Did Moses Really Write About Jesus? A Look at Messianic Prophecy in the Torah

Introduction

Anyone who has studied evidential apologetics will see that many apologists have laid a great emphasis on messianic prophecy as one of the keys to demonstrating Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. One thing that is left out of these discussions is that when it comes to prophecy, it is not always predictive. The Greek word for fulfill is πληρόω (pleroo) – which has a much broader usage than “the prediction of an event.” But in this case, on more than one occasion, Jesus appealed to the fact that Moses wrote about him in the Torah. I will not take the time to argue for Mosaic authorship  in this post. That is dealt with elsewhere. Anyway, let’s look at where Jesus discusses this issue:

  How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God.  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope.  For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”- John 5: 44-47

So can Jesus be found in the Torah? Jesus doesn’t list any specific texts here. First, we need to remember that there were other names that were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

The First Messianic Promise

It is after the fall of man has taken place that God makes the first messianic promise:

“God said ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

The messianic interpretation of Gen 3:15 is recorded in the Palestinian Targum, (first century C.E.)

“And I will put enmity  between thee and the woman, and between the seed of your offspring and the seed of her offspring; and it shall be that when the offspring of the woman keep the commandments of the Law, they will aim right [at you] and they will smite you on the head; but when they abandon the commandments of the Law, you will aim right [at them], and you will wound them in the heel. However, for them there will be remedy but for you there will be none, and in the future they will make peace with the heel of the king, Messiah.” [1]

I should also note that Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (appendix 9) mentions that additional rabbinic opinions support the understanding that Genesis 3:15 refers to the Messiah. The point is that we see what is called the “the Proto-evangelium” or the beginning of salvation history.  God was planning on doing something for the entire world.

Genesis 12:1-3:

 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

A good study of the Abrahamic Covenant shows the Messianic blessing for all the world. Hence, all peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise (Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). The Abrahamic promise of blessing of the nations is repeated in Ps. 72:17; Isa.19:24-25; Jer. 4:2; Zech 8:13.

Keeping this in mind, 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). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.” A study of the rabbinical literature (such as The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim) describes these passages as being about the Messiah. For the New Testament authors, these texts find their fulfillment in Jesus. How might Jesus be the literal fulfillment of such a passage?

As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6). Hence, while God’s plans are national (Israel), it is evidence that the nation is an instrument to bring international blessings. Therefore, Israel’s Head, the Messiah, is called to restore the nation and use the nation to bring blessings to the other nations of the earth—blessings that are spiritual and physical.

 Genesis. 49:8-12:

“Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Gen 49:8-12)-KJV: NOTE: I chose the KJV here because most other translations replace “Shiloh” שִׁילֹה with “until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs.” Please read on:

In the previous context (Gen. 49: 1-7) we see the following issues:

1. Jacob, prophesied various details as to the fortunes and fates of the descendants of these men.

2. God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants.

3. The older brothers are disqualified from the birth-right (i.e., Reuben, Simon, Levi).

4. Jacob foretold a future for the tribe of Judah that pictures him as the preeminent son – the prominent tribe.

5. Judah: is the name of the son of Jacob/or the name of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.

 A Closer Look at the word “Scepter” and “Shiloh”

The precise meaning of “Shiloh” is challenging.  It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or, it may refer to a proper name for the Messiah. This is seen in the Talmud in Sanhedrian 98b which answers the question of what the Messiah’s name is by saying, “Shiloh is his name, as it is said, “Until Shiloh Come.” In Judaism, Names describe the nature of the Messiah’s mission.   The challenge is seen in that Shiloh can be rendered in six ways: (1) “until he come to Shiloh,” (2) “until Shiloh comes,” (3) “until a ruler comes,” (4) “unti this ruler comes,” (5) “until to him tribute comes,” or  (6) “until he comes to whom it belongs.” (1)

The NIV may have the best translation which says NIV: “until he comes to whom it belongs.” In this case, Shiloh is taken as a possessive pronoun. This translation favors the LXX (Greek Septuagint) reading. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27,  Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling. (2)

We see in the prophecy that “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment. The prophecy declares that Judah will finally lose his tribal independence, and promises a supremacy over at least some of the other tribes until the advent of the Messiah.

It is also worth noting that The Dead Sea Scrolls help shed some light on this text as well: In 4Q Patriarchal Blessings, the interpretation of the Genesis text reads:

A ruler shall not depart from the tribe of Judah while Israel has dominion. There will not be cut off a king in it belonging to David. For the staff is the covenant of the kingship; the thousands of Israel are the feet, until the coming of the Messiah of Righteousness, the branch of David, for to him and his seed has been given the covenant of kingship over his people for everlasting generations. (3)

We have been discussing the temporal element of this prophecy. Remember, “Until” in vs 10 is inclusive in the sense that the dominion of the tribe of Judah would not end with Shiloh’s  coming, but would continue on after the arrival of this divine world ruler. In other words, Shiloh himself must belong to the tribe of Judah.

But there is another aspect of this prophecy that remains partially unfulfilled. Apparently, an individual from Judah’s seed came who will rule over both his own nation Israel and the “peoples” of not just Israel but the rest of the world (also see Gen 17:6; Exod. 15:16; Deut. 32:8). While the immediate context probably refers to King David, it also speaks to an eschatological ruler whom the Gentile nations will come to in submissive obedience! We should note that part of this prophecy has not been fulfilled. While there are many Gentiles who have submitted to the rule of Messiah (Jesus) in their lives, all the nations are not under the universal rule of the Messiah. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is not the King right now. He most certainly is. However, there is more to come in the future.

Numbers 24:17-19:

In  Numbers 24:17-19, we see a similar theme is seen in that a ruler shall arise out of Israel and how a descendant of Jacob will have universal dominion:

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob,  A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,  And tear down all the sons of Sheth. “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.“One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.-NASB

The Messianic Interpretation of this prophecy is the following:

1. The context is about Balaam’s oracle. In vs 7 we see that there shall come forth a man who shall be Lord over many nations and his kingdom shall be exalted in Gog.

2. Balaam references two important points: First, “a star shall come from Jacob” and “a scepter comes forth from Israel.”

3. The figure is visible in the term” scepter” who is an earthly king who will use his earthly power to subdue the earth.

4. “Star” may refer to his heavenly origin. (4)

Furthermore, a text that is part of the Pseudepigrapha also has a messianic expectation that is also tied to the Numbers 24: 17 text:

 And after this there shall arise for you a Star from Jacob [Numbers 24:17] in peace. And a man shall arise from my posterity like the Sun of righteousness, walking with the sons of men in gentleness and righteousness, and in him will be found no sin. And the heavens will be opened upon him to pour out the spirit as a blessing of the Holy Father. And he will pour the spirit of grace on you. And you shall be sons in truth, and you will walk in his first and final decrees. This is the Shoot of God [Isaiah 11:1] Most High; this is the fountain for the life of all humanity. Then he will illumine the scepter of my kingdom, and from your root will arise the Shoot, and through it will arise the rod of righteousness for the nations, to judge and to save all that call on the Lord. (Testament of Judah, 24:1-6)

To read the entire article about Gen 49:8-12, see here:

Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

God, through Moses, warns Israel to remain separate from the evil practices of the surrounding nations (Deut. 18:9-12) and instructs Israel how to tell the difference between a “true prophet” and a “false prophet.” After God had warned Israel about attempting to get supernatural information from bogus pagan sources ( Deut. 18:9-14 ), he announced that he would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their own brothers” (v. 15). Any prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord and his words do not come true is a “false prophet.” God has not spoken through him.

Some critics like to point out that Deut. 34: 10-12 which says that “No prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Does this prophecy mean the end of prophecy had come? Certainly by the time of the final completion of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch as a whole, there had been no prophet who had arisen in Israel like Moses. But this does not mean there is not someone who will come in the future to fulfill the prophecy. After all, if prophecy had ended than why is it in the time of Jesus many Jewish people seem to be looking for the prophet of Deut. 18:15-22? For example:

The people said, “When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” (John 7:40)

Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14)

John the Baptist began to preach, he was asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-23).

Here, we can notice the emphasis, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” The prophet only respeaks the words of God (cf. Jer 1:9: Isa. 59: 21). God said to Moses “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exod. 4:12).

 We see  in the context of Numbers 16, Moses faced his opposition in that they challenged his headship and authority.  Hence, they challenge the idea that Moses has a special mission and that he was sent  from God.  In response, Moses  defends his mission in that he has never “acted on his own,” i.e., claiming for himself an authority which he did not have.  Moses says, ” 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”  (Num.16:28).

 As far as Jesus being like Moses, we see a similar pattern in that Jesus doesn’t claim to speak or act on his own authority:

 So Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him”  (John 7: 16-18)

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught meAnd he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world. (John 8:26)

For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life;therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12: 49-50).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works (John 14:10).

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:24).

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me (John 17:8).

To summarize, when Jesus speaks, it is not His own word that he gives to the people, but that of the Father; it is as if God is speaking to us.  Also, there is a similar relationship between those who do no heed the words of Moses and those who do not listen to the words of Jesus. For example, Moses exhorts and warns the people about the consequences of not heeding the Word of God:

“ See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,  loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut 30: 15-20).

Of course, one of the underlying themes of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Likewise, Jesus, who is the Word incarnate and the new Moses gives a similar warning:

 ”The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5: 22-24).”

Signs and Miracles

While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses. “Signs” have a specific apologetic function in that they are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. Hence, the signs Moses does proves he is truly sent from God.  Moses had struggled with his prophetic call when he said “ But they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ (Exod. 4:1). God assures Moses that  the “signs”  will confirm his call:  

 God says, “I will be with you. And this will be אוֹת “the sign”  to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

”If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even thesetwo signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (Exod 4: 8-9).

We see the signs are used to help people believe.

Moses “performed the “signs” before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

The Works of Jesus

“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 worksthat 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 worksthat I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me (John 5: 36)

“Sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). As far as the “signs’ Jesus does,  29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs three “signs,” at the beginning of his ministry; the water turned into wine at Cana at Galilee (2:1-12), the healing of the son of the royal official at Capernaum (4:46-64), and catching of the fish in the sea of Galilee (21:1-14). The link between the first two signs in Jn 2:12 while the link between the last two are seen in Jn 7:1, 3-4, 6, 9. Jesus follows the pattern of Moses in that he reveals himself as the new Moses because Moses also had to perform three “signs” so that he could be recognized by his brothers as truly being sent by God (Exod 4: 1-9)

To see the entire article, see here:

Conclusion

There are many other places in the Torah that point to the life and ministry of Jesus. For now, I hope these texts can spark some interest in  further study.

Sources

1. Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darell L. Bock, and Gordan H. Johnston, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing The Promises, Expectations, And Coming of Israel’s King ( Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2012), 46.

2. Ibid, 49-51.

3. Various translations of 4QPBless are found in Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking, 1958), 401; Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 53; cited in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 660

4. John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity, 385-386

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Why the Old Testament and New Testament Divide Needs to End!

Why do so many Christians struggle with the relationship with the Old and New Testaments?

First, we can tend to forget there was no  New Testament at the time of Jesus. Paul stated: “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for  doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the  man of God may be  perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works”  (2 Timothy  3:16-17).  Here “Scripture” (graphē) must refer to the Old Testament written Scripture, for that is what the word graphē refers to in every one of its fifty-one occurrences in the New Testament.

Second,  many Christians assume the way it is today was the way  it was in the first century.

As I have said before, this is the problem of paradigms.  As Ronald Timothy says:

” Paradigms can be so strong they act as psychological filters – we quite literally see the world through our paradigms. Any data that exists in the real world (or even in the Bible) that does not fit our paradigm will have a difficult time getting through our filters. We are quite literally unable to perceive the facts right before our eyes. Thus, our greatest strengths can become our greatest weakness by not allowing us to see both the need and the opportunity for change. The people who create new paradigms are usually outsiders. They are not part of the established paradigm community.“– Ronald Timothy, Following Jesus: Our Cruciform Example

Because of the first diagram is sometimes assumed by many Christians, it leads to the problem that is stated by Walter Kaiser:

“God never intended that the two testaments should result in two separate religions: Judaism and Christianity. The Tanach (= OT) was meant to lead directly into the so-called New Testament and thus be the continuation of one plan from creation to consummation. When the divine promise-plan of God is ruptured and divided into two distinct parts, with the climax triumphing over the earlier revelation, then we have introduced a division where God had revealed the fulfillment of what he had revealed in earlier texts! Therefore, we must investigate further how this disparity appeared among the people of God”- Walter Kaiser, Jewish Christianity: Why Believing Jews and Gentiles Parted Ways in the Early Church

In reality, the way it was in the first century was this diagram:

 

 

Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century wasn’t seen as a single “way.” There were many “Judaisms”- the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, etc.  The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes” (24:5).  Josephus refers to the “sects” of Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees. The first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism. Even James Dunn says the following:

“Prior to Paul what we now call ‘Christianity’ was no more than a messianic sect within first-century Judaism, or better, within Second Temple Judaism — ‘the sect of the Nazarenes’ (Acts 24.5), the followers of ‘the Way’ (that is, presumably, the way shown by Jesus)”- James Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Gospels, pg 119.

The New Covenant 

Third, in most cases, many Christians assume the New Testament=new covenant. The New Testament  contains 27 texts, and all of them were written sometime during the first-century CE.  Is there something “new” about the message that Jesus brought?  Yes, and no. We can’t just jump to Mark 14:24-25 or Heb. 8:8–12 and assume that is all we need to know about the new covenant. The first place to start is in the Scriptures that Jesus, Paul, and the apostles were raised on.

The only place the words “new covenant” are seen is in the following text:

Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jer. 31: 31-34).

Though Ezekiel never uses the phrase “new covenant,” he does mention a similar theme as Jeremiah:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”’ When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it.  And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,  that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezek. 11: 17-20).

 I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.  For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God (Ezek. 36: 23-28).

Just like the giving of the Torah (with Moses), the new covenant needs someone to inaugurate it. We just read about the day when God will place his Spirit permanently inside people so they can walk in holiness and love. We can summarize some of the benefits of the new covenant here:

  1. God promises the forgiveness of sin.
  2. God pledged the indwelling Ruach Ha Kodesh (The Holy Spirit)
  3. God promises the knowledge of God.
  4. God promises His people would obey Him.
  5. The fulfilling of this covenant was tied to Israel’s future restoration to the land.

 Gentiles Participation in the New Covenant

Now that we see the passages in the Jewish Scriptures about the promise of the coming of the new covenant, how can Christians and Messianic believers claim this new covenant was inaugurated if universal forgiveness for sins has not come to Israel? It is abundantly clear that the Lord made the new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jer. 31:31–34, quoted in Heb. 8:8–12) and not with the nations of the world, which leads us to ask the question: How do Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant? In response, God’s plan for Israel was to be a light to the nations and be a conduit for Gentiles to come to faith in the one true God. The only way Gentiles get to partake in the new covenant is that they grafted in as Paul talks about in Rom. 11: 13-24.  But what’s the point? There would be no understanding of the new covenant apart from the Jewish Scriptures.

Did Jesus Come to Bring a New Religion?

Another reason Christians have a problem with bridging the Testaments is because of the fact that many Christians still assume the Old Testament= law (Judaism)  and the New Testament=grace (Christianity).  This plays out when some assume  Jesus came and brought a brand new religion.  But as Craig Evans says:

 “Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.

Evans goes onto say:

 But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.

Take a look at both quotes from Evans.  From my own experience, most Christians like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions, Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion.  Here are a couple of pictures to help summarize where we are today:

 

Just recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about how Christians approach the Old Testament. He happened to pass this quote on to me by Richard B. Hays who says the following:

Many “mainstream” Protestant churches today are in fact naively Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no OT reading, or if the OT is read it is rarely preached upon.  Judaism is regarded as a legalistic foil from which [Yeshua] has delivered us.  (I once had a student say to me in class: “Judaism was a harsh religion that taught people to fear God’s judgment, but Jesus came to teach us to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength.”)  This unconscious Marcionite bias has had a disastrous effect on the theological imagination of many Protestant churches, at least in the United States….” – Richard B. Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco: Baylor University, 2014), 5.

For the record, Marcion believed Jesus was the Son of God, but he rejected the Old Testament and the God of Israel.  He also believed the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful God while the God of the New Testament was a God of love and forgiveness. To see more about Marcion, see here:

So is Hays correct? I think he is. So the question becomes how do we correct this? Well, the good news is that Kaiser who is an Old Testament scholar gives us some helpful tips.  As Kaiser says:

” The Old Testament was the Bible of the early church. Yet one more objection can be heard from some detractors. “Now that we have the New Testament, should we not go to the New Testament first to form an understanding of the Bible’s teachings and then go backward into the Old Testament, interpreting it in the light of the New Testament?” This approach is advocated so frequently in the church today that it must be faced squarely. This whole approach is wrongheaded historically, logically, and biblically. As we have seen, the first New Testament believers tested what they had heard from Jesus and his disciples against what was written in the Old Testament. They had no other canon or source of help. How, then, were they able to get it right? Thus, from a methodological point of view, reading the Bible backward is incorrect historically as well as procedurally. What is more, the early church knew the Old Testament to be true; therefore, logically, they could not have tested what was established (and true) for them (possessing only the Old Testament) by what was being received as new (the New Testament)! That would be a reversal of the natural, historical, and logical orderof things.”

To read the entire article, see here.

In conclusion, I hope Christians will see the Bible is one continuous story and not divorce the Testaments.

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

Introduction

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

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

The Importance of Atonement

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

The Servant of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, with the exception of 1 Peter 2: 24-25, the New Testament passages that quote Isa. 53 don’t address the atoning significance of the Servant’s suffering. There is no doubt that the authors of the Gospel stress the death of Jesus. Paul’s citation of Isaiah 53:1 (Rom 10:16) with John’s (John 12:38) make the same point: the Jewish people have rejected the Gospel. We do see Jesus is a Passover sacrifice (e.g, Jn. 19:14;1 Cor. 5:7-8); an unblemished sacrifice (1 Pet.1:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7: 26-28; 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:21-25); a sin offering (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21) and a covenant sacrifice (e.g., Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25).

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

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

To read on, click here:

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

The Binding of Isaac Story and the Maccabean Martyrs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In the late-first century CE apocalypses of 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch the messiah dies. His death, however, does not involve suffering and has no atoning significance. In 4 Ezra 7:29-30, the death of the messiah marks the end of a four-hundred-year reign and is the prelude to seven days of primeval silence, followed by the resurrection. In 2 Bar 30:1, “when the time of the appearance of the messiah has been fulfilled” he returns in glory, and then all who sleep in hope of him rise.” Neither scenario bears any similarity to Isaiah 53.” (2)

But Collins also says the following:

“The Christian belief (in a suffering Messiah) in such a figure, and the discovery of prophecies relating to him, surely arose in retrospect after the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no evidence that any first century Judaism expected such a figure, either in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 or on any other basis. The notion of a suffering and dying messiah eventually found a place in Judaism.” (3)

It was after the resurrection that Jesus said:

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

Unfortunately, Jesus does not list any specific texts that say the Messiah will suffer and die. Also, Paul says the following: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15: 3-4). Once again, the problem with this passage is that Paul does not list what texts he is referring to in the Tanakh (the Old Testament). He is probably referring to the entire redemptive plan of the plan of the Old Testament. Or, given his use of Jesus as a sacrificial atonement (see Romans 3:25-26), he may be alluding to Isaiah 53. But if we just jump to Isaiah 53, that brings up the issue of whether Paul is using the LXX (THE Greek Septuagint).

The Targum and Isaiah 53

Remember the following:

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

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

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

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

But let’s get back to Collins and his comments about how a suffering Messiah shows up later in Jewish literature. The Shottenstein Talmud, a comprehensive Orthodox Jewish commentary states the following about Isaiah 53:

They [namely, those sitting with Messiah] were afflicted with tzaraas- as disease whose symptoms include discolored patches on the skin (see Leviticus ch. 13). The Messiah himself is likewise afflicted, as stated in Isaiah (53:4). Indeed, it was our diseases that he bore and our pains that he endured, whereas we considered him plagued (i.e. suffering tzaraas [see 98b, note 39], smitten by God and afflicted. This verse teaches that the diseases that the people ought to have suffered because of their sins are borne instead by the Messiah [with reference to the leading Rabbinic commentaries]. (6)

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

The children of the world are members of one another, and when the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, He smites one just man amongst them, and for his sakes heals the rest of the rest. Whence do we learn this? For the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ [Isa. 53:5].i.e., by letting of his blood- as when a man bleeds his arm- there was healing for us-for all the members of the body. In general a just person is only smitten in order to procure healing and atonement for a whole generation.” (7)

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

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

Atonement of suffering and death is not limited to the suffering person. The atoning death extends to all the generation. This is especially the case with such sufferers as cannot either by reason of their righteous life or by their youth possibly have merited the afflictions which have come upon them. The death of the righteous atones just as well as certain sacrifices [with reference to b.Mo’ed Qatan 28a].‘They are caught (suffer) for their sins of the generation.’ [b Shabbat 32b]. There are also applied to Moses the Scriptural words, ‘And he bore the sins of many’ (Isaiah 53), because of his offering himself as the atonement for Israel’s sin with the golden calf, being ready to sacrifice his very soul for Israel when he said. ‘And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of my book (that is, from the Book of the Living), which thou hast written’ (Ex. 32) [b. Sotah 14a; b Berakhoth 32a). This readiness to sacrifice oneself for Israel is characteristic of all the great men of Israel, the patriarchs, and the Prophets citing in the same way, whilst also some Rabbis would, on certain occasions, exclaim, ‘Behold I am the atonement for Israel’ [Mekhilta 2a;m. Negaim 2:1]. (8)

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

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

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

“Messiah our righteousness is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have no one to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgressions. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that He may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wounds, at the time the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, By the hand of Yinnon.” -Written by Rabbi Eliezer Kalir around 7th century A.D (9)

Here are some more rabbinical sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah ben David

Much of modern Judaism knows the the traditional view of Messiah ben David who is a descendant of David and of the tribe of Judah. But there is another messianic view in Judaism that speaks of Messiah ben Yossef who is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, the descendant of Ephrayim. This figure will serve as a precursor to Messiah ben David. His role is political in nature since he will wage war against the forces that oppose Israel. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef is supposed to prepare Israel for it’s final redemption. The prophecy of Zech. 12:10 is applied to Messiah ben Yossef in that he is killed and that it will be followed by a time of great calamities and tests for Israel. Shortly after these tribulations upon Israel, Messiah ben David will come and avenge the death of Messiah ben Yossef, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace. (14)

What is interesting is that R. Saadiah Gaon elaborated on the role of Messiah ben Yossef by starting that this sequence of events is contingent. In other words, Messiah ben Yossef will not have to appear before Messiah ben David if the spiritual condition of Israel is up to par. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a). (15)

The Rejection of a Dying Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

Why the rejection of a dying Messiah?

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

3. Ibid, 126.

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Book Review: Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver by Christian Smith

Atheist Overreach: What Atheism Can’t Deliver, Christian Smith. 168 pp. Oxford University Press

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at Notre Dame. Since I own some of his other books, I was eager to see what he had to say about atheism in this book. As a sociologist, Smith knows the impact of religion on society. He is concerned about the impact of secularism on society as well. The book isn’t an apologetic for religion nor necessarily an apologetic against atheism. Having said this, Smith can be polemical at times. What Smith seeks out to accomplish is to show the areas where atheists tend to ‘overreach.’ The topics he addresses are morality, the grounding for human rights, the limitations of science, and why humans seem inclined to be religious. Smith is aware there have been much larger works that have addressed these topics. He is writing for a more general audience. Smith has spent plenty of time reading atheist literature. And I should note he isn’t simply critiquing people like Harris, Dawkins, or some of the other big-name atheists. When it comes to morality, Smith thinks Aristotelian virtue ethics is a better option then Nietzschean nihilism and what atheists champion as an ‘overreaching optimism.’ The latter leads to a universalistic humanism which will require people to adhere to high moral norms and to share their resources in an egalitarian fashion for the sake of equal opportunity and the promotion of human rights (Kindle locations, 642 of 2795).

In his chapter on human rights, Smith says “being a human person endows one with such rights and entitles one to their respect by and justice from others. Such basic human rights are such that they place a moral duty on people to honor, protect, and defend not only their own rights but also the rights of other humans if they are able to do so. Further, many modern people believe in universal benevolence, that is, belief in the inherent moral goodness of sustaining the lives, reducing the suffering, promoting the health, and increasing the well-being of other people, including strangers, and perhaps particularly of the weak and vulnerable. Again, in principle, benevolence is commonly believed valid for every person of both sexes in all nations, races, religions, social classes, and ethnicities. Whether other people are similar to us or not, it is widely believed, it is morally good to protect their lives and relieve their sufferings, simply because they are human. Such beliefs may seem idealistic. But they are woven into the institutional and cultural fabric of many contemporary societies and the international system.” – Kindle locations 721 of 2795.

Having said this, Smith notes that “A naturalistic universe is one that consists of energy and matter and other natural entities, such as vacuums, operating in a closed system in time and space, in which no transcendent, supernatural, divine being or superhuman power exists as creator, sustainer, guide, or judge. Such a universe has come to exist by chance—not by design or providence but by purposeless natural forces and processes. There is no inherent, ultimate meaning or purpose. Any meaning or purpose that exists for humans in a naturalistic universe is constructed by and for humans themselves. When the natural forces of entropy eventually extinguish the human race—if some natural or human made disaster does not do so sooner—there will be no memory or meaning, just as none existed before human consciousness evolved. This naturalistic universe is the background reality that mainstream natural science seems to tell us we inhabit.” -Kindle locations 672-673 of 2795.

Smith notes that atheism isn’t naturalism. However, there is a relationship between the two. The question Smith asks is if we really do live in the naturalistic cosmos that atheists and much of science tell us we occupy, do we have good reasons for believing in universal benevolence and human rights as moral facts and imperatives?” There is no doubt that many believers in naturalism are fully committed to human dignity, universal benevolence, and human rights. But the question is whether people who believe that we live in a naturalistic universe are rationally warranted in asserting and championing such moral claims and imperatives? Smith doesn’t think so. A naturalistic worldview can only lead one to hold to an arbitrary, subjective, personal preference—but not a rational, compelling, universally binding fact and obligation. -Locations 721 of 2795.

Smith’s chapter on “Why Scientists Playing Amateur Theology Fail” is mostly aimed at scientists who try to do criticize theology. From Smith’s perspective, these scientists are out of their league in this area. He wants scientists to stick with what they know and stop doing half- baked philosophy and theology. He wants them to learn enough so they can know the difference between scientific, philosophical, and theological claims.- Kindle locations 1490 pf 2795. He notes science can’t prove or disprove the central ideas of most religious thought.

In the final chapter called “Are Humans Naturally Religious?” Smith notes that as along as humans ponder the Big Questions such as “Where we come from?” “What should I love for and why?” and others, religion will always play a role in society. But he notes “We can confidently say that humans are naturally religious or by nature religious—as a matter of real, natural potential, capacity, and tendency—while at the same time acknowledging that many humans and even some cultures are not particularly religious at all. Such an account entails many implications, theoretical and practical, worth considering. But it strongly suggests that we should not expect human societies to become thoroughly secularized on any long-term basis. Secularization as a process will likely be limited, contingent, and susceptible to reversal. The New Atheist dream of a fundamentally secular world will prove illusory.” – Kindle locations 1756 of 2795.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think the title is fitting. It is not that atheism can’t attempt to provide answers to morality, human rights, dignity, as well as other issues. But atheists do need to be honest that they are overreaching in these areas. I know atheists don’t think atheism is a worldview (i.e, how one views reality). But judging by the books Smith has read (I have read them as well), atheists are trying to answer worldview questions. So as long as they keep doing so, authors such as Smith are correct to point out the shortcomings of such a worldview.

 

 

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The Problem of Anti-Intellectualism in the Church-Problems and Possible Solutions

Over the years I have had the opportunity to teach apologetics. Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that offers reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian position/worldview. Most of the classes I have taught are about 8 weeks long. After the first class I can guarantee that the hands will go up. Several students lament that their local congregation has zero interest in apologetics. When we start to discuss the reasons for problem, one issue that always surfaces is that there is little emphasis on the discipleship of the mind. It is apparent that many in the Church have been taught to that it is more spiritual to be simple- minded. In other words, don’t think so hard. God is only pleased by simple faith. By the way, I do understand that many of us don’t have the time or resources to learn all we can about our faith. But let me move forward here.

One book that traces the history of the problem of anti-intellectualism in the Church is Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland.

In this brilliant book, Dr. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.

Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology. Christians originally founded several American universities. The minister was regarded as proficient in both spiritual and intellectual matters.

When the first Great Awakening happened in the United States from the 1730′s to 1750′s, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine biblical authority in the late 1800′s. In other words, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophies of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German higher criticism, and Darwinian evolution. During the middle 1800′s, Christianity continued to see an anti-intellectual approach in sermons. Ministers such as Charles Finney who preached during the Laymen’s Prayer Revival ( 1856-1858), delivered simple sermons that were more tailored around emotions in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally informed. Moreland notes that many positive things did come out of this period. However, the downside was that since thousands of people were converted on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new converts were not trained to think theologically or doctrinally.

Moreland has also commented on the impact of Christians refusing to be informed about the language of ideas in the marketplace. As Moreland says:

“Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn’t matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart and that’s all that really matters to me. So we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether.” (1)

Another book that has traced the history of anti-intellectualism in the church is Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness.

In this book, Guinness says:

“Loving God with our minds is not finally a question of orthodoxy, but love. Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety. We need to affirm certain truths: Intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism, for the perils of intellectualism-supremely in Gnosticism- are deadly and ever recurring. Or passion is not for academic respectability, but for the faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our everyday discipleship as Christians. For anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus’ commandments. Thus, if we take the commands of Jesus seriously, we cannot dismiss the charge of anti-intellectualism as elitism or intellectual snobbery. As God has given us minds, we can measure our obedience by whether we are loving him with those minds, and disobedience whether we are not.”

In his book,The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ, author David W. Gill makes a significant contribution about the relationship between intellectualism and discipleship: Gill says:

“ Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship.”

It could not be more evident to me that one of the reasons that Christians are discipled into anti-intellectualism is because of poor exegesis.

Let’s look at some of the Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:

1. Acts 4:13: “The Jewish elders and rulers observe that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned.” Many have concluded that intellectual emphasis has no place for the life of the believer. Is this right? It is important to understand that the Jewish leaders did not mean that Peter and John were irrational or intellectually unskilled. They meant that they had not undergone the proper rabbinical training.

2. Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28.

3. 1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:
” For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

Does this passage say God is against reason? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (2)

4. Matthew 18:3-5: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

In interpreting this passage, it is important to note that Jesus challenged his followers to be like children morally, not intellectually. Christians are called to exhibit childlikeness in being sensitive to evil and sin, in being humble and contrite in spirit. Jesus contrasts the need for humility with tough-mindness in Matt. 10:16, when He says, ” Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (3)

Some Suggestions in Restoring the Christian Mind

1. Calling all Leaders: What Are You Doing About This Problem?

As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothius says:
“Since we as Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), it is the responsibility Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. ” (4)

But as a leader, you may object, “But my people aren’t that deep. They just want the simple stuff.”
My response to this objection is that it is YOUR responsibility to show them the need for discipleship of the mind. If you don’t do anything about it, the Church will be in the same condition 50 years from now. Why do we keep dumbing it down for the people of God? Is that really what God wants? So be pro-active.

2. Created in the image of God?

As Norman Geisler says:

“God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought.” (5)

Can we all agree that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature? It is evident that God calls on us to use our reason (Isa. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 22:36-37). God is a rational being, and He created us as rational beings. So we can agree that since humans are created in the image of God, reason is not opposed to revelation; it is part of it. Learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

3. Establish a Worldview:

The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (6)

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

4. Christians Need An Integrated Faith

I already touched on this in Point #2. We all can agree that the God of the Bible is certainly a God of revelation. However, the Bible does command us to love God with our minds (Matt. 22:27), as well as love God with the rest of our being. We can’t forget the commandment, “’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 mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-30). Biblical faith involves a commitment of the whole person.

The Hebrew word for heart is “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements In other words, the disciple of Jesus is called to use good reason, which the Bible commends to discover truth (Isa.1:18; Matt. 22:27; 1 Pet. 3:15).

5. Engage the Culture:

According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Christians also have a responsibility to be aware of the issues within our culture.

My suggestion to change this problem is to challenge congregants to take a survey with five spiritual questions and engage people on a regular basis. Once they see how people respond to the questions, they will begin to see how inept they are to handle objections to the faith. By doing a survey, this allows the congregants to witness firsthand the tremendous amount of diversity in our culture. One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that cannot be answered, it allows the Christian the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue.

As William Lane Craig says:

” It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith.” (7)

6. Realize the Holy Spirit Works in Conjunction with Hard Work and Study

Sadly, I think many Christians think the Holy Spirit is some sort of mystical force that just does it all for us. He doesn’t care about serious study and would rather have us be lazy minded. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Holy Spirit works with our disciplined study, not against it.

7. The University:

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

What about Christians who want to study philosophy in college? Should they avoid it? Groothius says:

” Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness.” (8)

Conclusion

In all my evangelism efforts, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard complaints from the non-Christian that they don’t understand why so many Christians seem to be so anti-intellectual. As I noted above, the problem started a long time ago. We are now playing catch up for this problem. I also want to make it clear that I am not advocating the type of rationalism birthed during the Enlightenment period. This type of rationalism was what Francis Schaeffer termed “autonomous reason,” which is the haughty human attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God. I hope and pray all of us will listen and apply some of these things that I have mentioned in this short post.

Sources:

1. Koukl. G. The Value of Philosophy. Retrieved November 9, 2007. Available at http://www.str.org/site/.

2. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 13.

3. Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 20-21.

4. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at http://www.answersinaction.org.

5. Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology: Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers. 2002, 91.

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

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

8. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at http://www.answersinaction.org.

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The Attempt to Find Purpose Without God

This  past year we had a family member suffer a stroke. As this 83 year old elderly person lost their ability to fully walk and do the things they once did, it caused me to ponder the issue of purpose. I even asked the family member what they think their purpose is in life. I even asked them what their purpose was before the stroke. Like most people, they said their purpose was to be a good wife or good mother. Their family was the main purpose in life. Now they also admitted they are just existing now. Thus, because they can’t go out and drive and go to places and do what they once did, they are not really ‘living’ anymore. What I notice in this situation and in  many situations is that people need a function. Thus, people seem to really struggle without a specific ‘function’ or ‘purpose’ in life. It should be noted that the ‘functional’ and ‘essentialist’ view of humans is what is at the center of the abortion debate as well.  Anyway,  I asked the family member the following: perhaps you have been missing your overall purpose in life which is to know God (John 17: 4)?

In a world without God is there is ultimate meaning to life? Certainly, people can create their own meaning and purpose, as French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre advises us to do. Again, if people can find meaning and purpose in relationships, careers, volunteer programs, or other things, what happens when these things are threatened or lost by factors that are beyond control? Thus, circumstances can shake people who are calloused towards God and cause people to recognize their ‘existential need’ for God. Now if God has created us with  existential needs, it would make sense that God is the only one who can completely fulfill these needs.Philosopher Clifford Williams argues that while humans may have desires and beliefs they fulfill through reason, they also look for emotional fulfillment, especially when it comes to believing in God.[1] Thus, humans want both their reason and emotional needs satisfied. Williams lists several existential [2] needs that all humans desire: there is the need for cosmic security and meaning in life. Further, there is the wonder and awe of the cosmos itself. Humans also need the opportunity to love, to feel loved, and to be with the ones we love.

Also,  many people invest in activities that promote the kind of world they want. They find a purpose in such activities. Many will admit they want to spend time making the world a better place. But who gets to define what “better” is? Most likely, people want a world of justice, equality, and for humans to be viewed with dignity and respect. But how do we know what the world should look like unless we have some standard as to what is just and unjust? People who fight for justice know how things ought to be, and they assume a standard of justice and goodness in order to bring to fruition their preconceived notions of a just, fair, and equitable society.

What is interesting when people lose a specific function they once had, they have to re-evaluate their lives. Do they still have value without the purpose they once had?  Sadly, to many people, the answer is no. For the theist, the answer is yes. The ultimate purpose for every human is know God and love him forever. Of course, if humans are made in the likeness and image of God,  they are therefore intrinsically valuable. They are not valuable because they have to fulfill some function such as a specific job or task. My challenge to my family member was that perhaps since they spend a lot of time sitting now they should open the Scriptures and get to know God. So perhaps it is time for them to start to fulfill the main purpose for which they were created for.

Disclaimer: Someone may wonder how they find purpose in a God they don’t think is real. There are more than enough posts on here that deal with that topic. Also, see the following clip from Reasonable Faith.

1.Clifford Williams, Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011).  

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Theism and the Grounding of Human Rights and Human Dignity

As we celebrate Independence Day, we shouldn’t overlook The Declaration of Independence. In it, we see that God’s revelation in nature itself allows for the grounding of human rights and human dignity. As Stephen Meyer points out,  Jefferson  wrote the Declaration, asserting the inalienable rights of human beings derived from “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Also, from a Biblical standpoint, all human beings enjoy the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Thus all humans have a right to human dignity (i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or rank or any other way). NOTE: I chose to the use the word ‘ethnicity’ instead of race since the Bible doesn’t teach there are races. There is only one race which is the human race.  We also have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others.

Theism says that the physical universe is not all there is. There is a personal God who created it, sustains it, and can intervene within it in a non-natural way. While God is the primary Cause of singularities, He also uses secondary, or natural causes for the operation of the world. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions. Therefore, teleology has a goal in mind and evolution has been seen to run down dead ends many, many times. As Richard Dawkins says:

Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference-Scheff, Liam. 2007. The Dawkins Delusion. Salvo, 2:94.

A ways back, my friend Wintery Knight posted this on his blog:

“If you love to listen to the Please Convince Me podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife. I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

And Cornell University atheist William Provine agrees: (this is taken from his debate with Phillip E. Johnson)

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.

Even Ron Bonteke says the following:

“Human beings cannot be deserving of a special measure of respect by virtue of their having been created ‘in God’s image’ when they have not been created at all (and there is no God). Thus the traditional conception of human dignity is also undermined in the wake of Darwin.”–Ron Bontekoe, The Nature of Dignity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 15– 16.

 

In his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It, author Bruce Sheiman gives a general outline of how atheists account for how we got here:

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 randomness); and humans evolved by more improbable occurrences.

So if we look at these comments by Dawkins, Provine, Bontekoe, as well as the model here proposed by Sheiman, it is obvious that theism has better explanatory power in grounding human rights and human dignity. This doesn’t mean atheists and skeptics can’t treat people with respect and dignity. But for those who are so adamant about securing and protecting human rights, where does the moral obligation come from to do this, and what in the heck makes humans suddenly have so much value and dignity?

Also, see the lecture called by Angus Menuge  called, “Theism versus Naturalism as a Foundation for Human Rights”  or the online pdf called Grounding Human Rights: Naturalism’s Failure and Biblical Theism’s Success by Paul Copan.

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