“How does your worldview answer the question ‘What happens when we die?'”

Worldview is a buzzword people hear throughout their lives. But while it may be a buzzword, everyone does have a worldview, or they are in the process of forming their worldview. A worldview is the way we view reality. A worldview answers large questions such as origins, purpose, morality, and destiny. Parents, educators, peer groups, social media, religious upbringing, and even personal experience can all play a large role in determining a worldview. One worldview question is the following: “What happens to a person at death?” 

While some atheists don’t consider atheism to be an actual worldview, atheism has been associated with what is called naturalism. Ronald Carlson offers a clear definition of naturalism:

A person who does not affirm the supernatural— God, gods, ghosts, immaterial souls, spirits— is a person who affirms naturalism. For naturalists, nature is all there is. And if it is not science, then it is nonscience (i.e., nonsense). Most naturalists put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying opinions about what is real; this is exemplified by science.  Naturalists think such beliefs are more reliable and objective than those based on intuition, various kinds of revelation, sacred texts, religious authority, or reports by people claiming to have had religious experiences.[1]

Philosophical naturalism became a dominant view for many modern scientists and thinkers but at great existential cost. Some atheists have been straightforward about their views of the afterlife. During a debate with Intelligent Design advocate Phillip Johnson, the late William Provine said the following:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.[2]

The late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking echoed these doldrums, befitting his atheist convictions as well:

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.[3]

Finally, the late famous astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan said this about the afterlife:

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.[4]

Is Death the End?

In sharp contrast to these comments from atheists about the afterlife, the Bible offers an alternative to what happens to us at death. This leads us to an important word: salvation. I know from personal experience the word “salvation” can be rather confusing. When I first visited a local congregation several years ago, an eager young man walked up to me and asked me, “Are you saved?”  I was at a stage of my life when I was examining my own beliefs. But as I drove home that night, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What did this man actually mean when he asked me if I’m ‘saved?’” Jewish people (as well as others), tend to view belief in Jesus as important for one reason and one reason only– the afterlife! In other words, it seems the only thing is what happens to people after they die. Committed followers of Jesus ask people “If you were to die today, do you have assurance you are going to heaven?” This line of thinking is problematic because heaven isn’t really the focus of the resurrection. Now let’s be clear: the issue of heaven is not irrelevant. It matters!  As N.T Wright says,

When Jesus declares that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house (John 14: 2), the word for dwelling place is monē, which denotes a temporary lodging. When Paul says that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better,” he is indeed thinking of a blissful life with his Lord immediately after death, but this is only the prelude to the resurrection itself.[5]

Wright’s work has offered a correction to the traditional view that states that heaven is the final destiny. As Wright notes, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.” [6] Resurrection occurs after life after death.

You might wonder about cases in the Bible where we see people brought back to life after they died.  Though these instances of raising individuals from the dead are important illustrations of how God works, these people still had to face a second deaththey would go onto die at a later date which makes them simply revivifications or resuscitations of the dead. Jesus is the only person in history that has raised from the dead never to die again. This has important implications in our personal lives, because one day, all of us will die physically. However, some of us will die not only physically, but spiritually as well. But what does it mean to “die spiritually?”

The Hebrew word “shalom” means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It refers to peace between two entities (especially between man and God, between two people, or between two countries). Our failure to do what’s right (sin) not only impacts our relationship with God but has negative consequences for others, which is why we lack this wholeness and connection to God. This lack of wholeness causes us to be fragmented. And it gets worse. If we continue to choose sin, our hearts harden towards God, making it even more difficult to change course. The good news is the death and resurrection of Jesus has made a reconnection to God possible, so we don’t have to die a spiritual death. To repeat what we just said, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.”[7] The resurrection occurs after life after death, one day we will be physically alive again. But the resurrection guarantees we can have shalom in this life as well. To see more on evidence for the resurrection, see here. Or, see my new book “The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah.” 

Sources”

[1] R.F. Carlson, “Naturalism” featured in Dictionary of Christianity and Science, Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher Reese, and Michael G. Strauss (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2016), 470.

[2] “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?”: A debate between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994, available at  http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm, accessed April 21, 2019.

[3] I. Sample,  Stephen Hawking, “There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’ available at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven, accessed April 18th, 2019.

[4] C. Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Parade (March 10, 1996), 18-21.

[5] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One. 2008), 41.

[6]  Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, The New Testament and the Question of God 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress. 2003), 86.

 

 

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Handling an Objection: We Can’t Trust Eyewitness Testimony!

Introduction

Can we trust eyewitness testimony? I have seen this conversation arise in my own outreach efforts. Perhaps you have as well. Generally speaking, testimony is one of those common sense beliefs that  we take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them. 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.

But in  my experience of talking with skeptics about eyewitness testimony, it generally boils down a worldview issue. In other words, skeptics are only hyper skeptical about the issues of the testimony of the witnesses of the New Testament because they just can’t bring themselves to ever say a resurrection has taken place. So in the end, we are back to the same arguments that David Hume put forth against miracles. I think there has been sufficient answers to Hume. So I won’t waste this post in dealing with him. If you want to read up on that issue, see here , here, or here.

A Look at Eyewitness Testimony in the New Testament

Hopefully, both the Christian and the non-Christian should be able to agree that since historians can’t verify the events directly, they rely on things such as written documents (both primary and secondary sources), external evidence/archaeology, and the testimony of the witnesses to the events. New Testament faith is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony. It is common for the Christian to cite some of the following passages:

• Acts 2:32: “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.”

• Acts 3:14-15: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.”

• Acts 5:30-32: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

• 1 John 1:1: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life”

• Acts 10:39 : “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”

• Acts 4:19-20: “Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

• 1 Peter 5:1: “So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.”

• 2 Peter 1:19: ” We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

• John 21:24: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.”

Despite the Christian’s appeal to testimony and witness in the New Testament, the skeptic assumes that it has been shown that eyewitness testimony is very unreliable in a court of law. How can the Christian possibly try to propose that eyewitness testimony is one of the reasons we can trust the events in the New Testament?

A Response

The problem with this objection is that it is a case of dicto-simplicter or what is called a sweeping generalization. This is the fallacy of making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case.

Secondly, when it comes to antiquity, how do we evaluate eyewitness testimony?

One book that has recently handled the issue of eyewitness testimony issue within the New Testament is Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony  (Second Edition)  by Richard Bauckham.

What is significant about Richard Bauckham’s book is his mentioning of Thomas Reid. Reid was a Scottish philosopher and contemporary of David Hume who played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. It was in Reid’s “common sense” philosophy of the eighteenth century where Reid understood testimony as an integral part of the social character of knowledge. In other words, for Reid, to trust the testimony of others is simply fundamental to the kind of creatures we are.

As Bauckham notes:

“Trusting testimony is indefensible to historiography. This trust need not be blind faith. In the “critical realist” historian’s reception and use of testimony there is a dialectic trust and critical assessment. But the assessment is precisely an assessment of the testimony as trustworthy or not. What is not possible is independents verification or falsification of everything the testimony relates such a reliance on testimony would not longer be needed.

Testimony shares the frugality of memory, which is the testimony’s sole access to the past, while also, when it predates living memory, existing only as an archived memory, cut off from the dialogical context of contemporary testimony. But for most purposes, testimony is all we have. There are indeed, other traces of the past in the present (such as archaeological finds), which can to a degree corroborate or discredit testimony, but they cannot, in most cases, suffice for the study and writing of history. They cannot replace testimony. In the end, testimony is all we have.” (7)

As Bauckham notes:

 ” 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).” (8)

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 arguably 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).

One of the greatest assets of Bauckham’s book is the reminder that ancient historians thought that history had to be written during a time when eyewitnesses were still available to be cross-examined.

Historically speaking, eyewitness testimony is generally considered more reliable than testimony that is heard from a second-or third hand source. But as Bauckham notes, the Greek word for “eyewitness” (autoptai), means that the historian was a firsthand observer of the events. But what if those recording the historical events in the Gospels were not direct eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus?

As Bauckham says:

“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). This, at least, was historiographic best practice, represented and theorized by such generally admired historians as Thucydides and Polybius. The preference for direct and indirect testimony is an obviously reasonable rule for acquiring the testimony likely to be reasonable.”

The Jewish People and Bearing False Witness: What About a Character Test?

One of the primary stipulations in the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people was that bearing false witness had serious ramifications (Exod 20:16). As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.

As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note in their book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from it’s first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb. 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).

How can the witnesses in the New Testament remember and record the information accurately?

We all know memory can be a tricky thing. But as Bauckham has noted, a high impact event such as the Holocaust or an event such as the death and resurrection of Jesus would leave a lasting impression on the witnesses to the event. Many of us have experienced events in our own lives that can be recalled reasonably free without error even decades later.

And given the emphasis on education in the synagogue, the home, and the elementary school, it is not surprising that it was possible for the Jewish people to recount large quantities of material that was even far greater than the Gospels themselves. Like many of the great Jewish rabbis and sages, Jesus employed didactic techniques. He taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme.

As Paul Barnett notes, “Jesus was a called a “Rabbi” (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2), which means “master” or “teacher.” There are several terms that can be seen that as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. His disciples had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1). (Jesus and the Logic of History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997, pg 138).

Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize. In the rabbinic tradition, disciples were taught to memorize, repeat, and recite (and often write) their masters teachings exactly and accurately, and were often rewarded for doing so. Novelty, expansions, and additions, and free interpretations were neither taught nor rewarded. (James R. Edwards, Is Jesus The Only Savior? pg, 59).

The External Test: Is there a way to cross-check the testimony of the events that the witnesses write about?

Something else that helps solidify the truthfulness of eyewitness testimony is the use of archaeology or external evidence.

Perhaps another illustration will help. I graduated from high school in 1987. If someone accurately described my hometown that year by pointing out specific politicians, laws, the town’s topography and geography and then told me they had gathered the information from people who had been there, should I assume this individual can’t be trusted? Should I just dismiss it? So keeping this in mind let’s look at The Gospel of Luke as well as The Gospel of John.

In his book The Reliability of John’s Gospel, Craig Blomberg has identified 59 people, events, or places that have been confirmed by archaeology such as:

1.The use of stone water jars in the New Testament (John 2:6).
2. The proper place of Jacob’s well (2:8)
3. Josephus in (Wars of the Jews 2.232), confirms there was significant hostility between Jews and Samaritans during Jesus’ time (4:9).
4. “Went Up” accurately describes the ascent to Jerusalem(5:1).
5. Archaeology confirms the existence of the Pool of Siloam (9:7)
6. The obscure and tiny village of Ephraim (11:54) near Jerusalem is mentioned by Josephus.
7. “Come down” accurately describes the topography of western Galilee.(There’s a significant elevation drop from Cana to Capernaum). (4:46;49, 51).
8. Caiaphas was the high priest that year (11:49); we learn from Josephus that Caiaphas held the office from A.D 18-37.

To see a complete list, click here:

Luke’s Gospel

Luke 1:4: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”

We see that Luke:

  1. Was not a direct eyewitness of the events recorded in his Gospel
  2. He was acquainted with earlier accounts
  3. He had used personal information from those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word.”
  4. The results of his won careful research had simulated him to write his gospel.
  5. He was a man of scholarly methods and could claim thoroughness, accuracy and reliability of his production.
  6. He was a man of considerable literary ability. This is evident in the from the balanced literary structure of the prologue. This shows Luke was probably familiar with other classical writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybious.

Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel shows displays a variety of historical figures that have been confirmed. For example, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Cyprus, proconsul (13:7–8); Thessalonica, politarchs (17:6); Ephesus, temple wardens (19:35); Malta, the first man of the island.

Each of these has been confirmed by Roman usage. In all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without an error. (see See Geisler, N. L., BECA, pg 431).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done his work as an historian.There are at least 84 events, people, locations, etc, which have been confirmed by archaeology. Some of them are:

1. A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4–5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the proconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of the Sergii Pauli is attested.
2. The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13).
3. The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6).
4. The unusual but correct declension of the name Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
5. The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25).
6. The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1).
7. The proper form of the name Troas (16:8).
8. A conspicuous sailors’ landmark at Samothrace (16:11).
9. The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the river Gangites near Philippi (16:13).
10. Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20, 35, 36, 38).
11. The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17:1).
12. The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1), and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
13. The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
14. The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
Accurate representation of the Jewish law regarding Gentile use of the temple area (21:28).
15. The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort in the Fortress Antonia to suppress disturbances at festival times (21:31). The flight of steps used by guards (21:31, 35).
16. The two common ways of obtaining Roman citizenship (22:28). The tribune is impressed with Paul’s Roman rather than Tarsian citizenship (22:29).
17. The correct identifications of Ananias as high priest (23:2) and Felix as governor (23:34).
18. Identification of a common stopping point on the road to Caesarea (23:31).
19. Note of the proper jurisdiction of Cilicia (23:34).
The proper title protos (tes nesou) for a man in Publius’s position of leadership on the islands.
20. Correct identification of Rhegium as a refuge to await a southerly wind to carry a ship through the strait (28:13).
21. Appii Forum and Tres Tabernae as stopping-places along the Appian Way (28:15).
22. Common practice of custody with a Roman soldier (28:16) and conditions of imprisonment at one’s own expense (28:30–31).

To see the complete list, check here:

What About Bias?

A common objection is that since the New Testament documents were written by the “insiders.” After all, if the witnesses were “believers,” does this means we can’t trust their testimony? After all, they are biased, right? Once again, this is an unqualified generalization. It is also a gross oversimplification. Many historians admit that some bias is a good thing. If bias means they didn’t tell the truth, than how is it that Luke is such an accurate historian? (see above). Also, as Norman Geisler says:

“The objection that the writings are partisan involves a significant but false implication that witnesses cannot be reliable if they were close to the one about whom they gave testimony. This is clearly false. Survivors of the Jewish holocaust were close to the events they have described to the world. That very fact puts them in the best position to know what happened. They were there, and it happened to them. The same applies to the court testimony of someone who survived a vicious attack. It applies to the survivors of the Normandy invasion during World War II or the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. The New Testament witnesses should not be disqualified because they were close to the events they relate.”

” Related to the charge that Jesus lacks testimony by unbelievers is that there is strong evidence, but a lack of weak evidence. Suppose there were four eyewitnesses to a murder. There was also one witness who arrived on the scene after the actual killing and saw only the victim’s body. Another person heard a second-hand report of the killing. In the trial the defense attorney argues: “Other than the four eyewitnesses, this is a weak case, and the charges should be dismissed for lack of evidence.” Others might think that attorney was throwing out a red herring. The judge and jury were being distracted from the strongest evidence to the weakest evidence, and the reasoning was clearly faulty. Since the New Testament witnesses were the only eyewitness and contemporary testimonies to Jesus, it is a fallacy to misdirect attention to the non-Christian secular sources. Nonetheless, it is instructive to show what confirming evidence for Jesus can be gleaned outside the New Testament.” (BECA, pg 381).

What about the other so-called eyewitness testimony in other religions?

For starters, in evaluating any religious claim, here are a few guidelines:

1. What does it claim to know?
2. How does it claim to know it?
3. What is the evidence for it?

We should avoid false analogies and sincerely attempt to evaluate each claim in it’s own theological and historical context.

Conclusion:

The skeptic shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the reliability of the New Testament because of the supposed unreliability of eyewitness testimony. If we truly care about this issue, we should do our homework and evaluate the usage of testimony and witness in antiquity-especially in the New Testament.

Note: Here are some more sources on this topic:

Are the Gospels a Reliable Eyewitness Account of the Life of Jesus?

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Why We Should Expect Witnesses to Disagree

The Hearsay Objection: How Can the Gospels Be Eyewitness Accounts If They Include Things the Writers Didn’t See?

Why Should We Trust the Gospels When Eyewitness Testimony Is So Unreliable?

Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Are the Gospels Based on Eyewitness Testimony? The Test of Personal Names

Can A Witness Be Trusted If He Can’t Be Cross-Examined?

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Does It Matter Whether God Exists?

lost my ability to give a damn funny quotes
After talking to hundreds of college students for several years about spiritual beliefs, one thing that comes up from time to time, is whether the existence of God is even relevant. In other words, the discussion kind of goes like this: “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!

The comment “I don’t see what difference God would make in my life!” displays a very pragmatic view of truth. I have discussed the problem with this elsewhere. But when a student says God’s existence isn’t really relevant, my first response is to try to get them back to the issue of truth. After all, if there is a God and He does exist and it turns out Jesus is His Son, that is an objective reality. It has zero to do with how I feel about it. And the truthfulness of it isn’t determined whether the person stays busy and says “I don’t care if God exists.” Another issue that comes up are the following worldview questions:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• The Human Condition: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality/Human Rights, Human Dignity: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong? What is the basis for human rights, moral values, moral duties, human dignity, and equality?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world

Now after looking at these worldview issues, I think the one that is the question that is the most pressing one is the morality, human rights, and human dignity issue. This issue is directly related  to the the origins question. They can’t be separated. Of course, on a theistic worldview, human aren’t valuable based on their function. They are valuable based on their nature or essence. It is quite obvious we live at a time where people are obsessed with human rights, justice, and equality. I discuss why theism lays the foundation for these features of reality here. 

So in the end, when I run into college students that are apathetic about the existence of God, I now ask them if they think humans are valuable and whether they believe in justice, equality, and human rights. Every single time, the student says “Yes!” So now the door is open to discuss the origins question and how that relates to the human dignity and equality issue. Robert Spizter helps us understand the importance of this topic. He says:

“The best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data. The general principle is this: opinions that explain the most data and are verified by the most evidence are better than those that do not. The vast majority of people consider this principle to be self-evident because if greater explanatory power and more evidence is not better, then additional evidence and explanatory power add nothing, which means that all evidence and explanatory power are essentially worthless. This leaves us with only our subjective assertions, which most people do not consider to be good enough. For example, as suggested previously, Einstein’s theory about the universe is better than Newton’s theory because it explains more data. (Newton was unaware of most of the data that the special and general theories of relativity account for.) Again, calculus has more explanatory power than algebra and trigonometry because it can account for curves through derivative and integral functions, which algebra and trigonometry cannot do on their own. This applies to virtually every science and social science. The more data a theory or hypothesis explains, the better it is. With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”.

If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals 

Does God Exist? Why It Matters by [Eric Chabot, Chris Van Allsburg]
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The Parting of the Ways: How Christianity and Judaism Became Two

When I have asked Christians who is the founder of Christianity  I receive a look of dismay. After all, didn’t Jesus, a Jewish Torah teacher, break decisively with the foundations of Judaism and all of its institutions such as the Temple, the covenants, the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath and start a new religion called “Christianity?” Unfortunately, this is an anachronistic reading of the Bible. I talk about this more in the clip here.

 

 

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Three Things The Gospel Authors Would Have Never Invented About Jesus

 Over the years, one of the common complaints by skeptics of the Gospels is that the Gospel writers supposedly took great liberty to make up or embellish certain parts of their work to make their point. In other words, many parts of the Gospel authors  ‘invented’ or ‘fabricated’ certain aspects of the life of Jesus. Also, the Gospels are supposed to be so biased and given they are written by the ‘insiders’ how can we trust these documents? In response, the more I have studied the Second Temple Jewish period in Jewish history, I have found the exact opposite. Let me offer a few examples:

A Dying Messiah

The crucifixion of Jesus is attested by all four Gospels. Therefore, it passes the test of multiple attestation. 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 dicusses 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 notion 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.[1]

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)

According to Martin Hengel, “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated.”[2] Roman crucifixion was viewed as a punishment for those a lower status- dangerous criminals, slaves, or anyone who caused a threat to Roman order and authority. Given that Jewish nationalism was quite prevalent in the first century, the Romans also used crucifixion as a means to end the uprising of any revolts. In relation to a crucified Messiah, Jewish people in the first century were familiar with Deuteronomy 21:22-23:

“If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”

The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. The New Testament writers expanded this theme to include persons who had been crucified. Just look at Paul’s statement in Gal 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.” Therefore, to say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not be the Anointed One of God. Also, Deut. 21: 22-23 does not really speak directly to the matter of crucifixion, nor of the crucifixion of God’s Anointed One. So this passage couldn’t of generated such a belief.

Even Michael Bird says:

Adding the title ‘Messiah’ to a crucified figure created more problems than it was worth given the divisions created in Jewish communities. It is hardly the kind of problem one would wish to create in the effort to venerate a departed leader, nor can messiahship be attached to a crucified Jesus on the back of some ad hoc scriptural proof-texting. Let us remember that the ‘Christ’ element of Christianity proved to be a point of lasting division between Jews and Christians (e.g. John 9:22; 12:42; Justin, 1 Apol. 31.5-6; Dial. Tryph. 10; 49; 90; 108). That is because a crucified Messiah was far more than an ‘insufferable paradox’. A crucified Messiah was, to many, utter madness (Acts 26:23-25) or complete foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). Yet this is precisely what Christians maintained under trying and difficult circumstances. As Joachim Jeremias put it, ‘the scandal of the crucified Messiah is so enormous that it is hardly conceivable that the community should have presented itself with such a stumbling block.”–Michael Bird, Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels

We must also expand on Dialogue with Trypho the Jew:

To build on Bird’s comments, Justin Martyr, the Palestinian Christian who in his mature years taught and wrote in Rome, tries to make the case that Jesus’ Spirit empowered ministry fulfills Scripture at many points and offers proof that he really is Israel’s Messiah to Trypho the Jew. But Trypho is not persuaded by this argument. He replies:

“It has indeed been proved sufficiently by your Scriptural quotations that it was predicted in the Scriptures that Christ should suffer…But what we want you to prove to us is that he was to be crucified and be subjected to so disgraceful and shameful death…. We find it impossible to think this could be so.”[3]

Just look at some other quotes about the failure of Jesus to meet the messianic credentials is seen in the following statements by the following rabbis:

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

We are obligated to believe that a Jewish man will come who will begin to save Israel and will complete the salvation of Israel in that generation. One who completes the task is the one, while the one who does not complete it in that generation but dies or is broken or is taken captive (Exod 22:9) is not the one and was not sent by God.” (R. Phinehas Elijah Hurwtiz of Vilna (1765-1821), Sefer haberit hashalem (Jerusalem, 1990), 521.[4]

I should note that hyper-skeptic Richard Carrier has attempted to show that it would not be hard to get a dying Messiah story going, but I have responded to that here:

Why invent a Messiah who becomes the Temple in person?

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” –John 2: 13-22

The Temple was the center of Jewish religious, cultural, political, and economic life. The impact of its destruction can be seen in some of the following comments in Rabbinic tradition:

Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has intervened between Israel and their Father in Heaven. b. Ber 32b

Since the day when the Temple was destroyed there has never been a perfectly clear sky. b. Ber 59a

Through the crime of bloodshed the Temple was destroyed and the Shechinah departed from Israel. B. Shab 33a

Ever since the day the Temple was destroyed the rains have become irregular. B. Ta’an. 29 a [5]

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. Even in the trial scene in Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).  Jesus is the foundation of the new temple (Jn 7:37-39) and he is the place for worship (Jn. 4:23-24 ). Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29).[6] So it is apparent that for the Gospel authors to make up a Messiah who behaves as if He is the physical Temple in person would only make it more difficult to convince a Jewish person about the messiahship of Jesus.This point has been expanded on by N.T. Wright in his book The Challenge of Jesus: See a summary here:

The Son of Man as Lord of the Sabbath

“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself throughout His ministry. First of all, “Son of Man ” is employed to Jesus’ earthly ministry (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37); Second, his suffering and resurrection (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33); Third, his eschatological function (Mk. 8:38;13:26;14:62; Matt.10:23;13:41;19:28:24:39;25:31).

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” –Matthew 12: 1-8.

Given the Sabbath was and still is the most important observance in Judaism, for the Gospel authors to make any figure as having authority over  the Sabbath would only create another huge stumbling block for Jewish people.

As Ben Witherington III says,

“Now in Jewish theology, God of course was the Creator of the universe who set up the sabbatical pattern in the first place, and rested on the seventh day (see Gen. 1). Since God had created the Sabbath, only God was the Lord thereof. Yet here, Jesus’ claims, as Son of man, to be Lord over the Sabbath, and claims that He can reinterpret the Sabbath to mean, this is the perfect day to give sick people “rest” from their illnesses, even though this activity constitutes work by any Old Testament definition. In other words, as Son of man, Jesus felt He could rewrite the Sabbath rules. Why? Because He was Lord over the Sabbath and its proper observance now that God’s divine saving activity was breaking into human history through Him. “[7]

Conclusion

I could cite many more examples. But suffice to say, the more we learn about the Second Temple period, it is clear that it would be counterproductive for the Gospel authors to invent a Jesus that would die, replace the Temple, or be the Lord of the Sabbath.


[1] 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.

[2] See Martin Hengel: Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

[3] Saint Justin Martyr, The Fathers of the Church, trans. Thomas B. Falls (New York: Christian Heritage, Inc., 1949) pg, 208, 291.

[4] David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, (Portland: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. 2001), 21.

[5] Michael Brown, Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol 4 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus(Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2007), 152-161.

[6] Willam Lane Craig,  Reasonable Faith: Third Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 307.

[7] Ben Witherington III. Did Jesus Believe He Was The Son of Man. Available athttp://www.4truth.net.Did_Jesus_Believe_He_Was_the_Son_of_Man.htm

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Is Apologetics Needed Because of a Lack of Faith?

Anyone who has been in the apologetics endeavor  knows that there is always the need to properly define apologetics. Every now and then, one objection I hear from my Christian friends is that those who are overly committed to apologetics must be somewhat weak in their faith. In other words, why should a Christian need all this reason and evidence stuff? After all, faith, not reason, is what God requires (Heb. 11:6).  And if we are growing in our relationship with God, our faith should be more real than before.

Allow me to respond to this:

First, for those of us that are committed to teaching and learning apologetics are not opposed to faith at all. And it does not mean we are always weak in our faith. The reality is that the first reason (at least for me) that we want to do apologetics is because we want to reach the world for Christ and make disciples (Matt. 28:19). When we set out to do this, we always run into objections to the Christian faith. So I find that one of the main reasons that many Christians are apathetic to apologetics is because they are not doing any evangelism/discipleship.

Second, I agree that it is true that evidence can become an idol. The object of my faith is not reasons or evidence. Instead, the object of my faith is God/Jesus. So while reasons and evidence support my trust in God/Jesus, it does not replace it.  I know myself and many others strive for balance.

Third, I understand the appeal to the Holy Spirit as the one gives Christians an overwhelming certainty that Christianity is true. He has an entire ministry in the life of the Christian. And I am forever grateful for his work in my life. But part of his work is to help the Christian grow in their critical thinking skills. Many of us as Christians want a robust, integrated faith that integrates our entire being. Developing the Christian mind is part of our worship to God. I want to try to imitate God. While I don’t always do it, I think it is clear that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. If God is a rational being then He created us as rational beings. Therefore, learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

Fourth, when a Christian says that apologists are weak in their faith, it really depends on the context. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith of four aspects of faith:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.
4. Faith: begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the ‘heart.” Heart in Scripture does not mean feeling, or sentiment, or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. “Keep your heart with all viligence” advised Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

If a Christian wants to be obedient to the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), they will have to exercise #3. They will have to step out and obey God. The Holy Spirit uses apologetics to create confidence as we step out and share Jesus to a lost and needy world. If you disagree, just read The Book of Acts. I have written about that here.

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A Look at Key Issues with Genesis

In this clip we discuss some of the key issues with Genesis. We discuss some of the definitions of “creationist” and “evolution,” whether Genesis makes claims that match reality (i.e., that humanity has dignity, value, and rights), cosmology supports a beginning of the universe, and why humans are able to be so good and bad at the same time. We also discuss the genre of Genesis, and some other theological issues.

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Why do Christians struggle with Jesus being the embodiment of truth and love?

When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus as the embodiment of truth and love. In other words, to attempt to divorce the two is to make Jesus into what we want him to be. Obviously, when we read John’s Gospel, Jesus, as the Word become flesh, is full of grace and truth (1:14), and is the source of grace and truth (1:17). In contrast to the woman at the well, who felt geographic location of worship was important, Jesus states that the issue is not whether one should worship God in Moriah or Gerizim, but rather one should worship in spirit and in truth. For John, truth is ultimately identified with, and is personified in the person of, Jesus. The ministry of John the Baptist is to bear witness to the truth (5:33).

Did Jesus try to show people thy’re wrong? 

Most recently, we had a well known Christian apologist speak at our campus. As small group of students thought the speaker spent a lot of time simply trying to show people they are wrong. In other words, perhaps he came across as having  an “us vs them: attitude. I don’t think he came across this way. So obviously this can be a matter of opinion.  Anyway, did Jesus spend any time trying to show his audience they are wrong? The answer is yes! Was Jesus harsh? Yes! Did Jesus judge? Absolutely! Matt Slick’s article at Carm summarizes some of these things here. He notes the following texts: 

  • Matt. 7:4, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
  • Matt. 15:7, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.” 9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
  • Matt. 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
  • Matt. 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…”
  • Matt. 23:16-17, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ 17 “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?”
  • Matt. 23:23-24, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
  • Matt. 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:27-28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
  • Matt. 23:29, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
  • Matt. 23:33, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”
  • Mark 12:38-40, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
  • Luke 11:39, “You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?”
  • Luke 11:43, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the front seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
  • Luke 11:52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.”
  • Luke 12:1, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
  • John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father…”
  • John 8:49, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
  • John 8:55, “and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word.”

Now keep in mind, all these passages must be seen in context and there has been more than enough written on the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees.

What Does the Bible Say About Truth?

True and False Doctrine: The core of our doctrine is what Jesus taught to and through his apostles. Remember that the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42). We can love someone to death, and they may never be set free. Although God does not expect us to attain perfect understanding of this truth, he does expect us to understand sound doctrine—so we live as fruitful and discerning disciples of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

True and False Spirits: We need to remember the following verse: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus  is not from God” (1 John 4:1-2). Jesus said the Holy Spirit  would be another “Parakletos” or “Advocate” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), who testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 16:13-14). The Bible gives us two ways to test spirits to see whether they are from God. The first is to ask whether the spirits teach the truth about Jesus (1 John 4:1-6). Also, any message about the Good News that presents a different message than the message that the Messiah himself gave through Paul and the other apostles is a false message or a false gospel (Gal. 1:6; see 2 Cor. 11:4).

Remember: God does expect his children to grow in the exercise of discernment—recognizing the difference between truth and error (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Also, one aspect of spiritual maturity is that we are more skilled in our discernment (Heb. 5:14).

Love

As far as love, the New Testament concept closely parallels that of the Old Testament. John writes: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Believers need to share with those in need, whether that need is for food, water, lodging, clothing, healing, or friendship (Matt 25:34-40 ; Rom 12:13 ). The love demonstrated in the parable of the good Samaritan shows that agape  love is not emotional love, but a response to someone who is in need.

The command to love others is based on how God has loved us. Since believers have been the recipients of love, they must love. Since Christ has laid down his life for us, we must be willing to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16 ).

Many people in Jesus’ day believed that a neighbor was a fellow Israelite. When asked to define “neighbor, ” however, Jesus cited the parable of the good Samaritana person who knowingly crossed traditional boundaries to help a wounded Jew (Luke 10:29-37). A neighbor is anyone who is in need. Jesus also told his disciples that a “neighbor” might even be someone who hates them, curses them, or mistreats them. Yet they must love even enemies (Luke 6:27-36) as a witness and a testimony.

The Old Testament charge was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 ). But Jesus gave his disciples a new command with a radically different motive: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). (1)

What’s the point?

We live in day when we are pressured to be politically correct. Sadly, it seems like many Christians view Jesus as no different than Barney the dinosaur. It’s as if Christians  have never even read the Gospels.   Now why is this? First, there is no doubt that many Christians haven’t been loving and have been overplayed the truth card. In other words, “This is the truth and that’s the way it is.” However, this doesn’t give a Christian full license to just love the person and not discuss the truth issue. I run into this all the time. When the emotions run strong on a particular topic, the truth issue gets put on the back burner. So the bottom line is the following: If you’re going to attempt to emulate Jesus, please read the Gospels and be willing to see him in all His attributes.  We do nobody any favors when we only emphasize love at the exclusion of truth. And by the way, while I think we should show great love and compassion,  the “love only” approach  may end up allowing someone to destroy themselves and others. Sin seems to have  a habit of doing that.

Sources:

1.  Glenn E. Schaefer, “Love” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996).

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