Is Chance a Cause?

One day while I was out doing outreach on a major college campus, an atheist lamented to me that he tends to get quite frustrated when he begins to probe deeper as to why Christians think there is a God. He said to me one of the most common reasons many theists say there is a God is because everything is just too “complex.” For the atheist, this is quite vague. And sadly, while Christians do use this argument, they don’t do the best job of elaborating as to what they mean when they appeal to the complexity argument. I went ahead and offered a more detailed argument to the atheist as to what it means to use the word “complexity” so that he could grasp what many Christians are attempting to say. So I will repeat what I said to him here.

Complexity is a form of probability and in most cases what Christians are saying is that the probability level is very low that the entire universe, the earth, and how life got going could have happened by chance. However, chance is another word that gets a bit lost in the discussion as well. Chance in itself is not a real cause: I might say the odds of me winning the lottery are very low and I may attempt to come up with some mathematical probability of it happening.  But it is not chance that caused me to win or not win the lottery.  I think what Christians really mean to say is the following:

  1. A specific object, or event has to be the result of a Being with the ability to plan ahead and thinks with an end goal in mind.
  2. A specific object or event can’t be the result of unguided natural processes.
  3. A specific object or event can’t be the result of chance/coincidence.

I was recently reading the book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It, by author Bruce Sheiman. In this book, he gives a general outline from atheism as to how we came to the place of human life.

Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+ luck X 3.5 billion yrs. The laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental randomness); and humans evolved by more improbable occurrences.

It is common for skeptics like Richard Dawkins to appeal to “chance” in the history of life scenarios. This is very problematic and here’s why: Generally speaking, two usages are commonly confused when speaking about chance: It can viewed as a mathematical probability or as a real cause. To view chance as having some sort of causal power is very problematic. Let me expand a little further on what I previously said.

If I roll a dice the chances are one in six that the number six will come out on top. The odds are one in thirty-six that two dice will both come up six and one in 216 that three sixes will be thrown on three dice. These are abstract mathematical probabilities. But it is not chance that caused those three dice to turn up sixes. Instead, it was the force of throwing them, their starting position in the hand, the angle of the toss, how they deflected off objects in their way, and other results of inertia. Chance had nothing to do with it. R.C. Sproul gives us a few things to ponder:

1. Chance is not an entity
2. Nonentities have no power because they have no being
3. To say that something happens or is caused by chance is to suggest attributing instrumental power to nothing. (1)

In the end, I think it is imperative to define the word “chance” in these discussions. The theist is often accused of the “God of the gaps” fallacy. But in the end, skeptics don’t fair much better with the “chance of the gaps” fallacy. A final quote will do:

“Scientists rightly resist invoking the supernatural in scientific explanations for fear of committing a god-of-the-gaps fallacy (the fallacy of using God as a stop-gap for ignorance). Yet without some restriction on the use of chance, scientists are in danger of committing a logically equivalent fallacy-one we may call the ‘chance-of-the-gaps fallacy.’ Chance, like God, can become a stop-gap for ignorance.”

—William Dembski

For more on this see the following book which is available as online pdf. 

Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events by [Poythress, Vern S.]

1.See R.C. Sproul, Not A Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994); cited in Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999),125-126

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A Look at the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus

When it comes to the formation of the early Jesus movement, 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7  is a crucial element to the proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) One key in examining the early sources for the life of Christ is to take into account the Jewish culture in which they were birthed. As Paul Barnett notes, “The milieu of early Christianity in which Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written was ‘rabbinic.’” (2)

Paul’s usage of the rabbinic terminology “passed on” and “received” is seen in the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

The word “received” παραλαμβάνω (a rabbinical term) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

Bauckham notes in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony that the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), does not have forensic meaning, and in that sense the English word “eyewitnesses” with its suggestion of a metaphor from the law courts, is a little misleading. The autoptai are simply firsthand observers of those events. Bauckham has followed the work of Samuel Byrskog in arguing that while the Gospels though in some ways are a very distinctive form of historiography, they share broadly in the attitude to eyewitness testimony that was common among historians in the Greco-Roman period. These historians valued above all reports of firsthand experience of the events they recounted.

Best of all was for the historian to have been himself a participant in the events (direct autopsy). Failing that (and no historian was present at all the events he need to recount, not least because some would be simultaneous), they sought informants who could speak from firsthand knowledge and whom they could interview (indirect autopsy).” In other words, Byrskog defines “autopsy,” as a visual means of gathering data about a certain object and can include means that are either direct (being an eyewitness) or indirect (access to eyewitnesses).

Byrskog also claims that such autopsy is used by Paul (1 Cor.9:1; 15:5–8; Gal. 1:16), Luke (Acts 1:21–22; 10:39–41) and John (19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:1–4).

Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin. Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (3).

E.P. Sanders also says:

Paul’s letters were written earlier than the gospels, and so his reference to the Twelve is the earliest evidence. It comes in a passage that he repeats as ‘tradition’, and is thus to be traced back to the earliest days of the movement. In 1 Corinthians 15 he gives the list of resurrection appearances that had been handed down to him. (4)

And Crossan’s partner Robert Funk says:

The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” — Robert Funk co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.(5)

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. It is also one of the earliest proclamations in the early Messianic Movement (see Acts 2:23; 36; 4:10). It is also recorded early in Paul’s writings (1 Cor.15), and by non-Christian authors Josephus, Ant.18:64; Tacitus, Ann.15.44.3. Donald Juel discusses the challenge of a crucified Messiah:

The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive. (6)

Even Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. (1 Cor.1:21-22)

Once again, critical scholars including those who are not even Christians say the following about the death/ crucifixion of Jesus:

I will start with two quotes from Bart Ehrman:

The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. For some it’s simply too horrific to affirm. For others it’s an elaborate conspiracy to coerce religious sympathy. But the deniers live in a historical dreamworld.(7)

Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (8)

Gerd Ludemann (Atheist):

The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here. (9)

Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar:

Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus. (10)

Dale Martin:

Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (11)

In his book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, Ehrman goes on to say:

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41.

If we apply these comments to the death of Jesus we have:

The Burial of Jesus

Some skeptics assume since Jesus came from a poor family, his body would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes, which was typically in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. In other words, according to this hypothesis, although Jesus may have been placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea on late Friday, his body would have then been moved to its final location – a graveyard reserved for criminals – by Saturday night. From this point, it is argued the finding of the empty tomb by the disciples of Jesus resulted in an erroneous conclusion that Jesus had been resurrected. In response, archaeologist Jodi Magness, a non- religious Jewish archaeologist who specializes in the ossuaries at the time of Jesus says the following:

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb.” (12)

 Interestingly enough. Magness goes on to say:

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence.” (13)

 Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson concurs by saying:

“The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been the normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities. The truth is the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable.” (14)

Even though Magness and Gibson support the burial account in the Gospels, the question is whether there is any evidence for the practice of moving criminals after a “temporary” burial to a graveyard for criminals. The question is why would Joseph himself want to move the body of Jesus to a temporary graveyard? There is no way to know if Joseph had known some future family members or Joseph himself might die. Thus, he may need the tomb he had utilized for Jesus for a future purpose? Perhaps this would be a reason to relocate the body of Jesus.

Once again, one can assert all the possibilities they want. But the question is whether there is good evidence for such possibilities. We can conclude with the following: All four canonical Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and, after Pilate granted his request, he wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb. At best, a skeptic can throw out the relocation hypothesis as a possibility. But even if skeptics want to postulate that his body was buried in a trench grave, it is a worthless apologetic on their part. Why do I say this? Whether Jesus was buried in a pit or trench grave, or it happens the Gospels are correct about the burial story, skeptics will still have to provide an account for the resurrection appearances and the entire story.

The Resurrection Appearances

 Here we must examine explanations for the appearances. First, let’s observe the list of appearances:

• Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, shortly after his resurrection (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-18)
• Jesus appears to the women returning from the empty tomb (Matthew 28:8-10)
• Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12,13; Luke 24:13-35)
• Jesus appears to Peter ( Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5)
• Jesus appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. (Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23).
• Jesus again appears to his disciples, in Jerusalem. At this time Thomas is present (John 20:24-29).
• Jesus appears to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 28:16; John 21:1,2)
• Jesus is seen by 500 believers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6)
• Jesus appears to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7)
• Jesus appears to his disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20).
• He appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:50-53).
• He appeared to Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Corinthians 15:8).

As far as the appearances of Jesus, once again, many critical scholars agree that the disciples at least thought they saw the risen Jesus. For example:

E.P. Sanders:

That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. Moreover, a calculated deception should have produced great unanimity. Instead, there seem to have been competitors: ‘I saw him first!’ ‘No! I did.’ Paul’s tradition that 500 people saw Jesus at the same time has led some people to suggest that Jesus’ followers suffered mass hysteria. But mass hysteria does not explain the other traditions.” “Finally we know that after his death his followers experienced what they described as the ‘resurrection’: the appearance of a living but transformed person who had actually died. They believed this, they lived it, and they died for it. (15)

Bart Ehrman:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection. (16)

Ehrman also says:

We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that   he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead. (17)

 Ehrman also goes onto say:  

 Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. (18)

Why, then, did some of the disciples claim to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion? I don’t doubt at all that some disciples claimed this. We don’t have any of their written testimony, but Paul, writing about twenty-five years later, indicates that this is what they claimed, and I don’t think he is making it up. And he knew are least a couple of them, whom he met just three years after the event (Galatians 1:18-19). (19)

Reginald Fuller:

The disciples thought that they had witnessed Jesus’ appearances, which, however they are explained, “is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree. [1] Even the most skeptical historian” must do one more thing: “postulate some other event” that is not the disciples’ faith, but the reason for their faith, in order to account for their experiences.  Of course, both natural and supernatural options have been proposed. (20)

Gerd Lüdemann, the leading German critic of the resurrection says:

It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ. (21)

What is the best explanation for the resurrection appearances? See our post called What Did The Disciples Mean When They Say “Jesus is Risen”

Sources:

1.Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970), 62.

2.Barnett, P.W., Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1997), 138.

3. Crossan, J.D. & Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 254.

4. Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books 1993).

5. Hoover, R.W. and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus (Santa Rosa,CA: Polebridge Press, 1998), 466.

6. Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

7.  Ehrman, B.  interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., “Who Changed The New Testament and Why”, The Infidel Guy Show, 2008. Available at : http://www.city-data.com/forum/religion-spirituality/1264542-did-jesus-exist-disciple-buddha-america.html#ixzz2pvePXTT1}

8. ____.  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,(Third  Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 221-222.

9. Lüdemann, G. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry(Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 50.

10. Crossan,  J. D., Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 1994), 45.  While it is true that scholars agree that there are some interpolations in Josephus. But it should be noted that while the manuscript tradition of Testimonium of Josephus has the interpolations, a solid case can be made that the original passage is accurate- especially the part about Jesus  being crucified under Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. Tacitus confirmed Jesus died by crucifixion during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), under Pilate’s governship (26-36 CE).

11. Martin,  D., New Testament History and Literature: The Open Yale Courses Series (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2012), 181.

12. Magness, J. Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2011), 170.

13. Ibid, 171.

14.  Gibson, S.  The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (New York: HarperOne. 2009), 52.

15. Sanders, E.P.,  The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Books. 1993), 279-280.

16. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, (Third Edition New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004), 276.

17._______.  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University, 1999), 230.

18. Ibid, 231.

19. Ehrman,  The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,282.

20.  Fuller, R. The Foundations of New Testament Christology(New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142.

21. Lüdemann, G. What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80. 22.

 

 

 

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Yes, the Birth of Christology Started Very Early!

 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)

Jesus Devotion/The Birth of Christology

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 Closer Look at Acts 5: 33-39 and Gamaliel’s Criteria for whether Jesus is the Messiah

Over the years, I have heard the objection that Jesus is just one of 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)

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)

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 Bar Kochba

It is still disputed whether Simon Bar Kokhba 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 Bar Kokhba commanded Christians to be led away to terrible punishment unless they denied Jesus as their Messiah.” (Apology 31.6) Unfortunately, the revolt led by Bar Kochba 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 Bar Kokhba 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.

What About Jesus? 

The Tanakh discusses the timing of coming of Messiah (Gen. 49:8-12; Deut. 18:15-18; Dan. 9Haggai 2); Gen 12:1-3: Forming of Israel will lead to Jewish Messiah who will enable millions of non-Jews to come to know the one true God; the manner of Messiah’s death and rejection: (Isa. 52:13-53:2Psalm 22); divinity of Messiah (Gen. 49:8-12Dan 7:13-14; Isa. 9:1-9).

To see additional reading:

See our page called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:

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God’s Existence and the Quest for Certainty

For the last fifteen years I have done campus apologetics. Thus, I have heard my share of objections to God’s existence. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard comments such as “You can’t prove God’s existence” or “We can’t be certain there is a God,” or, “I don’t think we can know God exists.” The list goes on and on. I have run into my share of people who think they need to be absolutely certain of God’s existence and that Jesus is His Son. Most recently,  two Christians critiqued William Lane Craig’s article in the New York Time about God’s existence. They don’t like any claim that says we aren’t  absolutely certain about the truthfulness of our faith. What is this really all about? It is about what is called Religious Epistemology. I was blessed to be able to take a graduate level class on this topic in seminary. I don’t claim to be an expert. But I have learned some of the basics.  Here are some of the terms help with these discussions:

 I. Epistemology:  Is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, types of certainty.

a. Justification: a belief is said to be justified when a person fulfills his or her duties in acquiring  and maintaining a belief. A belief is said to be justified when it is based on a good reason/reasons or has the right grounds or foundation.

b. Knowledge: Knowledge is a belief that is true and warranted or properly accounted for. In other words, knowledge excludes beliefs that are just true accidentally.

Example: It is 12:30 pm and through an antique shop window I happen to look at a non-working clock, which happens to indicate 12:30. I would not be warranted in concluding that it’s 12:30 P.M. I may have belief that is true- the first components of knowledge—but I happened to get lucky. That does not qualify as knowledge; it’s not properly warranted (which completes the definition of knowledge). NOTE: This example was taken from Paul Copan’s True for you, but not for me: Deflating the Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless.

Also: All possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning. Is mind the product of matter—more precisely, an accidental by-product of blind material forces of nature? From an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t matter whether an organism has true beliefs, false beliefs, or no beliefs at all, as long as the organism can effectively preserve and pass on its genes. Evolution isn’t truth-directed. It’s only survival-directed. (James Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity? (The Big Ten) (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2016), Kindle Locations 1178 of 2480).

 Common Sense Beliefs: Beliefs we take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them:

a.Testimony: We rightly accept what others tell us without having first established that they are worthy of trust. Without testimony, we could never be able to learn a language or accept something we learned before checking out for ourselves.

b.We trust our senses on a daily basis/we trust our cognitive faculties. We rely on introspection, intuition, and perception on a daily basis.

c. Memory: Memory is a pervasive, bedrock of our intellectual existence.

 Skepticism and God’s Existence: 

 Strengths of Skepticism: 

a. Skepticism can be healthy and constructive. After all, we shouldn’t be gullible and naïve, believing everything we hear or read.

b. Religious/Revelatory Claims are contradictory: We are required to provide reasons and evidence for what we believe.

Weaknesses of Skepticism: (NOTE: Points a-e are adapted from How Do You Know You’re Not WrongA Response to Skepticism  by PaulCopan).

a. Skeptics are more skeptical about religious beliefs that anything else!

b. Skeptics aren’t truly skeptical about two fundamental things they take for granted: (a) the inescapable logical laws that they’re constantly using to disprove the claims of those who say they have knowledge or (b) that their minds are properly functioning so that they can draw their skeptical conclusions!

c. Being less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.

d. The skeptic does not realize we don’t have to have absolute certainty to know something; we know many things that we aren’t absolutely certain about, and this is legitimately called “knowledge.”

e. The hyper-skeptic is in a position that ends up eliminating any kind of personal responsibility or accountability.

f. Skeptics need to be clear about what kind of approach they are taking to the existence of God (i.e., religious experience, induction, deduction, a historical approach, empirical approach, inference to the best explanation, etc).

Deduction, Induction, and Abduction 

When someone tells me I have not proven God’s existence, I ask them if they know the difference between deduction, induction, and abduction. You may say ‘well, you are using big words.” But look at our chart here:

Deductive Arguments: In a deductive argument, the premises are intended to provide support for the conclusion that is so strong that, if the premises are true, it would be impossible for the conclusion to be false.

(Premise 1)…….All the books on that shelf are science books.

(Premise 2)…….This book is from that shelf.

(Conclusion)……This book is therefore a science book.

You might say, well what kind of deductive arguments are there for God’s existence. I would suggest reading Edward Feser’s Five Proof’s For The Existence of God. 

Yes, it is true that nobody needs to master these arguments to find God.  But they are still important.

Inductive Arguments: In an inductive argument, the premises are intended only to be so strong that, if they are true, then it is unlikely that the conclusion is false.

(Premise 1)…….This book is from that shelf.

(Premise 2)…….This book is a science book.

(Conclusion)……All the books on that shelf are science books.

In this argument, even if the premises are true, you could not conclude, with certainty, that all of the books on the shelf are science books just from the two pieces of information given in the premises.

Now, when it comes to inductive proofs (as seen in the chart above), we can only arrive at probability levels. This happens in science as well. This may make people uncomfortable. But that’s the way it is.

Remember, probability comes in degrees

a. Virtual Certainty: Where the evidence is overwhelmingly in its  favor( the law of gravity)

b. Highly probable: Very good evidence in its favor (There was a man named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago and was crucified)

c.  Probable: Means there is sufficient evidence in its favor (Paul wrote Galatians and 1 Corinthians)

d. Possible: Seems to have evidence both for and against (The Shroud of Turin is the cloth that covered Jesus when he was in the tomb)

e.  Improbable: Insufficient Evidence in its favor (Life can come from non-life)

f.  Highly Improbable: Very little evidence in its favor (The events in the Book of Mormon took place)

Abduction: Inference to the Best Explanation 

We don’t have direct evidence for the events in the Bible. But remember we don’t have direct evidence for many events that are in the past that lead to scientific conclusions. Almost all historical inquiries as well as cold case investigations are built on indirect or what is called “circumstantial evidence.” A large majority of science, history, and cold case investigations involve making inferences. Historians collect the data and draw conclusions that provide the best explanation that covers all the data in what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” which never leads to absolute certainty or exhaustive knowledge. Mathematical propositions like 2+2=4 are absolutely certain by most people (except for a few philosophers maybe); such certainty is at times required for the resurrection question by skeptics. The process of finding the best explanation involves applying standards such as explanatory power and scope to the different theories on offer. Explanatory power is how well an explanation explains; explanatory scope is how much an explanation explains. While some skeptics will say they don’t absolute certainty for the resurrection of Jesus, many people choose to stay in a stubborn agnosticism simply because they claim they haven’t found the level of certainty that they need.

Remember that many people make major commitments in life based on probable knowledge. When you get married or take a job or make other life commitments, you may have unanswered questions, gaps of knowledge, or levels on uncertainty. But you still make major commitments. You say “I know this is the right choice!” Why do some people have to have every question answered before making a commitment to God or Jesus? I think it is because it involves  their autonomy.

 Kinds of Certainty

a.  Mathematical Certainty: ( 7+5+12)

b. Logical Certainty:  (There are no square circles)

c. Existentially Undeniable: ‘I exist’

d. Spiritual (Supernatural) Certainty: ‘I experience the Holy Spirit in my life

e.  Historical Certainty: Since history and science is mostly  inductive, we can only arrive at probabilities

f. Pragmatic certainty: If something works or has beneficial consequences. This is challenging since someone could believe something works that does not correspond to reality.

Remember, a Christian can claim  to arrive at “spiritual or supernatural certainty” because of the work of the Holy Spirit. That is fine. But that is not a public claim. It is a private and internal experience.

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

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

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

A Christian could claim that they have absolute certainty regarding  the historical evidence for the resurrection. Bur this is incorrect. We can only make inductive and abductive claims about history.  A Christian could also claim to have pragmatic certainty. But guess what? What kind of certainty do you have when Christianity doesn’t work? 

What is Certitude, Doubt, and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?

Certitude

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

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

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

 Doubt

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

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

A courtroom analogy is helpful here: a jury is asked to bring in the verdict that they have no reason to doubt- no rational basis for doubting- in light of all the evidence offered and the arguments presented by the opposing counsel. Of course, it is always possible that new evidence may be forthcoming and, if that occurs, the case may be reopened and a new trial may result in a different verdict. The original verdict may have been beyond a reasonable doubt at the time it was made, but it is not indubitable-not beyond all doubt or beyond a shadow of a doubt–precisely because it can be challenged by new evidence or set aside by an appeal that called attention to procedural errors that may have invalidated the jury’s deliberations- the reasoning they did weighing and interpreting the evidence presented. NOTE: This was adpated from Mortimer Adler’s Six Great Ideas.

How many of our beliefs are based on certitude? Not many!

I hope these terms help in your discussions about God.

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Does the Old Testament Teach Two Comings of the Messiah?

Introduction

Jewish people and even some skeptics like to assert that Christians are the ones who have come up with two act play about the coming of the Messiah. In other words, since Jesus failed at the messianic task, Christians then had no choice but to make up a second coming of Jesus. I already have a post called “Was Jesus a Failed Prophet?” here.

While there is much to discuss about this topic, the real question at hand is whether the Old Testament teaches two comings of the Messiah. Let me attempt to offer some helpful tips:

First, Jewish messianism is a concept study. 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 Hebrew Bible records the anointing with oil of priests ( Exod 29:1-9 ), kings (1 Sam 10:1;2 Sam 2:4;1 Kings 1:34), and sometimes prophets (1 Kings 19:16b) as a sign of their special function in the Jewish community. Also, when God anointed or authorized for leadership, in many cases he provided the empowering of the Holy Spirit to do complete the task (1 Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1). However, just because someone was anointed in the Old Testament to perform a specific task doesn’t mean they are “the Messiah.”

So we can conclude that “anointed one” was not used as a title with a capital “M” in the Old Testament. Second, there are hardly any texts in the Jewish Scriptures that say “When the Messiah comes, he will do x, y,  and z. However,  what are we to do with the several texts in the Jewish Scriptures that speak of the following:

  1. The Jewish people are regathered to their land both before and after the Exile: Isa. 11:10-16; Jer. 3:11-20; 12: 14-17; 16: 10-18; 23:1-8; 24:5-7; 30:1-3, 10-11; 31:2-14-23; 32:36-44; Ezek.11:14-20;20:33-44; 28:25-26; 34:11-16; 23-31;36:16-36;37:1-28;39:21-29.
  2. The Jewish people are ruled by their Messiah with Jerusalem as its capital: Jer. 23: 5-6; 33:17; Ezek. 37:22, 24; Zech 9: 10; 14:9.
  3. Israel is recognized by the nations as being blessed: Isa. 62:2; 66:18; Ezek. 36: 23; 36; 37:28; Mal. 3:12.
  4. The nations go to Jerusalem to worship God: Isa. 2: 2-4; 56: 2-8; 62: 9-11; Jer 16: 19; Zeph. 3:9; Zech 9:16; Zech 14:16-18.
  5. The Temple is rebuilt with the presence of God in it: Isa. 2:2; 56:6; Ezek 37: 26-28; 40-48; 43:1-7; 48:35.

One text that is cited about a peaceable kingdom where we see the end of violence in both human society and the world of animals is Isaiah 11: 1-9:

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

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

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

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

Anti-missionaries like to say that  in worshiping a deified Messiah/God man, Christians and Messianic Jews are committing idolatry. But the question  is what kind of ordinary, anointed, Davidic King  can usher in such a peaceable kingdom as mentioned here? It seems only a Messiah who is supernatural could do such a thing!

But that leads me to my next point. In many cases, while the word ‘Messiah” is not mentioned, there are names used for the messianic person  such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root,  Servant of the Lord, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth. For example, we just read a name for the Messiah in Isa. 11:1-9 which is “Branch.” It is texts like these that prompt the following objection:

“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 athttp://www.ldolphin.org/messiah.html).

Another text that is similar to Isaiah 11:1-9 is the following:

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days   that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it,  and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,   to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways   and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,  neither shall they learn war anymore.  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk  in the light of the Lord.- Isa 2: 1-4

Here we see again there is no mention of the word “Messiah. ” But again, there is mention of a figure that will judge between the nations and there will be a time of peace. Another passage that used the name “Branch” is Jer. 23:5-8:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.”

In these texts, it is clear Israel will dwell securely in the land. Another similar text that mentions the nations going to Jerusalem to worship a messianic figure is in Zechariah 14. I won’t copy the text. But you can read it here.

The Reigning Kingly Messiah and the Suffering/Rejected Messiah 

 Let’s look at one of these names for the Messiah: Daniel 7:13-14: The Glorious, Ruling King.
  • In this passage, we see the following:
  • God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

  • The figure will be given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language will serve him.

  • He is given a kingdom by the Ancient of days, so he must be interpreted as an individual, namely a king.

  • Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (“God appearances”).

  • Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).

  • How the Son of Man is used in the New Testament
  • The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha)  expression  is employed to the earthly ministry of Jesus  (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37).

  •  Son of Man is used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33).

  • Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).

The Suffering, Lowly Rejected Messiah

After the time of Jesus, the rabbis tried to reconcile the passages about the suffering and rejected Messiah with the ruling, kingly Messiah. For example, we just looked at Daniel 7:13-14. But let’s look at the following:

Zechariah 9: 9

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king  is coming to you,  a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey,  on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,  and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

“The Bible hints that two different figures will play important roles in Israel’s redemption. During the Second Temple period, the prophet Zechariah offered an oracle about the people of Jerusalem “lamenting to [God] about those who are slain … showing bitter grief as over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). The book of Daniel also contains a cryptic reference to “an anointed one [who] will disappear and vanish” (Daniel 9:26). These fallen would-be heroes came to be identified with the Messiah ben Joseph.” -Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope,

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David:

There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; …[b. Sukkah 52a]

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

  • He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.
  • He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).
  • He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.
  • For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.
  • Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary. There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures. Instead, in contrast to this rabbinic model, the New Testament applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Remember Prophetic Telescoping: These Prophecies Bridge the First and Second Coming of the Messiah

Prophetic Telescoping is prophecy that bridges the First and Second Comings of the Messiah. In this way, prophecy telescopes forward to a time. The prophets saw future events as distant “peaks” (i.e., events) without an awareness of the large time gaps between them. Also, the prophets understood that history had two major periods—the present age and the age to come–although they did not always make a hard distinction between the two. Prophetic Telescoping stresses progressive revelation which means that God does not reveal everything at once. Remember, the Bible speaks of a suffering/atoning, rejected Messiah: (Psalm 22; 118: 22; Isaiah 52:13-53.12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10) and well as a the ruling/kingly Messiah: (2 Sam 7:10–14; Pss. 2:7; 72:1 Pss. 89:4, 26, 35–37; 132:11–12, 17–18; Dan 7:13).

There are  texts that are  fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus. But there is another part that will be fulfilled in the future. In this sense, Jesus will return and establish the earthly, national aspect of the kingdom of God (Is. 9:6; Amos 9:11; Dan. 2:44; 7:13-14; 27; Is. 11:11-12; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-4; Zech.14:1-9; Matt. 26:63-64; Acts 1:6-11; 3:19-26). In other words, one day the Messiah will be King over His people (Matt. 19:28).

Sources

  1. Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing
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Why Ben Shapiro Doesn’t Accept Jesus As The Messiah

In this clip, well known political commentator Ben Shapiro (who is Jewish) explains why he doesn’t think Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Note that most of these objections are nothing new. We provide resources to these objections here. See our reading list here. See my short booklet here.
We also have a clip here.

The question Ben needs be asked is “Are you on a truth quest?” “Do you actually care if Jesus really is the Messiah?”

 

 

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