The Relationship Between Arguments and Persuasion

Anyone who has done a fair amount of apologetics can easily end up saying to themselves “I don’t understand why this person doesn’t accept my argument.” Of course, if you don’t do a good job of explaining the argument, that’s on us. Granted, atheists even say the same thing about Christians and other religious people. I have a wonderful book by the late Ronald Nash who noted the  following:

 “It is important to distinguish between arguments on one hand and personal persuasion on the other. People come to their beliefs about reality and truth based upon various factors, some rational and some nonrational. A good argument provides reasonable and truthful support for its claim. Just because a person is not persuaded by a given argument doesn’t necessarily mean that the argument is somehow logically defective. Nonrational factors such as ignorance, bias, self-interest, fear, or pride may stand in the way of a person genuinely understanding and feeling the full force of a powerful argument and thus being persuaded by it. A person’s noetic (belief-forming) faculties are seldom as neutral, detached, and coolly objective as many people-including especially “intellectuals”-would like to think. This subjective, egocentric predicament is shared by all people, regardless of educational level.Persuasion, then, seems to be “person-relative,” and no single argument will likely persuade everyone-especially when it comes to the big issues.” – Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason

Now from my experience, there is alot of truth to what Nash says here. But note he is not saying arguments nor evidence is subjective. But when people evaluate the arguments and evidence, there is a level of subjectivity to it. Some of my apologist friends don’t like to hear this. I think we want to think people are totally neutral. I wish that was the case. But that’s just not the way humans are wired.

Now what’s more interesting is I am currently reading a new book by Edward Feser called “Five Proofs of the Existence of God. In it, Feser lays out some arguments that lead to rational demonstration of God’s existence. I would like to see if people agree with his conclusions.

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5 People to Look Out For at Bible Study: A Response

This clip is quite funny. The sad thing is that I have run into many of these types of responses in my own life. What about you? Let’s look at a few of them:

  1. “New Testament Nate” and “Feel Good Frank” would benefit from our post called Are Christians Naively Marcionite in Their Theology and Practice?
  2. “Moralistic Megan” would benefit from some historical apologetics and a much deeper understanding of who Jesus really is. He is not just a moral teacher. See our post: Handling an Objection: “I love the moral teachings of Jesus but I don’t think He is divine.”
  3. “Oblivious Olivia” needs to read  Clay Jones on the Canaanites topic here. As far as Jesus not being nice, she needs to remember Jesus isn’t Barney. 
  4. “Scientific Sam” needs to read the 100 or more responses to David Hume’s arguments.
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Aquinas on Faith and Reason

Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) was a theologian, philosopher, and the consummate apologist of the medieval church. Born in Italy, he joined the Dominican order. He was canonized by the Roman church in 1326. Aquinas wrote De anima (On the Soul), De Ente et Essentia (On Being and Essence), De veritate (On Truth), On the Power of God, Summa contra Gentiles, and The Unity of the Intellect Against the Averoeists. By far his most important and influential writing went into his magnum opus systematic theology, Summa Theologica, which was still unfinished at his death.

The thought of Aquinas is rich and varied. He wrote on many topics, including faith and reason, revelation, knowledge, reality, God creation human beings, government, and ethics. His mind was intensely analytical, making his arguments difficult for the modern reader to follow. His writing style is sometimes dialectical and highly complex, especially in Summa Theologica. This is less true in Summa contra Gentiles.

One area of Aquinas thought I wanted to mention is the relationship between faith and reason:

Aquinas did not believe that human reason was without limitations. In fact he offered many arguments as to why reason is insufficient and revelation/faith is needed.

Following Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Aquinas set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):
1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”

Elsewhere, Aquinas lists only three basic reasons divine revelation is needed.
1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts. Even in demonstrated propositions there is a mingling of false.
“That is why it was necessary that the unshakable certitude and pure truth concerning divine things should be presented to men by way of faith” (Gentiles, 1.4, 2–5).

The Noetic Effects of Sin

Aquinas also understood the Noetic Effects of Sin. Clearly, the mind falls far short when it comes to the things of God. As examples of weakness Aquinas looked at the philosophers and their errors and contradictions. “To the end, therefore, that a knowledge of God, undoubted and secure, might be present among men, it was necessary that divine things be taught by way of faith, spoken as it were by the Word of God who cannot lie” (ibid., 2a2ae. 2, 4). For “the searching of natural reason does not fill mankind’s need to know even those divine realities which reason could prove”(ibid., 2a2ae.2, 4, reply).

As a result of the noetic effects of sin, grace is needed. Aquinas concluded that “If for something to be in our power means that we can do it without the help of grace, then we are bound to many things that are not within our power without healing grace—for example to love God or neighbor.” The same is true of belief. But with the help of grace we do have this power (ibid., 2a2ae.2, 6, ad 1).

However, Aquinas did not believe that sin destroyed human rational ability. “Sin cannot destroy man’s rationality altogether, for then he would no longer be capable of sin” (ibid., 1a2ae.85, 2).

Not only is faith necessary because of human depravity, but also because some things simply go beyond the power of reason. That does not mean they are contrary to reason, but that they are not fully comprehensible. Just because we have no reasons for things that go beyond reason does not mean they are not rational. Every belief that is not self-evident can be defended as necessary. We may not know the argument, but it exists. It at least is known to God “and to the blessed who have vision and not faith about these things” (De Trinitate, 1.1.4; On Truth, 14.9, ad 1).

While human reason cannot attain to the things of faith, it is the preface to them. While “philosophical truths cannot be opposed to truths of faith, they fall short indeed, yet they also admit common analogies; and some moreover are foreshadowing, for nature is the preface of grace” (De Trinitate, 2.3).

Aquinas does not believe that reason alone can bring anyone to faith. Salvation is accomplished only by the grace of God. Faith can never be based on reason. At best it can only be supported by reason. Thus, reason and evidence never coerce faith. There is always room for unbelievers not to believe in God, even though a believer can construct a valid proof that God exists. Reason can be used to demonstrate that God exists, but it can never in itself persuade someone to believe in God. Only God can do this, working in and through their free choice.

Sources: Geisler, N. L. (1999). BECA Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books., 725-728.

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Why Apologetics Takes Hard Work!

Apologetics is a branch of Christian theology that helps give reasons for the truthfulness of the Christian faith/worldview. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Pet. 3:15: “But in your hearts acknowledge Messiah as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted Christians. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word, inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard.”

While I know many Christians are engaged in a variety of ministries that are making a difference around the world, I want to demonstrate why apologetics takes hard work. When I mean “hard work,” I mean that many of the objections we hear require lots of research, plenty of of patience and time, and alot of perseverance.

The Internet

First, there is no doubt that the internet is a blessing and a curse. For anyone who is asking questions about the Christian faith or looking for reasons to believe or not to believe, they are just a click away from a You Tube clip, a Wiki article or some other resource that can make them into a skeptic in 20 minutes. Also, it is on the internet where a lot of apologetic discussions are taking place.

So what do apologists need to know? Let me give some examples of some of the common objections that get rehashed every decade:

Historical skepticism: Questions and comments

“I am not sure if Jesus existed”
“ The New Testament authors are biased”
“ We can’t know much of anything in history”
“ History is always written by the winners”
“Jesus’ Followers Fabricated the Stories and Sayings of Jesus”
“The New Testament story of Jesus was borrowed from paganism/mystery religions!
“ There are books that are supposed to be in the Bible that were kept out. Hence, we can’t trust the books we do have in the Bible.”
“The Bible has been translated over and over. We can’t trust it!”
“The Gospels are not written by eyewitnesses.”
“Paul doesn’t discuss the Historical Jesus”
“The genre of the Gospels are historical fiction”
“There are no contemporary sources outside the Bible that mention Jesus.”

Skepticism about the Bible and issues of Interpretation

“I don’t think we can take the Bible literally”
“ I cant accept Genesis if it says the earth is only 6,000 years old”
“ You can’t expect me to accept a book that condones the killing of innocent people (i.e. the Canaanites, etc)”
“ Why does the Bible condone slavery?”
“Why does the Bible say women are supposed to be in submission to men?”
“How can you accept a book as an authority when it says homosexuality is wrong?”

Evolution and Science/Creation conflict

“Evolution has shown we don’t need to posit God as an explanation for the complexity of life”
“ Science has a better track record than religion. We keep looking for answers. Your God arguments are science stoppers!”
“Intelligent Design is bad science and not even science at all”
“ Evolution is fact” (never mind that fact that every time someone says this that they don’t even define what evolution is).

Religious Pluralism Objections

“How can you possibly know which religion is true?”
“How do you know your God is the one true God?”
“ I just think all religions are true and everyone should get along”
“ I think it is arrogant to say one religion is right!”
“ I just prefer to be agnostic about religions. There is no way to know the truth”

Naturalism Objections

“ Why don’t we see miracles today?”
“We can’t know if the miracles happened in the Bible”
“ Given we don’t see men rising from the dead today you can’t expect me to believe a man rose from the dead 2,000 years ago”

God’s existence
“There is no evidence for God”
“I can’t empirically verify the existence of God. Hence, he must not exist”
“I think religion is just psychological phenomena. It is just a function of the brain”
“ There is no proof for the existence of God”
“ I just don’t think we can know if God exists”
” I think there is maybe a force of some kind. He is in everything”
“ I don’t see what difference it would make if God exists. After all, I am a good person”
“If your belief in God provides you comfort and makes you a better moral person that is fine. But it does not mean it is true.”
“If God exists or created the universe, what caused God”
“ I don’t need God to be a moral person”

Common objections about Christians

“Why are Christians so anti-intellectual?”
“Why do Christians only target homosexuality?”
“Why are Christians so weird?”
“Why are Christians so involved in politics?”
“Why do Christians have to force their beliefs on others?”
“I see so many Christians who profess their faith but they don’t live it out at all”

Common Objections about Jesus

“ I love the moral teachings of Jesus but I don’t think he is divine”
“I don’t think the miracles of Jesus are to be taken literally”
“ Jesus never said he was God”
“ I don’t see that difference believing in Jesus would really make in my life. I am a moral person.”
“Jesus was just another failed prophet”

Conclusion: Someone has to do the job!

In another post on my blog, I provide a page with resources to answering these objections. You may look at the list of these objections and be overwhelmed. This is why so many of us that labor in the field of apologetics spend time providing answers/resources for these common objections. Also, apologists have to cross over into a variety of academic disciplines and are responsible for making material that is accessible to the lay person. If you are truly looking for answers, just visit a website likeThe Poached Egg, Apologetics 315Wintery Knight’s Blog, Cold Case Christianity or others. Dig deep! There are answers!

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A Look at Early Christology

Anyone who studies historical method is familiar with what is called historical causation. Historians seek out the causes of a certain events. For example, there is no doubt that historians can observe the effect- the birth of the Jesus movement pre-70 AD. What must be asked is what has better explanatory power for the birth of a early  as well as a very high Christology in a very short time period after Jesus’ resurrection.  As historian Paul Barnett says, “The birth of Christianity and the birth of Christology are inseparable both as to time and essence.” (1)

We must not forget that within Judaism there is a term called “avodah zara” which is defined as the formal recognition or worship as God of an entity that is in fact not God i.e., idolatry. In other words, the acceptance of a non-divine entity as your deity is a form of avodah zara. (2) As of today, traditional or Orthodox Judaism still upholds the position that Jewish people are forbidden to pray and worship anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9).

In light of this issue, one theory is that Jesus’ deity can be attributed to an apotheosis legend. In an apotheosis legend, a human becomes one among many gods. The New Testament seems to show the rejection of an apotheosis category for Jesus given that the early Jewish followers of Jesus refused worship (Acts 14:15) as did angels (Rev. 22:8–9). There are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). To read more about this, see Paul Eddy’s essay called, Was Early Christianity Corrupted by Hellenism?

In their book  The Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy say,

 “During the reign of Pilate and Herod, when Caiaphas was high priest, we find a Jewish movement arising that worships a recent contemporary alongside and in a similar manner as Yahweh-God. To call this development “novel” is a significant understatement. In truth, it constitutes nothing less than a massive paradigm shift in the first century Palestinian Jewish religious worldview.” (3)

The earliest records we have for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s letters.  And 1 Cor. 15:3-8 and 1 Cor. 11:23 along with other, short Christian creeds include II Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4 show that the core  teachings of the Gospel (Jesus died for our sins and rose again) pre-date Paul. Hence, the core of the Gospel was being circulated very early and even before Paul was a believer.

Let’s look at Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

“For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”

Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.

A glance at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 shows that according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord. In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.

For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity. Furthermore, it would have been no problem to confess Jesus as prophet, priest, or king since these offices already existed in the Hebrew Bible. After all, these titles were used for a human being. There was nothing divine about them.

Larry Hurtado  describes the early devotion to Jesus as a “mutation.” (4) One of the primary factors that Hurtado presents for the cause of this “mutation” in the context of Jewish monotheism is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances. Some of the features in the early Jesus devotion are as follows:

First, there are hymns to Jesus ( Col 1:15-20; Phil.2:5-11) which are exalted things about him done in song.

Second, there are prayers to Jesus: we see prayer to Jesus in prayer-like expressions such as “grace and peace” greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters and in the benedictions at the end. Also, the early followers of Jesus are seen “calling upon” the name of Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:14, 21; 22:16;1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13), which is the same pattern that is used in the Hebrew Bible where it refers to “calling upon the Lord” (Gen. 12:8;13:4 ;21:23 ; 26:25; Psalms 99:6;105:1; Joel 2:32). (5)  Allow me to expand on this:

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, Paul says, “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So here is Paul, a staunch Pharisee who was raised to call nobody ‘Lord’ expect the God of Israel. But despite this,  he is asking Jesus the ‘Lord’ to help him.

As Baker”s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes:

“While kyrios was common as a polite, even honorific title for “sir” or “master, “calling Jesus “Lord” to imply divine associations or identity was by no means a convention readily adopted from the Roman world. In Jesus’ more Eastern but militantly monotheistic Jewish milieu, where the title’s application to humans to connote divinity was not only absent but anathema, the title is an eloquent tribute to the astonishing impression he made. It also points to the prerogatives he holds. Since Jesus is Lord, he shares with the Father qualities like deity ( Rom 9:5 ), preexistence ( John 8:58 ), holiness ( Heb 4:15 ), and compassion ( 1 John 4:9 ), to name just a few. He is co-creator ( Col 1:16 ) and co-regent, presiding in power at the Father’s right hand ( Acts 2:33 ; Eph 1:20 ; Heb 1:3 ), where he intercedes for God’s people ( Rom 8:34 ) and from whence, as the Creed states, he will return to judge the living and dead ( 2 Thess 1:7-8 ).” (6)

What about “The Name”?

What is even more significant is the statement in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other NAME under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” 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.  James R. Edwards summarizes the importance of this issue:

“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. 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.” (7)

So 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. Furthermore, as Jean Danielou says:

The beginning of the Christology of the Name are already found in the New Testament. On the one hand Old Testament texts mentioning the Name are frequently quoted in the New Testament. Thus Acts 15:17, quoting Amos 9:12, reads:  ‘All the Gentiles upon my Name is called….’ Paul (Rom 2:24 mentioned Is. 52: 5 ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ The same Epistle quotes Ex. 9:16: ‘that my Name might be published abroad in all the earth’ (Rom. 9:17). ….In these various quotations the Name can in fact only mean Yahweh, but it is hard to see why these texts should have been collected in messianic dossiers unless the Name had appeared to have some relation to Christ. There are, moreover, some passages in which this relationship is explicitly stated. Thus Joel 3:5: ‘Whoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved’ is quoted in Acts 2:21 and 4:12 in a somewhat indeterminate  sense. But the same text is repeated in Rom 10:12,as follows: ‘(Christ) is the same Lord (Kurios) of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever, shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Here the Name is clearly that of Christ;…. (8)

Furthermore, In Acts 7:59-60, Luke records the following about the prayer of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. The word translated “prayed” in the NRSV (as well as the NIV) is a form of “epikaleo,” which literally means to “call on” someone. (9) And when this word is used in religious contexts of appealing to supernatural beings for divine help, “epikaleo” is a technical term for prayer. (10) Stephen is actually seen as entrusting the “Lord Jesus” with his very spirit. The immanent theologian Jaroslav Pelikan said the following about Stephen’s willingness to call upon Jesus as Lord: “For Stephen to commit his spirit to the Lord Jesus when the Lord Jesus himself had committed his spirit to the Father was either an act of blatant idolatry or his acknowledgment of the kurios Iesous [Lord Jesus] as the fitting recipient of the dying prayer of Stephen.(11).

Paul also says the following

Another passage that stands out is 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha.” Maranatha means “Our Lord Come!” Because this liturgical expression was present at the worship gathering for Jesus to come eschatologically, it is evident that this was a plea that was a widely known feature of early Christian worship that started among Aramaic-speaking believers and had also become a part of the prayers among Pauline Christians. Hurtado says, “What is even more significant is that there is nothing in comparison to a corporate invocation to Jesus to any other group related to a Jewish tradition at that time period.” (12)

As I said, one thing that can be observed by the historian is cause and effect. In other words, a historian can observe the effect- the radical shift in the devotional practice of the early Christian community. While the Jesus devotion of the early Christian community is related to the disciples experiences with Jesus before the resurrection, there is no doubt that Hurtado’s comments about Jesus’ messianic work by being raised from the dead certainly lends credence to the fact that He was worthy of their worship and devotion.

The Cause for Jesus Devotion? Paganism, Hellenism, Mystery Religions?

Now I know the skeptic will try to find some naturalistic explanation to explain the “shift” in the devotional practice of these early Jewish believers. As I said, there are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23). To try to say that during the Second Temple period that the early Jewish believers were syncretistic is problematic.  I have discussed these issues elsewhere. I have also written elsewhere that it is doubtful a dead, crucified Messiah wouldn’t jump start the early Christology.

Conclusion

So what has the best explanatory power for birth of Christology? The answer to this question can’t be determined apart from a person’s presuppositions. If one has decided to not rule out any explanation that isn’t naturalistic, then I concur with Hurtado that it is the resurrection itself and the post-resurrection appearances that provides the best hypothesis for the birth of Christology.

Sources:
1. Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005), 8.
2. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, 160-174.
3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 132.
4. Larry Hurtado, One Lord, One God, Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Montheism (Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press. 1988), 100-124.
5. Ibid.

6. ” Robert W. Yarbrough, Jesus Christ, Name and Titles of” This is available online at http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/jesus-christ-name-and-titles-of.html

7. James R. Edwards,  Is Jesus the Only Savior? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 2005.

8. Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, trans. John A. Baker (London,: Darton, Longman&Todd; Philadephia,: Westminster Press, 1964), 149.

9. R. M. Bowman and J.E. Komoszewski, Putting Jesus Back In His Place: The Case For The Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 49.

10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion And Ancient Jewish Monotheism(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 100-124.

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A Look at the Complexity of Jewish Messianism and Whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah

One of the most popular  articles on the JewsNews website is an article called Who exactly is the Jewish Moshiach (Messiah), and why is he so critical to the Jewish people?. While Christians take the time to celebrate the Savior of the world, they tend to forget unless Jesus is the Jewish Messiah of both Israel and the nations, he can’t be the Savior of the world. In other words, they can’t be divorced from each other. As Michael Bird says:

The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163

Anyone who has talked to people from groups like the author of this article or from groups like Jews for Judaism/anti-missionary groups will generally encounter thee kinds of objections that are mentioned in the article.

In response to this article, there is some overlap with this post and my other post called “Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies? After all, if we can’t even define messianic prophecy correctly and provide some tips on approaching the subject, we will never make any progress.

  1. The Messiah is not divine-he is an earthly figure “anointed” to carry out a specific task.
  2. 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.
  3. 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) and create a pathway for universal worship to the God of Israel (Zeph.3:9; Zech.9:16; 14:9).
  4. The Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9; 40:5; 52:8).

 There is some overlap in these expectations and Maimonides view of Messiah: Maimonides was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. Here are some of his messianic expectations:

  1. The Messiah will be a king who arises from the house of David
  2. He helps Israel follow Torah
  3.  He builds the Temple in its place
  4. He gathers the dispersed of Israel

Sadly, this doesn’t represent the entire scope of messianic thought. And it always lead to the “Heads, I win, tails you lose” approach.  In other words, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill any of the messianic prophecies so we have that all settled and we can move on and wait for the true Messiah to come.” As if  it is that simple.

The reality is that we have the same problem Jesus had when he was here. Hence, the Jewish expectations of the kingdom what would come would be (1) visible, (2) all at once, (3) in complete fullness, (4) when God’s enemies would be defeated  and (5) the saints are separated from the ungodly, the former receiving reward and the latter punishment. But  once again, as Beale and Gladd note in their book Hidden, But Now Revealed, the kingdom  that is revealed by Jesus is (1) for the most part invisibly, so that one must have eyes to perceive it (2) in two stages (already- and- not yet), (3), growing over an extended time from one stage to the last stage, (4) God’s opponents are not defeated immediately all together, but the invisible satanic powers are first subjugated and then at the end of time, all foes will be vanquished and judged and (5) saints are not being separated from the ungodly in the beginning stage of the kingdom, but such a separation will occur on the last day, when Jesus’ followers receive their reward and the latter punishment. This topic is also directly related to the topic of the covenants and God’s role with Israel and the nations.

I do want to say that a positive outcome of links like this one and others that discuss why Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus and the common messianic expectations is that it puts Jesus back into a Jewish context which is where he belongs. Many Christians have no context to their faith and know very little about the Jewish background on this topic.  In his book Kingdom Conspiracy (which I just finished), Scot McKnight summarizes what James Dunn says about understanding the importance of Israel. He says;

Dunn says we must begin with the story context: “It will have to be the context of Israel’s memory of its own monarchic past, of Jewish current experience under the kingship of others, and of the hopes of the faithful regarding God’s kingship for the future.”

He begins with three simple observations and then drenches those three points in a powerful display of evidence from Judaism of the various nuances at work at the time of Jesus. His three simple observations are these:

(1) God was King over all the earth (Ps. 103: 19); (2) only Israel acknowledges God’s kingdom, and that means Israel’s king (when they have one) is specially related to God the King; and (3) this universal kingship of God will someday, perhaps soon, expand over the whole earth. The integral features in the big story of Israel are these:

“God is King, Israel is God’s people and as such is God’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom will someday cover the globe. We can say the story has three nonnegotiables: the universal kingship of God, the covenant kingship of God with Israel, and a future universal rule. These three nonnegotiable beliefs in the Old Testament and in the shaping of Judaism’s story are rarely alone and almost never this abstract or theoretical. Instead they flow into very timely and contextualized expressions, and it is here that Dunn advances our discussion. When those three ideas were at work in real ways with real people in real contexts, they wore all sorts of attire, and Dunn lists the different ways this basic story was told in various contexts:

  1. Return from exile
  2. Hope for prosperity, healing, or paradise
  3. The renewal of the covenant
  4. Building a new temple Return of YHWH to Zion Triumph over, destruction of, and sometimes inclusion of gentiles Inheriting and expanding the land
  5. A climactic period of tribulation Cosmic disturbances leading to a new creation
  6. Defeat of Satan
  7. Final judgment
  8. Resurrection Sheol/ Hades morphing into a place of final retribution This list does not come from one Jewish source. Each of the themes has traces or footings in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. Each takes on either emphasis or de-emphasis depending on the author and circumstance. Each can be the entry through which the whole story of Israel can be told. It is not as if there are fourteen elements of the one story that we are called to tally up, making sure each gets represented in each retelling of Israel’s future”(pg 46).

The word “messiah” means “anointed one” and  is derived from verbs that have the general meaning of “to rub something” or, more specifically, “to anoint someone.” The Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed  for a specific purpose such as  priests (Exod 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev. 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; 1 Chron. 11:3; 5:17; 127; 2 Sam 19:11; 1 Kgs 1:34, 39, 45; 5:15;19:15,16; 2 Kgs 9:3, 6,12;11:12; 23:30; 2 Chron. 22:7; 23:11; 29:22; Ps 89:21), and even prophets  (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15). (Stanley Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2007), 38-39).

But notice these figures were all in the present. Hence,  none of these texts speak of a future figure. What we  do see is that  in many cases, the word anointed one, then, was not originally predictive, but descriptive. There are only a few cases where we see the possibility of one who will be a future eschatological figure.  One is in  Daniel 9:25-26 where it speaks of “anointed one” who will ‘finish transgression, put and end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy Place” (Dan. 9:24). One of the most dominant messianic themes is the expectation of a descendant  of King David who will rule Israel during the age of perfection: (Isa. 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezek. 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hos. 3:4-5).

Another is seen in Isa. 45:1 where God “anoints”  the pagan king Cyrus for the task at hand (Is 41:2-4, 45). Yes, even the pagan  king Cyrus was used to restore Israel while the nation was under attack (Is 44:28;45:13). Another text about a messianic figure  is seen in Psalm 2, which speaks of a day in which God will subjugate all the nations to the rule of the Davidic throne. We will discuss this more as we move forward.

Also, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah  comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However, most Jewish people think there is going to be a messianic age. Let me give an example:

The only way to define “the Messiah” is as the king who will rule during what we call the Messianic age. The central criterion for evaluating a Messiah must therefore be a single question: Has the Messianic age come? It is only in terms of this question that “the Messiah” means anything. What, then, does the Bible say about the Messianic age? Here is a brief description by  famous Christian scholar: “The recovery of independence and power, an era of peace and prosperity, of fidelity to God and his law and justice and fair- dealing and brotherly love among men and of personal rectitude and piety” (G.F. Moore, Judaism, II, P 324). If we think about this sentence for just a moment in the light of the history of the last two thousand years, we will begin to see what enormous obstacles must be overcome if we are to believe in the messianic mission of Jesus. If Jesus was the Messiah, why have suffering and evil continued and even increased in the many centuries since his death.” (1)

“The state of the world must prove that the Messiah has come; not a tract. Don’t you think that when the Messiah arrives, it should not be necessary for his identity to be subject to debate – for the world should be so drastically changed for the better that it should be absolutely incontestable! Why should it be necessary to prove him at all? If the Messiah has come, why should anyone have any doubt?” (Rabbi Chaim Richman, available at http://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Remember:  the Jewish Scriptures don’t reveal an explicit, fully disclosed, monolithic “messianic concept.”  To build on the comments stated here, Stanley Porter says:

Intertestamental and New Testament literature suggests that the expectation was all over the map. Some Jewish people did not expect a Messiah. Others thought that the Messiah would be a priestly figure, still others a royal deliverer. Some scholars interpret the evidence to suggest that at least one group of Jewish thinkers believed there would be two messiahs, one priestly and one royal. From what we know we can be certain that the New Testament did not create the idea of the Messiah. But we can also be sure that there was nothing like a commonly agreed delineation of what the Messiah would be like. The latter point means that modern-day Christians who shake their heads about why the Jewish people did not universally recognize the Messiah, considering all the fulfilled prophecy, really do not understand Old Testament literature.-Porter, The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments (McMaster New Testament Studies), 29.

Remember, other names 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. Therefore, to say Jesus is the Messiah is like asking whether he is the Son of Man, Prophet, Branch, etc.

To see more on this topic, see our previous post called Six Messianic Expectations and One Messsiah

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