When it comes to attempting to have fruitful conversations about whether God exists, I used to just jump to an argument for God. As someone that has talked to hundreds of agnostics and atheists on a large college campus, I used to sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up. Thus I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or we can ask, “If God exists, how should God show people he is real?” In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. People are intellectual, emotional, and volitional creatures. So here is a chart on some of the different ways people approach the existence of God.
A Generic God/ A Deistic God/A God of Nature (general revelation) explains:
Note: These points are compatible with Judaism and Islam.
A Intelligent Designer/God is more likely to explain:
Why the universe is rational (i.e., rational Being creates a rational universe that is observable and orderly verses a completely impersonal, non-rational cause that allows for a rational universe).
Origin of biological information in the simplest replicating cell; Biological Information content of organisms (i.e. information comes from an intelligent source). The info content of DNA is fundamental to life; but DNA is not itself alive. It contains a database of information and the programmed to produce a specified product. Each of the 10-100 trillion cells in the human body contains a database larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica (see Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell/Darwin’s Doubt book). See Information Enigma clip on You Tube.
The origin of the universe from nothing; Why the universe exists/the existence of nature/natural laws; Cause must be personal, immaterial, outside time, space, etc vs the universe was produced by a mindless, nonconscious processes.
Humans can develop propositions, formulate arguments, draw inferences, recognize universal principals, value logical validity, coherence and truth. While animals can be taught and use vocabulary words, they lack the ability to work with abstractions and ask philosophical questions.
The existence of the laws of nature: the laws of nature cannot exist without nature itself existing but the origin of nature cannot be explained scientifically without pre-existing laws. The logical conclusion is that science cannot, by its very nature, explain the origin of the universe.
God as an Explanatory Hypothesis/Which Explains Reality Better? God or No God (Nature is all there is)
Revelatory Arguments: A Theistic God: God’s disclosure of Himself to humanity(Historical Revelation)
C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:
How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?
Why the need for a revelation?
Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”
We also need to know the following:
Character of God: We need a concrete communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.
The mediums God uses in the Bible are: General revelation (Creation; Psalm:1-4;Rom. 1:20; Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special/Historical Revelation: physical appearances of God (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ); Dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ); Visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7); The written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).
· Response: The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him. Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.
Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).
Problems with Conflicting Revelations
We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.
(1) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah. God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection. (2) Hence, Jesus is God incarnate. (3) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.(4) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.
Existential Needs: The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God. According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant. Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:
the need for cosmic security
the need for meaning
the need to feel loved
the need to love
the need for awe
the need to delight in goodness
the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
the need to be forgiven
the need for justice and fairness
the need to be present with our loved ones
Challenge to Pragmatic Argument
Challenge to Religious Experience Argument
· “I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?”
· People say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life.
· “Jesus works in my life. Thus, it is true!”
· If Mormonism or Islam makes someone a more moral person or makes them more responsible, does that mean Mormonism or Islam is true?
· Can’t people from other religious backgrounds feed the poor and do good things?
· Pragmatic arguments have to be tied to evidence as well.
People have had a personal encounter with Jesus: Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of The Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2).
· Other people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Mormons claims that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as well.
· Christians can’t rely on experience alone. There is a difference between “being certain” and “feeling certain.” Our feelings/emotions can be up and down.
· All experience must be grounded by truth/objective truth. Truth wins over experience!
All religious experiences must have an external test.
Christians often lack the assurance of the work of the Spirit because of:
1.Unconfessed Sin/Unrepentant sin
2. Weak prayer life/devotional life
3. We aren’t rooted in community
4. We don’t know God/faulty views of God
5. Internet Information
6. Little or no apologetic/critical thinking skills
In this clip, we take take a closer look at how the Bible uses the terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man” and how they apply to Jesus. These play an important role in how we understand the deity of Jesus.
As historians evaluate the sources available for the resurrection of Jesus, a critical question is the dating of the sources. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) One key in examining the early sources for the life of Christ is to take into account the Jewish culture in which they were birthed. As Paul Barnett notes, “The milieu of early Christianity in which Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written was ‘rabbinic.’” (2)
Given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves.
Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (3)
Therefore, it appears that the Gospel was first spread in the form of oral creeds and hymns (Luke 24:34; Acts 2:22-24, 30-32; 3:13-15; 4:10-12; 5:29-32; 10:39-41; 13:37-39; Rom. 1:3-4; 4:25; 10:9; 1 Cor. 11:23ff.;15:3-8; Phil. 26-11; 1 Tim.2:6; 3:16; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:8;1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:2).
There was tremendous care in ‘delivering’ the traditions that had been received. Jesus’ use of parallelism, rhythm and rhyme, alliterations, and assonance enabled Jesus’ words not only ‘memorizable’ but easy to preserve. (4) Even Paul, a very competent rabbi was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. It can be observed that the New Testament authors employ oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching. Just look at the following passages:
Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”
1 Corinthians 11:23: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.”
Philippians 4:9: “The things you have learned and received and heardand seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”
1 Corinthians 15: 3-7: The Earliest Account
Paul applies this terminology in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7 which is one of the earliest records for the historical content of the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Jesus. The late Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide was so impressed by the creed of 1 Cor. 15, that he concluded that this “formula of faith may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.” (5)
Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:
“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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Rainer Riesner says the following about the creed:
“To the troubled church of Corinth, Paul, around 54 CE, wrote: I would remind you, brothers [including sisters], of the gospel [euangelion] that I proclaimed to you, which you received [parelabete], in which you also stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold to the wording [tini logō] in which I proclaimed it to you. . . . For I handed down [paredōka] to you under the first things what also I have received [parelabon]. (1 Cor. 15:1–3) Then the apostle cites a series of statements, a technique he knew from his rabbinical training, indicating certain traditions about Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:3–7). There are some important things to be noted. Paul could call a summary of the last part of Jesus’s life euangelion. The apostle reminds the Corinthians that at the foundation of the community (around 50 CE), he taught them some Jesus traditions as part of “the first things.” This is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 11:23–24: “I received [parelabon] from the Lord what I also handed down [paredōka] to you”; then Paul cites the eucharistic words of Jesus in a form independent from, but very near to, the Lukan version (Luke 22:19–20). The formulation “from the Lord” (apo tou kyriou) points back to Jesus as the originator of the tradition (1 Cor. 11:23). Paul is silent concerning those functioning as intermediaries from whom he received the eucharistic words; but 1 Corinthians 15:5–7 shows that the Jesus tradition was connected with known persons such as Peter, James, and the Twelve. Obviously it was not an anonymous tradition. The nearest philological parallel to the Greek words paralambanō (to receive) and paradidōmi (to hand down) are the Hebrew technical terms qibbel and masar, denoting a cultivated oral tradition (m. Abot 1:1). This is in agreement with Paul’s insistence on the “wording” (1 Cor. 15:2) of the catechetical formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5. In addition, the strong verbal agreements between the Pauline and the Lukan forms of the eucharistic words point to a cultivated tradition.” (6)
There is an interesting parallel to Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 in the works of Josephus. Josephus says the following about the Pharisees.
“I want to explain here that the Pharisees passed on to the people certain ordinances from a succession of fathers, which are not written down in the law of Moses. For this reason the party of the Sadducees dismisses these ordinances, averaging that one need only recognize the written ordinances, whereas those from the tradition of the fathers need not be observed.” (7)
As Richard Bauckham notes, “the important point for our purposes is that Josephus uses the language of “passing on” tradition for the transmission from one teacher to another and also for the transmission from the Pharisees to the people.”(8)
Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted.
Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).
Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is arguably used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).
As just mentioned, the word “received” παραλαμβάνω (a rabbinical term) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even an earlier date.
As Gary Habermas notes, “Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin.” Ulrich Wilckens declares that this creed “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” (9) Joachim Jeremias calls it “the earliest tradition of all.” (10) Even the non-Christian scholar Gerd Ludemann says that “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in the New Testament scholarship.” (11)
The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. While we can’t be dogmatic about this, we do know at that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19). This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38. Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:
“Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (12).
E.P. Sanders also says:
Paul’s letters were written earlier than the gospels, and so his reference to the Twelve is the earliest evidence. It comes in a passage that he repeats as ‘tradition’, and is thus to be traced back to the earliest days of the movement. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives the list of resurrection appearances that had been handed down to him. (13)
And Crossan’s partner Robert Funk says:
The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” — Robert Funk co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.(14)
This means that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. How can we know where he received it? There are three possibilities:
In Damascus from Ananias about AD 34
In Jerusalem about AD 36/37
In Antioch about AD 47
One of the clues as to where Paul got his information, is that, within the creed, he calls Peter by his Aramaic name, Cephas. Hence, it seems likely that he received this information in either Galilee or Judea, one of the two places where people spoke Aramaic. Therefore, Paul possibly received the oral history of 1 Cor. 15:3-7 during his visit to Jerusalem.
In Galatians 1:18 Paul says, Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. Here, “acquainted” happens to derive from a Greek word (historesai) that means “inquire into” or “become acquainted.” (15) Interestingly enough, the word “history” also derives from the Greek word “historesai.” So, the work of the historian is to find sources of information, to evaluate their reliability, to make disciplined “inquiry” into their meaning and with imagination to reconstruct what happened. (16) Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem is usually dated about AD 35 or 36.
Why does this matter?
I was once talking to a Muslim about the dating of the Qur’an and the New Testament. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence that has just been discussed tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an. Furthermore, to say the story of Jesus was something that was “made up” much later contradicts the evidence just presented.
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?” I have asked myself this question and many people have asked me about it as well.
In all the evangelism that I have done, I have noticed that I come across plenty of people who profess to be Christians but are not going forward in their faith. If I meet an individual who says they are a professed Believer, I always ask them where they are in the discipleship process. Many times when I ask, “Are you becoming a disciple?” I usually get the response, “What’s a disciple?”
Many are oblivious to the importance of discipleship. Therefore, I find myself exhorting hundreds of people to get rooted in congregational/community life—get back to the basics (e.g., read the Bible, prayer). I always give these individuals contact information of local churches that they can attend. It saddens me to see what is happening in the transition from the point when someone makes a professed/salvation decision for Jesus and the overall discipleship/commitment aspect to our faith.
The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now and not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving (by God’s grace) to be consistent follower of Jesus. The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.
Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. In an overly sensate culture, people need to be constantly stimulated and have a hard time focusing on something such as discipleship. And in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is a tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. Discipleship is a life-long process. Who are you discipling? And who is discipling you?
Forgetting Sanctification and Glorification
Sometimes we forget that if we have come to know the Lord, we are now in the process of sanctification. That means we are not in a glorified state where we are free from sin and all the challenges of this world. Honestly, we sometimes treat Christians as if they should act as if they are in a glorified state. That means no sin, and perfect holiness. But the question is, how does God sanctify and transform us? I believe this chart is helpful.
God does transform us. But it involves our cooperation. If we are willing to yield to God, through his Word, and allow others to be involved in the process, we will change. Also, suffering and circumstances can be used to change us as well. The question is “How do we respond to God in this specific circumstance?” Note the chart mentions truth is what changes us. Truth comes though the Bible, others speaking truth to us, prayer, service, etc. But I truly believe the reason we don’t always see the transformation we want isn’t because of God. It is on us. He has given us His Spirit, the Word, community, plenty of resources (lectures, books, online resources), etc. In most cases, it is our stubborn will won’t budge. Now keep in mind, this isn’t about a formula. It is about us cooperating with God so that we might experience the change he wants for us so we can bring honor and glory to Him. I have to be the one who prioritizes reading the Bible, being in community, praying, and doing all I can to cooperate with God. Also, remember, even if you don’t see the transformation in your own life or in others, it doesn’t mean the Gospel is false. Jesus could still have died and risen 2,000 years ago. Our actions don’t determine the facts of history. So remember, we can be transformed. But we have to do our part.
In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the connection between orthodoxy (what Christians believe/right belief), and orthopraxis (how Christians are to live). These two orthos are intended to work in harmony with one another. Sadly, however, there seems to continually be a great tension between some Christians that tend to emphasize one side of this equation over the other.
Some say those who that have solely focuses on orthodoxy (correct belief/doctrine), lack love and their witness isn’t what it needs to be. After all, if people have true beliefs, shouldn’t it match up with our living? The problem is no Christian will ever totally reflect the character of Jesus and they will fail at times to live out their faith. We aren’t in the glorified state yet. We are all in the process of sanctification (becoming like Jesus), in this present life.
When someone such as myself engages devout followers of other faith’s, in most cases, the apologetic discussions tend to focus on something in their belief system that is erroneous. For example, if Muslims say Jesus never died, that is a huge issue. Granted, nobody wants people of any faith to harm anyone else and we want to be treated with dignity and respect. All faith’s have some commonality in this area.
But as I have said before, would you want to become a Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, if the followers of these faiths were kind, moral, loving, and showed charity? Is a pragmatic test all that matters? Or, do you want to know if the claims of each faith line up with reality? Is Allah a real God? Are there really 300 million gods? Did Joseph Smith really receive a revelation that led him to write the Golden Plates? The list goes on.
Do you know how important truth is to your daily existence? Think about it for a minute. You rely on truth every day of your life! For example:
You rely on your people to tell you the truth every day. If they tell you the bus arrives at 6:30 and it really arrived at 6:10, you probably will miss the bus.
You rely on your teachers to tell you the truth. If they tell you that you will have a quiz on chapter 2, but you arrive the next day to find out that the quiz is on chapter 4, you may flunk the test. Whether it was a lie or a mistake, you really needed the truth.
People rely on banks to be truthful about how much money they have.
When we buy a car, a computer, or a phone, we rely on those that sell us these items to be truthful with us about whether it works or not.
We attempt to rely on politicians to tell us the truth about what policies they want to have Congress pass so that our country will be a better place to live.
So my point is it is virtually impossible and also unnecessary to try to make a dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxis.
I am often asked what are some of the differences between modern Judaism and Christianity. Granted, this is a very complicated topic. Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century was not seen as a single “way.” Thus, there were were many Judaisms (i.e.,the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots). The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes”(24:5). Hence, the first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.
But here are some of the differences between Judaism and Christianity: Adapted from 60 Questions Christians Ask About Jewish Beliefs and Practices by Michael L. Brown, pgs 49-53.
1. God—Judaism believes in God’s absolute unity; Christianity believes in God’s tri-unity. Judaism believes that it is acceptable for Gentiles to worship God as Trinity but states that for a Jew, it is idolatrous, especially since this includes the worship of Jesus. Judaism emphasizes God’s complete incorporeality (i.e., that He has no bodily form of any kind); Christianity puts less emphasis on His incorporeal nature.
2.Messiah—Judaism believes that the Messiah, who will be fully human, is yet to come, although there are Jewish traditions that indicate that there is a potential Messiah in each generation. This Messiah will regather the Jewish exiles, fight the wars of the Lord, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and bring about universal peace and the knowledge of God. Christianity believes that the Messiah, who was both fully human and fully divine—the Word incarnate, the Son of God—came two thousand years ago to die for our sins, rising from the dead and sending God’s Spirit to the earth to continue His mission. He will return at the end of the age to establish His Kingdom on the earth, destroy God’s enemies and bring about universal peace and the knowledge of God.
3. Sin—Judaism believes that every human being has a battle between the good inclination (the yetzer hatov) and the evil inclination (the yetzer hara’), but it does not believe in the doctrine of “original sin,” emphasizing instead that through the power of repentance, the evil inclination can be overcome. Christianity believes that Adam’s fall affected the entire human race (this, too, is believed by Judaism, but not in as radical a way), that the best of us fall infinitely short of God’s glory and perfection and only through the blood of Jesus, the Messiah, can we be spiritually transformed.
4. Salvation—Judaism does not hold to the concept of individual salvation, and in the late 1970s, when a major Christian organization launched the evangelistic “I Found It” campaign, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi—with whom I attended graduate school classes at New York University—launched the “We Never Lost It” campaign. Judaism thinks more corporately than does Christianity, and even though the concept of forgiveness of sins and atonement is important (see the next paragraph), there is no such concept of “being saved” or “getting saved” in Judaism, and there is much less emphasis on the afterlife (see also the next two entries).
5. Atonement—Although traditional Jews pray daily for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of animal sacrifices (Reform Jews have removed such petitions from their prayer book), Judaism does not believe that blood atonement is essential for personal atonement. Rather, repentance, good deeds, prayer and personal suffering (seen, at times, as a payment for sin) take the place of sacrifices; partial support for this is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, among other verses. Christianity teaches that atonement can only come through the substitutionary death of the Messiah and that true saving faith includes repentance (see Acts 2:38; 20:21; 26:20).
6. Afterlife—While Judaism recognizes that this world is the vestibule to the world to come, and while there is daily prayer for the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age, the primary emphasis in Judaism is on the present world, the here and now, in keeping with the emphasis in the Tanakh. Christianity sees the world to come—specifically, heaven and hell—as being of paramount importance, to the point that the way we are called to live in this world can only make complete sense in the light of eternity. While there is a wholesome appreciation of life in this world, it is not to be separated from the world to come.
7. Creed vs. Deed—Judaism has basic creeds—most notably Moses Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, although some of these were hotly disputed in his day—and there are fundamental, essential beliefs in Judaism. The greater emphasis, however, is put on deeds—specifically, observing the commandments of the Torah, as understood and passed on through the traditions. Christianity puts a tremendous emphasis on good works and stresses the importance of a transformed life, but its greater emphasis is put on holding to the essentials of the faith, from which a transformed life and good works will naturally emanate. Thus it is sometimes said that Judaism emphasizes orthopraxy; Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy. Or, put another way, Judaism is the religion of the deed, Christianity the religion of the creed. These statements are, however, somewhat exaggerated.
8. Mission—Both Jews and Christians feel a calling to be a light to the world and to make God known, but that sense of mission is worked out very differently in Judaism and Christianity. The former places its emphasis on being faithful to the Jewish calling, meaning living according to the Torah and rabbinic traditions, praying the communal prayers and studying the sacred texts. In so doing, the example of the Jewish people will ultimately enlighten the world. Christianity feels a sacred calling to make the message of salvation known through all available means, including living a life deeply devoted to the Lord (and thereby being an example and hastening redemption) and, quite pointedly, sharing the Good News about Jesus to everyone. Thus, Christianity has always had “missionaries,” while that has not been the norm for more than 1,900 years in Judaism.
I have been plowing through Michael Wilkins, Craig A Evans, Darrell and Andreas J Köstenberger’s commentary called The Gospels and Acts The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible, B&H Publishing Group. In it, they say these are the common mistakes that critics makes when they approach the Gospels:
•They fail properly to account for literary and/ or historical contexts
• miss hermeneutical (interpretational) signals about how the text should be read
• assume that silence in one account equals contradiction to the non-silence in a parallel account
• assume that variation in detail between two or more accounts necessarily entails contradiction
• show unwarranted preference for non-biblical accounts
• show an exaggerated suspicion of the biblical accounts
• assume a Bible book’s borrowing of ideas that pre-dated its composition
• fail to distinguish ipsissima vox from ipsissima verba
• operate as if only ipsissima verba is an appropriate authorial approach for texts inspired by God, trustworthy even when variances are present (and variances are always present)
• fail to allow thematic rather than chronological approaches to ordering historical narratives
• demand a level of precision that was foreign to ancient historiography
• insist that the sitz im leben (“ situation in life”) of the author biases his reporting of past events
• incorrectly expect that the Bible should be literarily distinct from non-biblical writings
• fail to see that variations in parallel accounts actually commend the truthfulness of the accounts, for the variations indicate that the authors did not collude with one another to support a false story
• overlook the fact that Jesus would certainly have duplicated significant teachings and acts in various towns, leading to accounts that are similar but genuinely distinct
These are some good points and I tend to see them come up on a regular basis.