The Work of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam

For those that are interested in discussing truth claims with Mormons, and Muslims, this is helpful:

“If we are to perceive and approve the divine character of Scripture, nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit is required. The work of the Spirit in enabling us to hear Scripture as God’s word can be seen in two parts: illumination and demonstration. First, the Holy Spirit illumines or opens our mind to behold the divine excellence that is contained in Scripture. He regenerates our noetic faculties such that we are able to hear the words of Scripture as God’s personal message to us. In essence, the Spirit as the divine author of the text opens the text to us. Second, the Holy Spirit demonstrates or testifies to the truth of Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 2:4-14 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul attributes the persuasive and convicting power of the gospel to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The testimony of the Spirit then provides us with the certainty that Scripture is indeed the word of God. Calvin remarks, If we desire to provide in the best way for our consciences — that they may not be perpetually beset by the instability of doubt or vacillation, and that they may not also boggle at the smallest quibbles — we ought to seek our conviction in a higher place than human reasons, judgments, or conjectures, that is, in the secret testimony of the Spirit.59 The certainty afforded by the Holy Spirit is not a formal certainty; it is not self-evident or incorrigible in the sense that 1 + 1 = 2. Rather, it is a moral certainty that gives one cognitive rest or peace regarding the divine authority of Scripture.

The testimony of the Holy Spirit also plays a vital part in affirming the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Moroni exhorts his followers “that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro 10:4-5). When honest truth seekers cry out in their hearts to God concerning the truth of the things recorded in the Book of Mormon, he will “speak peace to [their minds] concerning the matter” (D&C 6:23). Despite the similar function, the content of the testimony of the Holy Spirit in Mormonism differs from evangelical Christianity. Evangelical Christians believe that the Spirit does not add to, modify, or contradict Scripture; the Spirit witnesses to the Word, not against it or in addition to it. Mormons, however, hold that the ultimate source of knowledge “is linked not to written words, not even to the writings of Moses or Isaiah or Malachi, not to the four Gospels or the epistles of Paul, but rather to the spirit of prophecy and revelation.” Consequently, the Spirit does not so much testify to the Bible, or the Book of Mormon, as to its ongoing revelation. But this creates the problem of a continuous circular argument. If new revelation is needed to attest to the revelation in the Book of Mormon, then further revelation is needed to attest to this new revelation. Islam has no notion of the Holy Spirit. It nevertheless does have some form of…cry, recognizing that what they heard was the clear truth of God’s word (5:83; 17:107-9; 32:15; 84:21). Another passage speaks of a tingling sensation in the skin and the softening of the heart (39:23). The sacrality of the qurʾanic recitation is incipient in the Qurʾan. Later Islamic thought, however, developed and embellished stories of spontaneous conversion, stories in which unbelievers and even those hostile to the prophet responded positively upon hearing the recitation of the Qurʾan.70 Regardless of how Muslims epistemologists interpret this religious experience, we should note that the Christian appeal to the testimony of the Spirit is not an appeal to a person’s experience, emotions, intellect, or inner consciousness — it is an appeal directly to God. This witness is not a witness borne by our consciousness, but a witness to our consciousness by the Spirit. The witness of the Spirit does provide a feeling or experience of cognitive rest, but the existence of this experience is not the premise of an argument, but the occasion, for the formation of our belief that Scripture is indeed the word of God.”—Knowing the Bible Is the Word of God Despite Competing Claims Te-Li Lau. Featured in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures by D. A. Carso


What did God do with apologetics on college campuses in 2019?

On top of maintaining this blog and a social media presence,  from time to time, I get asked what it is like doing campus apologetics on two universities in Columbus, Ohio.  I am the director of Ratio Christi Campus Apologetics Alliance at The Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College. Between both of these campuses there are nearly 100,000 students. We are the only apologetic ministries on these campuses. So what was accomplished in 2019 on these campuses?


1.  We spoke to between 600-700 students this year. Granted, some discussions can last for hours and others can be shorter.  But God brought us many divine appointments.

2. We had between 35-40 evangelism/apologetic weekly equipping meetings at Ohio State. Keep in mind, our term runs from last August to early December and mid January through April. During summer months, we spend a lot of time doing outreach at Columbus State. These meetings allow students to be equipped in the top apologetic issues of our day.

3.   Outside of that, we had even more Bible studies off the campus at various locations.

4.   We had between 60-70 discipleship/mentoring one on one meetings


5. We had two events this year at The Ohio State University. Dr. Frank Turek spoke on “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist” and Dr. James Tour spoke on “The Mystery of Life’s Origin.” This took a lot of promotion and I am happy to report that as always, it opened the door to have many fruitful spiritual discussions.

What is the key to being successful in outreach? 

One thing that I keep learning is that one of the keys to being used by God is simply being visible. When we are out on campuses or we have our weekly meetings on campus, it creates an atmosphere where students say “Oh, there they are, and I know I can talk to them.” There are times when they are looking for us. We believe God has prepared each day and He will direct us to the people he wants. And in some cases, other professing Messiah followers will see us and be encouraged that we are out on the campus.

If you want to make an end of the year gift, we would deeply appreciate it.  Or we have a pay pal accountWe are always looking for new partners who believe in what we do. May the Lord bless you during this season and please let me know if there is any way we can serve you!

May the Lord bless you in 2020


Book Review: Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins, Darrell L. Bock, J. Ed Komoszewski

Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins, Darrell L. Bock, J. Ed Komoszewski , 2019. 384 pp. ISBN 978-0310534761

Back in 2012 a book was released called Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, by  Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne. The criteria that were analyzed in this book have been mentioned in John P.Meier’s A Marginal Jew.  I should note that some of these criteria are mentioned in the online article Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263.

The criteria discussed in the book by Keith and Le Doone were the following:

1.Criteria of Multiple Attestation: The likelihood of the historical reliability of something increases if it is found in more than one source or more than more than one literary context.

2.The Criteria of Embarrassment:  a test that was put forth by John P. Meier in his A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1. This criteria seeks out material in the Gospels that would have been would create awkwardness or difficulty for the early church. This type of material would most likely have not been created by the early church because it would have been provided material useful for the early church’s opponents.

3.The Criteria of Coherence: This criteria judges as authentic those elements which fit well with what has been established about Jesus by the other criteria.

4. The Criteria of Dissimilarity: Robert Stein summarizes this here: “Although this criterion is usually treated as a single tool, it consists essentially of two different parts which could be and have been separated into two different criteria. The first “part” involves whether we can find in the Jewish thought of Jesus’ day elements similar to the particular teaching or motif in question. If we cannot, the assumption is then made that the said material could not have arisen out of Judaism and later have been attributed to Jesus. The second part of this criterion involves the question of whether we can find in the early community elements similar to the particular teaching or motif in question. If we cannot, the assumption is then made that the material in question could not have arisen out of the early church and then read back upon the lips of the historical Jesus.”- see Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263. 

5. The Criteria of “Semitic (Aramaic) Influence on the Greek” : Once again, Stein says“Another tool for authenticity that has been suggested involves the presence of Aramaisms in the gospel materials. Since it seems certain that the mother tongue of Jesus was Aramaic, and in particular a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. The presence of Aramaic linguistic characteristics in our Greek gospel materials argues in favor of the primitiveness of those particular traditions and the more primitive a tradition is, the more likely it is that it stems from Jesus. As a result the Aramaic background of a saying ‘…is of great significance for the question of the reliability of the gospel tradition’, and ‘…the closer the approximation of a passage in the Gospels to the style and idiom of contemporary Aramaic, the greater the presumption of authenticity.’- see Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263.

The conclusions of the Keith and Le Doone book were the following: the criteria that have been and continued to be used by Jesus scholars need to be “jettisoned.”  The attempt to use such criteria is a form of what Le Donne calls “positivist” historiography. Hence, the attempt to “verify” and “objectify” a historical Jesus is a very tricky endeavor.  In other words, perhaps it is time to move on. Thus, there is no such thing as any kind of objective criteria that would ever help us to get to the Historical Jesus. So in the end, the authors of the essays in that volume tended to call into question the usefulness of an approach to the historical Jesus that rests heavily on a set of criteria for distinguishing what in the Gospels is historically authentic information about Jesus from early interpretation of him and his significance.

Anyway, fast forward to 2019.  The book Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins, edited by Bock and Komoszewski is a series of essays that ask whether Keith and Le Doone are overstating their case and whether the criteria really should be “jettisoned.”  This book  give specific examples about where the criteria can be used and in some cases is quite helpful.  Some of the essays don’t discuss the criteria  but they do discuss issues that impact what we can know about the historical Jesus.  For example, Craig Blomberg and Darlene Seal give an overview of the historical Jesus studies in the essay “The Historical Jesus in Recent Scholarship.”

The book provides two chapters on Acts: Social Memory in Acts by Michael Bird and Ben Sutton and Acts: History: or Fiction?” by Craig Keener.  Paul Eddy’s chapter “The Historicity of the Early Oral Jesus Tradition: Reflection on the “Reliability Wars” provides an update on the history of the orality/oral tradition topic. It is well known there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus. Therefore, there was an oral period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. It is true that we don’t have access to the oral phase of the Jesus story. Thus, there aren’t any sound recordings or videos of the disciples of Jesus talking about Him that remains today.  Therefore, all we have is the written evidence. The New Testament contains 27 texts, and all of them were written sometime during the first century CE.

Also, none of these appear to be transcriptions or descriptions of an oral performance of  Jesus. So Eddy’s chapter gives a nice summary on the endless debates about this topic. Something that is related to the orality topic is memory and whether memory can be trusted. Thus, Robert McIver’s chapter called “Collective Memory and the Reliability of the Gospel Tradition” is a discussion  on this issue. Naturally, Richard Bauckham’s work is discussed in this chapter. He has had some dissenters that aren’t as willing to grant memory is reliable as Bauckham thinks it is. The role of the reliability of collective memory and the eyewitnesses of Jesus is discussed and as McIver notes, “The Gospels are in large part a product of a process that developed and preserved collective memories of Jesus’s activities and teaching. Collective memories are selective in that they are shaped to fit the present needs of those that use them. It is important to note, however, that while collective memories are selective, what is selected is likely to be based on memories of actual events. Furthermore, while such memories may incorporate inaccurate details, even the inaccuracies are most likely to be consistent with what Jesus did and said. In other words, like the substance of other collective memories, the gist of the gospel traditions is reliable and provides a sound general picture of Jesus’s sayings and doings.”- pg 204-205.
Darrell Bock’s chapter  A Test Case: Jesus’s Remarks before the Sanhedrin: Blasphemy or Hope or Exaltation?”, Craig Evans and Greg Monette’s chapter on the Burial of Jesus, Michael Licona’s chapter, Jesus’s Resurrection:, Realism and the Role of the Criteria of Authenticity and Daniel Wallace’s chapter on Textual Criticism and the Criteria of Embarrassment address  the criteria mentioned in the Le Doone and Keith book and actually provide specific examples how the criteria can still be utilized in a positive fashion.

One of the longest chapters is Paul Anderson’s chapter on John’s Gospel.  Three responses are given at the end by the late Larry Hurtado, Scot McKnight and Nicholas Perrin. Hurtado wonders if the authors of this book have noted that in  the Keith/Le Donne volume , they differentiate between criteria used to isolate “authentic” material, i.e., material that has supposedly not been affected by the transmission of it, and critical principles that can be used in assessing historical claims about Jesus. The Keith/Le Donne contributors (and certainly Keith himself) are critical of the former, but not the latter. So in the end, Hurtado doesn’t think there is as much disagreement as was initially thought.- pg 386.

McKnight, who has been viewed as being overly critical of the historical Jesus studies clarifies his position. He does believe history is important and the relationship between faith and history as well as apologetics does matter. But he is more concerned about the practical outworking of  historical  studies and its relationship to the church itself. Is the church enslaved to the conclusions of historical Jesus studies? As he says “ One can prove that the tomb was empty with reason; one can prove that Jesus died; one can prove that events happened around Jesus for which there was no natural explanation. What one can’t prove on the basis of historical method is that Jesus’s death was atoning; that his resurrection ushers into us new life that lasts for eternity; that miracles are a reasonable explanation for things done by Jesus and that God was behind it all.”- pg. 386.

Perrin concludes by saying  that the supposed need to say goodbye to the criteria is exaggerated (pg 386).

In the end, this book is detailed and covers several topics that were not mentioned in the Jesus, Keith and Le Donne book. I honestly don’t know how much of an impact the Keith and Le Doone book has  made on the academy.  As far as I can see,  the historical Jesus topic continue on and it seems that the main focus is on collective memory, orality and genre studies. I don’t foresee this debate ending soon. Craig Keener just released a massive book this year called Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels.

Why do I think Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins matters? It matters for someone like myself as well as others who have been doing campus apologetics for several years. I deal with atheists and skeptics who believe everything Bart Ehrman says (even about the unreliability of the burial account of Jesus and memory) is true. Also, I deal with Mormons who think their text gives people a religious experience despite there is little or no external evidence for the Book of Mormon. I also have Muslims who say Jesus didn’t even die and the New Testament is corrupted.  Others are online and continually attack the veracity of the New Testament. So this book is fine contribution to the ongoing debate in the Historical Jesus studies as a wonderful contribution to the field of historical apologetics. I highly recommend it.







The Challenge of Idolatry in the Life of the Christian

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters  -     By: Timothy Keller<br /><br /><br /><br />

If you haven’t purchased Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, please do so. Keller defines idolatry as:

” It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”

Biblically speaking, we probably know Israel always had challenges with idolatry. Remember:

  • Idols are the products of human hands.

  • They have no power either to hurt or to help those who worship them.

  • Idols are supposed to mediate a deity’s presence and power.

  • The first commandment is to have no gods before God ( Exod. 20:3 ; Deut. 5:7). In addition, the construction of any images ( Exod. 20:23) or even the mention of the names of gods ( Exod. 23:13).

  • It isn’t wrong to have other loves, ambitions, or loyalties. But they can’t come before God.

Keller discusses some of these idols. Keep in mind, I agree with him that the key is to not make God’s gifts to us into ‘substitutes’ for God. Here are some of them. Note: I have added some of my own points and a few of my own.

Idol of Materialism

  • Our identity is in what we have and don’t have. “I am what I own.”

  • We worship at the altar of materialism which feeds our need to build our egos through the acquisition of more “stuff.”

  • Where we live/our net worth.

  • Remember, the saying, ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys, Wins”?  This is incorrect. ”He Who Dies With The Most Toys” dies as well. You can’t take your possessions with you!“  Remember the text, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”- James 4:14

Approval Idolatry

  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry).

  • The need to gain constant approval from  others.

  • The constant need to be affirmed.

  • Our identity isn’t in what God thinks of or approves of. Instead, it is in what others think of us.

Career Idolatry

  • Millions of men—and increasingly more women can end up spending 60-70, even 80 hours a week working.

  • We fool ourselves into thinking we are doing it for them, to give them a better life. But the truth is we are doing it for ourselves, to increase our self-esteem by appearing more successful in the eyes of the world.

Relationship Idolatry

  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry).

  • I need to be accepted by the opposite sex and I am looking for this person to meet all my needs/emotional, physical, and spiritual.

  • God is the only one who can meet all your needs.

Political Idolatry

  • We think the politics/politicians can fix all the problems of our culture.

  • We assume if we get the correct politicians in office, they can change the hearts of people.

  • The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart.

Image Idolatry

  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry) If I don’t have this image, people won’t accept me.

Idolatry of Happiness

  • All that God wants for us to be happy!

  • It is true God wants us to be happy. But he wants us to be satisfied and content in Him.

  • God is more interested in holiness than happiness.

So what is the cure for idolatry?


The power of the resurrection comes to us everyday in Christ.. As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Our true identity is in the one who died and rose again on our behalf. This identity isn’t dependent on other’s opinions and it isn’t built on any conditions. And it can’t be changed.  Mediate and chew on this truth daily


N.T Wright on the five senses of how the term “history”works

When attempting to examine the evidence for a figure in antiquity such as Jesus or events such as his resurrection, what do historians look for? Since there were no video cameras, cell phones, internet, Facebook, or Twitter in the first century, we can’t place modern day expectations on an ancient figure such as Jesus.

Sometimes critics complain that the story of Jesus the Messiah is based on hearsay evidence. Thus, since those that wrote about Jesus can’t be cross-examined and since they’ve been dead for many centuries, this means the entire story of Jesus  is illegitimate. But this accusation fails to differentiate between direct and circumstantial evidence. The demand for direct evidence is misguided from the start, because when it comes to antiquity, no one can interview or cross-examine eyewitnesses. Keep in mind that this happens all the time with cold-case investigations. Also, modern science studies events that are in the past and are not observable nor repeatable.

In his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, N.T Wright succinctly summarizes how the five senses of the term “history” works. These are summarized in Rene Lopez’s book,  Killing Jesus.

Wright says:

First, there is history as event. If we say something is “historical” in this sense, it happened, whether or not we can know or prove that it happened.

Second, there is history as significant event. Not all events are significant; history, it is often assumed, consists of the ones that are. The adjective that tends to go with this is “historic”; “a historic event” is not simply an event that took place, but one whose occurrence carried momentous consequences.

Third, there is history as provable event. To say that something is “historical” in this sense is to say not only that it happened but that we can demonstrate that it happened, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences.

Fourth, and quite different from the previous three, there is history as writing-about-events-in-the-past. To say that something is “historical” in this sense is to say that it was written about, or perhaps could in principle have been written about. (This might even include “historical” novels).

Fifth and finally, a combination of (3) and (4) is often found precisely in discussions of Jesus: history as what modern historians can say about a topic. By “modern” I mean “post-Enlightenment,” the period in which people have imagined some kind of analogy, even correlation, between history and the hard sciences. In this sense, “historical” means not only that which can be demonstrated and written, but that which can be demonstrated and written within the post-Enlightenment worldview.

What then is the sense of the word “history” that we ought to understand when the early witnesses claimed to have seen Jesus or when Paul wrote, “He was buried, and … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4)? Were they recording a historical event or writing metaphorically? All the early first-century witnesses spoke of Jesus’ resurrection as a historical event that actually occurred according to Wright’s first point: “history as event.”-Rene Lopez, Killing Jesus, pgs, 61-62.


God’s will for your life in 2020

So are you are a Christian who is really interested in Christian apologetics? Given this next year is about to start, what do you want to accomplish in in 2020? Here are some of tips:

1. Set realistic and time- bound goals: I can speak from experience and say that unless I set very specific goals with a start and end date, it doesn’t get done! Feel free to check out this Apologetics 315 link as to how to make a contribution to apologetics.

2. Pray over your goals and surround yourself with people who can help you:  The good news is that  apologists are coming together to accomplish great things for the advancement of the reign of God. I see a lot of synergy between Christian apologists. There are plenty of high quality apologetics blogs/websites  that can be utilized.  Many of us post and share material on our sites. Rather than just trying to make name for ourselves, God gets glory from his children when they work together!

3. Learning: What areas of study do you want to focus on this year?  Remember, you can’t learn everything at once. Maybe you want to spend more time studying philosophy or linguistics? Maybe you want to spend more time focusing on learning about various religions and how to answer their apologetic arguments?  There are many areas that are continually being debated .

4. Evangelism: So you have been brushing up on the arguments and building your knowledge. But deep down you know you need to  put it into practice. What are your strategies for evangelism? Who is your circle of influence? Maybe God wants you to take the initiative and talk to someone about the Gospel? The point is unless we get out of our comfort zones  we will not grow. The busyness of life and personal challenges can make us hardened and complacent to those around us. We need to pray for boldness and ask God to give us a broken heart for people around us.

Also: Over the years, I have read a slew of books on Decision Making and the Will of God. My conclusion is the following. Here are some things that we can be sure are God’s will for your life. God has spoken in the text. Thus, you don’t need to sit around for months and wait for a still small voice telling you what to do.  (Note: I am aware nobody does this perfectly and we all fall short in implementing these things). It is God’s will for you to do the following.

  1. Share your faith and make disciples of others into the person of Jesus (Matt 28:19). So if you are a 20-year-old  Christian that still doesn’t know what the Gospel is or how to disciple anyone, you aren’t doing God’s will.
  2. Abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4: 3-7).
  3. Rejoice always, pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5: 16-18).
  4. Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—and be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12: 1-2).
  5. Pray at all times in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18).
  6. Promote unity among your brothers and sisters (John 17: 20-23).
  7. Love radically and unconditionally (1 Cor.13: 4-13).
  8. Know God and his Son Jesus the Messiah so that you may truly experience the quality of eternal life right now (John 17: 3).
  9. Try to avoid the deeds of the flesh and experience the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5: 19-25).
  10. Know the role of the Holy Spirit in your life (John 14-16).
  11. Know what you believe and why you believe and be able to give a reason for the hope within you to others (1. Peter 3: 15-16).
  12. Find contentment in God (1 Tim. 6:6-7: Heb. 13: 5).
  13. Forgive others so you can be set free ( Matthew 18:21-22).
  14. Work on training your mind to dwell on those things that are honorable, true, praiseworthy, and pure (Phil. 4: 8).
  15. Try to avoid idolatry (Exod. 20: 23). An idol is anything that consumes you other than God. You  find your entire identity in it and grab onto it. If it is threatened, you have a meltdown. Notice how politics can do that!

These are just a few tips for the New Year. May God bless you with the energy you need to accomplish what you lay before Him.


Book Review: The Rabbi on the Mount: How Jesus’ Judaism Clarifies the Sermon on the Mount by Phil Weingart

Anyone who has read the Sermon on the Mount knows there is much to learn. It can be overwhelming. Over the years I have collected several commentaries on one of the most important messages ever preached.  However, one thing that has been missing is a strong emphasis on the Jewish background and cultural context of this important topic. My friend Phil Weingart has done a wonderful job of filling a gap in this area. Weingart is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He opens the book with a story and his own journey about through his own study and personal experience, he realized how Jewish our faith really is. This is important because many Jews who come to faith in Jesus have to wrestle with this own identity. It isn’t easy it can take a while before they realize being Jewish and following Jesus is just a continuation of the first-century Messianic community. Obviously, much of Christianity today is de- Judaized.

But  Peter, Paul, and the disciples were Jewish. Anyone who is Jewish and comes to faith in Jesus becomes part of the remnant of Israel. Anyway, this book reads like a first-rate discipleship manual.  One of the main strengths of this book is that Weingart is able to show the importance of the Tanakh (i.e. The Old Testament) and how both Testaments are related to each other. For example, Weingart rightly empathizes “the Law” is not the Old Testament (pg. 48).  Believe it or not, “law” is just a translation of the word “Torah” which means “teaching or “instruction” and it can also mean the first five books of the Bible. Jesus was a Torah teacher and there was no New Testament at the time He did His public ministry. Given I have been involved in Messianic ministry for a while, Weingart notes what I have seen as well. Many Christians can be dismissive of the Old Testament because they assume the Old Testament= “law” and the New Testament= “grace.”

This is a massive oversimplification and as Weingart notes in the rest of the book, it is impossible to even understand the Sermon on the Mount without a good understanding of the Tanakh. These issues are expounded upon in greater detail in Chapter 3 (“What Will Never Pass Away”)  when Weingart gives the reader a lesson on Jewish history and the Second Temple Period. If you aren’t familiar with this period, this is the time period where Jesus did his public ministry. So yes, it is important! The reader also gets a lesson on the Jewish rabbinical literature.

Weingart does an excellent job of expounding on the kingdom of heaven and how Jesus as the ultimate rabbi had the authority to connect the Sermon on the Mount to the Tanakh. As Weingart notes, Halakha is God’s law for the Jews which encompasses both the Torah and Oral Law. Granted, most Christians don’t hold to the authority of the Oral Torah. But the point that Weingart makes is that Jesus was able to take the Sermon on the Mount and adjust  Halakah (see Chapter 6).  After all, Jesus took the Torah and brought it to its fullest understanding. “Fulfillment” doesn’t mean termination. When it comes to the applicability of the Sermon on the Mount, some commentators have written that it is something reserved for the millennial kingdom. I agree with Weingart that it can be applied today. Applying the principles of the Sermon on the Mount isn’t easy. But Weingart has supplied people with a wonderful resource that can help talmidim (i.e., disciples) of Jesus get started on such an exciting and challenging task. I highly recommend this book.