with the same attitudes and addictions?”  J. Garry Millar has given us a resource that faces the discusses the issue of transformation. He opens with some of the reasons why we see the need for a change.  For example: Generally, people ‘change’ because one or more of the following produces a desire and a determination to act:  

A major life transition (parenthood, midlife crisis, etc.).

A sense of boredom or dissatisfaction with life.

A recognition that something is broken and needs to be fixed.

A desire for the ‘rewards’ that come with change.

A crisis/shock produces impetus for action.

Some of the primary reasons why changes do not last:

Our willpower is limited

Our goals may be unrealistic (or ill-judged).

Our beliefs may be dysfunctional, inhibiting change.

We may slip into blaming others/circumstances rather than taking responsibility.

The benefits of remaining stuck may outweigh the perceived advantages of change.

We may have a lack of support from family or community.

Our personality traits and moods may work against change.

We may manage the change process badly, demonstrating poor skills or preparation pgs. 5-7.

 Millar then proceeds to discuss the biblical view of change. In many cases we have In an over- or under-realized eschatology that neither promises too much nor too little.  For, example, the holiness movement promises perfection now or the charismatic movement, ecstasy and the prosperity movement try to provide a pain-free profit promise and all the kingdom blessings are for here and now. They do not place much emphasis on the future at all. But those that put too much emphasis on an overly futuristic eschatology place too much weight in the future- pgs. 12-13. What we need is a balance because as of today we are “in the middle.”

Millar thinks inaugurated eschatology makes the most sense (I agree). Inaugurated eschatology is a certain scheme of eschatology—the study of the latter days or the end times. Inaugurated eschatology basically says that the kingdom of God began at the first coming of Jesus and is now here, although it will not be fully consummated until His second coming. In other words, already but not yet” holds that believers are actively taking part in the kingdom of God, although the kingdom will not reach its full expression until sometime in the future. We have to learn how to live in the present while still looking to the future when there will be a permanent change.  In the meantime, Millar reminds us that we come to faith in the Lord, there are several texts that speak to us as people who have already been changed. Of course, we are new creations in the Lord (2 Cor. 5:17). Paul reminds his audience at Corinth that they were once immoral, idolaters, greedy, etc, but they have now “been washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Cor. 6:9–11). We were “dead in trespasses and sins” and now “made alive” (regenerated) by the Messiah (see Ep. 2. 4-6). It also seems obvious that Paul sees life as dramatically different for the Christian when he says:

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19–20).

But as Millar notes, not only have we been changed, we will be changed.  Glorification is deliverance of the body from its unredeemed state [Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21]. The glorified body is immortal, imperishable, powerful, and spiritual. The author notes that we will not be permanently transformed until we receive our resurrection bodies, which are patterned on that of the Lord Jesus.

The author goes on to note several Christian authors who have spoken on transformation such as John Owen, Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, and contemporary authors such as James K. Smith. Probably one of the most valuable contributions of the book is the chapter on how we experience change today. Millar says:

“As God works in us through the gospel, it is reasonable for us to expect ‘growth’. This growth may be described in terms of our relationship with, knowledge of or love for God. It may also be traced in terms of ‘character’ – or, to put it slightly differently, in terms of our likeness or conformity to the Lord Jesus  himself.”- Pg 229.

 The author notes what we should be taking exegetical preaching seriously. If we are active listeners (and not passive listeners), 2 Timothy 3: 16 should be doing a work in each of us on a regular basis. God uses the Word of God to convict, encourage, and train us in righteousness. If we are open to it, God will use the Word of God to change us on a regular basis. As Millar says,

“We often come at Paul’s statement from the perspective of what the preacher should do – but we must also be cognizant of the fact that Paul clearly expects that people will be changed – humbled, corrected and trained – through the preaching of the word, which leads to completeness. This is how God works.” –pg 232.

Millar also says that God uses our conscience. He says:

“The New Testament makes clear that God uses our conscience in the process of change. Our conscience pokes and prods us into listening, and a response. The problem is that our conscience is unpredictable and is thus unreliable – it has been badly damaged in our arrival into this world and by our subsequent behaviour; for example, ‘However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled’ (1 Cor. 8:7). Paul says our conscience can be ‘seared’ (1 Tim. 4:2) by our refusal to listen and respond, ‘defiled’ (Titus 1:15) by our own sinful behavior (so if we sin today, sinning will be easier tomorrow) and simply ‘weak’ (1 Cor. 8:7); that is, it is a poor guide to how we should live. But the fact remains that the Spirit works on our fragile and unreliable consciences, gradually repairing our ‘spiritual antenna’, so that we become increasingly sensitive to the need for and possibilities of change through the Lord. “- pg 234-235.

It should also come as no surprise that Millar mentions that God changes us through community. He says:

“We are changed or transformed in community. God has designed the local church to be the network of relationships in which we are forced to learn to love, forgive, repent, mourn, build up, rebuke and encourage. This undergirds the extended metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many . . . But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ . . . But God has so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. (1 Cor. 12:14, 18–21).

Finally, he notes that if we want to see lasting change, we have to persevere in that faith. He notes the following proof texts:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”- (Rom. 5:3–5). James also exhorts us to persevere “under trials” because those who do will be blessed and will receive the “crown of life” which God has promised (James 1:12).

God does transform us through suffering and trial. But we must be willing to keep going forward. It involves our daily surrender to God in our lives.

As I finished this book, I thought about all the books and conferences that are constantly available to Christians. We are infatuated with fads and quick fixes. We have seen The Prayer of Jabez, The Shack, and other books come and go. I am not saying God can’t use a conference to help us. But Millar makes a good point when he says “personal transformation is an incredibly complex issue. Also, any philosophy of ministry that is overly simplistic or formulaic, promising or demanding particular kinds of change, is almost bound to fail to reach its objectives!” – pg. 215.

Many of us like a quick formula or method to provide change. But it doesn’t work that way. This book provides a balanced and biblical perspective on how God transforms us. I highly recommend it.

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A Look at Knowing the True God: A Look at the Attributes of God

In this weekly clip, we discuss the attributes of God. How well do we know God? Not just experientially, but do we know God in all his attributes? Tozer once said ““What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” – Knowledge of the Holy. 

We discuss how God has revealed himself in nature and history as well as some of the attributes of God that we can imitate in our own lives.

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“But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’ ”

Whenever the deity of Jesus comes up in conversations with people from different faiths,  it is common to hear  the standard objection, “But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’” How might we approach this objection?

In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says that if you search for Jesus at Amazon.com, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history. The New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1).

There are some good reasons as to why Jesus would never say “I am God.” The Jewish Scriptures  forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). And for Jesus to ever say something so explicit would insinuate that he was calling upon his audience to believe in two “Gods”- the God of Israel and Jesus. Also, for Gentiles, such a claim would allow for Jesus to fit nicely into their polytheism (the belief in many gods).

In Judaism, there is a term called “avodah zarah” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God. In other words, any acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zarah. (2)

One way to answer this objection is to discuss what is called Implicit and Explicit Christology:

Second,  remember the following. As Marvin Wilson says:

   The God of Israel was distinct in other ways. Yahweh had an invisible presence; he was pure spirit (John 4: 24). On occasion, however, he manifested himself in visible form. Appearances of the angel of the Lord, and the pillar of smoke by day and the fire by night in the wilderness, were external manifestations of the presence of God. God himself is an incorporeal being; he does not have a body. But the Old Testament often describes God in anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language. The Torah strictly forbids images and idols of Israel’s God (Exod. 20: 3-6). Yahweh could not be represented in material form. Since Yahweh was incorporeal, Israel’s religion could not be destroyed. When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in a.d. 70, Judaism was not destroyed. Judaism simply became a religion of the home, a new “temple in miniature.”  Throughout Israel’s history, it was God’s intention that his people grasp that he was different from other deities. He was an infinite, invisible, transcendent Being, not some local, destructible, concrete entity shaped by human hands. Divine Presence was not to be equated with physical form or works of art. Yahweh could be worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem or he could be worshiped away from the Temple. When Israel worshiped by the waters of Babylon in captivity, God was there. Today,  in theological literature and ecumenical discussion, the Tetragrammaton is usually pronounced “Yahweh.” Whether this pronunciation is exact, or not, must remain uncertain. The lengthy tradition — from Second Temple times — of not taking this sacred name on one’s lips resulted in its pronunciation becoming lost. To avoid possible misuse of the name in synagogue liturgy and Scripture reading, Jews began to render the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” a tradition that has continued to this day. Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God. These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others. Many Christian scholars, when reading Hebrew texts, usually pronounce the Tetragrammaton “Adonai,” out of respect for the Jewish tradition. (Marvin R, Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage: A Christian Theology of Roots and Renewal (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 139-140).

Also as Everett Ferguson says:

The chastisement of the exile largely cured the Jews of the problem of idolatry. Although difficulties with syncretism continued (identification of the God of Israel with the Most High God of Hellenism) continued, the emphasis upon monotheism was one of the characteristics of Jewish belief. This was underscored in the daily recitation of the Shema. Along with their emphasis on his oneness, the Jews also emphasized God’s holiness and transcendence. They put equal stress on the personal nature of God and his nearness to this people. In contrast to Greek and Roman thought, for Jews, God is the measure of all things. The effort to preserve proper reverence toward God led the Septuagint translators, the rabbis, and the Targumists to modify some of the anthropomorphisms of the Bible. Instead of making God the subject, they employed the passive voice: “It was seen before God,” “there was happiness before God.” This practice may account for some of the passives in the Gospels. The divine name Yahweh was not pronounced expect in connection with the temple service instead of Yahweh. A number of substitutes for the divine name came into common use. The Targums regularly used Memra (Word) instead of the personal name of God. Other favorite substitutes were “the Name” “Power” (cf. Mark 14:62). “Heaven” (cf. the preference in Matthew for kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God), “Glory.” Sanctification of the name entered into “the Holy One blessed be he.” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition, pg 538).

Let’s heed  these comments by Wilson and Ferguson and take a look at how they apply to Jesus. First,  note that Wilson says:

“Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God.These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others.”

“The Name”

What is significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other Name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.  James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus.” (James R. Edwards,  Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005).

So just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, as Jean Danielou says:

The beginning of the Christology of the Name are already found in the New Testament. On the one hand Old Testament texts mentioning the Name are frequently quoted in the New Testament. Thus Acts 15:17, quoting Amos 9:12, reads:  ‘All the Gentiles upon my Name is called….’ Paul (Rom 2:24 mentioned Is. 52: 5 ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ The same Epistle quotes Ex. 9:16: ‘that my Name might be published abroad in all the earth’ (Rom. 9:17). ….In these various quotations the Name can in fact only mean Yahweh, but it is hard to see why these texts should have been collected in messianic dossiers unless the Name had appeared to have some relation to Christ. There are, moreover, some passages in which this relationship is explicitly stated. Thus Joel 3:5: ‘Whoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved’ is quoted in Acts 2:21 and 4:12 in a somewhat indeterminate  sense. But the same text is repeated in Rom 10:12,as follows: ‘(Christ) is the same Lord (Kurios) of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever, shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Here the Name is clearly that of Christ;…. (Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. John A. Baker (London,: Darton, Longman&Todd; Philadephia,: Westminster Press, 1964), 149.

The Shekhinah,

Once again, note that Wilson says:

“Today, in addition to Adonai, sometimes other expressions are used in addressing God.These names include Ha-Shem (“ The Name”), Ha-Makom (“ The Place”), Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu (“ The Holy One, Blessed Be He”), Shekinah (“ Divine Presence”), Ribono shel Olam (“ Master of the World”), Ein Soph (“ Infinite One”), and others.”

Regarding the Shekhinah, Wilson says:

“In Scripture, the glory of God must not be solely thought of as a localized phenomenon whereby the divine presence is limited to certain holy precincts such as those described above. In Isaiah’s inaugural vision, the seraphim declare, “the whole earth is full of his glory (kabod)” (Isa. 6: 3b). In this and other texts is a “great universalizing” of God’s presence in the world.  Indeed, the psalmist also speaks of nature, “God’s other book,” singing an ineffable song of the presence of God: “The heavens declare the glory of God . . . their voice goes out into all the earth” (Ps. 19: 1a, 4a). In contemporary Judaism, the Hasidic community places considerable emphasis on the manifestation of God’s presence everywhere, especially the celebration of his immanence within the created order. In the post-biblical period, the rabbis used the term shekhinah to refer to God’s indwelling presence in the world. The Hebrew root shakhan means to “dwell,” “stay,” “settle,” “inhabit.” While the Shekhinah had a special attachment to the Temple in Jerusalem, the presence of God may be revealed and embraced anywhere. The Shekhinah could be experienced in the stillness of a moment contemplating the beauties of nature or in the exuberant joy of performing a sacred deed. The rabbis particularly emphasized that the Shekhinah is present when two people come and sit together to study Torah (Mishnah Abot 3: 2, 6). In a similar way, Jesus assured his followers, “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” (Matt. 18: 20; see also Col. 1: 19). As one rabbi observes, “The Shekhinah is always associated with God’s nearness. . . . God cannot live together in the same environment with sinfulness. The presence of one excludes the presence of the other.” (Wilson, 169-170).

Regarding the Shekhinah, N.T Wright also says:

In particular, in postbiblical Jewish writing the idea of the presence of God in the Temple was given the name Shekinah, the “tabernacling, abiding divine presence,” the personal presence of the glory of God. So, when John continues by saying, “We gazed upon his glory, glory like that of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1: 14), we should get the point loud and clear. All this means that we should be able to read John with more sensitivity to the nature of his “high Christology.” Obviously he thinks Jesus was and is fully divine (as well as fully human, but he doesn’t need to make that point in the same way). But this doesn’t mean he is simply saying “Jesus is God” in the way of some rationalist apologists. John’s “high Christology” remains very, very Jewish, very much rooted in Israel’s scriptures. His chosen vehicle for his matchless opening statement, the logos, draws not so much on Platonic or Stoic ideas as on the living Word of the Old Testament, as, for instance, in Isaiah 55, where the word goes out like rain or snow and accomplishes God’s work (55: 10– 11). This work, God’s great act of rescue, rooted in the accomplishment of the “servant of the LORD” in chapter 53 and the renewal of the covenant in 54, brings about the new creation in 55, with the thorns and thistles of Genesis 3 and Isaiah 5 replaced by wonderful trees and shrubs (55: 12– 13). It is (in other words) the creator God, and it is Israel’s God, who has become human in and as Jesus of Nazareth. Once we get the speaker turned to the right volume, we can hear this clearly and hear it in relation to everything else, rather than allowing it to drown out all other voices and strands of early Christian music. With this as our framework, we should be able to read right through John and discern what he is actually doing. His Jesus is a combination of the living Word of the Old Testament, the Shekinah of Jewish hope (God’s tabernacling presence in the Temple), and “wisdom,” which in some key Jewish writings was the personal self-expression of the creator God, coming to dwell with humans and particularly with Israel (see Wis. 7; Sir. 24). But this Jesus is no mere ideal, a fictional figure cunningly combining ancient theological motifs. John’s Jesus is alive; he moves from one vivid scene to another, in far more realistic dialogue with far more realistic secondary characters than in most of the synoptic gospels.-( N. T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (p. 103).

I should also note that for the Jewish people, the ultimate manifestation of the Shekhinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20). Therefore, in relation to the incarnation, the Shekhinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” “Dwelt” (σκήνωμα), means to “live or camp in a tent” or figuratively in the NT to”dwell, take up one’s residence, come to reside (among).”   As already stated, the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Also, to  repeat what Ferguson says:

“The divine name Yahweh was not pronounced expect in connection with the temple service instead of Yahweh. A number of substitutes for the divine name came into common use. The Targums regularly used Memra (Word) instead of the personal name of God. Other favorite substitutes were “the Name” “Power” (cf. Mark 14:62). “Heaven” (cf. the preference in Matthew for kingdom of heaven instead of kingdom of God), “Glory.” Sanctification of the name entered into “the Holy One blessed be he.” (Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, Third Edition, pg 538).

The Word/The Memra?

In the Jewish Scriptures, the “Word” is discussed in a manner that takes on an independent existence of its own. As seen in John 1:1-2, the “Word” has a unique relationship with God; all things were made through Him. In this passage, John is emphasizing that the Word is with God and yet God at the same time. Paul taught a similar theme in 1 Cor. 8:6 when he says “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

There are other New Testament passages that communicate that the Word is Messiah Himself (Eph.3:17 and Col. 3:16; 1 Pet.1:3; John.8:31; 15:17). Furthermore, there are also other passages in the Hebrew Bible that speak of the significance of the Word such as Ps. 33:6,“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,” while in Ps.107:20 the divine word is sent on a mission: “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” But why is the Christological title “Word” so significant in relation to Jewish monotheism in the first century?

In Judaism, one of the most common themes was that God was “untouchable,” or totally transcendent. Therefore, there had to be a way to describe a connection between God and his creation. Within Rabbinic thought, the way to provide the connection or link between God and his creation was what was called “The Word” or in Aramaic, the “Memra.”  The Targums, which were paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures play a significant role in how to understand the Memra. Since some Jewish people no longer spoke and understood Hebrew but grew up speaking Aramaic, they could only follow along in a public reading if they read from a Targum.

The Aramic Targums employed the term “Memra” that translates into Greek as “Logos.”While John’s concept of the Logos is of a personal being (Christ), the Greeks thought of it as an impersonal rational principle. A good way to try to understand the term “Memra,” is to see what a passage in Genesis would have sounded like to a Jewish person hearing the public reading of a Targum. In Gen.3:8, most people who would have heard the Hebrew would have understood it as “And they heard the sound of the Word of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden.” Therefore, it was not the Lord who was walking in the garden, it was the Memra’ (Word) of the Lord. The Word was not just an “it”; this Word was a him.” (Michael Brown, Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2000), 18-23.

Jesus and Blasphemy

Another approach to this issue is to ask the question, “Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy?” According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim.  Why was Jesus accused of blasphemy? According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself. Also, many parables which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12).

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. In Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).

Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29).  It is also evident that one reasons Jesus was accused of blasphemy was because He usurped God’s authority by making himself to actually be God (Jn. 10:33, 36). Not only was this considered by the Jews to be blasphemous, it was worthy of the death penalty (Matt. 26:63-66; Mk. 14:61-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 10:31-39; 19:7)

Fascinating stuff indeed!

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The Apologetics of Jesus

Introduction

Was Jesus an apologist? As we read through the Gospels it could not be more evident that we see Jesus utilize a variety of  methodologies to communicate spiritual truths. Since there was no New Testament canon at that time, it is not as if Jesus was cognizant of 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 offered 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 asked questions

For starters, if you read through the Gospels, you will see Jesus asked 153 questions. This is something that needs to be practiced by all Christians.  As Christians we tend to be great talkers but poor listeners. If you read through the rabbinical literature, you will see that asking questions is a common occurrence. In all my discussions with my friends that are skeptics, I tend to ask the following questions:

1. If Christianity is true, would you want to be a Christian?
2. If the God of the Bible exists, would you want to know that?
3. If the God of the Bible does exist, would you be interested in looking at the evidence?

In some cases, asking questions helps to cut to the real issue at hand. When I ask these questions, many people realize they really have no intention of surrendering to God. In the end, no evidence will really convince them. And in one case, I even had one skeptic tell me they didn’t want Christianity to be true. It is true that Biblical faith involves the entire person—-the intellect, the emotions, and the will. And this is why we generally see there are  three barriers to belief:

#1 Emotional Barriers: Many people have emotional issues with the claims of Yeshua or the claims of the Bible. Perhaps they have been hurt or their present circumstances have caused barriers to being able to trust that there really is a loving Creator. We need to be sensitive to these issues.

#2 Intellectual Barriers: There are always skeptical barriers. What kind of evidence to do have for God? What about science? Miracles are not possible! There are many more intellectual objections. They have been around for a long time.

#3 Volitional Barriers: In this case, the will is in the way. We trust the Spirit of God to work in this area. While can’t give life to the spiritually dead, the Spirit of God can use our words to remove barriers.

 2. 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).

Even in the Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions a similar theme as seen in Matt.11: 4-6: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.”

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.

3. 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. Uncertifiable 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 John Ch 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)

4. 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 “deeds” that testify to His Messiahship. We see this in the following Scriptures:

But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete the deeds I am now doing testify about me that the Father has sent me (John 5:36-5:36).

If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me (John 10:37).

But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (John 10:38).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds (John 14:10).

The New Testament authors show that Jesus performs the same “deeds,” or “acts,” as the God of Israel. For example, Jesus imparts eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raises the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and shows the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46;John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor 4:4-5). Jesus also has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13). Just as the God of Israel, Jesus is identified as eternally existent (John 1:1; 8:58; 12:41; 17:5; 1 Cor. 10:4; Phil. 2:6; Heb. 11:26; 13:8; Jude 5); the object of saving faith (John 14:1; Acts 10:43; 16:31; Rom. 10:8-13), and the object of worship (Matt 14:33; 28:9,17; John 5:23; 20:28; Phil 2:10-11; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12).

5. The Miracles of Jesus

In the Bible, miracles have a distinctive purpose: 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 

6. Jesus Appealed to the Imagination

Since the parables appealed to the imagination, Jesus made use of the parables to illustrate his message. Parables were used to explain the kingdom and character of God. The Greek word “parabole” means “a comparison.”  The two most common forms of comparison are simile and metaphor. In comparing simile and metaphor, a metaphor suggests a comparison while a simile explicitly states such a comparison. The Hebrew word for parable is “mashal.”  In the Tanakh, there is a wide range of meaning of the word mashal. In some cases it is referred to as a Proverb (1 Sam: 24:13; Ezek. 12:22-23; 16:44; 18:2-3). Mashal is also seen as Riddle (Ps. 49:4; 78:2; Prov. 1:6; Ezek.17:2), and Allegory (Ezek. 24:2-5). (6)

7. 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)

8. Jesus appealed to the authority of the Hebrew Bible

Jesus was raised on the Hebrew Bible. It could not be more evident that He had a very high view of Scripture. We see the following:

1. Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Lk. 24:44); (Jn. 5:39)
2. Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).
3. Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Hebrew Bible) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:2-48).
4. Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (Jn. 10:35)

So we can ask two things: What is your view of the Hebrew Bible? Do you read it?

9. Jesus as the Embodiment of Wisdom

Israel’s Wisdom literature includes books such as Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes. Yeshua most certainly fulfilled the role of a sage by attributing the Wisdom literature to Himself. In the recent book called The Messiah Mystery: Toward A Perfect World, Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet (who thinks the Messiah has not come), says the following about one of the expectations of the Messiah. He says:

His wisdom shall exceed even that of King Solomon; he shall be greater than all the patriarchs, greater than all the prophets after Moses, and in many respects even more exalted than Moses. His stature and honor shall exceed that of all the kings before him. He will be an extraordinary prophet, second only to Moses, with all the spiritual and mental qualities that are prerequisites to be endowed with the gift of prophecy. (7)

It is interesting that Jesus spoke about this messianic qualification 2,000 years ago. As it says in Matt. 12:42; Lk. 11:31: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”

10. Jesus  is the agent to bring someone out of epistemic darkness

Biblically speaking, revelation is needed because of sin. People do not find God, rather God finds us. He has to take the initiative to reveal His plans and intentions for humanity. The reason He is the one to do this is because sin has dampened the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. In other words, sin affects the whole person—mind, emotions, and will. People can and do harden their hearts towards God.  And sadly, sometimes people can reach the point where they are desensitized towards the ways of God. Another way to say this is that they are extensively affected by sin. One of the main themes of John’s Gospel is people’s epistemic darkness and how an encounter with the revelation of Jesus can transfer a person from darkness to light. These main epistemic themes occur throughout John’s Gospel:

1. Epistemic darkness

2. Illumination/Enlightenment

3. Jesus as the revelation of God/ His teaching

4. Saving truth

5. Sensory Perception

6. Cognitive perception

7. The Spirit as a cognitive agent

8. People’s response

9. The relationship between the Father and the Son

10. The relationship between the believer with the Father and the Son (8)

For Judaism the Torah had been the main source of knowledge of God. But now we see that with the coming of the Messiah that the entire epistemic foundation for knowing God has now become the person and work of Jesus the Messiah (John 1:17-18; 5:39, 46).  (9)

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.”

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. Stein, Robert H, The Method And Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1978, 34-35.

7. The Jewish Learning Institute, The Messiah Mystery: Toward a Perfect World. Canada: The Jewish Learning Institute. 2000, 56.

8. Mary Healy and Robin Parry, The Bible And Epistemology: Biblical Soundings On The Knowledge of God. Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2007, 109-113.

9. Ibid.

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