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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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:

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

“How does your worldview answer the question ‘What happens when we die?'”

Worldview is a buzzword people hear throughout their lives. But while it may be a buzzword, everyone does have a worldview, or they are in the process of forming their worldview. A worldview is the way we view reality. A worldview answers large questions such as origins, purpose, morality, and destiny. Parents, educators, peer groups, social media, religious upbringing, and even personal experience can all play a large role in determining a worldview. One worldview question is the following: “What happens to a person at death?” 

While some atheists don’t consider atheism to be an actual worldview, atheism has been associated with what is called naturalism. Ronald Carlson offers a clear definition of naturalism:

A person who does not affirm the supernatural— God, gods, ghosts, immaterial souls, spirits— is a person who affirms naturalism. For naturalists, nature is all there is. And if it is not science, then it is nonscience (i.e., nonsense). Most naturalists put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying opinions about what is real; this is exemplified by science.  Naturalists think such beliefs are more reliable and objective than those based on intuition, various kinds of revelation, sacred texts, religious authority, or reports by people claiming to have had religious experiences.[1]

Philosophical naturalism became a dominant view for many modern scientists and thinkers but at great existential cost. Some atheists have been straightforward about their views of the afterlife. During a debate with Intelligent Design advocate Phillip Johnson, the late William Provine said the following:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.[2]

The late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking echoed these doldrums, befitting his atheist convictions as well:

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.[3]

Finally, the late famous astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan said this about the afterlife:

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.[4]

Is Death the End?

In sharp contrast to these comments from atheists about the afterlife, the Bible offers an alternative to what happens to us at death. This leads us to an important word: salvation. I know from personal experience the word “salvation” can be rather confusing. When I first visited a local congregation several years ago, an eager young man walked up to me and asked me, “Are you saved?”  I was at a stage of my life when I was examining my own beliefs. But as I drove home that night, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What did this man actually mean when he asked me if I’m ‘saved?’” Jewish people (as well as others), tend to view belief in Jesus as important for one reason and one reason only– the afterlife! In other words, it seems the only thing is what happens to people after they die. Committed followers of Jesus ask people “If you were to die today, do you have assurance you are going to heaven?” This line of thinking is problematic because heaven isn’t really the focus of the resurrection. Now let’s be clear: the issue of heaven is not irrelevant. It matters!  As N.T Wright says,

When Jesus declares that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house (John 14: 2), the word for dwelling place is monē, which denotes a temporary lodging. When Paul says that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better,” he is indeed thinking of a blissful life with his Lord immediately after death, but this is only the prelude to the resurrection itself.[5]

Wright’s work has offered a correction to the traditional view that states that heaven is the final destiny. As Wright notes, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.” [6] Resurrection occurs after life after death.

You might wonder about cases in the Bible where we see people brought back to life after they died.  Though these instances of raising individuals from the dead are important illustrations of how God works, these people still had to face a second deaththey would go onto die at a later date which makes them simply revivifications or resuscitations of the dead. Jesus is the only person in history that has raised from the dead never to die again. This has important implications in our personal lives, because one day, all of us will die physically. However, some of us will die not only physically, but spiritually as well. But what does it mean to “die spiritually?”

The Hebrew word “shalom” means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It refers to peace between two entities (especially between man and God, between two people, or between two countries). Our failure to do what’s right (sin) not only impacts our relationship with God but has negative consequences for others, which is why we lack this wholeness and connection to God. This lack of wholeness causes us to be fragmented. And it gets worse. If we continue to choose sin, our hearts harden towards God, making it even more difficult to change course. The good news is the death and resurrection of Jesus has made a reconnection to God possible, so we don’t have to die a spiritual death. To repeat what we just said, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.”[7] The resurrection occurs after life after death, one day we will be physically alive again. But the resurrection guarantees we can have shalom in this life as well. To see more on evidence for the resurrection, see here. Or, see my new book “The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah.” 

Sources”

[1] R.F. Carlson, “Naturalism” featured in Dictionary of Christianity and Science, Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher Reese, and Michael G. Strauss (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2016), 470.

[2] “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?”: A debate between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994, available at  http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm, accessed April 21, 2019.

[3] I. Sample,  Stephen Hawking, “There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’ available at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven, accessed April 18th, 2019.

[4] C. Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Parade (March 10, 1996), 18-21.

[5] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One. 2008), 41.

[6]  Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, The New Testament and the Question of God 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress. 2003), 86.

 

 

.

 

 

Uncategorized

Handling an Objection: We Can’t Trust Eyewitness Testimony!

Introduction

Can we trust eyewitness testimony? I have seen this conversation arise in my own outreach efforts. Perhaps you have as well. Generally speaking, testimony is one of those common sense beliefs that  we take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them. We rightly accept what others tell us without having first established that they are worthy of trust. Without testimony, we could never be able to learn a language or accept something we learned before checking out for ourselves.

But in  my experience of talking with skeptics about eyewitness testimony, it generally boils down a worldview issue. In other words, skeptics are only hyper skeptical about the issues of the testimony of the witnesses of the New Testament because they just can’t bring themselves to ever say a resurrection has taken place. So in the end, we are back to the same arguments that David Hume put forth against miracles. I think there has been sufficient answers to Hume. So I won’t waste this post in dealing with him. If you want to read up on that issue, see here , here, or here.

A Look at Eyewitness Testimony in the New Testament

Hopefully, both the Christian and the non-Christian should be able to agree that since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. It is common for the Christian to cite some of the following passages:

• Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

• Acts 3:14-15: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

• 1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

• Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

• Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

• 1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.”

• 2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

• John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

Despite the Christian’s appeal to testimony and witness in the New Testament, the skeptic assumes that it has been shown that eyewitness testimony is very unreliable in a court of law. How can the Christian possibly try to propose that eyewitness testimony is one of the reasons we can trust the events in the New Testament?

A Response

The problem with this objection is that it is a case of dicto-simplicter or what is called a sweeping generalization. This is the fallacy of making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case.

Secondly, when it comes to antiquity, how do we evaluate eyewitness testimony?

One book that has recently handled the issue of eyewitness testimony issue within the New Testament is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony  (Second Edition)  by Richard Bauckham.

What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are.

As Bauckham notes:

“Trusting testimony is indefensible to historiography. This trust need not be blind faith. In the “critical realist” historian’s reception and use of testimony there is a dialectic trust and critical assessment. But the assessment is precisely an assessment of the testimony as trustworthy or not. What is not possible is independents verification or falsification of everything the testimony relates such a reliance on testimony would not longer be needed.

Testimony shares the frugality of memory, which is the testimony’s sole access to the past, while also, when it predates living memory, existing only as an archived memory, cut off from the dialogical context of contemporary testimony. But for most purposes, testimony is all we have. There are indeed, other traces of the past in the present (such as archaeological finds), which can to a degree corroborate or discredit testimony, but they cannot, in most cases, suffice for the study and writing of history. They cannot replace testimony. In the end, testimony is all we have.” (7)

As Bauckham notes:

 ” 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).” (8)

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).

One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.

Historically speaking, eyewitness testimony is generally considered more reliable than testimony that is heard from a second-or third hand source. But as Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), means that the historian was a firsthand observer of the events. But what if those recording the historical events in the Gospels were not direct eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus?

As Bauckham says:

“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). This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

The Jewish People and Bearing False Witness: What About a Character Test?

One of the primary stipulations in the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people was that bearing false witness had serious ramifications (Exod 20:16). As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, 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. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb. 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

How can the witnesses in the New Testament remember and record the information accurately?

We all know memory can be a tricky thing. But as Bauckham has noted, a high impact event such as the Holocaust or an event such as the death and resurrection of Jesus would leave a lasting impression on the witnesses to the event. Many of us have experienced events in our own lives that can be recalled reasonably free without error even decades later.

And 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. Like many of the great Jewish rabbis and sages, Jesus employed didactic techniques. He taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme.

As Paul Barnett notes, “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). (Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, pg 138).

Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. In the rabbinic tradition, disciples were taught to memorize, repeat, and recite (and often write) their masters teachings exactly and accurately, and were often rewarded for doing so. Novelty, expansions, and additions, and free interpretations were neither taught nor rewarded. (James R. Edwards, Is Jesus The Only Savior? pg, 59).

The External Test: Is there a way to cross-check the testimony of the events that the witnesses write about?

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence.

Perhaps another illustration will help. I graduated from high school in 1987. If someone accurately described my hometown that year by pointing out specific politicians, laws, the town’s topography and geography and then told me they had gathered the information from people who had been there, should I assume this individual can’t be trusted? Should I just dismiss it? So keeping this in mind let’s look at The Gospel of Luke as well as The Gospel of John.

In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37.

To see a complete list, click here:

Luke’s Gospel

Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

We see that Luke:

  1. Was not a direct eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel
  2. He was acquainted with earlier accounts
  3. He had used personal information from those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.”
  4. The results of his won careful research had simulated him to write his gospel.
  5. He was a man of scholarly methods and could claim thoroughness, accuracy and reliability of his production.
  6. He was a man of considerable literary ability. This is evident in the from the balanced literary structure of the prologue. This shows Luke was probably familiar with other classical writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybious.

Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island.

Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (see See Geisler, N. L., BECA, pg 431).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian.There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. Some of them are:

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4–5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the proconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of the Sergii Pauli is attested.
2. The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
3. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
4. The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
5. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25).
6. The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1).
7. The proper form of the name Troas (16:8).
8. A conspicuous sailors’ landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
9. The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the river Gangites near Philippi (16:13).
10. Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20, 35, 36, 38).
11. The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1).
12. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
13. The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
14. The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
Accurate representation of the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28).
15. The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort in the Fortress Antonia to suppress disturbances at festival times (21:31). The flight of steps used by guards (21:31, 35).
16. The two common ways of obtaining Roman citizenship (22:28). The tribune is impressed with Paul’s Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29).
17. The correct identifications of Ananias as high priest (23:2) and Felix as governor (23:34).
18. Identification of a common stopping point on the road to Caesarea (23:31).
19. Note of the proper jurisdiction of Cilicia (23:34).
The proper title protos (tes nesou) for a man in Publius’s position of leadership on the islands.
20. Correct identification of Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry a ship through the strait (28:13).
21. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as stopping-places along the Appian Way (28:15).
22. Common practice of custody with a Roman soldier (28:16) and conditions of imprisonment at one’s own expense (28:30–31).

To see the complete list, check here:

What About Bias?

A common objection is that since the New Testament documents were written by the “insiders.” After all, if the witnesses were “believers,” does this means we can’t trust their testimony? After all, they are biased, right? Once again, this is an unqualified generalization. It is also a gross oversimplification. Many historians admit that some bias is a good thing. If bias means they didn’t tell the truth, than how is it that Luke is such an accurate historian? (see above). Also, as Norman Geisler says:

“The objection that the writings are partisan involves a significant but false implication that witnesses cannot be reliable if they were close to the one about whom they gave testimony. This is clearly false. Survivors of the Jewish holocaust were close to the events they have described to the world. That very fact puts them in the best position to know what happened. They were there, and it happened to them. The same applies to the court testimony of someone who survived a vicious attack. It applies to the survivors of the Normandy invasion during World War II or the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The New Testament witnesses should not be disqualified because they were close to the events they relate.”

” Related to the charge that Jesus lacks testimony by unbelievers is that there is strong evidence, but a lack of weak evidence. Suppose there were four eyewitnesses to a murder. There was also one witness who arrived on the scene after the actual killing and saw only the victim’s body. Another person heard a second-hand report of the killing. In the trial the defense attorney argues: “Other than the four eyewitnesses, this is a weak case, and the charges should be dismissed for lack of evidence.” Others might think that attorney was throwing out a red herring. The judge and jury were being distracted from the strongest evidence to the weakest evidence, and the reasoning was clearly faulty. Since the New Testament witnesses were the only eyewitness and contemporary testimonies to Jesus, it is a fallacy to misdirect attention to the non-Christian secular sources. Nonetheless, it is instructive to show what confirming evidence for Jesus can be gleaned outside the New Testament.” (BECA, pg 381).

What about the other so-called eyewitness testimony in other religions?

For starters, in evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know?
2. How does it claim to know it?
3. What is the evidence for it?

We should avoid false analogies and sincerely attempt to evaluate each claim in it’s own theological and historical context.

Conclusion:

The skeptic shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the reliability of the New Testament because of the supposed unreliability of eyewitness testimony. If we truly care about this issue, we should do our homework and evaluate the usage of testimony and witness in antiquity-especially in the New Testament.

Note: Here are some more sources on this topic:

Are the Gospels a Reliable Eyewitness Account of the Life of Jesus?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

The Hearsay Objection: How Can the Gospels Be Eyewitness Accounts If They Include Things the Writers Didn’t See?

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable?

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? The Test of Personal Names

Can A Witness Be Trusted If He Can’t Be Cross-Examined?

Uncategorized