A Look at the Jesus Story, Oral Tradition and Eyewitness Memory

Even though the Christian can always offer certain dates for the Gospels, it should remembered that there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus. Therefore, there was an oral period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Oral Tradition is the transmission of a teaching or saying from person to person or from generation to generation by word of mouth rather than by the use of writing. The home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers.

Given that many skeptics assumes the New Testament is biased they tend to ask for sources that are written about Jesus outside the New Testament. Furthermore, since the request for these sources must be written by non-Christians, this supposedly equates to pure objectivity and no propaganda. Sadly, the demand for this wish list shows the ignorance about the oral world of Jesus. The late Maurice Casey, a non Christian scholar who specialized in early Christianity summarized the importance of the oral world of Jesus:

The major reasons why all our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus are Christian is that Jesus was a first- century Jewish prophet who lived in a primarily oral Jewish culture, not a significant politician in the Graeco-Roman world. By contrast, for example, Julius Caeser was an important political and literary figure in the highly literate culture of the Romans. It is therefore natural that he should have written literary works which have survived, and that other surviving literary sources have written about him.[1]

Casey goes onto say:

Jesus of Nazareth left no literary works at all, and he had no reason to write any. He lived in a primarily oral culture, except for the sanctity and central importance of its sacred texts, which approximate to our Hebrew Bible. A variety of works now thought of as Apocrypha (e.g. Sirach) or Pseudopigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch) were held equally sacred by some Jewish people, and could equally well  learnt and repeated by people who did not possess the then- difficult skill of writing. Almost all our surviving primary sources about Jesus are Christian because most people who had any interest in writing about him were his followers,and  the few relatively early comments by other writers such as Josephus and Tacitus are largely due to special circumstances, such as Jesus’ brother Jacob (Jos.Ant .XX,200), or the great fire of Rome (Tac.Annals XI, 44). [2]

As Craig Evans notes, according to the Shema, which all Torah observant Jews were expected to recite daily, parents were to teach their children the Torah ( Deut 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Eccl 12:9).[3]

How would Jesus have made his teaching memorable?

While none of Jesus’ adversaries called Jesus a rabbi, Jesus was seen as a rabbi and teacher  in the Gospels (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2). In the first century A.D. Rabbi (‘My great one”) could refer to those religious figures who were in a high position,while later in the third century it  became associated with those who had produced rabbinic literature.[4] There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. As Paul Barnett notes, the disciples of Jesus had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1).[5]

Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize.[6] Also, in some ways Jesus did fit the mold of a rabbi, this doesn’t mean he fit the mold of an ordained of rabbi which was more of a formal office that took place a century or more later. The similarities and differences between Jesus as a rabbi and teacher and the rabbis who also taught in his culture are seen here:

  1. Jesus taught but not in formal educational settings.
  2. Jesus’ delivering system was face to face and oral.
  3. Jesus modeled how to live as much or more than he stated, ”Do this” or “Don’t do that.”
  4. Jesus’ teachings were created orally and transmitted orally.
  5. Jesus was a passionate guardian of Old Testament law.
  6. Jesus explained and expanded on Old Testament law.
  7. Jesus’ actions could attain the status of commandments in the minds of his followers.
  8. God’s truth was incarnate in Jesus.
  9. Jesus wrote nothing; it was sufficient for this oral text to remain oral.
  10. The oral origins of the Gospels are evident within the Gospels.
  11. It was not until approximately twenty years after Jesus’ public ministry  that the first written accounts of his words and deeds were inscribed in the Gospels. [7]

Interestingly enough, given Jesus had such a high view of the Torah and it was believed that God was incarnate in Jesus, we should heed the words of Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner. He says:

Since rabbinical documents repeatedly claim that, if you want to know the law, you should not only listen to what the rabbi says but also copy what he does, it follows that, in his person, the rabbi represents and embodies the Torah. God in the Torah revealed God’s will and purpose for the world. So God had said what the human being should be. The rabbi was the human being in God’s image. That, to be sure, is why (but merely by the way) what the rabbi said about the meaning of Scripture derived from revelation. Collections of the things he said about Scripture constituted compositions integral to the Torah. So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever present revelation, the always open-canon. For fifteen hundred years, from the time of the first collections of scriptural exegeses to our own day, the enduring context for midrash remained the same: encounter with the living God.[8]

We also see an emphasis on the importance of remembering the words of Jesus:

Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.” (Luke 9:44)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on themwill be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away(Mark 13:31)

“ It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:63)

“So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68)

“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; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10)

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”(John 14:26)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7)

Even after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles gave their eyewitness testimony to the words of Jesus. It is also important to note the role of how the disciples were active participants in the life of Jesus. They saw the importance of bearing witness to the deeds and sayings of Jesus:

As Bauckham says:

The sense (not a properly one generic one) in which the witnesses of the Holocaust created a new literature of testimony, is much the same sense as that in which the witnesses of the history created the Gospels. Those witnesses understood the imperative to witness to a command of the risen Christ, but the parallel is sufficient to be suggestive. In both cases, the uniqueness required precisely witness as the only means by which the events could be adequately known. In both cases, the exceptionality of the event means that only the testimony of participant witness can give us anything approaching access to the truth of the event.[9]

Common Objections to Oral Tradition

#1: Hasn’t Memory Been Shown to Be Very Unreliable?

First, if memory is so unreliable, than much of human existence couldn’t be sustained on a daily basis. Memory, along with testimony are some of the things we take for granted in the common concerns of life without being able to give a reason for them. Also, high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period.  As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note, the “memoric skepticism” paradigm can be traced back to the collapse in human knowledge after World War I.[10]  This time period that gave rise to the this paradigm is seen in various forms such as individual (F.C. Bartlett); collective/social (Maurice Halbwachs); historiography (Carl Becker); sociology of knowledge (Karl Mannheim) and New Testament studies (Rudolph Bultmann).[11] Sociologist Barry Schwartz says: “These men appealed so greatly to the West because their views resonated with the cynicism of the post World War I worldview and ethos: ‘the world is not what it seems.’[12]

One thing for sure: high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period.  For example, my sister died in 1973. Even though I was four years old at the time I can still remember much of the details of the day it happened. Steven Waterhouse summarizes Bauckham’s work and the importance of memory:

1.        Unique, unusual, unexpected events (like healings, miracles, and exorcisms) are memorable.

  1.  Events that are personally important and relevant tend toward long term memory (like matters of the Messiah’s arrival and eternal destiny in heaven or hell).
  1. Events in which one is emotionally involved are memorable (Mark 9:6, 14:72, as in being a participant in a great cause with struggles and opposition).
  1.  Memories involving vivid imagery are remembered well (Mark 2:4, 4:37-38, 6:39-40, 7:33-34, 9:20, 10:32, 50, 11:14).
  1.  Memories often include irrelevant and odd details (there were “other boats,” Mark 4:36).
  1.  Reliable memories rarely include precise dates as on July 15 but do include time of day and relationships to seasons and holidays (as in the Gospel of John).
  1.  The “gist” of a memory (even with details essential to the main point) is more likely to be retained than purely secondary details. (Bauckham’s own conclusion is that this explains the variation in the Gospel accounts but unity on the core facts.)
  1.  Frequent retelling of a story shortly after an event tends to sharpen not diminish memory. “Frequent recall is an important factor in both retaining memory and retaining it accurately.” [13]

In conclusion, as Bauckham says:

 The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember – and the Gospels rarely record – merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable. Such details may often have been subject to performative variation in the eyewitnesses’ telling of their stories, but the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably. We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory.”[14]

Sources:

[1]Mauruce Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Craig Evans and W. H. Brackney, Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus (From Biblical Criticism to Biblical Faith (Mercer University Press, 2007), 41-54.

[4]  John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World World of Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 2013), 105.

[5]Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997), 138.

[6]D. G. Reid,  The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004), 460.

[7] Walton and Sandy, 108.

[8] Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 137.

[9]Bauckham, 287.

[10] Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Barry Schwartz, “Christian Origins: Historcial Truth and Social Memory” in Memory, Tradition and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity, ed. A Kirkand T. Thatcher (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 45-46; cited in  Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.

[13] Steven Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009), 86-87.

[14]Bauckham,  346; cited in Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009),  87.

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James Warner Wallace on “Could the Resurrection Have Been a Hallucination?”

There is no doubt that the hallucination hypothesis is one of the most common explanations for the resurrection appearances. Here is a nice clip by James Warner Wallace. Also, see our post  Answering Sixteen Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus. 

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Why Apologetics Isn’t About Getting Rid of All Doubt

Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.

Let’s look at a more technical definition of doubt. Baker’s Evangelical Online Dictionary says the following about doubt. Daniel L. Aiken says the following:

“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”

So having said this, here are some few tips when dealing with doubt.

First, identify the type of doubt.  Second, be honest with God about your doubt. Many of God’s servants have dealt with the same issues for centuries. As far as types of doubt,  perhaps we can ask some questions:

  • It is emotional doubt? Does God’s presence seem to be quite distant at times?
  • Does God seem painfully absent?
  • Is it an unanswered prayer issue?
  • It is factual doubt?

Remember that when it comes to factual doubt, there is no need for exhaustive knowledgeAs Paul Copan says in his article, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? A Response to Skepticism, Being less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.”

In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria:

(1)  It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation

(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

Remember, a judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

How many of our claims past the test of certitude? Not many! Does this mean we are left to blind faith? No! There are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds). The two kinds are not mutually exclusive: some defeaters function at both levels, including those that challenge the objective alethic reliability of one’s actual grounds (see Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, Epistemological Objections to Materialism in The Waning of Materialism).

Why do I bring this up? Remember, if  we had a 100% doubt free belief system, there wouldn’t be any room for faith/trust in God. Any Christian that thinks they have a perfect, doubt free faith are setting themselves up for disappointment. Also, anyone who assumes apologetics is supposed to answer every single question exhaustively has misunderstood the limitations of apologetics. By the way, I also remember when Paul Davies (a non Christian physicist) noted in the article called Taking Science on Faith that there is a relationship between faith and science. Naturally, this led to the scorn of many atheists. So sad!

If you haven’t purchased the book Doubting Toward Faith by Bobby Conway, please do. It is a great book. I came across this section which is quite helpful. He says:

“Here’s a thought to digest: In the absence of certainty, there’s always room for doubt. And this applies not only to the Christian but to everyone. No one, in any belief system, can prove his or her faith with 100 percent certainty. But 100 percent certainty is also not required in order to believe in something or to have reasonable assurance that what you believe is true and trustworthy. • I believe my wife when she says she’ll be faithful to only me. • I believe my friends when they say, “I’m telling you the truth.” • I believe the red light will turn green in a reasonable amount of time. • I believe my government won’t collapse tomorrow.

But Bobby, I feel 100 percent certain that Christianity is true,” you may contest. And I would add, we cannot confuse feeling certain and being certain. There’s a difference. Mormons also feel certain their beliefs are true, as do Muslims, atheists, and many others. Feeling certain and being certain aren’t necessarily equivalent. As we all know, feelings are fickle. One day your moods may sing the praises of your faith and the next day your moods will betray you, drowning you in the despair of doubt. Many people who walk around saying “I know with 100 percent certainty that my faith is true” haven’t thought much about their faith. They’re often blissfully naïve, which insulates them from an onslaught of doubts.The reality is, even those who feel 100 percent certain can’t prove Christianity with 100 percent certainty. And we do the church a great disservice when we act like we can. Not to mention, we also set new believers up for a future doubt crisis when they realize things in our faith aren’t as tidy as they once thought. In any event, we must avoid two extremes, this time as it relates to certainty. On one extreme we have philosophers like René Descartes who seek certainty through doubting everything, and on the other extreme are those who doubt nothing in order to feel good about their supposed certainty. Neither solution is helpful.”

 

You can read all kinds of arguments on both sides. Both sides will present defeaters. It never ends. So at some point, you will have to get over the need for certitude or exhaustive knowledge.

For an in depth treatment of the subject of doubt, see these two free online resources:

Gary Habermas: Dealing with Doubt

Gary Habermas: The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God

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Answering the Objection “If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, where’s the peace?”

In a previous post, I discussed some of the common objections anti-missionaries and groups like Jews for Judaism make to the claims about Jesus being the Jewish Messiah of Israel and the nations. 

One objection that always comes up is that if Jesus is really the Messiah, how come there’s no peace in the world?  So one of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer.23: 5-8; Mic.5:4-6), and usher in a period of worldwide peace.The Messiah is supposed to put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is.2:1-22; 25:8; 65:25; Mic.4:1-4). Thus, if the Messiah has come,  it seems that there is supposed to be societal and political transformation.  Isa. 2:2–4 speaks of international harmony under the ruling Messiah will occur. While messianic salvation has been inaugurated in this present age, societal transformation of the nations has not happened yet. Passages like Isaiah 2, Micah 4:1-3  Isaiah 19:24–25, and Zechariah 14 predict nations will worship God.

So we  are supposed to see the challenge: anti-missionaries can string together some texts in the Jewish Scriptures and then say “Case closed, Jesus is not the Messiah.” If you read the texts just mentioned, some of them don’t even mention a personal Messiah at all.  Also, as I have said before, Israel’s faithfulness and the role of the Messiah go together. Thus, if Israel doesn’t fulfill their side of the covenant, there is a delay in blessings. 

One text anti-missionaries  try to use is Isaiah 11: 6-9:

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the land will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).”

Now, it is obvious this text speaks of some sort of utopia conditions on earth. As Richard Bauckham says here in his online article: 

“Occasionally this passage has been read as an allegory of peace between nations, while inattentive modern readers sometimes see it as a picture simply of peace between animals. In fact, it depicts peace between the human world, with its domestic animals (lamb, kid, calf, bullock, cow), and those wild animals (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, poisonous snakes) that were normally perceived as threats both to human livelihood and to human life. For the Israelite farmer, the unacceptable face of wild nature was these dangerous animals. What is depicted in the prophecy is the reconciliation of the human world with wild nature. Significantly, humans and domestic animals are all represented by their young, the most vulnerable. Each of the pairs of animals in verses 6-7 is carefully chosen, so that each predator is paired with a typical example of that predator’s prey. Especially from verse 7, it is clear that this peaceful condition is possible because the carnivorous animals have become, like the domestic animals, vegetarian. No doubt, this also includes humans. The pairing of the snakes and the children (v 8) differs from the other pairs in that the child is not the prey of the snake, but its poison is nonetheless dangerous to a child who ignorantly interferes with its hiding-place. This is a utopian (or, we might say, ecotopian) picture of the future kingdom of the Messiah that harks back to the primeval utopia that Genesis depicts as the beginning of human history.

Originally, all the creatures of the earth were vegetarian (Gen 1:29- Bauckham Page 3 30), and violence both among humans and between humans and animals came with the degeneration of life on earth that provoked the Flood (Gen 6:11-13). Isaiah’s description of the peaceable kingdom probably also alludes to the human responsibility for other living creatures that God gave humans at creation (Gen 1:26, 28). The first depiction of animals at peace (Isa 11:6) concludes: ‘a little child shall lead them.’ This is a reference to shepherding practice, in which the domestic animals willingly follow the shepherd who leads them to pasture. Even a small child can lead a flock of sheep or herd of goats, because no force or violence is required. In the ecotopia of Isaiah the little child will be able to lead also the wolf, the leopard and the lion. It is a picture of gentle and beneficial service to wild animals, which the animals now willingly receive. It is how we might imagine Adam and Eve related to the animals in the garden of Eden. This is not to say that the messianic kingdom is merely a return to the garden of Eden. It is more than that, but the original innocence of humans and animals does provide a model for the way this prophet envisages the future.”

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom on earth and restore the earth back to Eden? The other problem is that perhaps there is societal peace unless there is peace between people. And the only way there can be peace between people is if mankind’s heart is changed. Thus, there needs to be atonement. I talk more about that here.

To see more about this objection, see MichaelBrown,  General and Historical Objections 

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A Closer Look at Motivations for Sharing the Good News

Image result for pictures of the good news

Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about why we even share the Good News/The Gospel with people. This may seem like a very simply question. We both agreed that a common response to this question is that we don’t want people to go to hell. Sadly, this is an overaly  reductionistic reading of the Good News. Here we salvation is reduced to being only about the afterlife. I have discussed elsewhere, the Good News is presented in different contexts.  I should also note that we can get some additional understanding about this from Steve Gregg’s book,  All You Want to Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of God: God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. He says:

“Salvation” is seen as a rescue from “the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9), though what form this wrath may take remains obscure. It does not necessarily refer to postmortem destinies. Though frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, God’s “wrath” is never clearly identified there with circumstances of the next life, but with severe temporal judgments upon nations or individuals.

We are often told that Jesus spoke more on the topic of hell than did any other person in the Bible. This would not be difficult for Him to do, since almost all the biblical authors were silent on the subject. When Jesus and His disciples preached the gospel to unbelievers, there was little attempt to turn the listeners’ thoughts to matters of the afterlife. While the eternal ramifications of turning to, or away from, God were not entirely out of view, they did not comprise a central thrust of their message.

Jesus seldom spoke of hell—probably on less than six or seven occasions out of about forty recorded days of His ministry. He also seldom spoke of heaven, conceived as a place where people go when they die. Unlike our modern preaching, Jesus’ message was not about going to heaven after death. Jesus compared His movement, which He called “the kingdom of God,” to a small seed, or a pinch of leaven, which was destined to expand and to permeate its environment (the earth). Disciples were taught to pray not that they might go to heaven when they die, but that this kingdom would come here, resulting in God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). It was concern for this kingdom “on earth,” not for a postmortem heavenly home, that was the focus of the majority of His parables, and remained the burden of His teaching to the disciples, even after His resurrection. The same is true of the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. The gospel that must be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations is the good news “of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:14).

Judging from the samples of evangelistic preaching found in Acts, we would have to conclude that the main elements of this message were as follows:  Long ago, God made promises to the patriarchs and to David that a King of David’s lineage would be permanently enthroned in David’s place—one called the “Messiah,” or “Christ.” (Acts 2:16–21, 25–31; 3:18, 22–25; 4:11; 10:43; 13:27, 29, 32–35; 26:22).

These promises have been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the Promised One, whom God publicly endorsed by working acts of power through Him before many witnesses.22 3. Jesus had enemies who crucified Him, but God restored Him to life, after which He was seen by witnesses, prior to ascending to His throne at the right hand of God. (Acts 2:23–24, 32–35; 3:14–15, 26; 4:10; 5:30–32; 10:39–41; 13:28–35; 17:31; 26:23).

Since Jesus has been enthroned, it is incumbent upon all people to acknowledge His royal prerogatives (or “lordship”), and to repent of their rebellion against Him. To those who do this—embracing Him as Lord and Messiah (King)—He will graciously grant amnesty for all past rebellion. (Acts 2:36–39; 3:19–20; 4:12; 5:31; 10:43; 13:26, 34, 38–39; 17:30–31; 26:23).

The gospel is the good tidings of the reign of the righteous King Jesus. The message that the church is commissioned to preach has never been about hell, but about Christ.”

Building on these comments, here are some of my reasons for sharing the Good News:

1.The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19

If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith:
1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence.
2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection.
3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:

1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true.
2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).
3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).

This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.

It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.

The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel. By

2. God usually uses a missionary or person who proclaims the Gospel

In Acts 10, the context of this chapter is Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. The normative way God reveals Himself to all humans is through the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah by a specific individual who takes the initiative to explain the message of salvation to another. This matches up with the biblical data. There are cases in the Bible where people are sincerely religious but still had to have explicit faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. For example, in this chapter, Cornelius is shown to be a God fearer. He worshiped the correct God. However, he received a vision with instructions to send for Peter and awaited his message (Acts 10: 1-6, 22, 33; 11: 14). Because Cornelius ended up responding to special revelation concerning Jesus the Messiah, he attained salvation. In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12).

In Acts 10:43 Peter says that “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his NAME.”

There is a similar theme in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

What is the significance of this verse in relation to the name of Jesus?

How could Jesus be declared as the only one whom God’s salvation is effected? In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identification of the being and essence of its bearer.

We see that just as in the Hebrew Bible where the name of God represents the person of God and all that he is, so in the New Testament “the Name” represents all who Jesus is as Lord and Savior. James Edwards sums it up:

” In the ancient world, a name was not merely what someone was called, but rather the identifi cation of the being and essence of its bearer. To the Jewish people, an idol could not properly have a “name” because it has no being represented by the name (Is. 44:9-21). The “name” to which the apostles refer does not signify an event, but a person, in whom the authority and power of God was active in salvation. The saving activity of God was and is expressed in the name of Jesus Christ.The name of Jesus is thereby linked in the closest possible way to the name of God. “No other name” does not refer to a second name of God, but to the unity of God with Jesus, signifying one name, one nature, one saving activity. The shared nature of God and Jesus is signaled in the most striking way by the custom of the early church to pray to God in the name of Jesus” (1)

3. God has given the world more revelation of Himself in the person of Jesus the Messiah

Historical verification is a way to test religious claims. We can detect God’s work in human history and apply historical tests to the Bible or any other religious book. The late Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Perhaps the most reasonable expectation is to ask when  and where God has broken through into human history.

Let’s look at what Paul preached in Acts 17. It details Paul’s mission efforts to two synagogues and then his journey into Athens. As he is speaking to his audience towards the end of the chapter he says the following:

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).

What stands out here:
(1) Paul is urgent in his appeal for repentance
(2) According to Acts 14: 26, Paul states there was “a time in which God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways,” but now Paul states in Acts 17: 30, “The times of ignorance is over” – God has given man more revelation in the person of Jesus the Messiah
(3) Paul uses the same language as is used in the Jewish Scriptures about judgment (Psalm 9:9)
(4) The judgment will be conducted by an agent, a man who God has appointed
(5) Paul treats the resurrection as an historical fact and he uses it as a proof of God’s appointment as Jesus as the judge of the living and the dead! (2)

Have you ever been asked this question?

What about those people in the Tanakh (the Old Testament ) that never exercised explicit belief in Jesus as the Messiah? What about people like Melchizedek, Jethro, Job and Rahab?

In response, it is true that people in the Tanakh did not have explicit knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. However, this objection fails to take into account the issue of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29;3:16). That is what we see in Paul’s message in Acts 17.

4. The Reign of God has broken into the world

In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” Biblical scholar J. Julius Scott Jr. has noted that in the ancient world, “kingdom” referred to “lordship,” “rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than simply a geographical location. Scott asserts “sovereignty (or rule) of God” would be a better translation than “kingdom of God,” since such a translation denotes God’s sphere or influence or control and includes any person or group who, regardless of their location, acknowledge His sovereignty. (3)

There is no kingdom without a King. In observing the ministry of Jesus, He demonstrated one of the visible signs of His inauguration of the kingdom of God would not only be the dispensing of the Holy Spirit (John 7: 39), but also the ability to perform miracles. If the reign of God is breaking into human history, then the King has come. If the Messianic age has arrived, then the Messiah must be present.

There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).

We see the relationship between these two passages:

Acts 26:16-18:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(4) [Blinded-presupposed]
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light

2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(4) Blinded
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light

Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.

5. All of us miss the mark!

Imagine someone with a bow and arrow who is trying to hit the bullseye on a target but they keep missing. This is a picture of what sin is. The Greek word for sin is “harmatia” which means “to miss the mark.” Sin is missing the mark, falling short of God’s absolute standard of perfection. Sin is going astray, being in autonomy of God. Because of sin, humans have an alienation problem. Alienation means to be estranged or split apart from someone or even a community, etc. Alenation does not allow us to have the harmony and proper relationship with God that he intended.

There is a Hebrew word called “Shalom” which means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It can it can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God or between two countries). Why do we lack this wholeness? Sadly, sin causes us to be fragmented. Jesus is the one who offers reconciliation and shalom with our Creator.

6. We share our faith because we think the Gospel is true

Guess what? We are living in a day where there is a loss of objective truth. I hope we all know that our faith doesn’t make the Gospel true. My faith won’t change the fact that objectively speaking, God exists or doesn’t exist or that Jesus rose from the dead in the past. The proposition “God exists” means that there really is a God outside the universe. Likewise, the claim that “God raised Christ from the dead” means that the dead corpse of Jesus of Nazareth factually rose from the dead in the context of real time, space, and history.

What about the person who says, “If Jesus works for you, that is great, but it is not my thing.” This is what is called “The Felt Needs Gospel.” It is true that the Gospel does meet a variety of needs in people’s lives. But I still concur that we need to present our faith as something that is true and reasonable. As J.P. Moreland says:

“ Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (4)

7. We share the Good News because eternal life starts today

Eternal (“aiōnios”) life can mean unending, but also focuses on the quality or characteristics of that which is age-long or eternal.  “Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah, whom you sent.”- John 17:3.   “Combined with the Greek zoefor “life,“ eternal life is not simply life that never ends, but a fullness of life that is unending. In other words, when people come to faith in the Messiah, eternal life starts today. It isn’t something that starts the moment we die.

1. Edwards, J.R., Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005, 106.
2. Marshall. I.H., The Acts of the Apostles. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids: MI: Intervarsity Press. 1980, 288-290.
3. Scott Jr, J.J., Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New
Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 297.
4. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.

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A Closer Look at James Warner Wallace on Young Christians leaving the church – Here’s why

My friend James Warner Wallace has written an article for Fox news called: “Young Christians are leaving the church – Here’s why.”

Note in the article he says one thing that seems to be forgotten in surveys such as this one is that one of largest reasons people leave the churches are because they don’t think Christianity is true. I happened to do a post a ways back called ” What does it mean to say Christianity is true?” 

I think we need to do a better job on explaining that topic.  I also wrote a post last week called “Why Are There So Many Skeptics on College Campuses?”

I also think that the latest book called Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World by Abdu Murray is onto something. 

As Murray notes, if you say you have clarity or can know truth about any of the big questions, you may be shot down right away. You may even be called a bigot. Murray notes “The culture we currently live in, is the river. All points are moving. Says “A post-truth society is a society that elevates feelings and preferences above facts and truth…A post-truth person says there are objective truths, but my opinions and my preferences matter more.”

So can apologetics save the young people from leaving the churches? It can help. I have been doing apologetics on two campuses where I am for 15 years or so. So obviously, I have given my time and energy to the apologetic endeavor. However, apologetics is one brick in a person’s foundation.  While it is not the only brick, it is a very important brick. The internet has made it easy for anyone to watch a You Tube clip by someone who may or may not be qualified to speak to a specific topic.  We can teach and equip all we want. But in the end we just need to be faithful and let God do his work. I know from experience that I can’t change a hardened or calloused heart. Only with prayer and perseverance can we see change. Press on!

 

 

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The Resurrection of Jesus and the Cognitive Dissonance Hypothesis

Cognitive Dissonance is all the rage these days. In other words, more and more skeptics are trying to postulate that the birth of the Jesus movement is the result of cognitive dissonance. As N.T Wright says:

“One theory which would go against this conclusion [that the rise of Christianity is best explained by Jesus’ bodily resurrection] was very popular a few years ago but is now widely discredited. Some sociologists suggested that the disciples had been suffering from ‘cognitive dissonance’, the phenomenon whereby people who believe something strongly go on saying it all the more shrilly when faced with contrary evidence. Failing to take the negative signs on board, they go deeper and deeper into denial, and can only sustain their position by shouting louder and trying to persuade others to join them. Whatever the likely occurrence of this in other circumstances, there is simply no chance of it being the right explanation for the rise of the early church. Nobody was expecting anyone, least of all a Messiah, to rise from the dead. A crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah. When Simeon ben Koshiba was killed by the Romans in AD 135, nobody went around afterwards saying he really was the Messiah after all, however much they had wanted to believe that he had been. God’s kingdom was something that had to happen in real life, not in some fantasy-land.

Nor was it the case, as some writers are fond of saying, that the idea of ‘resurrection’ was found in religions all over the ancient Near East. Dying and rising ‘gods’, yes; corn-kings, fertility deities, and the like. But – even supposing Jesus’ very Jewish followers knew any traditions like that – nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans. No. The best explanation by far for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost (the stories are very clear about that), but as a living, bodily human being”-From Tom Wright’s ‘Simply Christian’, p.96-97

Despite Wright’s comments about the cognitive dissonance theory, it is no surprise that it still seems to be quite popular in skeptical circles.

We see the following features of this theory:

  1. The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance begins with an expectation (arising out of a deep longing or yearning) for some particular state of affairs that is followed by a disappointment of that expectation.
  2. The group cannot reconcile itself to the fact that its deepest yearning has been disappointed, and so it perpetuates a state of denial that then provokes it to reorganize its view of reality to conform to this denied state of affairs.
  3. Suppose the early disciples experienced cognitive dissonance; that is, they really wanted Jesus  to be the Messiah, and they were very disappointed when Jesus was crucified.
  4. Being unable to reconcile themselves to this fact, they reorganized their reality to resolve their dissonance and disappointment by projecting His resurrection into their reality. They further reinforced their perspective by adding converts to their ranks. (see R.J. Spitzer, God So Loved The World: Clues to Our Transcendent Destiny from the Revelation of Jesus: Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence-Book 3 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2016), 171-172.

Thus, what we see here is that since there was no real, physical, raised Jesus, and out of their deep longing for Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, the disciples created the resurrection appearances stories out of their need to help them cope with their disappointment. There is no doubt this takes us right back to the problems with the false testimonies and hallucination hypothesis. There is also a reply to William Lane Craig’s podcast to the cognitive dissonance topic on Infidel’s website called The Cognitive Dissonance Theory of Christian Origins: A Cordial Reply to Dr. William Craig. After reading the response to Craig (feel free to read it), my thoughts are the following:

1.The resurrection claim was very, very, early. It was something proclaimed from the very start. Therefore, if the disciples/Paul invented the resurrection story (based on a cognitive dissonance issue), they did it from the very start. It was not something invented much later.

2.To posit any kind of cognitive dissonance explanation, we are back to some sort of conspiracy theory. In other words, Jesus did not really (literally) rise from the dead in a physical body. The disciples must of made up the appearance accounts because they were faced with contrary evidence. But what is the contrary evidence? Jesus was really still dead in a tomb since his body was somewhere else? This puts us back to the problem of why the Jewish leadership or the Roman leadership would not have known where the body was. Or, why would the disciples hide the body and then say Jesus was risen.

I find it interesting that many New Testament scholars/historians agree that the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

Allow me to mention few quotes here:

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)

“That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever can agree.” (Reginald H. Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142)

Therefore, the cognitive dissonance theory has to rely on the hallucination hypothesis.But this has problems and has been dealt with elsewhere.

Or, see N.T. Wright’s 3 part series on this topic:
Part One:
Part Two:
Part Three:

3.The cognitive dissonance hypothesis would have to posit an adequate explanation for the resurrection category itself. I talk more about this here.

4. To posit a cognitive dissonance hypothesis, one must assume in order to deal with the contrary evidence (Jesus was dead), they also made up something else that was radically different: a Messiah that was divine. The birth of the Jesus movement and the birth of Christology are inseparable. Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have about Christology and it is here we see that that the earliest Christology was something from the start. It was not something that evolved over time. And the Christology we see did not stem from the disciples flirtation with religious syncretism, Hellenism, or Polytheism. It is true Jews don’t follow a dead Messiah (as mentioned in the Infidels article). However, is it true the followers of Jesus really punted to some sort of cognitive dissonance?

If we read the Gospels, we see the case for Jesus being divine even before he was crucified. It is not as if the disciples were presented with contrary evidence and they created a deified Jesus afterwards. According to Jewish law, the claim to be the Messiah was not a criminal, nor capital offense. Therefore, the claim to be the Messiah was not even a blasphemous claim. If this is true, why was Jesus accused of blasphemy?

According to Mark 14:62, Jesus affirmed the chief priests question that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Coming Son of Man who would judge the world. This was considered a claim for deity since the eschatological authority of judgment was for God alone. Jesus provoked the indignation of his opponents because of His application of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to himself.

Also, many parables, which are universally acknowledged by critical scholars to be authentic to the historical Jesus, show that Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person.

5. The Infidel’s article touched on Jewish messianism. But just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”). Here are some of the figures who claimed royal prerogatives between 4 B.C.E and 68-70 C.E but are not called “the” or “a” Messiah:

1. In Galilee 4 B.C.E.: Judas, son of bandit leader Ezekias (War 2.56;Ant.17.271-72)
2. In Perea 4 B.C.E.: Simon the Herodian slave (War 2.57-59;Ant 17.273-77)
3. In Judea 4 B.C.E.: Athronges, the shepherd (War 2.60-65;Ant 17.278-84)
4. Menahem: grandson of Judas the Galilean (War 2.433-34, 444)
5. Simon, son of Gioras (bar Giora) (War 2.521, 625-54;4.503-10, 529;7.26-36, 154

As far as I know, none of them (as well as the Jewish leader named Bar Kohba) were accused of blasphemy (as Jesus was). By the way, the Sabbatean movement (something mentioned in the Infidels article) is a movement that borrow heavily from the Jesus story (see Boyd/Eddy’s The Jesus Legend, pgs, 154-156). So trying to compare it to the resurrection story is grasping for straws.

I could go on more here. But it seems to me that the cognitive dissonance theory hypothesis turns into a similar argument that we hear when theists are accused of using a “God of the gaps” argument or atheists are accused of using a “nature of the gaps” argument. Hence, we have a gap in our knowledge and look for an explanation. So now it seems we can punt to the “cognitive dissonance of the gaps.” I also should mention that the cognitive dissonance theory has been discussed in detail in Mike Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographal Approach.

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