Answering a Common Question: “I want to learn more about apologetics. How do I get started?”

As someone who has taught apologetics in  both a university and congregational setting, in many cases, I have had Christians ask me for tips on where to begin in learning apologetics. After all, there is no doubt that there are more than enough resources out there. Thus, it can seem overwhelming. In some cases, many Christians just throw their hands in the air and say “Forget it.” I don’t think this needs to happen. So here are a few tips:

#1. You Can’t Learn Everything!

Remember, when it comes to apologetics, you can’t learn everything. In other words, you can’t be an expert on every single topic (e.g., philosophy, ethics,  history, science, cultural apologetics). I think we should have a general understanding of these topics but then specialize in a few areas. For example, I tend to specialize in early Christology, messianic prophecy, cultural objections, the resurrection, worldviews, Jewish objections to Jesus, etc. Now I do love to dip into the science stuff as well. But most of us don’t have time to master every topic. And remember that there will always be questions! I do think the first topic everyone should strive to have to do is to be able to talk about the difference approaches to God’s existence. 

#2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others 

I am well aware that when Christians attempt to learn a new topic such as apologetics, they can tend to compare themselves to others. In other words, it can be quite intimidating to see other Christians who seem to grasp apologetic concepts quickly or for that matter seem to be apologetic geeks. This can lead to hidden insecurities. Remember, there are some Christians who do have a strong calling in the area of apologetics and what they do is for the edification of the Body of Christ. We need to appreciate the diversity in the Body of Christ and realize people have different areas of focus. For example, I know other Christians that focus primarily on issues such as human trafficking, or social justice issues. Yes, these topic matter! But also remember that learning some of the basics of apologetics will  help you to be a more effective witness with others.

#3: Set Short Term and Long Term Goals 

It’s best not overwhelm yourself. Check out Apologetics 315 reading list and resource page here and decide what areas you want to focus on.  Also, there are plenty of apologetic conferences around  the U.S. and elsewhere. Also, there is a national apologetic ministry called Ratio Christi, which has situated apologetic clubs on college campuses. If you are more of a visual learner, check out the DVD resources that are available from Illustra Media, Lee Strobel, Cross Examined, and other places. Also, see my clip here where I give some recommended reading.

#4: Get Out and Do Apologetics

The best way to learn apologetics is by doing it. You can read books and learn the material. But if you aren’t engaging people, you won’t see how well apologetics works in practice. Granted, I have been on a campus for many years and had many discussions with students about these topics. But all of us should be committed to sharing our faith and engaging people on a one on one level. That’s where the rubber meets the road. In my personal experience, many Christians aren’t motivated to defend their faith in the public square because they aren’t challenged.

New Book: Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in Gospels and Acts with Dr. Lydia McGrew.

There is a new book out called  Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in Gospels and Acts with Dr. Lydia McGrew.

An undesigned coincidence is an apparently casual, yet puzzle-like “fit” between two or more texts, and its best explanation is that the authors knew the truth about the events they describe or allude to. Connections of this kind among passages in the Gospels, as well as between Acts and the Pauline epistles, give us reason to believe that these documents came from honest eyewitness sources, people “in the know” about the events they relate. Supported by careful research yet accessibly written, Hidden in Plain View provides solid evidence that all Christians can use to defend the Scriptures and the truth of Christianity.

Lydia spoke about this topic on a recent episode of Cross Examined.

The Challenge of Using Messianic Prophecy in Outreach and Apologetics

Introduction

When I was a new Christian, I read several Christian apologetic books that stated there are over 300 Messianic prophecies that are all fulfilled in Jesus.  At the time I thought this was a convincing evidental apologetic for the truth claims of our  faith. But as the years have gone by, I have realized this approach is not as effective as one might think. Now please let me clarify: I do think there is Messianic  prophecy.  Prophecy was one of the primary ways the apostles spread the faith in the first century. However, I think we need to tweak our approach. I have taught on this subject on several occasions.  In my opinion, here are some helpful tips:

 #1:  Messianic prophecy does matter for the following reasons:

1. The Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be God’s word.  Messianic prophecy has apologetic value in that it confirms the Bible as a true revelation.

2. Over the years I have had plenty of people ask me how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. I agree that using a personal testimony can be effective in that it shows the difference that Jesus makes in the reality of life. There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me share some examples of personal conversations I have had with several people. In a post-modern culture, the  transformed life approach is popular. But it is not the primary way the early apostles reached their audience for the Gospel. The primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracle.

2. Historical Verification: Has God revealed Himself in the course of human history? If so, when and where has He done this?

3.  While prophecy does not prove the existence of God, it does show that unusual events predicted in his Name that come to pass are evidence of his special activity.

4. Fulfilled prophecy is a distinctively accessible and a testable kind of miracle. The prophecy was made and its accuracy cannot be explained either causally (for example, on the ground that it brought about its own fulfillment) or as accidental, and hence that it was probably miraculous (see J.L. Mackie in Swinburne, Miracles, 90).

5. Prophecy is used when God wants to demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking. He uses prophecy by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him.

5. The majority of the Jewish community thinks the Messiah has not come. Is this correct?

The Old Way of Using Messianic Prophecy. Like I said, I used to see Messianic Prophecy Charts. They look like this: 

The following is a list of prophecies in the Jewish scriptures that Jesus fulfilled.

 1. Genesis 3:15…..Seed of a woman (virgin birth)…..Luke 1:35, Matthew 1:18-20
2. Genesis 3:15…..He will bruise Satan’s head…..Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8
3. Genesis 5:24….The bodily ascension to heaven illustrated….Mark 6:19
4. Genesis 9:26-27…The God of Shem will be the Son of Shem…Luke 3:36
5. Genesis 12:3…As Abraham’s seed, will bless all nations…Acts 3:25,26
6. Genesis 12:7…The The Promise made made to Abraham’s Seed…Galatians 3:16
7. Genesis 14:18…A priest after Melchizedek…Hebrews 6:20
8. Genesis 14:18……..A King also……..Hebrews 7:2
9. Genesis 14:18…The Last Supper foreshadowed…Matthew 26:26-29
10.  Genesis 17:19…….The Seed of Isaac…….Romans. 9:7
11.  Genesis 21:12 …Seed of Isaac…Romans 9:7, Hebrews 11:18
12.  Genesis 22:8…The Lamb of God promised…John 1:29
13.  Genesis 22:18…As Isaac’s seed, will bless all nations…Galatians 3:16
14.  Genesis26:2-5..The Seed of Isaac promised as the Redeemer..Hebrews11:18
15.  Genesis 49:10…The time of His coming…Luke 2:1-7; Galatians 4:4
16.  Genesis 49:10…….The Seed of Judah…….Luke 3:33
17.  Genesis 49:10……Called Shiloh or One Sent……John 17:3
18.  Genesis 49:10…To come before Judah lost identity…John 11:47-52
19.  Genesis 49:10…To Him shall the obedience of the people be…John 10:16
20.  Exodus 3:13,14……..The Great “I Am”…….John 4:26
21.  Exodus 12:5…A Lamb without blemish…1 Pet. 1:19
22.  Exodus 12:13…The blood of the Lamb saves Romans wrath…Romans. 5:8
23.  Exodus 12:21-27…Christ is our Passover…1 Corinthians 5;7
24.  Exodus 12:46…Not a bone of the Lamb to be broken…John 19:31-36
25.  Exodus 13:2…Blessing to first born son…Luke 2:23
26.  Exodus 15:2…His exaltation predicted as Yeshua…Acts 7:55,56
27.  Exodus 15:11…His Character-Holiness…Luke 1:35; Acts 4:27
28.  Exodus 17:6…The Spiritual Rock of Israel…1 Corinthians 10;4
29.  Exodus 33:19…His Character-Merciful…Luke 1:72
30.  Leviticus14:11…The leper cleansed-Sign to priesthood..Luke5:12-14; Acts 6:7
31.  Leviticus16:15-17…Prefigures Christ’s once-for-all death…Hebrews 9:7-14
32.  Leviticus16:27…Suffering outside the Camp…Matthew 27:33; Hebrews 13:11, 12
33.  Leviticus17:11…The Blood-the life of the flesh…Matthew 26;28; Mark 10:45
34.  Leviticus17:11…It is the blood that makes atonement…1 John 3:14-18
35.  Leviticus23:36-37…The Drink-offering: “If any man thirst.” ..John 19:31-36
36.  Numbers 9:12…Not a bone of Him broken…John 19:31-36
37.  Numbers 21:9…The serpent on a pole-Christ lifted up…John 3:14-18
38.  Numbers 24:8… Flight to Egypt…Matthew 2:14
39.  Numbers 24:17…Time: “I shall see him, but not now.”…Galatians 4:4
40.  Numbers 24:17-19…A star out of Jacob…Matthew 2:2, Luke 1:33,78, Revelation 22:16
41.  Deuteronomy 18:15…”This is of a truth that prophet.”…John 6:14
42.  Deuteronomy 18:15-16…”Had ye believed Moses, ye would believe me.”…John 5:45-47
43.  Deuteronomy 18:18…Sent by the Father to speak His word…John 8:28, 29
44.  Deuteronomy 18:19…Whoever will not hear must bear his sin…John 12:15
45.  Deuteronomy 21:13-23…As a prophet…John 6:14; 7:40, Acts 3:22,23
46.  Deuteronomy 21:23…Cursed is he that hangs on a tree…Galatians 3:10-13
47.  Ruth 4:4-9…Christ, our kinsman, has redeemed us…Ephesians 1:3-7
48.  1 Samuel 2:10…Shall be an anointed King to the Lord…Matthew 28:18; John 12:15
49.  2 Samuel 7:12…David’s Seed…Matthew 1:1
50.  2 Samuel 7:14a…The Son of God… Luke 1:32
So what is the problem with this approach? 

1 It doesn’t look at passages in the immediate context.

2. It sometimes doesn’t take into account the original audience that the prophecy or passage was written to.

3. Some of the passages aren’t really prophecies.

4. It also tends to not take the original languages into account. We have to interpret the passage correctly before assuming it is a prophecy.

In my opinion, here are some helpful tips in interpreting prophecy. The following info was adapted from the book above- Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Vol. 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections: Dr. Michael L. Brown.

1. Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such: Whether or not certain passages are clearly Messianic depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader. What do they believe the Messiah is supposed to do? If a traditional Jewish person says the Messiah cannot suffer and die, how would we expect them to interpret the Messianic passages? For example, if someone believes that the Messiah will be a king and bring peace to the earth, he will probably interpret Isaiah 11 as a Messianic prophecy but he will not interpret Isaiah 53 in a Messianic way because it does not fit his preconceived notion of what the Messiah will do.

2. The Messianic hope in Israel developed gradually: This explains why Messianic texts were not clearly identified as such: They were not initially understood as referring to the Messiah. The Hebrew word for Messiah (mashiach) which literally means “anointed one” almost never refers to the Messiah in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it refers to the anointed king, like Saul or David, the high priest (Aaron), or even an “anointed” ruler such as Cyrus.

3. Many of the prophecies are fulfilled gradually: This applies to all type of prophecy, whether Messianic or not. An example of this is in Ezekiel. Ezekiel, living in the Babylon exile prophesized that his people would return from their captivity. Their fulfillment began in 538 B.C.E. when the first group of exiles returned to Judah; it has continued in the 20th century with the return of the Jewish people to the Land; and it will reach its fulfillment when Jesus comes back and gathers his scattered people from every corner of the globe. Over twenty-five hundred years and this prophecy is still being fulfilled! In Zechariah 9:9-10, Zechariah says, when Israel’s king comes, he will be righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. If you show a rabbi this passage, they will say Jesus does not fulfill it! How would we respond? The text is currently being fulfilled. It is the ongoing process of fully coming to pass: Jesus came as the prophet foretold, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey”; every day the number of individuals over whom he reigns as king continues to increase countless millions from every country; and in the future when he returns, he will completely establish his rule.

4. The prophets saw the Messiah coming on the immediate horizon in history: Have you ever looked on top of a mountain and looked across to another mountain peak? The mountains appear to be next to each other, even though there is a huge hole in between. The prophets saw the future through a telescope. Things far away in time appeared close. It is the same with biblical prophecy. The prophets did not realize that centuries would come and go between their initial prediction and its actual fulfillment. In fact, to the prophets, the expression “at the end of days” could have meant “right around the corner”! In Isaiah 9:1-7- it discusses the prediction that the yoke of the enemy, Assyria, would be broken by the son of David who was already born. And this son of David would have an everlasting kingdom of peace. When was Assyria crushed? 2,600 yrs ago. Who was born shortly before that time? Hezekiah. Did he fulfill the prophecy? No! But the prophet saw the coming of the future Davidic ruler as if it were about to happen in his very own day.

5. Read the Messianic prophecy in its overall context in Scripture: In relation to Isaiah 7:14, does Matthew take the Isaiah passage out of context? How can Matthew apply a sign given to King Ahaz in about 734 B.C to the birth of Jesus 700 years later? Consider the context of Isaiah Ch 7-11. Judah was being attacked by Israel and Aram. These nations wanted to replace Ahaz, who represented the house of David with their own man named Ben Tabeel. This would mean the end of Davidic rule in Judah. Yet when Ahaz would not ask God for a sign, God gave him his own: A child named Immanuel, meaning (God with us), would be born, and within a few years, before the child was very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed.

Who was this Immanuel? The child was to be born to the house of David in place of faithless Ahaz. The child would be a token of the fact that God was with his people. But is this Immanuel’s birth ever mentioned in the Book of Isaiah? No! In fact, the birth of Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal- Hash- Baz in Isaiah 8:1-4 seems to take its place as a time setter (read Isaiah 7:14-16 and 8:3-4 before Maher-Shalal- Hash-Baz would be very old, Judah’s enemies would be destroyed-just what was said about Immanuel. What happened to Immanuel? Nothing is clearly said. But what is clearly said in Isaiah 9:6-7 and 11:1-16 is that there will come forth a rod from Jesse who will rule the nations in righteousness. This is Matthew’s context! He was reading Isaiah 7-11 in full! He quotes Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 9:1-2 in Matthew 4:15-16, and he alludes to Isaiah 11:1 in Mathew 2:23- the Hebrew word for “Nazarene” resembles the Hebrew word for “Branch.” Was anyone born in Isaiah’s day that began to fulfill the Immanuel prophecy? We simply do not know. But of this we can be sure: Jesus the ideal King from the house of David, and clearly the subject of the Messianic texts in Isaiah 9- 11, is Immanuel- God with us- in the fullest sense of the word.

6. The Messiah was to be both Priest and King: The Messiah’s priestly work is seen in Psalm 110:1-4. Also, in the context of Zechariah 6- the crown placed on the head of the high priest named Joshua who is then referred to as the “Branch” which is a Messianic title. The Messiah has a dual role- as a priest he would provide atonement and make intercession for the people. As a King, he would rule and reign! The Messiah is to be the ideal representative if his people: In ancient Israel, the king and his people were one. The people of Israel saw themselves represented in their head. How does this apply to Jesus? The nation of Israel and Jesus spent their early years in Egypt. Also, since the Messiah was the ideal representative of the people, he fulfills the words of the Psalms. Jesus is the ideal sufferer for the nation the representative King, the one greater than David.

Also, see our post called Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

Handling an Objection: “Jesus is Just One of Several Messianic Figures in the First Century”

Over the years, I have heard the objection that Jesus is just one many messianic figures in the first century. In this objection, it is assumed that there is nothing unique about Jesus. In other words, He is just another messianic figure that challenged the political powers of his day.

Quite frankly, the statement, “Jesus is just one of several messianic figures in the first century” is not only patently false but also a gross oversimplification. Just because someone leads a messianic revolt does not qualify them as “the Messiah” (notice the capital “M”).

There is a significant comment made in Acts 5: 33-39, by Gamaliel I, who was a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin:

But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

It can be observed that Gamaliel was aware that there had been other Jewish revolts that featured a messianic element. Unfortunately, these revolts had all failed. Even the Jewish historian Josephus mentioned that Judas of Galilee had rebelled against Quirinus’s census and ended in defeat. (Antiquities 18: 1)

Josephus lists 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) (1)

Michael Bird’s excellent book Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, has some insight about this issue as well. Bird says: 

“It is historically naive to depict first-century Palestine as ravaged with continual uprisings and to posit some Roman occupying forces as having to put down one messianic pretender after another. Alternatively, it is equally reductionistic to suppose that many of the tumultuous events of the first century were untouched by messianism. The death of Herod the Great led to several uprisings; although things cooled for a while, in the period 4 BCE to 66 CE, there were many socioreligious movements at the time of the procurators that show expectation and hope for God’s miraculous interventions and gradually a spirit of zealotry beginning to emerge. I doubt that we have to wait as long as Simon ben Kosiba in 135 CE to find another messianic leader after the death of Jesus. The following lists indicate messianic expectations that are explicitly titular or implicitly messianic.”-Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, pgs 47-49.

Bird goes onto list the expectations using the title “Messiah.” Notice that Bird knows  in order to understand messianism, we need to read the Bible but also read extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, The Dead Sea Scrolls,  and the Targumim, etc, (see Craig A Evans: “Introduction” to Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature).

Messiah of Aaron and Israel” (CD 12.23–13.1; 14.19; 19.10–11; 20.1; 1QS 9.11)

Messiah of Israel” (1QSa 2.12, 14, 20)

Messiah of righteousness” (4Q252 frg. 1 5.3–4)

Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah” (4Q521 2.1)

Their king shall be the Lord’s Messiah” (Pss. Sol. 17.32; cf. 18.7)

May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy and blessing for the appointed day when his Messiah will reign” (Pss. Sol. 18.5)

Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah” (1 En. 48.10)

authority of the Messiah” (1 En. 52.4)

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him” (4 Ezra 7.28) “

This is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the offspring of David” (4 Ezra 12.32) “The Messiah will begin to be revealed” (2 Bar. 29.3) “when the time of the appearance of the Messiah has been fulfilled” (2 Bar. 30.1) “the kingship of the house of David, thy righteous Messiah” (Shemoneh ‘Esreh 14)

Son of Man: (Dan. 7:13–14; 1 En. 46.1–5; 48.2; 62.1–15; 63.11; 69.27–29; 71.14–17; 4 Ezra 13.1–13, 25–26; Justin Martyr, Dial. 31–32)

Man/Ruler: (Philo, Rewards 95; Num. 24:7, 17 LXX) Rod (CD 7.19–20; Justin Martyr, Dial. 100, 126) Prince (Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; Dan. 9:25–26; CD 7.20; 1QSb 5.20; 1QM 3.16; 5.1; 4Q285 frgs. 4–6; Jub. 31.18; Sib. Or. 3.49–50)

Branch of David: (4Q161 frgs. 8–10.15, 22; 4Q252 5.3; 4Q285 frg. 5.3–4; T. Jud 24.4–6) Scepter (1QSb 5.27–28; 4Q161 frgs. 2–4 2.9–13; frgs. 5–6 3.17; frgs. 8–10, 22–26; 4Q252 5.2)

Son of God :(4Q246 1.9; 2.1; Mark 15:39)

Elect/Chosen One (1 En. 39.6; 40.5; 45.3; 48.6; 49.2, 4; 51.3, 5; 52.6, 9; 53.6; 55.4; 61.5, 8, 10; 62.1; Apoc. Abr. 31.1)

King (Mark 15.32 and par.; Sib. Or. 3.286–87, 652) Snow-white cow/horned ram (1 En. 90.9–12, 37–38) Star (T. Levi 18.3; T. Jud. 24.1; Sib. Or. 5.158–60)

Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1; 1 En. 38.2; 53.6)

Historical figures referred to as “Messiah”:

Jesus of Nazareth

Simon ben Kosiba

Implicitly messianic historical figures not referred to as “Messiah”:

Judas the Galilean Simon the servant of Herod

Athronges Menahem Simon bar Giora- 

Out of the all the messianic movements within Judaism, I will mention some that I believe are rather significant.

Simon bar Giora of Geresa (as mentioned above)

As just mentioned, according to Josephus, Simon led a rebellion against the Romans in the spring of 69 C.E. (J.W. 4.9.12 §577). Among the leaders of the rebellion “Simon in particular was regarded with reverence and awe . . . each was quite prepared to take his very own life had he given the order” (J.W. 5.7.3 §309). Finally defeated and for a time in hiding, Simon, dressed in white tunics and a purple mantle, made a dramatic appearance before the Romans on the very spot where the Temple had stood (J.W. 7.1.2 §29). He was placed in chains (J.W. 7.2.2 §36), sent to Italy (J.W. 7.5.3 §118), put on display as part of the victory celebration in Rome (J.W. 7.5.6 §154), and was finally executed (J.W. 7.5.6 §155). (2)

Simon ben Kosiba (as mentioned above)

It is still disputed whether Simon ben Kosiba ever made an open proclamation to be the real Messiah who would take over Rome and enable the Jewish people to regain their self-rule (A.D. 132-135). Even a prominent rabbi called Rabbi Akiba affirmed him as the Messiah. Justin Martyr even noted that ben Kosiba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6) Unfortunately, the revolt led by  ben Kosiba failed and as a result and both he and rabbi Akiba were slain. Even though it is said that Rabbi Akiba hailed Bar Kokhba as the Messiah, (cf. y. Ta‘an. 4:5), the slaying of ben Kosiba had nothing to do with any accusation of blasphemy. He did not make the same messianic claims of Jesus by asserting His authority to be the Son of Man, nor did he ever claim to have the authority to forgive sins. 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. The war ended in 135 CE. Simon was subsequently remembered as Simon ben-Kozebah (“son of the lie”). (3)

Sabbatai Sevi

Another messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi. Sevi was a seventeenth-century Jewish teacher who claimed to be the Messiah and was heralded by a contemporary named Nathan. It is said after Sevi’s death in 1676 that his brother found his tomb empty but full of light. If anything, the Sevi story sounds like it was borrowed from the resurrection story about Jesus. The Sevi story has little historical backing. In contrast to the resurrection claim of Sevi, in the case of Jesus, there are multiple eyewitness appearances after his resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15). What is more ironic is that Sevi later left the Jewish faith for Islam.


Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Within Judaism, there is a sect called Hasidic Judaism. Within Hasidic Judaism, there are leaders who are called a “tzaddik” which is Hebrew for “righteous men.” A tzaddik is sometimes viewed as a Rebbe which means master or teacher. By the way, in the book of Acts, it was during Stephen’s famous speech that he refers to Jesus as a tzaddik : “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

Such an example of a present day tzaddik was seen in Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1951-1994), the leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidim. Some of the followers of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson think He is the Messiah and that He will come back from the dead (Schneerson died in 1994). Some in the Lubavitcher movement have even asserted that Isaiah 53 can be used as a proof text that the Messiah will rise from the dead. Of course, this has led to great controversy. Some in the Orthodox community have complained that the attempt to portray Schneerson as one who will rise from the dead and return a second time has too much in common with the Christian claim about Jesus.

Hence, in light of all the varied messianic expectations and given the failure of messianic revolts, the Christian can echo the comments by scholar C. F.D., Moule in his book, The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Moule affirmed that the actual existence of the Nazarenes, which is an event, called for an explanation. Moule went onto say that the phenomenon was brought about by ‘a most powerful and original mind and a tremendous confirmatory event.’

In their book 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.” (4)

Sources:
1. Arthur Zannoni, Jews and Christians Speak of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.1994, 113-114.
2. Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings And New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.1992), 239.
3. Ibid, 244-245.
4. 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.

 

The Revenge of Conscience: What Happens When We Tell Ourselves Lies? J. Budziszewski at WSU

Here is a lecture by  Professor Jay Budziszewski which is based on his book called The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man. In this book he  shows how man’s suppression of his knowledge of right and wrong corrupts his conscience and accelerates social collapse. The depraved conscience grasps at the illusion of “moral neutrality” the absurd notion that men live together without a shared understanding of how things are. After evaluating the political devices, including the American Constitution, by which men have tried in the past to work around the effects of Original Sin, Dr. Budziszewski elucidates the pitfalls of contemporary communitarianism, liberalism, and conservatism.

Here is an article from a ways back by on the same topic. 

We should not confuse (knowledge) of morality with the basis for morality (ontology). The issue with objective morality is centered on the ontology issue. Theists are not saying that the non-theist doesn’t have moral knowledge.

Every ethical system must answer the “How” question. What justification do we have for knowing what is right? What is the justification for our moral knowledge?

From the Christian perspective, since all humans are God’s image-bearers, it isn’t surprising that they are capable of recognizing or KNOWING the same sorts of moral values—whether theists or not. Now I know you may be saying you are begging the question that God exists. But there are enough posts/articles on this website that deal with that issue.

Where does the knowing come from? How is that all humans have moral knowledge? One answer is called Natural Law Theory. Natural Law Theory doesn’t appeal to special revelation such as the Bible. This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge. It is instantaneously apprehended. Natural law theorist Jay Budziszewski points out the following:

1. Basic moral principles are discovered, not invented, and persons with a decently functioning conscience can get a lot of moral things right. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, law codes across civilizations and through¬out history (Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Native American, and so on) reveal a continual resurfacing of the same basic moral standards—do not murder, break promises, take another’s property, or defraud- see The Abolition of Man

2. When we are talking to people about natural law, we are not teaching people what they have no clue about, but bringing to the surface the latent moral knowledge or suppressed moral knowledge that they have already.

3. The non-theist says “We can be moral without God” Remember, the foundational principles of the natural law are not only right for all, but at some level known to all. This means that non-Christians know them too—even atheists. It does not follow from this that belief in God has nothing to do with the matter. The atheist has a conscience; atheists know as well as theists do that they ought not steal, ought not murder, and so on. The issue is what worldview makes the most sense of conscience. (1)

Paul also speaks about natural law when he states, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 2:12-15).

A quick glance at Amos 1& 2 reveals that God threatens judgment upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel. But notice that since none of these nations were the same as the nation of Israel, God still held them accountable by a different standard. They did not have the Torah. But God knew they violated a moral law that they knew and should have obeyed. And that standard is what Paul talks about it Rom. 2:12-15.

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. This type of natural revelation is called intuitive knowledge.

Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality. The Hebrew word for the conscience is “lebad,” which is usually translated as the “heart” in the Hebrew Bible. The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person. In the Hebrew Bible, not only is “heart” used to describe as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, but it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the heart is the psychic center of human affection or the source of spiritual life and the seat of intellect and will. (2)

So if the Bible says that Gentiles already know God already through the created order and the conscience, why is it so hard for people to find their way to God? Paul says in Romans 1:18 that natural revelation can be suppressed, which means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,” to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.”

We also see the conscience can be ignored in Scripture: When Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15), Pharaoh steeled his conscience against God’s will. A tender heart (2 Chronicles 34:27), refers to a sensitive conscience. The upright in heart (Psalm 7:10), are those with pure consciences. When David prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, (Psalm 51:10), he was seeking to have his conscience cleansed. (3)

The conscience can become dull, or seared (1 Tim. 4:2). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sadly, a hardened heart can make someone less sensitive to the things of God. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit. Or sometimes people don’t want the rule of Christ in their lives. Although Paul had once been a murderer, God had cleansed his conscience (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Paul also speaks of a clear conscience in 2 Tim. 1:1-3.

Of course, our conscience is informed or trained by proper instruction. This is one function of the Scriptures and parents, teachers, and so on. These are given us to train us, to inform our conscience, and to apply God’s law to our life. (4) We are living in a world where we are clearly seeing that the conscience is being ignored. The world around us can desensitize our conscience towards the things of God. What is the answer to having a cleansed conscience? Repentance!

Natural Law Theory is just one theory that accounts for the justification for how humans have moral knowledge.

Sources:
1. See Budziszewski, J. What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2004.
2. Sire, J. Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. Downers Grove: IL: Intervarsity Press. 2004, 45.
3. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing, 1994, 36-37.
4. Ibid.

Two New Resources on the Genre of the Gospels

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). There is still an overall skepticism towards them that permeates the culture and college campuses. I have found that many skeptics have never stopped and asked the question, “What Are The Gospels?” Historian and theologian Paul Barnett has made some helpful comments here on this topic.
He says:

“In attempting to identify the gospels in terms of existing literary genres, it is not always recognized, as it should be, that Mark alone calls his book by that name. Furthermore, the four canonical gospels differ from each other in both character and intention. Mark wrote his text to be read aloud in church meetings (Mark 13:14) to demonstrate that Jesus was the awesome Son of Man who disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared. Luke wrote his two-volume “narrative” to confirm catechumens like Theophilus in the truth in which he had been instructed (Luke 1:1-4). Matthew wrote his gospel as a manual for the instruction of disciples, based on the collected teachings of the Christ (Matt 28:19). John wrote his book with special interest in Jesus’ miracle signs and lengthy pastoral and polemical discourse. The character and intention of each gospel are different. Luke and Matthew felt that Mark’s gospel was inadequate, so they adapted it and added other material to suit their purposes. John wrote his “book” to reassure his Christian hearers that Jesus was truly the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Clearly each gospel is biographical in character and bears some similarities to the Greco-Roman bioi of that general era, e.g., Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.56 Nonetheless, the gospels are unusual if not unique because their intended readership and purpose are so exclusively defined. Whereas the contemporary biographers and historians wrote to inform everyone in general and no one in particular, the gospelers wrote their texts narrowly and specifically for Christians for “in-house” use. Accordingly, attempts to classify the gospels according to this genre or that should be regarded as secondary. The primary observation should be to recognize their unique intended audience as church-directed and their function as ecclesial-liturgical (Mark), polemical-apologetic (John), and instructional (Matthew, Luke-Acts). Mark is a special case. The writer’s explicit direction to the lector to explain the meaning of an obscure text (Mark 13:14) and the many implied side comments to those present (e.g., 7:11,19;13:37; 15:21) identify this text as designed to be read aloud in a church meeting. Mark must be classified alongside the letters of Paul and the Apocalypse as a text the author specifically wrote for an aural purpose in a liturgical, ecclesial setting. That was also likely true of Matthew, Luke-Acts, and John. The gospels claim another dimension as well, the supranatural. That is to say, the gospels are existentially the word of the risen and ascended Kyrios that are read aloud to his assembled people (cf. Mark 13:14 – “Let the lector explain”). Mark’s opening words indicate that what follows is “the gospel of (i.e., from) Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that is to say, his word to his hearers in the churches. The man Mark is merely the human cipher through whom the words of the risen Lord come to his people. Using different language, John asserts that the “book” he writes is a “true … witness” to Christ’s “signs” for his hearers to safely “believe” for immediate entry to “eternal life” (John 20:30-31; 19:35; cf. 21:24). Does the supranatural character of Mark suggest that his gospel is a historical, in fact mythical in character? No. Mark roots his narrative in the soil of geography (e.g., Nazareth, Capernaum, Gennesaret, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon, the Decapolis, Caesarea Philippi, Jerusalem) and (as noted) in the context of John the Baptist and of known political leaders (Herod the king [actually, tetrarch], the high priest, Pontius Pilate). Jesus’ movements as fugitive from the ruler of Galilee (chapters 6-9) are consistent with one avoiding the borders of Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Mark’s gospel is the word of the living Christ to the churches and a work that is both historical and geographical. We offer two observations about the genre of the gospels. First, their special readership (church groups) and purpose liturgical/polemical/apologetic/instructional) make it difficult to classify them alongside other contemporary texts. Second, insofar as they are able to be classified, they belong to the broad group of biographies (bioi). In short, they are ecclesial documents that are biographical and historical in character. For both Mark and John their words are supranaturally true. Yet at the same time they must also be historically true. If they are not historically true, they cannot be supranaturally true.”- Finding the Historical Christ (After Jesus) by Paul Barnett

For more on this topic, see our post A Closer Look at the Genre of the Gospels: Ancient and Modern Historiography: What are the Gospels?

The good news is that there have been two new excellent sources that discuss the genre of the Gospels. The first is Craig Keener’s Biographies and Jesus: What Does It Mean for the Gospels to Be Biographies?

The second is Michael Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography

Enjoy!

The Supposed Warfare Between Christianity and Science

Thanks to the wonderful resource Christian Apologetics Alliance for this resource.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics, chapter five, “Distortions of the Christian Worldview—Or the God I Don’t Believe In”.  It is posted with Dr. Groothuis’ gracious permission.  The pic is taken by friend Sarah Geis.

Photo credit: Sarah Geis

The Supposed Warfare Between Christianity and Science

Many object to Christianity on the basis that it is hostile to scientific progress.  Much has been made of the alleged “warfare between science and religion,” as if the forces of retrenchment and obscurantism (religion) were always hurling their ideological ordnance against the forces of reason, experimentation, and enlightenment (science).[1] This caricature has been kept alive by Richard Dawkins in his best-selling book, The God Delusion (2006). On this account, Christianity is reactionary and anti-science. But, on the other hand, if Christianity has contributed significantly to scientific betterment, then this would be of positive apologetic value.[2]

The relationship between Christianity and science is extensive and multifaceted. We will look at two areas of Christian response to science. The first response is historical: How has Christianity related to scientific discovery? The second is philosophical and theological: How does the Christian worldview address the nature of the universe and matters of scientific discovery?

The historical record is not one of unmitigated hostility of the church against science, resulting in science always claiming victory over benighted theological assertions. On the contrary, the Christian understanding of nature often inspired scientific research. As part of a long and fascinating research project concerning the relationship of Christian monotheism to Western history, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the medieval Christian worldview provided a wellspring of intellectual resources for the development of science, technology, and commerce. He argues that the later achievements of the Scientific Revolution were not the results of “an eruption of secular thinking,” but were rather “the culmination of many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained by that uniquely Christian twelfth-century invention, the university.”[3] This development was rooted in the Christian belief that nature is rationally knowable and should be investigated and used for the common good and the glory of God.

Science only reached its glories in the Christian west during the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when new discoveries were made in physics, astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences. This was due in part to the rejection of some of the inherited Roman Catholic ideas of nature held by the Church on the basis of its adoption of Aristotelian philosophy. For example, Francis Bacon and Blaise Pascal (both Christians) rejected certain a priori accounts of nature (strongly influenced by Aristotelianism) for a more experimental/empirical approach. Bacon developed an inductive approach to science (although he engaged in few experiments) and Pascal performed significant experiments concerning the vacuum, the behavior of fluids, and so on.[4] Other seminal scientific figures such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo held to a theistic worldview which encouraged the study and development of creation.[5] They did not view the Bible as inhibiting science, but as being compatible with the best investigations of nature.

Despite this record of harmony between religious commitment and scientific aspiration, there has been discord as well—although not to the degree that is usually assumed. Two examples of this discord were Galileo’s conflict with the Roman Catholic authorities and the infamous Huxley-Wilberforce debate over Darwinism. These icons of church-science warfare need to be knocked off the secularists’ trophy shelf.

Galileo, as noted, was a confessing Christian who discerned no discord between the Bible and natural science. He famously stated that the Scriptures tell us how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go. By this, he meant that Scripture should not be pressed beyond what it was intended to communicate. He was not denying the truth of the Bible, but rather its misinterpretation. Galileo built on the Copernican heliocentric theory and confirmed it through telescopic observation. The church objected to Galileo’s theory more on the basis of their commitment to Aristotelian principles concerning nature than on a conflict between the Bible and new scientific findings. Further, Galileo was rather intemperate in his opinions and thereby left himself open to censure. He was placed under house arrest, but was not tortured or imprisoned in any cruel manner. Galileo’s mistreatment was certainly indefensible, but the whole sorry episode fails to represent any incorrigible conflict between the Bible and scientific progress.[6]

We will discuss Darwinism in detail in later chapters. However, one event is often invoked to demonstrate the futility of criticizing the essentials of Darwinism: the debate between Thomas Huxley (known as “Darwin’s bulldog”) and Samuel Wilberforce, an Anglican bishop. Occurring shortly after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the debate came to be characterized as a rout for Huxley, who exposed the benighted clergyman as a buffoon through an especially apt one-liner. But the reality was quite different. The event caused very little controversy at the time, and was not written up in local papers until some time later. There was no consensus that Huxley was the victor. Wilberforce, who is usually dubbed as opposing Darwin for theological reasons alone, in fact, marshaled a scientific critique of his theory based on a previously written fifty page article. Far from forever banishing rational criticism of Darwinism, this debate revealed two capable intellects sparring over a very significant topic.

Having briefly looked at historical matters, we need to consider in more detail the intellectual reasons why the Christian worldview encouraged science in the middle ages and especially in the Scientific Revolution. The rise of science in the West is unique in world history. As Stark says:

Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece     and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy    develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate     systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy. Why?[7]

The answer lies in the Christian West’s view of God, creation, and humanity. Unlike cultures elsewhere, “Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done.”[8] Philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead noted in Science and the Modern World that the medievalists insisted on “the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality.”[9]

The deities of other religions (outside of monotheism) were irrational and impersonal, and could not serve as the foundation for belief in an orderly and knowable creation. Lacking any creation of creation, these other cultures could only posit a universe that is, according to Stark, “a supreme mystery, inconsistent, unpredictable, and arbitrary. For those holding these religious premises, the path to wisdom is through meditation into mystical insights and there is no occasion to celebrate reason.”[10] But Christianity, on the contrary, “depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.”[11]

Although Islam affirms a doctrine of creation, its views of God and humanity are far different from Christianity. The God of Islam is an unknowable commander and humans are Allah’s slaves, not made in his image. Creation is controlled moment-by-moment by God’s arbitrary will, such that laws and processes cannot be discerned. Basic scientific theories are not discoverable, since they depend on natural regularities.[12] According to eminent historian and philosopher of science, Stanley Jaki Islamic thinkers –having assimilated Aristotle nearly wholesale—did not have a conception of God “adequately rational to inspire an effective distaste for various types of pantheistic, cyclic, animistic, and magical world pictures which freely made their way into the Rasa’l [an early Islamic encyclopedia of knowledge].”[13] While Christian thinkers believed in miracles, they deemed them as rare and as not interfering with the basic patterns of the natural order established by God himself.[14]

Kenneth Samples has aptly summarized ten ways in which Christian belief creates a hospitable environment for scientific inquiry.[15]

  1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).
  2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).
  3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially and sustains them.
  4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8).
  5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1).  Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.[16]
  6. Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.
  7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.
  8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the kind of patterns God laid down in creation.
  9. God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).
  10. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17).[17]
While Christianity and science have had their scuffles, there is nothing inherent in the Christian worldview that is inimical to science rightly understood.  We will take the relationship of Christianity and science (particularly Darwinism) in more detail in several later chapters.

[1] Andrew D. White, The Warfare of Science and Religion (orig. pub. 1895; New York: George Braziller, 1955).

[2] See the apologetic criterion concerning human betterment in the chapter “Apologetic Method.”

[3] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 12.

[4] For a brief account of Pascal’s philosophy of science, see Douglas Groothuis, On Pascal (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003). Bacon and Pascal were key players in the Scientific Revolution, but held different understandings of nature. Bacon was far more optimistic about human progress through science than was Pascal. See Douglas Groothuis, “Bacon and Pascal on Mastery Over Nature,” Research in Philosophy and Technology 14 (1994).

[5] Not all these thinkers held to an orthodox Christian view. Newton may have been an Arian. Nevertheless, they were religious people who held a theistic worldview and who did not deem science as antithetical to religious convictions.

[6] See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 163-166.

[7] Stark, The Victory of Reason, 14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alfred North Whitehead, Science in the Modern World.

[10] Stark, Victory of Reason,15.

[11] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, 147.

[12] Ibid., 154-155.

[13] Stanely Jaki, The Savior of Science in Stark, Glory, 155-156.

[14] I will explain more of the biblical understanding and defense of miracle in an upcoming chapter.

[15] I have modified them somewhat, but within the spirit of what he wrote.

[16] On the significance and depth of the creation mandate, see Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976), chapter one.

[17] On the presuppositions of science, see also J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 198-201

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