Does It Matter Whether God Exists?

After talking to hundreds of college students for several years about spiritual beliefs, one thing that comes up from time to time, is whether the existence of God is even relevant. In other words, the discussion kind of goes like this: “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” As a matter of fact, at this moment, we are in the midst of promoting an event at a large college campus called Stealing From God: What Makes Sense of Reality: Theism or Atheism? You can see our clip here:

Anyway, the comment “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” displays a very pragmatic view of truth. I have discussed the problem with this elsewhere. But when a student says God’s existence isn’t really relevant, my first response is to try to get them back to the issue of truth. After all, if there is a God and He does exist and it turns out Jesus is His Son, that is an objective reality. It has zero to do with how I feel about it. And the truthfulness of it isn’t determined whether the person stays busy and says “I don’t care if God exists.” Another issue that comes up is the following worldview questions:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• The Human Condition: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality/Human Rights, Human Dignity: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong? What is the basis for human rights, moral values, moral duties, human dignity, and equality?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world

Now after looking at these worldview issues, I think the one that is the question that is the most pressing one is the morality, human rights, and human dignity issue. This issue is directly related  to the the origins question. They can’t be separated. Just recently in the recent presidential debate, the abortion topic came up. That is directly related to one’s view of humans and what makes them valuable. Of course, on a theistic worldview, human aren’t valuable based on their function. They are valuable based on their nature or essence. It is quite obvious we live at a time where people are obsessed with human rights, justice, and equality. I discuss why theism lays the foundation for these features of reality here. 

So in the end, when I run into college students that are apathetic about the existence of God, I now ask them if they think humans are valuable and whether they believe in justice, equality, and human rights. Every single time, the student says “Yes!” So now the door is open to discuss the origins question and how that relates to the human dignity and equality issue. Robert Spizter helps us understand the importance of this topic. He says:

“The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data. The general principle is this: opinions that explain the most data and are verified by the most evidence are better than those that do not. The vast majority of people consider this principle to be self-evident because if greater explanatory power and more evidence is not better, then additional evidence and explanatory power add nothing, which means that all evidence and explanatory power are essentially worthless. This leaves us with only our subjective assertions, which most people do not consider to be good enough. For example, as suggested previously, Einstein’s theory about the universe is better than Newton’s theory because it explains more data. (Newton was unaware of most of the data that the special and general theories of relativity account for.) Again, calculus has more explanatory power than algebra and trigonometry because it can account for curves through derivative and integral functions, which algebra and trigonometry cannot do on their own. This applies to virtually every science and social science. The more data a theory or hypothesis explains, the better it is. With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”.
If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 

What Does It Mean To Love God With All Our Heart, Soul, and Mind?

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

Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus! Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-9:

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

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “shmah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of  the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is  “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is  used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical  standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire  person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional,  affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart”  (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the  rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith involves a  commitment of the whole person.

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. Hence, in Deut. : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds).  How might me love God with our minds?

First, as John Piper says in his essay on Faith and Reason:

Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In1 Timothy 6:5, he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And inRomans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.

We are an adulterous generation. We love man-centered error more than Christ-exalting truth, and our rational powers are taken captive to serve this adulterous love. This is what Jesus exposed when he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” In other words, your mind functions just fine when seeking out a partner in adultery, but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.”

Note: You can download Piper’s book THINK right here.

As Christ followers, we are called to not fall into the same traps that Paul warns his audiences here.

Second, Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity) from a Christian/biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity. As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (1)

Third, establish a worldview: The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience.(2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Fourth, as William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (3)

If we teach the holistic nature of faith, we won’t over emphasize emotions to the detriment of intellect or vice versa.

Fifth, from a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?


I hope these tips help. Remember, Biblical faith is a holistic commitment to God. It is a commitment that calls for us to submit our mind, emotions, and will all to the glory of God.


1. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

2. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

3. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

The Jesus of Faith or The Jesus of History?


For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

Books That Deal With These Issues

I quickly want to mention two books. I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). And by the way, The Jesus Legend is critical reponse to legend theorists. For those that want to see how silly it is to propose the theory that Jesus didn’t exist- click here to read Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Let’s Look at the Quests

The First Quest Period-1778-1906:

The First Quest was marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)

The No Quest Period-1906-1953:

Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970:

Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:

Naturalism: The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. In this worldview, miracle accounts and any references to the non-natural realm are generally rejected. This is unjustified. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are non-natural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6) It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).

Therefore, the entire starting point in studying the life of Jesus is about one’s presuppositions. Metaphysics is the study of being or reality. It is used interchangeably with ontology (Gk. ontos, “being,” and logos, “word about”). Without metaphysics, a person would be incapable of constructing a worldview. A worldview must explain all of the pieces of the puzzle we call reality.

These issues demonstrate that in investigating the evidence for the life of Jesus, every historian interprets the past in direct relationship to his own Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview). Hence, a worldview will always impact one’s historical method/philosophy of history. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” If one has a commitment to philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, several aspects of the life of Jesus will be interpreted in a naturalistic way. Remember, naturalism is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.

To read more about this issue- see the Boyd/Eddy book or The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. There is also new book by Mike Licona called The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

“Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it.” (8)

A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on:

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(9) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults. (10)

The Players in the Third Quest

1. E.P Sanders

Sanders is noted for asserting in 1985 the historical authenticity of eight activities of The Historical Jesus:

1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist 2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed. 3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of their being twelve 4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel 5. Jesus engaged in controversy about the temple 6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by Roman authorities 7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement 8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement

In 1993, in a more popular work, Sanders added six more facts to his list:

1. Jesus was born circa 4 B.C., at the approximate time of Herod the Great. 2. Jesus grew up in Nazareth of Galilee 3. Jesus taught in small villages and towns and seemed to avoid cities 4. Jesus ate a final meal with his disciples 5. Jesus was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, apparatnly at the orders of the High Priest 6. Although they abandoned Jesus after his arrest, the disciples later “saw” him after his death. This led the disciples to believe that Jesus would return and found the kingdom.

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (11)

2. N.T. Wright

Wright has been another major player in the Third Quest. Wright agrees with Sanders list but still adds some of the following items about what we can know about Jesus:

1. Jesus spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, and probably some Greek 2. Jesus summoned the people to repent 3. Jesus made use of the parables to announce the kingdom of God 4. Jesus effected remarkable cures, including exorcisms, as demonstrated the truth of his proclamation of the kingdom 5. Jesus shared table fellowship with a socially and diverse group, including whom many Torah observant Jews would regard as “sinners.’

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.”

3. Craig Evans

One of the active scholars in the Third Quest is Craig Evans. One of his recent books is Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Evans this past May. His knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, early Judaica, and the cognate languages is unsurpassed.

Evans adds a few items to the lists of Sanders and Wright: 1.The public viewed Jesus as a prophet 2. The Romans crucified him as “King of the Jews.” 3.That following Easter his followers regarded him as Israel’s Messiah. The Core Facts

Gary Habermas makes an important point when he says, “Certainly one of the strongest methodological indications of historicity occurs when a case can be built on accepted data that are recognized as well established by a wide range of otherwise diverse historians.”Historian Christopher Blake refers to this as the “very considerable part of history which is acceptable to the community of professional historians.” (12)

Here are five well-evidenced facts granted by virtually all scholars who study the historical Jesus: (see See Habermas. G.R. and Licona, M. L. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus):

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion 2. Jesus’ followers sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead 3. Early eyewitness testimony to belief in Jesus’ resurrection 4. The conversion of Jesus’ skeptical brother, James 5. Paul, once an enemy of the early faith, became a commited follower of Jesus the Messiah

Who are some of these critical scholars that Habermas mentions? To read more about this see:

It is important to understand that I don’t want to say that just because I offer a list of core facts that are universally agreed on by historians and Biblical scholars makes it true. If so, that would be what is called a “consensus gentium fallacy” which is the fallacy of arguing that an idea is true because most people believe it. Habermas completed an overview of more than 1,400 critical scholarly works on the resurrection from 1975 to 2003. He studied and catalogued about 650 of the texts in English, German and French. Habermas reports that all the scholars who were from across the ideological spectrum agreed on the five facts that are mentioned. Therefore, the scholars and historians that Habermas researched were not all from a conservative or traditional perspective. So there was some impartiality in the study.

The Jesus Seminar

It is important to mention that another group of scholars who are involved in the Third Quest are the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar come from various academic, professional, and  religious backgrounds.  Among the seventy scholars and laypersons that comprise the group, the  individuals that are regularly in the public eye include Robert W. Funk  (co-chair), John Dominic Crossan (co-chair), and Marcus Borg (Oregon State   University). For most of those in the Seminar, there is a dichotomy  between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” The “Christ of faith”  is seen as a figure of the early church who was elevated to a divine status by  the use of early Christian creeds and through the mythological embellishment  accounts of the Gospels that were written later. (13) In  a debate with John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, William Lane  Craig exposed Crossan’s naturalistic presuppositions. Craig asked Crossan if  there was anything that would convince Crossan that Jesus rose from the dead as  an historical fact. Crossan responded by saying a person has the right to say,”I by faith believe that God has intervened in the resurrection event.” However,  Crossan then goes on to say, “It’s a theological presupposition of mine that  God does not operate in that way that they.” (14)  To see some critques of Crossan and the Seminar’s views see here:


The good news is that the quest for The Historical Jesus may be shifting to what is called “The Interdisciplinary Quest.” This means that there are many people from a variety of academic backgrounds such as philosophy, sociology, anthropology, etc., that are all weighing in on this topic. It should be interesting to see what happens in the future. I can only speak for myself in that I see no dichotomy between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. You can decide for yourself.




1.Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386. 2.Ibid. 3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182. 4.Ibid. 5.Ibid. 6.Geisler, pgs 385-386. 7.Ibid. 8.B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167. 9.Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Geisler, N.L., and Paul K. Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2001, 152.

13. House. W.H.,and Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and  Christian Evidences.Grand Rapids,   MI: Zondervan Publishing House,  2006, Chart 51.

14. Copan, P. Will The Real Jesus Stand Up? A Debate between William  Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand  Rapids, MI: Baker  Books. 1998. 61-62.

Did the Disciples/Apostles Invent The Suffering Messiah Concept?

Over the years many Christians can’t understand why Jewish people can’t see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53. It would be nice if it was so simple. One of the most common questions is whether the New Testament authors were familiar with Isaiah 53 or any other texts in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) that pointed to a suffering messianic figure. After all they were Jewish and had read the Scriptures all their lives. But there is no doubt that the early followers of Jesus had a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus was going to suffer and die: A couple of passages prove my point:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you! (Matt 16:21)

He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise. But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. (Mark 9:31)

Also, with the exception of 1 Peter 2: 24-25, the New Testament passages that quote Isa. 53 don’t address the atoning significance of the Servant’s suffering.  However, we do see Jesus is a Passover sacrifice (e.g, Jn. 19:14;1 Cor. 5:7-8); an unblemished sacrifice (1 Pet.1:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7: 26-28; 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:21-25); a sin offering (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21) and a covenant sacrifice (e.g., Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Something else we need to remember is the following: Words and concepts are separate entities. “Word-bound” approaches to what really are concept studies can lead us astray. Messianism is a concept study. While it can be seen that the word “Messiah” means “Anointed One” and is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone,” it must be remembered that “Anointed One” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. This is why the reader must not assume every time they read where a priest, prophet, king, or even Cyrus in Isa. 45:1 is annointed, this automatically means the individual is “The Messiah.” Furthermore, other 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.”

Many scholars have asked what might of led to  the acceptance of a Suffering Messiah. Let’s see if we can trace the history here:

Possibility #1: One can observe atoning features about the Maccabean martyrs:

2 Maccabees 7:37-38: “I [the youngest of the seven sons martyred one by one in front of their mother], like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my broth-ers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.

4 Maccabees 6:27-29: [Eleazar prays] “You know, O God, that though I might be saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs.”

4 Maccabees 17:22: “And through the blood of those devout ones and their deaths an atoning sacrifice divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated.”

4 Maccabees 18:4: “Because of them [those who gave their bodies in suffering for the sake of religion; 18:3] the nation gained peace.”

John C. Collins talks about the case for of a pre-existing suffering Messiah:

“In the late-first century CE apocalypses of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch the messiah dies. His death, however, does not involve suffering and has no atoning significance. In 4 Ezra 7:29-30, the death of the messiah marks the end of a four-hundred-year reign and is the prelude to seven days of primeval silence, followed by the resurrection. In 2 Bar 30:1, “when the time of the appearance of the messiah has been fulfilled” he returns in glory, and then all who sleep in hope of him rise.” Neither scenario bears any similarity to Isaiah 53.” -Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007, 124.

But Collins also says the following:

“The Christian belief (in a suffering Messiah) in such a figure, and the discovery of prophecies relating to him, surely arose in retrospect after the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that any first century Judaism expected such a figure, either in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 or on any other basis. The notion of a suffering and dying messiah eventually found a place in Judaism.” pg 126.

It was after the resurrection, that Jesus said:

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance andforgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Unfortuntaely, Jesus does not list any specific texts that say the Messiah will suffer and die.

Also, Paul says the following:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15: 3-4).

Once again, the problem with this passage is that Paul does not list what texts he is referring to in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible). Hence, he could be talking about a typological prophecy from the Binding of Isaac story. Or, maybe Paul saw the Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4. Also, in the context of Zechariah 6- the crown placed on the head of the high priest named Joshua who is then referred to as the “Branch” which is a Messianic title. The Messiah has a dual role- as a priest he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. If we just jump to Isaiah 53, that brings up the issue of whether Paul is using  the LXX (THE Greek Septuagint). See the article The Use of Quotations from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in the New Testament.

But let’s get back to Collins and his comments about how a suffering Messiah shows up later in Jewish literature. We do see a case for a suffering Messiah in the Jewish literature.

The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:

They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]. (1)

In the Zohar, which is the foundational book of Jewish mysticism, we see a text about the relationship between Isaiah 53 and atonement:

“The children of the world are members of one another, and when the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, He smites one just man amongst them, and for his sakes heals the rest of the rest. Whence do we learn this? For the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ [Isa. 53:5].i.e., by letting of his blood- as when a man bleeds his arm- there was healing for us-for all the members of the body. In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation.” (2)

Solomon Schechter apeaks about this issue in his book Aspects of Rabbinic Theology:

The atonement of suffering and death is not limited to the suffering person. The atoning death extends to all the generation. This is especially the case with such sufferers as cannot either by reason of their righteous life or by their youth possibly have merited the afflictions which have come upon them. The death of the righteous atones just as well as certain sacrifices [with reference to b.Mo’ed Qatan 28a].‘They are caught (suffer) for their sins of the generation.’ [b Shabbat 32b]. There are also applied to Moses the Scriptural words, ‘And he bore the sins of many’ (Isaiah 53), because of his offering himself as the atonement for Israel’s sin with the golden calf, being ready to sacrifice his very soul for Israel when he said. ‘And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of my book (that is, from the Book of the Living), which thou hast written’ (Ex. 32) [b. Sotah 14a; b Berakhoth 32a). This readiness to sacrifice oneself for Israel is characteristic of all the great men of Israel, the patriarchs, and the Prophets citing in the same way, whilst also some Rabbis would, on certain occasions, exclaim, ‘Behold I am the atonement for Israel’ [Mekhilta 2a;m. Negaim 2:1]. (3)

We also see a case for an atoning Messiah in the Prayer Book For Day of Atonement-The Musaf Prayer

“Messiah our righteousness is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have no one to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgressions. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wounds, at the time the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, By the hand of Yinnon.” -Written by Rabbi Eliezer Kalir around 7th century A.D

Also, “The Rabbis said: His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted. [Isaiah 53:4].” – Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b

And let us not forget that Maimonides, a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages also quotes Isaiah 53;2; 52:15 as being about the Messiah.

Much of modern Judaism knows the the traditional view of Messiah ben David who is a descendant of David and of the tribe of Judah. But there is another messianic view in Judaism that speaks of Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim. This figure will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for it’s final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace. (4)

What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah be David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par.

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).


I don’t see any evidence the first followers of Jesus invented the Suffering Messiah story.There were are certainly implicit cases where we see a case for a Messiah who will be an atonement for sin. But just like many other issues in the Tanakh, what was implicit becomes more explicit in the New Testament. We see that the best way to tackle the issue is to examine the evidence in the Jewish literature (including the Bible).


1. Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol 2. (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 2000),157. 2. Tractate Sanhedrin, Talmud Bavli, The Shottenstein Edition (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1995), vol 3 98a5, emphasis in original. 3. Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology. London: 1909. Reprint. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1994, 310-311. 4. Jacob Immanuel Schochet. Mashiach: The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition. New York: S.I.E. 1992, 93-101.

Doing Apologetics in an Anti-Apologetics Age

Here, Voddie Baucham gives a lecture on some of the reasons people aren’t interested in learning about apologetics. What are some of the reasons? 

  1. Christians assume all the Christian life is about is being nice.
  2. Mysticism: Christians place experience above everything else. Yes, they sound like Mormons.
  3. The Gospel is all that matters!
  4. To listen to the rest, see the clip.


Frank Turek On Why People Reject God

Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case

I found this to be an outstanding quote from apologist Frank Turek. I have had Frank come to our campus a couple of times. He says:

“I am not saying that an atheist’s motivation proves that atheism is false  — someone can have the wrong motives and still be right. What I am saying is that many atheists don’t want Christianity to be true. I’ve seen this firsthand among atheists on college campuses. When I sense hostility during the Q& A period of an I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist presentation, I normally ask the questioner, “If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?” On several occasions I’ve had atheists yell back at me, “No!”

(Frank responds) No? “Wait, you claim to be a beacon of reason, yet when I ask you if something were true would you believe it, you say ‘no!’ How is that reasonable?” It’s not. That’s because reason or evidence isn’t the issue for such people. They don’t have an intellectual objection to Christianity  — they have an emotional, moral, or volitional objection. They’ve been hurt by Christians or think they’ve been let down by God. But more often, as several atheists have admitted, they simply don’t want to give up their autonomy and submit their will to God. They are not on a relentless pursuit of the truth, open to following the evidence where it leads. They’re on a happiness quest, not a truth quest. They reject Christianity because they think doing whatever they want will make them happy. So it’s a heart issue, not a head issue. It’s been said that this kind of atheist is looking for God as much as a criminal is looking for a cop. This resistance affects all of us at times. When we want to be our own gods, we’re not open to accepting the true God. Pascal put it this way, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Girlfriends, boyfriends, and maintaining your independence can be very attractive. Pascal’s insight may also help us answer the questions we posed at the end of chapter 1. Namely, why are atheists such as Dawkins and Krauss open to deism but not theism? And why are Dawkins and several other atheists open to admitting that the evidence points to an alien intelligent designer of the first life but not to God? I could be wrong, but it sure seems that the answer is right here: morality and accountability. A theistic God brings such demands, but an alien or a deistic god does not. What other reasons could there be? What reasons do you have for what you believe? Are you following the evidence where it leads? Honestly? Or are you more interested in believing what you find attractive? To be fair, this sword cuts both ways. Many people are Christians not because they’ve investigated the evidence, but because they find a heavenly Father and eternal life attractive. The difference is  — although many Christians don’t know it  — abundant evidence exists for their beliefs. So Christians can say with confidence that while some atheists have the attitude, “There is no God, and I hate him,” Christ had the attitude, “There are atheists, and I love them. In fact, I died for them. ” Frank  Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (p. 113).