One of the Most Common Objections to God’s Existence on a College Campus

DISCLAIMER: From what I gather, atheists and skeptics have told me “Well, I never bring up the arguments to theists that are mentioned in this post. Thus, no atheist or skeptic that I know would bring up these objections.” My response: This is based on my experience from the last several years of doing apologetics on a major college campus. So whether you don’t accept it has nothing to do with my own personal testimony from what I have seen.

In 2004, I started going to the Ohio State University and engaging students for the truth claims of Christianity. I did hundreds of surveys with students and certainly begin to see some of the objections people had to the Christian faith. Around 2006 I moved away from the survey approach and started using a variety of approaches to reach out to the students here. Anyway, it was 2009 when myself along with some OSU students planted a Ratio Christi chapter on the campus. This was done out of the necessity for a stronger apologetics presence on the campus. Since we planted the chapter we have had some very well-known speakers come such as William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Bart Ehrman and Michael Brown, Paul Nelson, Michael Licona and James Warner Wallace. We have also had some student debates with the skeptic group on the campus. Keep in mind that Ohio State is a very large campus (60,000) students. Therefore, I do not mean to stereotype anyone or act like I speak as an authority for the entire campus. There are plenty of other campus ministries and people who might share different experiences that they have seen on the campus.

What About Skepticism?

Sure, skepticism has always been an issue on college campuses. But what kind of skepticism do I see? All kinds of skepticism! But as you will see in the objections below, I also see alot of pragmatism and some post-modernism, mysticism, etc.  I will also provide some resources to the objections I have heard over the last several years.

The more I have talked to hundreds of students about spiritual beliefs, the more I realize there is one objection that comes up more than any other. Now I realize this may not be the same for everyone else. But when the discussion turns to the question “How do we know God exists?”   I used to just jump to an argument for God. I would sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up: I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or, If God exists, how should God show people he is real? Now when I say “God,” I am referring to the God of the Bible (see more below). Obviously, when it comes to terms like “evidence” and “proof” we always have equivocation issues. But in many cases, this illustration come into the discussion:

The Most Common Objection: “Why Won’t God Show Me A Sign?”

 

Yes, over the last several years, this is the most common objection that I hear. 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. The first question as to why won’t God just write it in the sky that He exists or make Himself known in an unmistakable way, leads to the response, “What do you mean by God?” If someone is referring to the God of the Bible, they might want to reconsider the demand for such a thing. Of course, in many cases, skeptics have created a god in their own mind which is idolatry. See Ed Feser’s post called “The One God Further Objection.”  But remember, 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.  Furthermore, perhaps the demand for such a sign assumes the individual is certain as to how they would respond to such a sign. After all, any assumption that a clear sign will lead to a full surrender of one’s autonomy over to their Creator is quite presumptuous.

You Can’t Prove God’s Existence

One of the most common objections I hear is that there is no way to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ God’s existence. Sadly, this can allow a person to punt to some form of lazy agnosticism. Thus, they are off the hook and and can ignore the God question. When this comes up, I now ask  students what they mean by ‘prove’ and then I ask them if they know the difference between deductive, inductive or abductive proof. I hope this chart helps.

Direct Evidence 

 In this post,  we see how the author discusses the issue of objective evidence and the role our mind plays in the perception of the evidence.  After all, in many cases, people have access to the same evidence but they come to different conclusions based on their interpretation of the evidence. In this clip, you will see the issue of the demand for a sign or direct testimony/direct evidence will come up. Granted, the issue of our interpretation of evidence is always an issue.


After viewing this clip, here is a summary of what the student says:

 

“I would have to say unambiguous, direct evidence…. Some people will use their explanation for God existing as things we don’t know… [like] the arguments [that] everything is so fine-tuned, but that doesn’t do much for me. I would very much prefer to have actual, direct evidence of somebody saying, “This directly points to God himself coming down and speaking.” And at that point I’d have to verify with someone that I’m not hallucinating…. It has to be some direct evidence of God, not an extrapolation of evidence from something else.”

Unfortunately, many people (I was one of them) don’t know the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence.  One of the most helpful ways to approach the question of the existence of God is to utilize an approach that is successfully practiced in science, history, law, philosophy, and other areas. It is called “Inference to the Best Explanation.” For example, when we identify a range of data to be explained, formulate a pool of possible explanations, and judge that one is the best among that pool.  When this happens, the data provide evidence that the explanation is true. This is important because when we talk about the God question, so many people (like the student above)  demand what we call “direct evidence.” In other words, they think they should be able to “see” or verify God directly. As I just said, that is a fruitless approach. Of course, Jesus is the full revelation of God. Thus, if you want to know what God is like, look to Him! But, when it comes to history, science, and many criminal investigations, we are dealing with many events that nobody was able to participate in. Thus, these events are in the past and aren’t repeatable. That’s why historians, scientists and criminal investigators, have to collect the information and then make a conclusion based on the combined weight of all the evidence taken together. Note: Please see our short post called a Chart on Approaches to God’s Existence and 30 Suggested Readings on Apologetic Responses to Atheism/Skepticism.

Miracles

Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there.

When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. The pattern for miracles is the following:

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

In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God should show them a miracle.  It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue. At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “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).

This is why we need to remember the following.  In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli say there are three components to faith:

  1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
  2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
  3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their sign or miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, signs and miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them. From my experience, 90% percent of the people that say they want a sign admit afterwards that even if they got it, they might think they are hallucinating.

In the end,  many people simply know very little about the nature of God. Perhaps we need to get back to Theology 101. NOTE: ALSO CHECK OUT PAUL MOSER’S PDF: “WHY ISN’T GOD MORE OBVIOUS?”

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A Look at the Atonement

In this clip, we discuss the atonement. One of the Bible’s central messages is atonement, that is, that God has provided a way for humankind to come back into harmonious relation with him. This message is everywhere apparent in Scripture. We will look at the background of atonement, the background of sacrifice, and a few Jewish objections to our claim as Jesus as being our atonement and some other applications.

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Responding to the Objection: “I don’t see the need for God or Jesus?”

The other day while doing an outreach on local college campus, we had a college student say she thought our religious commitments were based on felt needs. Thus, if people have the need to believe certain things and it helps them, that’s fine.  But she said she doesn’t have that need. This made me think of a great quote by Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus,”– J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30

What was my response to the student “What if it is actually true?” I went on to explain the claim “The God of the Bible exists” or “Jesus rose from the dead” has nothing to do with whether I have a felt need.  I also said, there is a difference between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ truth.  You rely on objective truth every day. Objective truth is something that’s not based on your feelings, emotions, or preferences. It is something that is true whether you believe it or not.

Let’s give some examples:

  1. “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and George Washington was our first president.”
  2. “Joe Biden is our current president.”

These statements are objectively true. It has nothing to do with how you feel about it. These are ‘facts’ of history.

Subjective truth is based on your personal preference or feelings. You might say, “Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream in the world.” This is all based on our personal likes.

Once I explained this to the student, she began to see my faith isn’t based simply on a felt need. After all, I might see the need for Mormonism or Islam. But that doesn’t mean the central claims of these faiths are based in reality.

In conclusion it is not that needs are irrelevant. But the “Felt Needs” Gospel falls short.  I hope we ditch this approach.

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Answering Jewish Objections: “Jewish People Don’t Believe in a Suffering/Atoning Messiah”

Introduction

Over the years, I have had the chance to talk to several Jewish people about spiritual issues. A common Jewish objection that I continue to hear is that Jewish people don’t believe that a human can be sacrificed for sins. In other words, a human can’t atone for the sins of the Jewish people.

First, let me give some background to the idea of atonement in Judaism. For Jewish people Yom Kippur, which is also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. When the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D, the religious and social life changed forever for the Jewish people. The Jewish people no longer had a sacrificial system in the Temple. Therefore, the atonement structure was changed to repentance which entails prayer, fasting, and doing mitzvah (good deeds).

The Importance of Atonement

One of the  Bible’s central messages is atonement. Hence, God has provision for humankind to come back into harmonious relation with him is one of the central themes in Scripture. The Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God) or peace between two countries. Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. The Hebrew verb ‘to atone’ (kaphar) means ‘cover.’ In other words, we need a covering for our sins.

The Servant of the Lord

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

In relation to the Servant of the Lord being a Servant-King, we see the one of the clearest representations of this in the following passage:

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).

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 that 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. There is no doubt that the authors of the Gospel stress the death of Jesus. Paul’s citation of Isaiah 53:1 (Rom 10:16) with John’s (John 12:38) make the same point: the Jewish people have rejected the Gospel. 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).

Peter uses Old Testament prophecy in Acts 3:18, where he declares: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.” Where in the prophets are we told that God’s “Christ (or Messiah) should suffer”? Isaiah 53 is possibly what Peter is alluding to. Or, he may be referring to the overall redemptive plan of the Jewish Scriptures.  Probably the most explicit case for Isaiah 53 being used is in Acts 8: 32-34 in the exchange between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.  Where anti-missionaries and some Christian apologists can go wayward is not heeding the advice of  Richard N. Longenecker:

So-called ‘proof from prophecy’ of a direct nature has always been a factor in both a Jewish and a Christian understanding of fulfillment. Sadly, however, some see this as the only factor, and so lay out prophecy-fulfillment relations in a manner approximating mathematical precision. Starting from such basic theological axioms as that there is a God in charge of human affairs and that historical events happen according to his will, they point to a few obvious instances where explicit predictions have been literally fulfilled (as Mi. 5:2, quoted with variation in Mt. 2:5-6) and move on from there to construct an often elaborate and ingenious ‘biblical’ apologetic that is usually more ‘gnostic’ than biblical.

To read on, click here:

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:

The Binding of Isaac Story and the Maccabean Martyrs

The Binding of Isaac or the “Akedah” tells the account of when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Because of Abraham’s faith God would be able to resurrect the slain Isaac. The sacrifice of Isaac corresponds to “that of Christ in the following respects: (1) They both involve the sacrifice by a father of his only son. (2) They both symbolize a complete dedication on the part of the offerer. Mark Kinzer notes in the post- Biblical tradition, the Akedah story took on a new significance: it becomes the model for martyrdom: This is first seen in texts dealing with the martyrs of the Maccabean period:

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 brothers 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.”

Kinzer goes onto say: At a later date, the Akedah story is associated with the martyrs who suffered Roman persecution (as seen in Gen Rab 56:3 who compares Isaac’s carrying the wood for the sacrifice of the one who carries the execution stake). Israel’s martyrs, suffering for Kiddush Hashem show the same commitment to God and the same self serving love of Abraham and Isaac. In this way the Akedah links martyrdom with the temple sacrifices, and makes it possible to see martyrdom as likewise having an atoning efficacy” (4 Maccabees 17:21-22). (1)

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.” (2)

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.” (3)

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 and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Unfortunately, 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 Old Testament). He is probably referring to the entire redemptive plan of the plan of the Old Testament. Or, given his use of Jesus as a sacrificial atonement (see Romans 3:25-26), he may be alluding to Isaiah 53. But if we just jump to Isaiah 53, that brings up the issue of whether Paul is using the LXX (THE Greek Septuagint).

The Targum and Isaiah 53

Remember the following:

  1. Targums are the Aramaic Translations of the Jewish Scriptures (The Tanakh), that were read in the synagogues on the Sabbath and on feast or fast days.
  2. Scholars usually assume the Targums were needed because the loss of Hebrew fluency by Jewish people growing up during the exile
  3. Targums are supposed to represent rabbinic Judaism after C.E. 70. Targums originated in Palestinian Judaism but later editions were done in Babylon.
  4. All of the extant Targums seem to date from 2nd century C.E. and later, yet a number of the translations would preserve readings that were current in the first century. (4)

Part of the passage reads this way (with italics indicating departures from the Hebrew): ( The translation is based on Bruce D. Chilton, The Isaiah Targum (ArBib 11;Wilmington: Glazier, 1987), 103–5. For Aramaic text and English translation, which at points differs somewhat, see John F. Stenning, The Targum of Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), 178–81).

Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper, he shall be exalted and increase, and shall be very strong. Just as the house of Israel hoped for him many days—their appearances were so dark among the peoples, and their aspect beyond that of the sons of men—So he shall scatter many peoples . . . Who has believed this our good news? . . . And the righteous shall be exalted before him . . . his appearance is not a common appearance and his fearfulness is not an ordinary fearfulness, and his brilliance will be holy brilliance, that everyone who looks at him will consider him. Then the glory of all the kingdoms will be for contempt and cease; they will be faint and mournful, behold, as a man of sorrows and appointed for sicknesses . . . Then he will beseech concerning our sins and our iniquities for his sake will be forgiven; yet we were esteemed wounded, smitten before the Lord and afflicted. 5And he will build the sanctuary . . . (if) we attach ourselves to his words our sins will be forgiven to us. He beseeches, and he is answered, and before he opens his mouth he is accepted . . . 8From bonds and retribution he will bring our exiles near . . . for he will take away the rule of the Gentiles from the land of Israel; the sins which my people sinned he will cast on to them. 9And he will hand over the wicked to Gehenna and those rich in possessions which they robbed to the death of the corruption . . .53: 10Yet before the Lord it was a pleasure to refine and to cleanse the remnant of his people, in order to purify their soul from sins; they shall see the kingdom of their Messiah . . . .

Now let’s go back to this point: If the Targum was read this way, Craig Evans notes that this is what we should see if the Messiah has come and Israel is restored. 1. The exiles are brought home. 2. Atonement is made for the sin of the people.3.The oppressive nations are put in their place. 4. Israel is exalted and those who obey the Law will prosper, etc. (5)

But let’s get back to Collins and his comments about how a suffering Messiah shows up later in 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]. (6)

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.” (7)

Some anti- missionaries have complained about the use of the Zohar here. In the end, I think the critique only strengthens the case for what the Zohar says about the Suffering Messiah issue.

Solomon Schechter apeaks about the issue of a righteous person atoning for sin his book Aspects of Rabbinic Theology:

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]. (8)

And Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Berel Wein says regarding the sufferings of the Jews being a means of atonement:

“Another consideration tinged the Jewish response to the slaughter of its people. It was an old Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times that the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins the nation or the world. The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant of the Lord, the sacrificial service in the Temple – all served to reinforce this basic concept of the death of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of other men. Jews nurtured this classic idea of the death as an atonement, and this attitude towards their own tragedies was their constant companion throughout their turbulent exile. Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the fact that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind somehow was advanced by their “stretching their neck to be slaughtered.” What is amazing is that this abstract, sophisticated, theological thought should have become so ingrained in the psyche of the people that even the least educated and most simplistic of Jews understood the lesson and acted upon it, giving up precious life in a soaring act of belief and affirmation of the better tomorrow. This spirit of the Jews is truly reflected in the historical chronicle of the time: “Would the Holy One, Blessed is he, dispense judgment without justice? But we may say that he whom God loves will be chastised. For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation”–Berel Wein, The Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990 (Brooklyn:Shaar, 1990), 14.

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 (9)

Here are some more rabbinical sources:

Messiah of Justice [Meshiah Tsidenu], though we are Thy forebears. Thou are greater than we because Thou didst bear the burden of our children’s sins and our great opresssions have fallen upon Thee….Among the peoples of the world Thou didst bring only derision and mockery to Israel…Thy skin did shrink, and thy body did become dry as wood; Thine eyes were hollowed by fasting, and thy strength became like fragmented pottery –all that came to pass because of the sins of the children-Pesiqta Rabbati, Pisqa 37 (10)

The Messiah King …will offer is heart to implore mercy and longsuffering for Israel, weeping and suffering for Israel, weeping and suffering as it is written in Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions,” etc: when the Israelites sin, he invokes upon them mercy,as it is written: “Upon him was that chastisement that made us whole, and likewise the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And this is what the Holy One—let him be blessed forever!—decreed in order to save Israel and rejoice with Israel on the day of the resurrection. (Bereshit Rabbati on Genesis 24:67) (11)

“Who are you, O great mountain?”…..This refers to the King Messiah. And why is He called “great mountain” Because He is greater than the patriarchs, as it is written in Isaiah 52:13 “Behold my Servant shall deal prudently, He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.” He will be more “exalted” than Abraham, more “extolled” than Moses and more “high” than the ministering angels. (Tanhuma on Genesis 27:30). (12)

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.

We must not forget Moses Maimonides;(1135-1204 A.D.) His systematic compilation of the Jewish law is known as the Mishne Torah, and is the standard legal text for Judaism to this day. Note: He didn’t think for one bit that Jesus was the Messiah. He says:

What is to be the manner of Messiah’s advent, and where will be the place of his appearance? . . . And Isaiah speaks similarly of the time when he will appear, without his father or mother of family being known, He came up as a sucker before him, and as a root out of the dry earth, etc. But the unique phenomenon attending his manifestation is, that all the kings of the earth will be thrown into terror at the fame of him — their kingdoms will be in consternation, and they themselves will be devising whether to oppose him with arms, or to adopt some different course, confessing, in fact, their inability to contend with him or ignore his presence, and so confounded at the wonders which they will see him work, that they will lay their hands upon their mouth; in the words of Isaiah, when describing the manner in which the kings will hearken to him, At him kings will shut their mouth; for that which had not been told them have they seen, and that which they had not heard they have perceived.” (13)

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah ben David

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. (14)

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 ben 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). (15)

The Rejection of a Dying Messiah

Despite the fact that there is a case for a suffering Messiah in some of the Jewish literature that post dates the New Testament, I should note that the apologetic work called Dialogue with Trypho the Jew demonstrates the challenge of a dying Messiah. Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. In one part of this work, He replies:

It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so. (16)

Furthermore, let’s look at some other quotes about the failure of Jesus to meet the messianic credentials. This is seen in the following statements by the following rabbis:

Jesus mistake was that he thought he would be the Messiah, but when he was hanged his thought was annulled.” (R. Shimon ben Tzemah Duran (1361-1444).

We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521. (17)

Why the rejection of a dying Messiah?

The New Testament writers expanded on the theme in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 to include persons who had been crucified. A quick glance at Paul’s statement in Gal 3:13 confirm this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.” Therefore, to say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism within the first century is an understatement. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not be the Anointed One of God. In the context of the covenant of Israel, the Near Eastern pattern was of both blessing and curse.

The blessing is for those who obey the stipulations of the covenant while the curse is upon those who violate the stipulations. Deuteronomy 27:6 says “ Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” We see this in the following passage: If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all the commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. (Deut. 28:1-2) For a Jewish person to be blessed was to being the presence of God and enjoy his presence and all the benefits that this entailed. The blessing was to experience God’s shalom in one’s life. In contrast to blessing, to be cursed was to be outside the presence of God. To be declared “unclean” or defiled meant was an offense to the Jewish people.

Note: To see our series on Isaiah 52-53, see here:

Sources:

1.Mark S. Kinzer, A Vision for Messianic Jewish Covenant Fidelity (Eugene,OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers), 108-109.

2. John Collins, Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2007), 124.

3. Ibid, 126.

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N.T Wright on the five senses of how the term “history” works

When attempting to examine the evidence for a figure in antiquity such as Jesus or events such as his resurrection, what do historians look for? Since there were no video cameras, cell phones, internet, Facebook, or Twitter in the first century, we can’t place modern day expectations on an ancient figure such as Jesus.

Sometimes critics complain that the story of Jesus the Messiah is based on hearsay evidence. Thus, since those that wrote about Jesus can’t be cross-examined and since they’ve been dead for many centuries, this means the entire story of Jesus  is illegitimate. But this accusation fails to differentiate between direct and circumstantial evidence. The demand for direct evidence is misguided from the start, because when it comes to antiquity, no one can interview or cross-examine eyewitnesses. Keep in mind that this happens all the time with cold-case investigations. Also, modern science studies events that are in the past and are not observable nor repeatable.

In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T Wright succinctly summarizes how the five senses of the term “history” works. These are summarized in Rene Lopez’s book,  Killing Jesus.

Wright says:

First, there is history as event. If we say something is “historical” in this sense, it happened, whether or not we can know or prove that it happened.

Second, there is history as significant event. Not all events are significant; history, it is often assumed, consists of the ones that are. The adjective that tends to go with this is “historic”; “a historic event” is not simply an event that took place, but one whose occurrence carried momentous consequences.

Third, there is history as provable event. To say that something is “historical” in this sense is to say not only that it happened but that we can demonstrate that it happened, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences.

Fourth, and quite different from the previous three, there is history as writing-about-events-in-the-past. To say that something is “historical” in this sense is to say that it was written about, or perhaps could in principle have been written about. (This might even include “historical” novels).

Fifth and finally, a combination of (3) and (4) is often found precisely in discussions of Jesus: history as what modern historians can say about a topic. By “modern” I mean “post-Enlightenment,” the period in which people have imagined some kind of analogy, even correlation, between history and the hard sciences. In this sense, “historical” means not only that which can be demonstrated and written, but that which can be demonstrated and written within the post-Enlightenment worldview.

What then is the sense of the word “history” that we ought to understand when the early witnesses claimed to have seen Jesus or when Paul wrote, “He was buried, and … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4)? Were they recording a historical event or writing metaphorically? All the early first-century witnesses spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as a historical event that actually occurred according to Wright’s first point: “history as event.”-Rene Lopez, Killing Jesus, pgs, 61-62.

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Some Reasons to Think God Exists

In philosophy, we pursue sound arguments: arguments that combine valid structure with true premises. A valid argument is structured in such a way that the truthfulness of the conclusion flows logically from the truthfulness of the premises; that is, if the premises are true, the conclusion would also be true. In our daily lives, we also use inferential reasoning which is drawing a conclusion or making a logical judgment based on indirect evidence rather than based on direct observation. Much of history and science is based making inductive or abductive inferences. The goal is not absolute certainty. Many things in history and science cannot be observed directly. They are in the past. Let’s look at the following points.

Design Arguments: The design argument is also known as the teleological argument. Telos is a Greek word that means “end” or “goal.” Just as we can see the ends or goals in the objects humans design and create, we can see God’s end or goal in the world he has designed and created.

 Any attempt to point to God as an explanation for observable phenomena such as anticipatory, irreducible or specified complexity can invoke the atheist or naturalist to cry “foul play.” When I press them further about the origins question, 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).

There are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). Naturalists generally only punt to one kind of explanation- non-intentional accounts. Anyways, the following points point to intentional accounts.

1.Argument from Design/Fine Tuning of the Universe

Fine-tuning” refers to the fact that constants and quantities in those formulas or laws of nature must fit an extraordinarily narrow range to sustain life.  “Life” refers to anything that can take in food, extract energy from it, grow, adapt to its environment and reproduce. Scientists (including non-theists) who accept the claim that our universe is fine-tuned for life (or at least, life “as we know it”) include John Barrow, Bernard Carr, Brandon Carter, Paul Davies, George Ellis, Brian Greene, Alan Guth, Edward Harrison, Stephen Hawking, Andrei Linde, Don Page, Roger Penrose, John Polkinghorne, Martin Rees, Lee Smolin, Leonard Susskind, Max Tegmark, Frank Tipler, Alexander Vilenkin, Steven Weinberg, John Wheeler and Frank Wilczek,- See Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence and the Abundant Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 104-105. Thus:

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe to support an advanced civilization is due either to necessity (physical law), chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical law
  3. It is not due to chance.
  4. Therefore, it is due to design.

Or:

1. Advanced planning is a sign of an intelligent cause.
2. The whole universe shows evidence of advanced planning.
3. Hence the whole universe was planned by an Intelligent Cause (God). Note: biological evolution doesn’t even happen without a universe and a planet that allows for sentient, self-aware creatures.- See A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos by Luke Barnes and Geraint Lewis.

2.Argument from Terrestrial fine-tuning of the earth for life

  1. The terrestrial fine-tuning of planet earth is due either to necessity (physical law), chance, or design.
  2. It is not due to physical law
  3. It is not due to chance.
  4. Therefore, it is due to design.

There is also fine-tuning on the microscopic scale, which makes human life on earth possible. The photosynthetic habitable zone refers to the range of distances from a host star within which a planet could possibly possess the necessary conditions for photosynthesis to occur. For the scope of photosynthetic activity advanced life requires to endure and thrive, these seven factors must fall within highly specific ranges: 1. Light intensity 2. Ambient temperature 3. Carbon dioxide concentration 4. Seasonal variation and stability 5. Mineral availability 6. Liquid water quantity 7. Atmospheric humidity (for land-based life)-See Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet, How Earth Became Humanity’s Home.

3.Argument from Design of Information

1. DNA requires information (to place amino acids in the proper order to make functional proteins).

2. Information requires intelligence.

3. Intelligence requires mind.

 4. Therefore, the informational code produced by DNA requires an Intelligent Mind.

Just as a programmer writes instructions for a computer, DNA are the instructions, or blueprints for the human cell. Note that before the instructions were written for the computer, the information first originated in the mind of the programmer. The same analogy can be used for DNA, which has a mere, four letters: A, C, G, and T. A living cell needs not just any DNA, but DNA that encodes functional proteins. To be functional, a protein must have a very specific sequence. Note: mutation and natural selection can happen only to organisms that already have genetic information. If there is nothing to mutate, there is no mutation and natural selection occurring. So, information is required for life to begin. See: Thomas E. Woodward and James P. Gills, The Mysterious Epigenome: What Lies Beyond DNA (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012).

4.Contingency Argument

  1. Everything which exists has a sufficient explanation of its existence (Principle of Sufficient Reason)
  2. If the universe had an explanation of its existence, then the explanation must be God
  3. The universe exists
  4. The universe has an explanation of its existence
  5. Therefore, God exists

To be dependent is to be contingent. You exist if something else right now exists. In contrast, something is necessary when it is not contingent and so could not be different. We all intuitively know that whatever exists has some sort of explanation as to why it exists. There are two types of explanations for why something exists. X was either caused to exist by something that exists outside of and prior to X or X exists out of a necessity of its own nature (i.e., its non-existence is impossible, and it depends on nothing outside of itself to bring it into or keep it in existence). Something was either caused to exist by something else or it exists out of logical necessity.- See Joshua Rasmussen, How Reason Can Lead to God: A Philosopher’s Bridge to Faith.

5.Moral Law Argument: Our own experience shows that we agree that it is objectively, morally wrong what the Nazis did to the Jewish people, or what happened to George Floyd in 2020. This is not based on our subjective opinion. Did an impersonal and nonmoral process lead to humans to create their own morality? Does biology, society, and people’s personal preferences determine what is morally right and wrong? We see the following:

  1. Objective values and duties are valid and binding, independent of human opinion.
  2. If a personal God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  3. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  4. Therefore, a personal God exists.

Also, 1) We would not know there was injustice unless there were an objective standard of justice. 2) True progress is not possible unless we know an objective standard by which we measure that things are getting better or worse. We can’t know better unless we know what is best. 3) Real moral disagreements are not possible without an objective moral standard. But there are real moral disagreements – for example, those about injustice, intolerance, and cruelty. 4) The same basic moral codes are found in most cultures. 5) Guilt from breaking a moral law would not be universal if there were no objective moral law. 6) Even those who deny moral absolutes have moral principles they believe are universal, such as tolerance, freedom of expression, and the wrongness of bigotry and genocide.- See David Baggett, The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God.

6.People Matter: If God does not exist, it makes it more challenging to hold to a high moral view of human beings. If humans do not bear the divine image, their worth can only be determined on the basis of their differing abilities and empirical qualities. Humans could not have “unalienable rights,” as the Declaration of Independence states, if they have no objective value simply by being human.  We see the following:

  1. People spend their entire lives fighting for what they consider to be inequality, justice, and human rights. Thus, they really believe humans have great value.
  2. If God does not exist, all reality is reducible to matter and chance. Human worth emerges from valueless matter. Humans can assign people value by choice. It is purely subjective.
  3. Humans do have a right to human dignity, i.e., the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, rank, or any other way.
  4. Therefore, God exists.-See John F. Kilner, Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance

7.Human Reasoning:  All possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning. But in a materialistic worldview, we see the following:

  1. If materialism is true, we cannot trust our cognitive faculties because (a) they are not designed to know the world and (b) they are merely material organs with no ability to experience rational insight.
  2. Our cognitive capacities are basically trustworthy.
  3. Therefore, materialism is false (by modus tollens).

According to materialism, humans are the result of impersonal, nonrational and nonpurposive forces operating in a closed system of cause and effect. Consider Nietzsche’s statement: “How did rationality arrive in the world? Irrationally, as might be expected: by a chance accident. If we want to know what that chance accident was, we shall have to guess it, as one guesses the answer to a riddle.”- Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, translated by R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 125.

Further Reading, see Thomas Nagel, Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False

8.The Historical Argument: God desires to communicate with humans. So, if a written revelation is a possibility, perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask when and where God has broken through into human history. We see the following: 1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.  2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  3.God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection. 4.  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate. 5. 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. – see The Case for the Resurrection, by Michael Licona and Gray Habermas.

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Bart Ehrman On The Kinds of Sources Historians Look For In Looking at Historical Evidence: Part One

A ways back,  Bart Ehrman wrote Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth. Given Ehrman took on the Jesus Myth issue in this book, it should be no surprise that the this book was scolded by many atheists. One part of the book I find rather interesting is the section where Ehrman discusses the kinds of resources historians look for when they are trying to establish the past existence of a person. Let me go over a few of these and see how this criteria helps make a case for Jesus:

First, Ehrman says,

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41

So this is the first part of Ehrman’s wish list for historians: How does the Jesus story hold up on this end? We certainly don’t have lots of written sources. But how much should we expect for someone in antiquity? The sermon from the essay from Dr. James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” called One Solitary Lifemakes an interesting point:

“  Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.  He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…”

It is quite amazing that we even have four biographies for someone in antiquity. And  they are bioi, an early form of biography containing the words and deeds of a historical person. Of course, we have to discuss Paul’s Letters (we will as we go forward) andsources outside the Bible. So sure, we have sources. But to ask for lots of written sources for someone in antiquity seems rather unrealistic.

Ehrman goes on to say:

“Historians also like numerous and early sources to be extensive in scope. If all you have is the mere mention of a person’s name in a source, that is not nearly as good as having a long and extensive stories told (as in lots of sources). Moreover, it is obviously best if these extensive stories are reported in sources that are disinterested. That is to say, if someone is biased toward the subject matter, the bias has to be taken into account. The problem is that most sources are biased: if they didn’t have any feelings about the subject matter, they wouldn’t be talking about it. But if we find stories that clearly do not serve the purposes of the persons telling the story, we have a good indicator that the stories are (reasonably) disinterested. Moreover, in a ideal situation, the various sources that discuss a figure or an event should corroborate what each other’s had to say, at least on the major points if not all the details. If one ancient source says Octavian was a Roman general who became the emperor but another source that says he was a North African peasant who never traveled outside his native village, you know that you have a problem either with Octavian himself, or, as in the case, with the source. But if you have multiple sources from near the time that tell many stories about the Roman emperor Octavian-that is, that corroborate one another’s stories- then you have good historical evidence. “

Let’s look at this point:

“Historians also like numerous and early sources to be extensive in scope. If all you have is the mere mention of a person’s name in a source, that is not nearly as good as having a long and extensive stories told (as in lots of sources).”

How does this request hold up on what we have for Jesus? Well, we certainly have some early sources (40 to 60 ad) that being Paul’s Letters. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor 15. is a very early creed about the death and resurrection of Jesus. While not extensive in scope, Paul’s Letters mention some historical aspects of the life of Jesus such as:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16) 2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3) 3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4) 4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4) 5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5) 6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7) 7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7) 8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5) 9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16) 10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9) 11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7) 12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) 13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3) 14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11) 15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14) 16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7) 17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9) 18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14) 19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9) 20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15) 21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25) 22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21) 23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3) 24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20) 25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15) 26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4) 27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4) 28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8) 29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and 30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34).

See Part Two Here:

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Tracing the Mission Theme in the Bible: Getting Motivated to Reach Out

Some people assume mission in the Bible starts at Matthew 28: 19. That is incorrect. And yes, it is true, the Bible doesn’t use the word “mission,” or “missionary” etc. Needless to say, perhaps we struggle with motivation to reach out to the world around us. Perhaps we think it is for the specialists. Perhaps we have done out of legalism and guilt. Scholars have written on the topic of a “Missional hermeneutic” in the Bible. Here, we discuss this issue and talk about some tips so that we can be inspired to reach out to our neighbor with the Good News.

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