Michael Bird on Two Flawed Approaches to the Gospels

Here is a fine quote by New Testament scholar Michael Bird:

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way”-Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord, How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, p. 67

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A Look at James Tabor on Christianity Before Paul

Introduction

Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters. A ways back, James Tabor published an article on Huff Post called Christianity Before Paul.

I want to respond to couple of points. Feel free to click on the link and see Tabor’s full article.

#1 : Tabor alleges: “The fundamental doctrinal tenets of Christianity, namely that Christ is God “born in the flesh,” that his sacrificial death atones for the sins of humankind, and that his resurrection from the dead guarantees eternal life to all who believe, can be traced back to Paul — not to Jesus.”

Here we see Tabor is mistaken. Actually, all of these fundamental doctrines predate Paul.  We know that from about AD 48 until his death (60 to 65 AD) Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. Of course, there are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul. But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. And it is fairly well known that Bart Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

In this book, he discusses the other Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausible case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.

A little time line may be helpful: Remember Paul’s Letters are dated 48 A.D to 60 A.D.

30 A.D.—–33A.D (The death of Jesus)

Paul comes to faith between 33 and 35 A.D.

60-65 A.D. Paul’s Death

70 A.D. (Temple Destroyed)

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

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

One of the key words in this text is “receive.” While the word “received” (a rabbinical term) can also be used in the New Testament of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine (1 Cor.11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal. 1:9, 12 [2x], Col 2:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6), it also means means “to receive from another.” This entails that Paul received this information from someone else at an even earlier date. 1 Corinthians is dated 50-55 A.D. Since Jesus was crucified in 30-33 A.D. the letter is only 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. But the actual creed here in 1 Cor. 15 was received by Paul much earlier than 55 A.D.

As Gary Habermas notes, “Even critical scholars usually agree that it has an exceptionally early origin.” Ulrich Wilckens declares that this creed “indubitably goes back to the oldest phase of all in the history of primitive Christianity.” (1) Joachim Jeremias calls it “the earliest tradition of all.” (2) Even the non-Christian scholar Gerd Ludemann says that “I do insist that the discovery of pre-Pauline confessional foundations is one of the great achievements in the New Testament scholarship.” (3) Ludemann dates the creed in 1 Cor, 15: 3-8 only two to three years after the death of Jesus.

The majority of scholars who comment think that Paul probably received this information about three years after his conversion, which probably occurred from one to four years after the crucifixion. At that time, Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19).This places it at roughly A.D. 32–38.

Even the co-founder Jesus Seminar member John Dominic Crossan, writes:

Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that “I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.” The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he “went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (4).

This comment by Crossan makes sense because within the creed Paul calls Peter by his Aramic name, Cephas. Hence, if this tradition originated in the Aramaic language, the two locations that people spoke Aramaic were Galilee and Judea. The Greek term “historeo” is translated as “to visit” or “to interview.” (5) Hence, Paul’s purpose of the trip was probably designed to affirm the resurrection story with Peter who had been an actual eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 15:5).

There are more non Christians that agree the resurrection story started very shortly after 33 A.D.:

Michael Goulder (Atheist NT Prof. at Birmingham) “…it (the creed of 1 Cor. 15:3-8) goes back at least to what Paul was taught when he was converted, a couple of years after the crucifixion.” (5)

Gerd Lüdemann (Atheist Prof of NT at Göttingen): “…the elements in the tradition are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus…not later than three years… the formation of the appearance traditions mentioned in I Cor.15.3-8 falls into the time between 30 and 33 CE.” (6)

Robert Funk (Non-Christian scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar): “…The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.” (7)

The point is that Paul received this information long before he even wrote his letter. Also, we see in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Here we see again that  Paul  “received”  a teaching. But in this case it is from the Lord what he hands on to the Corinthian Christians, specifically, a tradition about the Last Supper.  This tradition “from the Lord” probably is a teaching from Jesus himself, once again, as formulated by the Twelve in Jerusalem.

#2 : What’s the point?

1 Cor. 15:3-8 and 1 Cor. 11:23 along with other, short Christian creeds include 2 Timothy 2:8, and Romans 1:3-4 show that the core  teachings of the Gospel (Jesus died for our sins and rose again) pre-date Paul. Hence, the core of the Gospel was being circulated very early and even before Paul was a believer.  Hence, the resurrection was not invented at  a later date.

By the way, it is within Paul’s Letters that we see he leaves several historical points about the life of Jesus such as the following:

1 .Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16)
2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3)
3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4)
5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5)
6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7)
7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7)
8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5)
9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16)
10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9)
11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7)
12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1)
13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3)
14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14)
16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7)
17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9)
18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14)
19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9)
20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15)
21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25)
22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21)
23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3)
24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20)
25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15)
26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4)
27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4)
28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8)
29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and
30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)

#3:  “Paul Never Met Jesus”

Tabor also makes a point that Paul never met Jesus. He doesn’t elaborate much on this. First, do you just pitch every writing you have written about someone else if the author never met the person they are writing about? I doubt it. Secondly,

As Louis Gottschalk says:

“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).

As we see, since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).

 Conclusion

Most of Tabor’s points have been addressed in Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? by David Wenham who is an Oxford New Testament lecturer. A summary of some  his points can be found here:

Otherwise, N.T. Wright critiqued the types of arguments that Tabor goes over here back in 1997 in his monograph What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real.  Hope they help!

Sources:

1. Wilckens, U., Resurrection, trans. A. M. Stewart. Edinburgh: St. Andrew, 1977, 2

2. Jeremias,J. New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowden. New York: Scribner’s, 1971, 306.

3. Ludemann, G, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, NY: Promethus, 2004), 37.

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

5. Goulder, Michael, “The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in Gavin D’Costa, editor, Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford, 1996), 48.

6. Lüdemann, Gerd, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. by Bowden (Fortress, 1994), 171-72.

7. Hoover, Roy, and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 466

8. Jones, T.P., Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2007, 89-94

 

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Six Apologetic Topics Every Christian Should Learn About

On more than one occasion, people have asked me what areas should they focus on in their own study of apologetics. These are people that want to engage the culture and are burdened for the people God has placed in their lives. In my opinion, while there are many others not mentioned here, there are at least five apologetic areas every Christian should learn about. What I mean is that over the years of talking to hundreds of college students and others as well, these are the continual topics that always come to the surface. So here are some of my picks:

1.God’s Existence: It is imperative to know the different approaches to the the existence of God. How can you talk to someone about the existence of God without using the Bible? Don’t get me wrong: I love the Bible. But many people don’t accept the Bible as an authority. I discuss these issues here and here:

2. Religious Epistemology: Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification, truth, and types of certainty.I have lost count of the number of times that I have encountered the following comments by skeptics:

“There is not one shred of proof or evidence for the existence of God” On more than one occasion, people have asked me what areas should they focus on in their own study of apologetics. These are people that want to engage the culture and are burdened for the people God has placed in their lives. In my opinion, while there are many others not mentioned here, there are at least five apologetic areas every Christian should learn about. What I mean is that over the years of talking to hundreds of college students and others as well, these are the continual topics that always come to the surface. So here are some of my picks:

“There is absolutely no evidence for Jesus or your God”

“Science has shown that there is no God”

“Unless you can  demonstrate that God exists or Jesus is the Son of God, you need to admit all you have is faith”

It is statements like the ones listed  here that demonstrate that there is not even a basic understanding of epistemology. Keep in mind that I am not asking everyone to get a philosophy degree and to be an expert on such a heady topic. While in seminary I was blessed to take some classes in philosophy. However, I am by no means an expert! But the people making these types of claims just overstate their case and sound very naive. A more nuanced approach should lead one to say “I have looked at the evidence in this area and I don’t find it to be sufficient.” Or, “I don’t think there are good reasons to think God exists or that Jesus is the Son of God.” To see more about this topic, see here:

3.Religious Pluralism: One of the most controversial issues in religious dialogue is whether there is one way of salvation. In other words, the Christian claim that Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12) is considered to be overly exclusive and arrogant. The Bible speaks of God’s judgment on pagan religions. They are said to have no redemptive value to them (Exod. 20: 3-6; 2 Chron: 13: 8-9; Isa. 37: 18-19; Acts 26: 17-18; Col. 1:13). While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jewish people (John 4:22), salvifically speaking, Paul makes it known that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah (Rom 3:9; Acts 20:21).

What about those people in the Tanakh (the Old Testament ) that never exercised explicit belief in Jesus as the Messiah? What about people like Melchizedek, Jethro, Job and Rahab? In response, it is true that people in the Tanakh did not have explicit knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as a payment for their sins. However, this objection fails to take into account the issue of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16). To see more about this, see our clip here. 

4. The Creation/Evolution debate: One day, a college student yelled at me and said “Do you actually think you were created?” In this issue, it is imperative to define one’s terms. In this article called  The Meanings of Evolution, authors Stephen C. Meyer and Michael Newton Keas list the Principal Meanings of Evolution in Biology Textbooks

1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.

2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.

3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.

4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.

5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.

6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through an unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.

The authors go onto critique each of these six points. I can’t say it more strongly in that Christians need to brush up on these definitions. Hence,  the next time someone asks “Do you believe in evolution?” my advice is to respond with “What do you mean by evolution?” From my own experience, it does pay great dividends.

5. The Resurrection of Jesus: Given the resurrection is the central claim of the Christian faith, it is important to be able to articulate not only the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, but also the purpose and meaning behind such a significant event. We have provided some resources here.

I hope these topics and resources help you in your own study and outreach!

6. The Moral Argument: 

There have always been moral disagreements. In our present culture, the abortion debate has heated up. The debate over whether public schools should be educating young children on sexuality and gender is another contentious topic. There re plenty of other hot button issues. Our own experience shows that we agree that it is objectively, morally wrong what the Nazis did to the Jewish people, or what happened to George Floyd in 2020. This is not based on our subjective opinion. Did an impersonal and nonmoral process lead to humans to create their own morality? Does biology, society, and people’s personal preferences determine what is morally right and wrong? Moral values refer to the worth of a person or action, whether it is good or bad. Values have to do with whether something is good or bad. Moral duties are moral obligations, what you ought or ought not to do. Moral duty refers to our obligation to act in a certain way, whether that action is right or wrong. We see the following:

1. Objective values and duties are valid and binding, independent of human opinion.

2. If a personal God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

3. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

4. Therefore, a personal God exists.

Also, 1) We would not know there was injustice unless there were an objective standard of justice. 2) True progress is not possible unless we know an objective standard by which we measure that things are getting better or worse. We can’t know better unless we know what is best. 3) Real moral disagreements are not possible without an objective moral standard. But there are plenty of real, moral disagreements – for example, those about injustice, intolerance, and cruelty. 4) The same basic moral codes are found in most cultures. 5) Guilt from breaking a moral law would not be universal if there were no objective moral law. 6) Even those who deny moral absolutes have moral principles they believe are universal, such as tolerance, freedom of expression, and the wrongness of bigotry and genocide.

Our moral values and moral obligations are also directly related to our view of people. If God does not exist, it makes it more challenging to hold to a high moral view of human beings. If humans do not bear the divine image, their worth can only be determined on the basis of their differing abilities and empirical qualities. Humans could not have “unalienable rights,” as the Declaration of Independence states, if they have no objective value simply by being human. We see the following:

1. People spend their entire lives fighting for what they consider to be inequality, justice, and human rights. Thus, they really believe humans have great value.

2. If God does not exist, all reality is reducible to matter and chance. Human worth emerges from valueless matter. Humans can assign people value by choice. It is purely subjective.

3. Humans do have a right to human dignity, i.e., the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, rank, or any other way.

4. Therefore, God exists.

Given the times we live in, I think this is a good opportunity to revisit the moral argument. Also, see my post on the Moral Apologetics website called ” How the Moral Outrage Over Will Smith Slapping Chris Rock Points to the Moral Argument for God’s Existence”

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Using Inference to the Best Explanation: What Caused the Birth of Christology?

If you aren’t familiar with the late  Larry Hurtado’s work,  he discusses six features of the religious devotion of early Christianity that indicate a significant mutation in the Jewish monotheistic tradition: (1) hymnic practices, (2) prayer and related practices, (3) use of the name of Christ, (4) the Lord’s Supper, (5) confession of faith in Jesus, and (6) prophetic pronouncements of the risen Christ.
Derek Leman summarizes Hurtado’s work when he says:  
“What did the early believers do in their descriptions of Yeshua’s exalted status and what did they not do? They did describe him on a level equal with God (“the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”). They corporately and individually showed devotion to him in ways reserved by Jews for God alone (hymns, prayer in his name, prayer to him, calling on him, a ritual meal in his presence, creeds about him, and in some cases prophecies given by him from heaven). They obeyed him, believed they were in him, believed he was present, imitated him, and received mysterious communication from him giving themguidance and peace. They had a simple creed about Yeshua, “Yeshua is Lord,” and said it was only possible to affirm this if one had been empowered by the Holy Spirit. They had a simple Aramaic prayer which they used at their weekly ritual meal, “marana tha [Our Lord, come!],” whereas we have no evidence of Jews invoking angels or other agent figures for God in any comparable manner. They used the Shema and a well-known passage from Isaiah 45 about the uniqueness of God as texts about Yeshua. They made analogies and used careful circumlocutions to describe the mysterious relationship between Messiah and God without getting overly specific (“image of the invisible God,” “the radiance of the glory of God”). They made use of the linguistic differentiation between Lord and God as a way of describing Messiah in relation to God (“God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” “there is one God, the Father . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ”). They described heavenly visionary experiences of Yeshua in heaven, having his own divine glory (“the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” “his face was like the sun shining in full strength”). They did not say “Yeshua is God” directly, but described his divinity always in relation to God (“the Word was with God, the Word was God”). They did not try to specify the relationship between Yeshua and God beyond a certain mysterious vagueness. They did write as those who had encountered something incomprehensible which they felt compelled to believe and put into practice but which they were reluctant to describe with too much precision.” – The Divine Messiah, Kindle Locations, 1000-1009. 

 Anyone who studies historical method is familiar with what is called historical causation. Historians seek out the causes of a certain events. As historian Paul Barnett says, “The birth of Christianity and the birth of Christology are inseparable both as to time and essence.” (1) One thing for sure: the birth of Christology was very early and not something that was invented much later in Church history.

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

Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. We know that from about AD 48 until his death (60 to 65 AD) Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. To read any objections to Paul’s Letters, see here.

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

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

After looking at these issues, we must utilize what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” (Abduction)

  1. Inference refers to the process of collecting data and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence.
  2. We compare the evidence to the potential explanations and determined which explanation was, in fact, the most reasonable inference in light of the evidence.
  3. The best explanation will cover all the data.

Explanations try to show how something happened. That is, what is the cause for something that has happened. So let’s look at the options on the table and see if we can come up with an explanation that explains the data at hand:

#1: Religious Syncretism

While there were various Jewish sects during the time of Jesus, religious syncretism is a form of idolatry. First, the Jewish Scriptures forbids worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel (Ex. 20:1–5; Deut. 5:6–9). Following the exile and subsequent intertestamental struggles, it can asked whether Jews still fell prey to physical idolatry. Some skeptics assert that since Israel always had problems with idolatry in their early formation, it would not be a challenge to assert they could fall into idolatry again by worshiping one of their own countrymen as God. But this is problematic; To assert that Israel’s previous problems with idolatry which would lead to further into idolatry in the Second Temple period leads me to cry “anachronism.” Remember, idolatry is rarely mentioned in the Gospels. But there are warnings about idolatry in other portions of the New Testament( 1 Cor. 6:9-10 ; Gal 5:20 ; Eph. 5:5 ; Col 3:5 ; 1 Peter 4:3 ; Rev 21:8). Paul instructs believers not to associate with idolaters ( 1 Cor .5:11 ; 10:14 ) and even commends the Thessalonian for their turning from the service of idols “to serve the living and true God” ( 1 Thess1:9) (see Walter A. Elwell’s Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, pgs 364-365). So I guess my question is the following: Why would Paul or the early disciples commit an idolatrous act (by saying Jesus is divine) and but then later speak against idolatry? It seems rather inconsistent.

#2 Hellenism or Polytheism?

The syncretism objection is related to the Hellenism/Polytheism possibility. The first followers of Jesus were exclusively Jews. The book of Acts gives a reference to the early followers of Jesus as “the sect of Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). However, it is asserted that as the Christian faith spread, it became a predominately Gentile based religion. By the time of Jesus, Jews had encountered the impact of Hellenistic culture for three hundred years. The word “Hellenistic” was given to describe the period of history that started with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and ended when Rome conquered Alexander’s empire in 30 B.C .It is also safe to say that several forms of Jewish culture during the Roman period were somewhat Hellenized. This is why it is often argued that the incarnation grew out of Hellenistic presuppositions. But as Paul Eddy points out in his article Was Christianity Corrupted by Hellenism? from the middle of the third century BC, while Jewish Palestine had already experienced the effects of Hellenism we need to remember that Hellenism did not tend to infiltrate and ‘corrupt’ the local religious traditions of the ancient world. Rather, people maintained their religious traditions in spite of Hellenistic influence in other areas of their lives. Also, there are also references to the negative views of gentile polytheism (Acts 17: 22-23; 1 Cor 8:5). Gentiles were regarded as both sinful (Gal 2:5) and idolatrous (Rom 1:23).

#3: The Deity of Jesus is Legend?

As I already said, the earliest documents for the Christology of Jesus are Paul’s Letters. In them, we have one of the earliest confessions of the deity of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6:

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

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

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

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

#4: The Christology of Jesus can be explained by the disciples experience with Jesus before the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances.

I think if we look at these four options, #4 explains the paradigm shift that is mentioned above. To read further, see our resurrection resource page. 

NOTE: See our 28 Suggested Readings in Christology

Also, see the current book on the topic by Andrew Loke.

Sources:
1. Paul Barnett, The Birth of Christianity: The First Twenty Years (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2005), 8.

2. David Berger, The Rebbe, The Messiah And The Scandal Of Orthodox Difference, 160-174.

3. Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 132.

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A Look at God’s Foreknowledge, Sovereignty, and Man’s Responsibility

In this weekly zoom clip, we discuss God’s Sovereignty,  Foreknowledge, and Man’s Responsibility. Yes, this is a monstrous topic and many have struggled with it and tried to figure it out. We will tackle some of these issues here. We look at definitions, some issues with some atheists who deny free will, and models that deal with these issues.

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What Factors Are Involved in How People Change Their Beliefs?

I have spoken to hundreds of people from different religious backgrounds. I have also spoken to my share of atheists and skeptics. One thing that I have thought about is the complex factors in changing a belief system/worldview (i.e., the way a person views reality).

What factors play a large role in how people form their beliefs? In my experience, here are some of them:

1. Sociological factors such as parents, religious institutions.

2. Experiential, psychological/existential factors: (i.e., some beliefs bring comfort, hope, meaning, purpose).

3. Learning through authorities: (i.e., professors, people who are experts in a certain field of study).

Sadly, one area that plays a smaller role is evidence, data, reason, and philosophy. Granted, I am just being general here and nobody can be boxed into one category. But I do know many people who have a religious background have developed convictions through a specific community or family.

From my own experience, here are some factors that continue to play a large role in this topic.

Problem #1: A Priori Commitments

A priori belief/commitments: means to assume something or presuppose something prior to experience/observation. This means any attempt to look at or interpret evidence will be seen though a prior commitments. We can see this in the following quote:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated.” – Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” Available at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/01/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/ accessed May 17th, 2017.

Methodological naturalism is a position that says science or history should seek only natural explanations and that attempts to find supernatural causes are ipso facto, not science. In contrast, metaphysical naturalism starts with the presupposition that all that exists is nature. Presupposing that all that exists is nature and then using methodological naturalism to prove this presupposition is arguing in a circle. In my experience, many people confuse metaphysical and methodological naturalism.

Problem #2: Plausibility Structures (what sounds reasonable or probable)

Another issue with people changing beliefs must deal with plausibility structures.  Having talked to so many people from different backgrounds, this plays a huge role. As we talk to people, it is evident what we consider to be plausible is implausible to them. And what they say to us can sound implausible as well. Let me give a couple of examples:

1.Christian to Muslim: “Jesus is God and he died and rose from the dead.”

2. Muslim responds to Christian: “That is implausible. God is one! And Jesus dying for the sins of humanity is weak.”

1. Christian to Jewish person: “Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the nations.”

2. Jewish person responds: “Jesus didn’t bring peace to the world. The proof is in the condition of the world.”

Christian to atheist:

1. “Isn’t it reasonable to believe nature isn’t all there is.”

2. “Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if God were real, he would be powerful enough to communicate with us in a way we could understand?

Atheist tries to build a plausibility structure with a religious person

1. “Have you noticed almost every time we have said something has a supernatural explanation, we ended up finding a naturalistic explanation.”

NOTE: If you want to see a clip where an atheist won’t even consider any evidence see this short small critique of a debate between Hugh Ross and Peter Adkins. It is fascinating:

Problem #3: Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by only looking for, or interpreting, information that confirms one’s existing beliefs. For example, a Christian, Mormon, Jewish person, Muslim, and even an atheist will be surrounded by community beliefs.  And when they hear something that challenges their community or longstanding convictions, this creates cognitive dissonance. For example, we may say to ourselves “I thought I knew this was the thing to believe, but now I am hearing counter evidence and I am experiencing dissonance or conflict.” People can tend to seek out answers that confirm what they already believe.  I have seen this happen with people from different faiths as well as atheists. Confirmation bias isn’t going away. It is unavoidable, and everyone is guilty of it. Remember, many people have access to the same evidence. But they don’t agree with the interpretation of the evidence. That’s because they take their presuppositions into the interpretative process.

Problem #4: The Will

I found this to be an outstanding quote from apologist Frank Turek. I have had Frank come to our campus a couple of times. He says:

“I am not saying that an atheist’s motivation proves that atheism is false  — someone can have the wrong motives and still be right. What I am saying is that many atheists don’t want Christianity to be true. I’ve seen this firsthand among atheists on college campuses. When I sense hostility during the Q& A period of an I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist presentation, I normally ask the questioner, “If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?” On several occasions I’ve had atheists yell back at me, “No!”

(Frank responds) No? “Wait, you claim to be a beacon of reason, yet when I ask you if something were true would you believe it, you say ‘no!’ How is that reasonable?” It’s not. That’s because reason or evidence isn’t the issue for such people. They don’t have an intellectual objection to Christianity  — they have an emotional, moral, or volitional objection. They’ve been hurt by Christians or think they’ve been let down by God. But more often, as several atheists have admitted, they simply don’t want to give up their autonomy and submit their will to God. They are not on a relentless pursuit of the truth, open to following the evidence where it leads. They’re on a happiness quest, not a truth quest. They reject Christianity because they think doing whatever they want will make them happy. So it’s a heart issue, not a head issue. It’s been said that this kind of atheist is looking for God as much as a criminal is looking for a cop. This resistance affects all of us at times. When we want to be our own gods, we’re not open to accepting the true God. Pascal put it this way, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Girlfriends, boyfriends, and maintaining your independence can be very attractive. Pascal’s insight may also help us answer the questions we posed at the end of chapter 1. Namely, why are atheists such as Dawkins and Krauss open to deism but not theism? And why are Dawkins and several other atheists open to admitting that the evidence points to an alien intelligent designer of the first life but not to God? I could be wrong, but it sure seems that the answer is right here: morality and accountability. A theistic God brings such demands, but an alien or a deistic god does not. What other reasons could there be? What reasons do you have for what you believe? Are you following the evidence where it leads? Honestly? Or are you more interested in believing what you find attractive? To be fair, this sword cuts both ways. Many people are Christians not because they’ve investigated the evidence, but because they find a heavenly Father and eternal life attractive. The difference is  — although many Christians don’t know it  — abundant evidence exists for their beliefs. So Christians can say with confidence that while some atheists have the attitude, “There is no God, and I hate him,” Christ had the attitude, “There are atheists, and I love them. In fact, I died for them. ” Frank  Turek, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (p. 113).

So in the end, is it possible for people to change beliefs. Yes, it can happen. But it can be a long process. There are many complex factors at work. People are holistic beings. Thus, changing beliefs involves questioning, study, our emotions, our intellect, and our will. We can’t divorce any of these issues out of the process.

Note: you can also see our video here on the topic.

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What Does It Mean To Love God With All Our Heart, Soul, and Mind?

In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by saying, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus! Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-9:

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “shmah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of  the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is  “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is  used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical  standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire  person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional,  affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart”  (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the  rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith involves a  commitment of the whole person.

In Jewish thought, in the Shema, hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. Hence, in Deut. : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds).  How might me love God with our minds?

First, as John Piper says in his essay on Faith and Reason:

Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In1 Timothy 6:5, he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And inRomans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.

We are an adulterous generation. We love man-centered error more than Christ-exalting truth, and our rational powers are taken captive to serve this adulterous love. This is what Jesus exposed when he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” In other words, your mind functions just fine when seeking out a partner in adultery, but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.”

Note: You can download Piper’s book THINK right here.

As Christ followers, we are called to not fall into the same traps that Paul warns his audiences here.

Second, Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity) from a Christian/biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity. As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (1)

Third, establish a worldview: The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience.(2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Fourth, as William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (3)

If we teach the holistic nature of faith, we won’t over emphasize emotions to the detriment of intellect or vice versa.

Fifth, from a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?

Conclusion

I hope these tips help. Remember, Biblical faith is a holistic commitment to God. It is a commitment that calls for us to submit our mind, emotions, and will all to the glory of God.

Sources:

1. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

2. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

3. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

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Can We Reconcile The Messiah Ben David and The Messiah Ben Joseph Tradition in Judaism?

Is Yeshua the Jewish Messiah? by [Eric Chabot]

One topic I discuss on my book on whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah is the following:

Should Christians try to share the message of the Jesus the Messiah with their Jewish neighbors? This has always been a thorny topic. Anyone who has studied Church history knows that our relationship with the Jewish people hasn’t always worked out for the best.

Christians need to remember that the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant. Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

In relation to the work of  Jesus, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity is now the home of 1.4 billion adherents. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus? As a Gentile Christian, I and others have benefited from the Abrahamic Covenant.

We see in the Book of Acts that the apostles preached that everyone needs to believe explicitly in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles. Even Peter said to God-fearing Cornelius, that it is “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43). Paul also made an appeal to the Jewish audience at Pisidian Antioch to believe in Jesus because it is “through Jesus [that] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified” (13:38–39, NIV).

Also, Christians need to follow Paul’s example in that he showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5;10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the Good News of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Don’t assume Jewish people believe in a personal Messiah. Many of them have never thought about it. Furthermore, if there is a Messiah, he is not divine. For the most part all Jewish people  know  that Jesus is not for them.

Remember, regarding the Messiah issue: The Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed  for a specific purpose such as  priests (Exod. 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg. 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

Notice these figures were all in the present.

None of these texts speak of a future figure.  Of course, there are texts that speak of a future figure. For example, Daniel 9:25-26 where it speaks of an “anointed one” who will ‘finish transgression, put and end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy Place” (Dan. 9:24) .

There were names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

A Look at Daniel 7:13-14

God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

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

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

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

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

The Suffering/Lowly and Rejected Messiah

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

Zechariah 9: 9

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

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

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

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David

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

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

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.

He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).

He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.

For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary.

How do we reconcile both of these messianic figures? 

There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures.The suffering/atoning, rejected Messiah: (Psalm 22; 118: 22; Isaiah 52:13-53.12, Daniel 9:25-26, Zechariah 12:10) and the ruling/kingly Messiah: (2 Sam 7:10–14; Pss. 2:7; 72:1 Pss. 89:4, 26, 35–37; 132:11–12, 17–18; Dan 7:13) applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sources:Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing.

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A Look at Jesus’ View of Scripture

How did Jesus view the Scriptures? Obviously, there was no New Testament at the time he walked on the earth. The structure of this argument may be formalized as follows: Read a fuller form  from the book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture here:

(1)  The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence

(2) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection .

(3)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate.

(4) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.

(5) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

In this post, I will expand on #4 and #5 with the help of Daniel L. Akin

Akin says:

“In the greatest sermon ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7), Jesus spoke on the theme of God’s kingdom. Matthew 5:17–20, in particular, serves as the introduction to the six great antitheses of 5:21–48. They also explain how we can live out the beatitudes (5:3–12) and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (5:13–16). Matthew 5:17 reveals Jesus’ high view of Scripture: “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (HCSB). Clearly, what is said here pertains to the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, what Jesus affirmedabout the Old Testament He also promised about the New Testament. Jesus said:

 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is Mine. This is why I told you that He takes from what is Mine and will declare it to you” (John 16:12–15 HCSB).

Several points should be made about Jesus’ view and use of Scripture. First, Jesus introduced teachings that were new and striking. Indeed, as John 7:46 states, “No man ever spoke like this!” (HCSB). Some may have concluded that His teaching constituted a decisive break with the Old Testament Scriptures. That is certainly the judgment of some scholars today. “Not so,” says Jesus. “Do not think [or consider] that I came to destroy [annul, abrogate, disintegrate, demolish] the law.” J. A. Alexander noted that the idea is “the destruction of a whole by the complete separation of its parts, as when a house is taken down by being taken to pieces.”7 Jesus said He did not come to tear apart or dismantle the law and prophets (a reference to the OT Scriptures of His day). He did not come to destroy (repeated for emphasis) but to fulfill. Note that the antithesis is not between “abolish” and “keep” but between “abolish” and “fulfill.” The Scriptures find their fulfillment, their intended purpose, in the life and ministry of Messiah Jesus. He is the one to whom they point. He is the one they predict and anticipate.

Second, Jesus provided not only an emphatic denial but also a positive declaration about the purpose for His coming—He came to fulfill the Scriptures. He came, as the Son, to complete what had previously been delivered in bits and pieces by the Old Testament prophets (see Heb 1:1–2). To set Scripture aside was never His agenda. To bring them to fulfillment and fruition was why He came. Don Carson was correct when he said:

 Jesus fulfills the entire Old Testament in many ways. Because they point toward him, he has certainly not come to abolish them. Rather, he has come to fulfill them in a rich diversity of ways. . . . Jesus does not conceive of his life and ministry in terms of opposition to the Old Testament, but in terms of bringing to fruition that toward which it points. Thus the law and the prophets, far from being abolished, find their valid continuity in terms of their outworking in Jesus. The detailed prescriptions of the Old Testament may well be superseded, because whatever is prophetic must be in some sense provisional. But whatever is prophetic likewise discovers its legitimate continuity in the happy arrival of that toward which it has pointed.

That our Lord would have affirmed that “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation”—which concludes the BF&M (2000) statement on Scripture—can hardly be questioned:

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me (John 5:39 NKJV).

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Mos Bes and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the leScriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:25–27 NKJV).

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45 NKJV).”-Daniel L. Akin, Jesus, Evangelicals, and the Bible, from Defending the Faith, Engaging the Bible, Essays Honoring Russ L. Bush, pgs 15-16.

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The Relationship Between Arguments and Persuasion

Anyone who has done a fair amount of apologetics  has probably heard the response, “I remain unpersuaded.” In other words, a skeptic has heard an argument presented and while others might be persuaded, they remain unconvinced. So does this mean the arguments for theism are just unpersuasive? Are there other factors at work here.?  I already did a post called ” What Factors Are Involved in How People Change Their Beliefs?

Most recently I spent a long time engaging a student who’s a Unitarian Universalist yesterday. After going over every possible alternative to the resurrection, he finally admitted most of the naturalistic theories fail. But then he said he said he wasn’t persuaded . This discussion made me think of a wonderful book by the late Ronald Nash who noted the  following:

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

In the end, while evidence might be rationally compelling, for some, it may not be emotionally or willfully superb, and able to overcome the human heart. Hence, for many people, they may understand an argument, but still may not believe, due to the lack of a one size-fits-all approach for people who have various intellectual, emotional, and willful obstacles to belief.

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