Recently a friend of mine wrote an article on the need for apologetics. Someone wrote a response that said the following:
“If more Christians lived the faith and spent less time trying to figure it out. We could then have people see for them selves that the peace we have, can be there’s . Jesus did not have to defend his position, He spoke what the father said to speak. The defense of the Christian is to try and convert people and Jesus said all you have to do is believe. So by living it, people will see it and believe. “
So is the truth here? Did Jesus have to defend his position? Was Jesus an apologist? Since there was no New Testament canon at that time, it is not as if Jesus was walking around with the text 1 Peter 3:15-16 where we read, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. So I doubt that Jesus walked around saying, “ I have been called to be an apologist and I need to carry out my task in a faithful manner.” However, Jesus had to offer several reasons on several occasions as to why He is the Jewish Messiah and God incarnate. So let’s take a look at some of these and try to learn some things.
1. Jesus Appealed to Evidence
Jesus knew He could not show up on the scene and not offer any evidence for His Messiahship. In his book On Jesus, Douglas Groothuis notes that Jesus appealed to evidence to confirm His claims. John the Baptist, who was languishing in prison after challenging Herod, sent messengers to ask Jesus the question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This may seem an odd question from a man the Gospels present as the prophetic forerunner of Jesus and as the one who had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus, however, did not rebuke John’s question. He did not say, “You must have faith; suppress your doubts.” Instead, Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry:
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22). A published scroll from Qumran has helped confirm this: According to 4Q521:
“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah and all that is in them will not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones … for (the Lord) will honor the pious upon the throne of the eternal Kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those who are bowed down…. For he will heal the wounded, revive the dead, proclaim good news to the poor.”
Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:
1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.
2. Jesus Appealed to Testimony and Witness
Because Jesus was Jewish, he was well aware of the principles of the Torah. The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes that the Biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Unverifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony.
Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut. 19:15). In Jn. 5:31-39, Jesus says,” If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” Far from the verification, Jesus declares that singular self-attestation does not verify, it falsifies. We see in this passage that Jesus says the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of the Father, the witness of the Word (the Hebrew Bible), and the witness of His works, testify to His Messiahship. (1)
3. Ontology: Being and Doing-The Actions of Jesus
Ontology is defined as the branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as, “Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?” Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Trinity since Orthodox Christians are required to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence. In relation to ontology, the late Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel said, “Biblical ontology does not separate being from doing.” Heshel went on to say, “What is acts. The God of Israel is a God who acts, a God of mighty deeds.” (2) Jesus continually appeals to His “works” that testify to His Messiahship. “Works” are directly related to the miracles of Jesus (Jn. 5:20; 36;10:25; 32-28; 14:10-12; 15:24) and is synonymous with “signs.” Interestingly enough, when Jesus speaks of miracles and he calls them “works” he doesn’t refer to Exod. 4:1-9, but to Num. 16:28, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.” For example:
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38).
But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)
As far as miracles, they are used for three reasons:
1. To glorify the nature of God (John 2:11; 11:40)
2. To accredit certain persons as the spokesmen for God (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4)
3. To provide evidence for belief in God (John 6:2, 14; 20:30–31). (3)
Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, told Jesus, “‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (Jn. 3:1–2). In Acts, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22).
In Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus says, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” In this Scripture, God confirmed the Messianic claim when Jesus said the sign that would confirm his Messiahship was to be the resurrection.
It is important to note that not all witnesses to a miracle believe. Jesus did not do His miracles for entertainment. They were done to evoke a response. So perhaps Paul Moser is right on target in what he calls “kardiatheology” – a theology that is aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions. In other words, God is very interested in moral transformation.
We see Jesus’ frustration when His miracles did not bring the correct response from his audience. “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:
Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation
5. Jesus Appealed to His Own Authority
Another way Jesus appealed to those around Him was by His own speaking authority. The rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2). But Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them” (Matt 18:20). The rabbis could speak about being persecuted for God’s sake, or in his Name’s sake, or for the Torah’s sake; Jesus spoke about being persecuted for and even losing one’s life for his sake. Remember, the prophets could ask people to turn to God, to come to God for rest and help. Jesus spoke with a new prophetic authority by stating, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). (5)
So as we have looked at some of the apologetic methods of Jesus, perhaps we can concur with Douglas Groothuis when he says the following:
“Our sampling of Jesus’ reasoning, however, brings into serious question the indictment that Jesus praised uncritical faith over rational arguments and that He had no truck with logical consistency. On the contrary, Jesus never demeaned the proper and rigorous functioning of our God-given minds. His teaching appealed to the whole person: the imagination (parables), the will, and reasoning abilities. For all their honesty in reporting the foibles of the disciples, the Gospel writers never narrated a situation in which Jesus was intellectually stymied or bettered in an argument; neither did Jesus ever encourage an irrational or ill-informed faith on the part of His disciples.” (6)
So How Can We Live it Out?
So now that we’ve settled the issue on the fact that Jesus did defend his claims, let’s ask the question as to how we might attempt to live out what Jesus taught. I can think of two areas that come to mind. And they happen to be the two greatest commandments. Note: I tend to fall short on both of these:
Commandment #1: Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”- Mark 12: 28-31
Here, Jesus appeals to the Shema:
Deut. 6: 4-8:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
In Jewish thought , in the Shema hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. “ Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.” – Psalm 81: 8-9
Commandment #2: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”- Lev. 19: 17-18
To see the context, how about this:
- Lev. 19:3: Respect for parents
- Lev. 19:9-10: Provision for the Poor
- Lev. 19:11: Respect for the property of others
- Lev. 19:14: Care for the physically challenged
- Lev. 19:15: Justice for the powerless
- Lev. 19:16: Kindness in language about others
- Lev. 19:17-18: Prohibition of hate and vengeance
Conclusion: How about these for starters?
1. Sproul, R.C, Gerstner, J. and A. Lindsey. Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1984, 19.
2. Heschel., A.J. The Prophets. New York, N.Y: 1962 Reprint. Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers. 2003, 44.
3. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.
5. Skarsaune, O., In The Shadow Of The Temple: Jewish Influences On Early Christianity. Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press. 2002, 331.
6. Groothuis, D., Jesus: Philosopher and Apologist: Available at http://www.equip.org/articles/jesus-philosopher-and-apologist/