The Case for the Ascension of Christ

ascension-jesus

Dislaimer: The following is a paper submitted by Pastor Brian Chilton to Liberty University. This paper has been scanned and admitted through “Safe Assign” and will be detected by any and all accredited universities and colleges. No part of this paper may be copied and pasted into another paper without giving credit to the author. Failure to do so may, and most likely will, cause the student to be charged with plagiarism by his/her respected school. Charges of plagiarism can result in academic probation and/or expulsion.

Introduction

Luke records a spectacular event towards the conclusion of his gospel and beginning of the book of Acts. That event is the ascension of Christ Jesus. The event holds that Jesus “left them and was taken up into heaven” (Luke 24:51). Should the ascension of Christ be viewed as a necessary event based on a true historical event or should the event be viewed as an ecclesiastical invention? As the paper will show, some hold that the event is purely imaginary. Others hold that the ascension is a real event in space-time history. The paper will show that the ascension of Christ was a true and necessary event in church history. First the views concerning the ascension of Christ will be presented. Then, the paper will defend the ascension of Christ as a true and necessary event by arguing for the historical necessity of the ascension of Christ, the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ, and the eschatological necessity of the ascension of Christ.

 

Views Concerning the Ascension of Christ

            This section will seek to examine two primary views pertaining to the ascension of Christ. The secular view sees the ascension as an ecclesiastical invention formulated to present Jesus in a supernatural fashion. The evangelical view sees the ascension as a true event accurately recorded in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.

 The Secular View of the Ascension of Christ

The assault on the miraculous in the Bible has come in no small part by the acceptance of a skeptical worldview, termed in this paper as the secular view. David Hume and Benedict Spinoza are greatly responsible for influencing the modern culture towards skepticism. As Geisler writes, “Spinoza was rationalistic, and Hume was empirical. Differences notwithstanding, they shared the conclusion that it is unreasonable to believe in miracles. For Spinoza, miracles are actually impossible; for Hume, they are merely incredible.”[1] Such skepticism has pervaded the culture. For many, as Farneti points out, “…secularization is the overcoming of a previous condition in which religion controlled and dominated public life.”[2] For those like Daniel Dennett, the miraculous would not be possible due to the skeptic’s case-making against the existence of God. Farneti writes, “Dennett in particular mistakes the ‘sacred’ with ‘God,’ and his natural history of religion, which is meant to build a case against the existence of God…”[3] The secularist bases their research upon a materialist assumption that God does not exist and that miracles are not possible. Since the ascension teems with miraculous connotations, it would be rejected as an impossibility by the secularist.

The religious have been influenced by secularism. Rudolf Bultmann’s advocacy of the “demythologization” of the Bible (extracting any connotations of the miraculous from the Bible) has left an impression even among the religious. Geisler writes, “…Bultmann did not even open for consideration the assumption that the biblical picture of miracles is impossible. Such a view could no longer be held seriously.”[4] Kreeft and Tacelli demonstrate that some seek to take a middle ground, neither claiming that miracles are impossible nor claiming that the events of the Bible are historical “by interpreting the Gospel as myth—neither literally true nor literally false, but spiritually or symbolically true.”[5] Therefore, such a view could not evaluate the evidence of the ascension of Christ unbiasedly and neither could the materialist due to the presuppositions that exist against the miraculous. Since the ascension of Christ is a miraculous event, the secularist view is ill-equipped to fairly treat the issue of the ascension as a necessary historical event. However, there is a second approach which is more feasible.

 The Evangelical View of the Ascension of Christ

What this paper will term the evangelical view is shared among those who may not necessarily be considered evangelical in the sense of denominational affiliation. In fact, some Roman Catholics may fit this viewpoint. The term evangelical view is used in this paper to refer to those scholars and laymen alike that accept, or are open to, the ascension of Christ narrative as a historical event, despite the fact that such an event involves connotations of the miraculous. As Anthony Kelly writes, “The revelatory impact of the ascension cannot be separated from its occurrence as an event. Something happened; and when something of great significance happens, it possesses a singular and expanding impact.”[6] It was argued that those in the secularist camp could not view the ascension of Christ without a materialist and/or naturalist assumption. Therefore, those that fit the evangelical viewpoint, in the sense used in this paper, are able to evaluate the ascension better than those in the secularist camp. It is the evangelical viewpoint that is endorsed in this paper.

 

The Historical Necessity

            This section will evaluate evidence supporting the ascension as a historical event. Due to the ascension’s relationship to the resurrection of Christ, some of the arguments supporting the resurrection are also used to support the ascension. Walter Kasper writes, “People today will consider something historically true and real, if it is demonstrated to be historically credible and at least basically capable of objective verification.”[7] Can one know if the ascension is, as Kasper suggests, “credible” and “capable of objective verification”? Alistair Wilson correctly assesses that “Jesus was taken bodily. The various resurrection accounts by Luke emphasize Jesus’ bodily presence among his followers.”[8] Therefore, it must be demonstrated that Jesus resurrected bodily before the ascension can be presented as a historical event. In order to demonstrate the resurrection/ascension as a credible and verifiable historical event, it will be necessary to evaluate the internal evidence for the New Testament traditions belonging to or based upon eyewitness testimony and it will be necessary to examine the external evidence for the resurrection/ascension as historical events.

 Internal Evidence

Can the information contained within the New Testament be trusted? The internal evidence for the New Testament is strong. The New Testament presents Jesus and the events surrounding Him in a timeframe that fits history. Evans writes, “When the Gospels tell us things that cohere with what we know of Jesus’ historical circumstances and principal features of his life and ministry, it is reasonable to believe that we are on solid ground.”[9] In addition, Evans demonstrates that there are embarrassing features which are presented in the New Testament. These features would not be presented unless they were, in fact, true. For example, Evans writes,

‘Embarrassing’ sayings and actions are those that are known to reach back to the ministry of Jesus, and therefore, like it or not, they cannot be deleted from the Jesus data bank…The story as we have it preserved in Matthew and Luke gives historians confidence that it faithfully and accurately reports the exchange between John and Jesus and is not a later Christian fiction.[10]

There are, indeed, embarrassing details in the resurrection/ascension story. First, the fact that Mary Magdalene was the first to meet Jesus after the resurrection is embarrassing due to the fact that women were not highly esteemed in the time that the Gospels were written (John 20:11-18). Second, Matthew states that even after Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection that “they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). If one were to present a myth, it is doubtful that the presenter would claim to have doubted what was being presented unless it was true.

Also, some texts within the New Testament date to the earliest times of the church. Within the text of the New Testament, ancient creeds and hymns are found. Interestingly enough, particular creeds mention Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Gary Habermas writes, “Two examples of such early creeds were mentioned earlier with regard to the life of Jesus. In 1 Timothy 3:16, it is proclaimed that, after his incarnation, Jesus was ‘taken up in glory.’ In Philippians 2:6ff, it is related that after Jesus humbled himself as a man, he was highly exalted and is to be worshipped by all persons (2:9-11)[11].”[12] The fact that these creeds date early in the life of the church show that the ascension was not a late legendary development, but that it is early enough to have been based upon eyewitness testimony. Not only are there internal reasons for holding to the resurrection/ascension stories, there are external reasons as well.

 External Evidence

There are reasons to believe that the information given in the New Testament comes from eyewitness testimony. William Lane Craig provides examples of early documents which attribute the Gospels to eyewitness testimony,

The extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors,…testimony from the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, all the way up to Eusebius in A.D. 315….Theophilus, Hippolytus, Origen, Quadratus, Irenaeus, Melito, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Tertullian, Cyprian, Tatian, Caius, Athanasius, Cyril…..Even Christianity’s opponents conceded this: Celsus, Porphyry, Emperor Julian.[13]

The most ardent skeptic must ignore a mountain of resources in order to claim that the Gospel traditions were based upon non-eyewitness testimony. It is suspected that if the resurrection/ascension stories did not include miraculous elements that no serious scholar would ever deny their authenticity. Even still, there is a realm of agreement with serious scholars on the life of Christ including a minimal agreement in that some mysterious action occurred on the first Easter Sunday.

Most serious scholars agree on five core essentials of the life of Christ. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona call these the “minimal facts approach.” Habermas and Licona write,

The ‘minimal facts approach’ considers only those historical data that are so strongly attested that virtually all scholars who study the subject grant them as facts, even the majority of non-believing scholars…We have seen that (1) Jesus died to crucifixion…(2) the original disciples sincerely believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them…(3) We have credible testimony from one enemy of Christianity and (4) one skeptic, both of whom converted to Christianity based on their beliefs that the risen Jesus has appeared to them…Moreover, (5) the tomb was empty, a fact totally consistent with a resurrection.[14]

When even the skeptic admits that the early Christians witnessed something mysterious that first Easter morning, it can be agreed that there exist compelling reasons for holding to the resurrection as a historical reality. If the resurrection is a historical reality, as the internal and external evidence suggests, then the ascension is totally compatible as a true historical event. It could be argued that since the risen Jesus is not still walking on planet earth (although Jesus’ risen state is much different than Jesus’ pre-resurrection state), then something like an ascension event must have transpired. Not only is there a historical necessity for the ascension of Christ, there is also a theological necessity.

 

The Theological Necessity

            It could be argued by the secularist that since Luke wrote most extensively about the ascension that the story was a Lukan invention. However, there are other non-Lukan references that record the ascension as a historical reality. This section will identify those non-Lukan passages of Scripture and demonstrate the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ.

 Paul’s Reference to the Ascension

Paul addresses the ascension of Christ in several places. Nathan Brasfield writes,

In Paul’s letters, the most vivid reflection on Christ’s ascension is Eph 4:8–10. Paul applies a portion of the coronation in Psa 68 to describe Christ reigning over the church and distributing gifts to the body. In a style similar to John, Paul also directly connects Christ’s descent with His ascension (ἀναβαίνω, anabainō): “for above all the heavens.” Paul says that through this ascension, Christ becomes omnipresent—He “fills all things.” For Paul, Christ abides in heaven (Eph 6:9; see Phil 1:23) from where He will return (Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 1:10; 4:16–17; 2 Thess 1:7; 1 Cor 11:26).[15]

Quoting Psalm 68:18, Paul writes that Jesus “ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people” (Ephesians 2:8). While eschatological implications will be addressed in the next section, it should be noted that Paul shows a link between Christ’s resurrection and ascension with the inheritance of God’s people in the world to come. N. T. Wright suggests that “Ephesians 1.3-14 is, among other things, a retelling of the exodus story. This leads Paul to a celebration, in prayer, of the present position of the church as it awaits this full inheritance (1.15-23).”[16] It is the resurrection and ascension of Christ that brings forth the assurance of this inheritance. Therefore, the ascension is a theological necessity. If Jesus were still walking the face of the earth without having entered into the heavenly dimension, the assurance of the saints’ inheritance would not be confident. Now that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, the inheritance of the saints is a certainty.

 John’s Reference to the Ascension

John is another Gospel writer that refers to the ascension. Mark could be included, however the authenticity of the ascension reference in Mark is debated (Mark 16:19). Contrasted with Luke’s reference to the ascension, John’s reference to the ascension is not found in a narrative, but in a teaching. Jesus is quoted as saying, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). The identification with the ‘Son of Man’ draws implications from the ‘Son of Man’ figure in Daniel 7:13-14. Marie Farrell demonstrates that “New Testament passages written with post-resurrection faith and well after the Ascension and Pentecost, frequently drew upon the figure of the ‘Son of Man’…found in the Book of Daniel in order to establish that the ministry of Jesus revealed his divine origins and power.”[17] While this writer believes that John accurately recorded Jesus’ teaching, it is understood that the ascension event would have impressed the teaching upon the mind of the evangelist. The ascension event would have clearly connected Jesus the Messiah with the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel 7. Joseph Fitzmeyer asserts that the relation of Johannine reference to the ascension is so strong that “it would be a transit from cross to glory without an allusion to the resurrection. Even though the final redaction of the Johannine Gospel postdates the Synoptic Gospels, it clearly contains many early Christian traditional affirmations which have developed independently of the Synoptic tradition.”[18] This reference in John serves to provide another reference outside of Luke that refers to the ascension of Christ. Also, the ascension event is presented as a theological necessity as it implies the divine nature of the Messiah.

 The Writer of Hebrews’ Reference to the Ascension

The identity of the writer of Hebrews remains a mystery. Some accept that Paul was the writer. However, the identity of the author greatly remains a matter of speculation. David Allen suggests “that Luke wrote Hebrews from Rome after the death of Paul and before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Scriptural evidence for this thesis can be adduced upon a correlation of the statements made in the Pastoral Epistles with the text of Hebrews.”[19] If this is the case, then the reference to the ascension in Hebrews cannot be examined as an extra-Lukan reference. However, it should be noted that any speculation pertaining to the identity of the writer of Hebrews is just that: speculation. Although Allen makes a strong case for Lukan authorship for Hebrews, it is far from conclusive. Therefore, any reference to the ascension of Christ must be treated as an extra-Lukan source.

A reference is made to the ascension of Christ in stating that after Christ provided purification for humanity’s sins, that “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3). Although the atonement does not necessarily dictate that the ascension must occur, it only follows that the ascension would take place due in part to the divine nature of Jesus. The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven after the atonement for sins demonstrates Jesus’ ultimate office as high priest. Because Jesus is the high priest, individuals can now “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood would indicate the ascension’s necessity.

 Peter’s Reference to the Ascension

Simon Peter also addresses the ascension in his writings. Even if one does not ascribe to Petrine authorship of 1 and 2 Peter as does this writer, the skeptic can still appreciate the notion that these letters represent a different source for the ascension’s authenticity. In 1 Peter, two references allude to the ascension of Christ. Peter indicates of Jesus that God “raised him from the dead and glorified him…” (1 Peter 1:21). Later in the book, the author states that one is saved “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand…” (1 Peter 3:21b-22). While the term “glorified” would naturally seem to indicate the ascension, the second reference removes all doubt. Thomas R. Schreiner states,

Peter picked up again the word “has gone” (poreutheis), emphasizing Jesus’ ascension after his resurrection. The same term in v. 19, I argued, also refers to Jesus’ triumph over demonic powers after his death and resurrection. The emphasis here is on Jesus’ entrance into heaven and rule at God’s right hand. The reference to the right hand recalls Ps 110:1, where David’s Lord sits at Yahweh’s right hand and rules. [20]

1 Peter indicates that the Messiah was victorious and that the resurrection and ascension verified the Messiah’s authority over all other entities. Craig Keener would agree with this assessment of 1 Peter 3:22 in that “the evil powers behind the rulers who persecuted Christians had been subdued, and the final outcome was not in question.”[21] Therefore, the ascension becomes a theological necessity in establishing the authority of Christ. In this regard, the ascension delivers a great deal of hope and encouragement for the Christian who may have been overwhelmed by the pressures and persecutions brought forth by their faith. As J. I. Packer writes, “So the message of the Ascension story is: “Jesus the Savior reigns!”[22] The ascension is naturally understood if one accepts Jesus’ divine reign. It becomes a given that a king would assume his throne. The ascension would be such an event.

This section has focused upon the Scriptural references that demonstrate the theological necessity of the ascension of Christ being a real event. Needless to say, the theology built around the ascension of Christ would be moot if the ascension had in fact not taken place. Another reason exists for the ascension of Christ being a necessary and authentic event; the eschatological necessity.

 

The Eschatological Necessity

            The end time views held by the early church supports the belief that Jesus had ascended. This section will evaluate some of the references of Christ’s return as it relates to the assumption that Christ had already ascended. The paper will examine John 14 as it relates to the preparation of a heavenly home, which seems to refer to the ascension; 1 Corinthians 15:20ff , and the return of Christ references in 1 Thessalonians and Revelation 22; and finally the paper will examine an early Christian hymn recorded in Philippians 2:9ff.

John 14:3

Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Granted that Jesus lived, Jesus died, and Jesus rose again with an eternal body, it must be asked as Wilson does, “where is Jesus now? Simply, he is in heaven…”[23] Jesus promised that an ascension to heaven would be made in order to secure that believers would have a place prepared for them in heaven. While different interpretations exist as to the precise meaning of John 14:3, most relate the text with the parousia such as Gundry who also considers that, as Borchert suggests, “the passage highlights the coming of the Spirit as encompassed within the idea of the coming of Jesus.”[24] When it comes to eschatology, Christ must have ascended in order to prepare the place for believers and in order to come back to receive them.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23

Paul shows that in Jesus “all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him” (1 Corinthians 15:22b-23). The term “firstfruits” is the key in understanding this passage. Wright suggests that “Paul explains both that his resurrection is the beginning of a larger harvest and how that harvest will be accomplished.”[25] Farrell also states that “‘First fruits’, of course, are not the fully ripened harvest, but they do give the promise and pledge of the whole…Harvest imagery expresses well the joyful hope that we hold for our personal destiny and the destiny of the created universe.”[26] If resurrection was understood as Wright suggests in that resurrection was “a way of describing something everyone knew did not happen: the idea that death could be reversed, undone, could (as it were) work backwards,”[27] then it could be argued that the ascension was assumed. Christ who had defeated death was not currently present on earth, with the exception of being present in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if Christ was to bring forth a resurrection, was the first fruits of that resurrection, and was understood as reversing death, the absence of Christ’s physical presence dictates that Christ must have entered another dimension of existence. That would necessitate the ascension event.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Revelation 22:20

The return of Christ necessitates Christ’s ascension. When Paul addresses the return of Christ, Paul states that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The descent down to receive the church necessitates that Christ must have first gone up. The participation of an ascension event for the church is presented as the church “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17a). Such an event would have only made sense to the readers if there existed an understanding of Christ’s own ascension. Wright states that “These references to Jesus returning imply that Jesus presently exercises a heavenly reign from which he returns to earth, and while, in most cases, there is no clear indication of how he came to be there we cannot have the return of Jesus without the ascension.”[28] The belief that Christ would return is entrenched in the New Testament so much that the last verses of the New Testament ends with the promise. Jesus states “Yes, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20a) to which John responds “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20b). Concerning Revelation 22:20, Paige Patterson writes, “There follows a prayer voiced heavenward, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ John’s heart is ready, and he is eager for the return of Christ.”[29] Therefore, if one views the method of Jesus’ return as presented by the New Testament writers, the ascension of Jesus is assumed.

Philippians 2:9-10

The final Scripture that will be evaluated in this paper is based upon an early hymn. The hymn is found in Philippians 2. For the purposes of this paper, only two verses will be examined. Paul records the hymn as saying, “…God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-10). Brasfield states that Paul “cites material commonly considered to be early hymns about Christ, which may refer to the ascension. In Philippians 2:9, after describing Christ’s humbleness to death on a cross, the hymn declares that God “highly exalted” (ὑπερυψόω, hyperypsoō) Him.”[30] There are a couple of important points that can be made concerning Philippians 2:9-10. First, the fact that this is an early hymn and addresses the ascension, from the mention of Jesus’ glorification, demonstrates that the ascension event is not based upon later legendary development rather upon the testimony of the earliest Christians. Second, as it relates to this section, the ascension of Christ is important in developing an understanding of the victory of Christ. Because Christ ascended and is seated at the right hand of God, Christ has assured the final victory identified in Revelation 20.

 

Conclusion

Should the ascension of Christ be viewed as a necessary event based on a true historical event or should the event be viewed as an ecclesiastical invention? This paper has argued for the evangelical view in that the ascension was a real event and not the product of myth or legend. It has been shown that the evidences provided for the ascension of Christ is associated with the defenses provided for the resurrection of Christ. Internal and external evidences suggest that the New Testament record is authentic and trustworthy. Due to multiple documents suggesting that Jesus resurrected and ascended verifies, at the least, that a commonly known event was presupposed. The paper also presented theological and eschatological doctrines from several biblical passages that demonstrate the necessity of an ascension event. If the ascension of Christ did not take place, the passages listed in this paper would hold little or, as in some cases, no applicable value. Since the church was built upon a spectacular event in the resurrection of Christ, it should not be a huge surprise that an ascension event would follow. The details of the ascension will most certainly be debated. Did Jesus enter a different dimension? Was a three-tiered cosmology implied as suggested by liberal theologians? These questions deserve further research. However, whatever happened with the ascension can be debated because the ascension was a necessarily true event.

 

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Allen, David L. Hebrews, The New American Commentary. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Borchert, Gerald L. John 12–21, Vol. 25B. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

Brasfield, Nathan. “Ascension of Christ.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz. Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2012.

Craig, William Lane. Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection. Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988. In Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Cullman, Oscar. The Earliest Christian Confessions. Translated by J.K.S. Reid. London: Lutterworth, 1949. In Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press, 1996.

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006.

Farneti, Roberto. “A Political Theology of the Empty Tomb: Christianity and the Return of the Sacred.” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 55, 116 (June 2008): 22-44. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

Farrell, Marie T. “Christ in Glory: The Ascension of Jesus.” Compass 46, 4 (Summer 2012). Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The ascension of Christ and Pentecost.” Theological Studies 45, 3 (September 1984): 409-440. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 30, 2014.

Geisler, Norman L. The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

_______________.  Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.

Habermas, Gary R., and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin: College Press, 1996.

Kasper, Walter. Jesus the Christ, New Edition. New York: T&T Clark, 2011.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.

Kelly, Anthony. “The Ascension: Recollecting the Experience.” Australian E-Journal of Theology 20, 2 (August 2013): 81-93. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994.

Packer, J. I. Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994.

Patterson, Paige. Revelation, vol. 39, The New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 2012.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.

Wilson, Alistair. “Christ Ascended for Us—’The Ascension: What is it and why does it matter?’.” Evangel (2007): 48-51. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed January 25, 2014.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1]Norman L. Geisler, “Hume, David,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999), 342.

[2] Roberto Farneti, “A Political Theology of the Empty Tomb: Christianity and the Return of the Sacred,” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory 55, 116 (June 2008): 25.

[3] Ibid, 26.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, “Miracles, Myth and,” In The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 350.

[5]Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 188.

[6]Anthony Kelly, “The Ascension: Recollecting the Experience,” Australian E-Journal of Theology 20, 2 (August 2013): 85.

[7]Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, New Edition (New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 118.

[8] Alistair Wilson, “Christ Ascended for Us—’The Ascension: What is it and why does it matter?’,” Evangel (2007): 50.

[9]Craig Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IVP, 2006), 48.

[10] Ibid, 49.

[11] Oscar Cullman, The Earliest Christian Confessions, trans. J.K.S. Reid (London: Lutterworth, 1949),55,57-62; in Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 151.

 [12] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidences for the Life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1996), 151.

[13] William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988), 194; in Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 194.

[14] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 149.

[15] Nathan Brasfield, “Ascension of Christ,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Logos Bible Software.

[16] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 236.

[17] Marie T. Farrell, “Christ in Glory: The Ascension of Jesus,” Compass 46, 4 (Summer 2012): 30.

[18] Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The ascension of Christ and Pentecost,” Theological Studies 45, 3 (September 1984): 412.

[19] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 48.

[20] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 197.

[21] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 718.

[22] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 64.

[23] Wilson, 50.

[24] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 106.

[25]N. T. Wright, 334.

[26] Farnell, 33.

[27] N. T. Wright, 33.

[28]Wilson, 49.

[29] Paige Patterson, Revelation, vol. 39, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 385–386.

[30] Brasfield, Logos Bible Software.

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Essential Doctrines (Part 7): The Trinity

Trinity1  One of the important, yet misunderstood, doctrines in the Bible is that of the Trinity. In this article, the doctrine of the Trinity will be explained, then, it will be shown why a person should believe in the doctrine, and finally, why it matters. The Trinity is one of the major dividing lines between orthodox Christianity and heretical versions of Christianity.

 

What is the doctrine?

The doctrine of the Trinity suggests that God is one, yet exists in three different persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some have criticized this doctrine as being a form of polytheism and leaving the roots of Judaist monotheism. However, this is not the case. The Christian understands that God is one God. Yet, this one God is manifested in three persons. Various methods have been used to describe this. One of my favorite illustrations is that of water. Water is found in three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. Despite being found in these three (four if you include plasma) forms, the substance is the same…water. So, now that the doctrine has been explained, the article will now examine why the doctrine should be accepted.

  

Why should one believe in the doctrine?

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the more bizarre concepts in Christianity. However, it is founded upon strong evidence. There are certain things in life that may seem difficult to understand. However, those difficult things should not be cast aside as false if there is good evidence to suggest that they are realities.

The Deity of the Father

There is really no need to expound on the deity of the Heavenly Father as it is presented throughout the entire Bible. God the Father is revealed through the personal names given to Him throughout the Hebrew Bible. The classic personal name given to the Father is “YHWH.” Some translate the personal name of God as “Jehovah.” However, it seems that the name “Yahweh” is far more accurate. As found in Exodus 3:14, And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14, NKJV). Another title given to the Father is “Elohim.” Elohim is an interesting title. It is a plural name given to a singular entity. Some have seen a reference to the Father’s plurality of persons. While this is debated, Erickson writes that “Grammarians have termed this phenomenon the quantitative plural. Water may be thought of in terms of individual raindrops or of a mass of water such as is found in the ocean. Knight asserted that this quantitative diversity is unity is a way fitting way of understanding the plural ‘elohim.’ He also believed that this explains why the singular noun (adonai) is written as a plural (GAF Knight 1953, 20)” (Erickson 1998, 354). There is no dispute that the Father was seen as divine by the Old and New Testament writers.

The Deity of Jesus

 As mentioned in previous articles (“Essential Doctines: The Incarnation”), Jesus of Nazareth, as opposed to movements like the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormon Church, is understood to be divine. Anything less is untrue to the context of the New Testament. Since this attribute has already been discussed in previous articles, it is not necessary to undertake the issue again. However, it would behoove us to mention one of the earliest mentions to Jesus’ divinity found in an early Christian hymn in Philippians 2:5-11.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV).

 Verse 6 uses the “word ‘morphe’ contrasts with the word ‘schema’, which is also generally translated ‘form,’ but in the sense of shape or superficial appearance rather than substance. For Paul, an orthodox Jew trained in the rabbinic teaching of strict Judaism, verse 6 is indeed and astonishing statement. Reflecting the faith of the early church, it suggests a deep commitment to the full deity of Christ” (Erickson 1998, 350). Therefore it is undeniable that the earliest church understood Jesus of Nazareth to be the divine Son of God.

The Deity of the Holy Spirit

 The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity. Dunn describes that the word “spirit” (Hebrew ruah, Greek pneuma) is the word used from ancient times to describe and explain the experience of divine power working in, upon, and around men, and understood by them as the power of God” (Dunn 1988, 986). In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was seen as the “wind of God” (Genesis 8:1, Exodus 10:13, Exodus 14:21); the “breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, Job 33:4, Psalm 104:29); David coined the term “Holy Spirit” (ruach qodesh) to separate the Spirit of God from other spirits (Psalm 51:11); the Spirit of prophecy (Haggai 2:5, et al); the Spirit in direction of the end times, or the Spirit who would be poured out upon men and women (Ezekiel 39:29, Joel 2:28, etc.). In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit was seen as “wind” (John 3:8); “breath” (2 Thessalonians 2:8), “breath of life” (Revelation 11:1); the provider of salvation (Acts 2:38, 29); the teacher of truth (John 14:17); the advocate (John 14:26); the giver of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:8-10, 1 Cor. 112:29-30, Ephesians 4:11, and 1 Peter 4:11); and the giver of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). But do these Scriptures necessarily point to the divinity of the Holy Spirit? One could argue that they do, but there are more specific links which attribute the Holy Spirit as a person in the Godhead.

The baptismal formula definitively suggests that the Holy Spirit is as much God as the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NKJV). The three are linked together in Paul’s benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14). The Holy Spirit is linked to critical times of Jesus life: Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:35), His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17), and at His resurrection (Romans 8:11).

The early church recognized the Trinity. In the Didache, an early book that nearly made it to the New Testament, it is said, And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before” (Didache 7:1-4).

Justin Martyr, writing in the early 2nd century, also wrote concerning the Trinity, For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water… And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed” (Justin Martry, Apologies I.61). Ignatius of Antioch writes in the late 1st century, “For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water” (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, XVIII). Although the word trinity is never used in the Bible, the concepts of a Triune Godhead are clearly taught and understood by the earliest of Christians.

  

Why is the doctrine essential?

If one is to understand God as God is presented in the Bible, then it is essential to the Christian faith. Anything less is untrue to the nature of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. To strip any one of the three from their divine nature is to have a false view of the person. Unfortunately, there have been many heresies that have developed over the millennia that have sought to undermine this doctrine.

Arianism

 Jehovah Witnesses fit within this category. JH’s view Jesus as the incarnation of the archangel Michael. But the JH movement established by Charles Taze Russell is nothing new. Their beliefs can actually be seen in an early cult known as Arianism. An early cult known as Arians popularized a belief that Jesus of Nazareth was not completely divine. Jesus was a created individual who was given the highest status among humans. In light of the teachings of John 1:1 and the self-identification of Jesus Himself as recorded in the Gospels, such a notion should be rejected.

Docetism

Docetists denied the actual humanity of Jesus. They believed, like the Gnostics, that Jesus only appeared to be human.

Apollinarianism

Apollinarius developed a Christology that Jesus had two natures: human and divine. But, he carried it too far. He denied that Jesus had a human will.

Nestorianism

Nestorius completely divided the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike Arian, Nestorius viewed the Spirit of Christ as being eternal, but the humanity of Jesus being only finite. Therefore, Jesus did not become divine until the Spirit of God rested upon Jesus.

Eutychianism

Eutychicus took Nestorius’ teachings even further. He seemed to indicate that once Jesus became divine, Jesus lost his human will and only then had the divine will.

Modalism

Modalists believed the essentials of the Trinity, but denied that they existed at the same time. In other words, they believed that God was the Father, then God ceased being the Father to become the Son, and then ceased being the Son to become the Holy Spirit. They do not believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit co-exist. This causes complications when one tries to fit the belief in the context of Scripture. For instance, at the baptism of Christ, we are presented with Christ being baptized, the Father speaking, and the Spirit descending like a dove. Therefore, this view cannot be accepted.

Mormonism

Mormons claim that there exists a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. These entities are but offspring of another set of divine parents. There are tremendous difficulties merging such a doctrine with the teachings of the Bible. Therefore if Jesus is seen to be the Son of God and there is evidence for the Trinity, then such a view must be rejected.

There are many other discrepancies that can be evaluated. However, the trinity is an important doctrine to understand and to accept if one is going to understand the nature and work of God. What’s more, the teaching of the Bible indicates that we are joined in with this divine relationship through the abiding of the Holy Spirit, paid for by Jesus at the cross, and established in the mind of the Almighty Father.

grace-of-god

Bibliography

All Scripture noted as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

All Scripture noted as (NKJV) comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Didache 7:1-4. Translated by Donalds and Robertson. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html. Accessed March 4, 2014.

Dunn, James D. G. “The Holy Spirit.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Edited by Walter A.

Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. pg. 57.

Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885., pg. 183.

Knight, G. A. F. A Biblical Approach to the Doctrine of the Trinity. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1953. In Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Essential Doctrines (Part 6): Resurrection of Jesus Christ

jesusresurrection8     At the center of Christianity is found a miracle; not just any miracle, but the miracle of all miracles. This miracle is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This doctrine is unique and sets Christianity apart from every other religion and worldview. If true, this one event changes the dynamic of every aspect of life. If true, this one event brings hope to a despairing world. But what is the resurrection? Why is it essential? Most importantly, are there reasons for believing that it is true? This article will seek to present some basic information on the resurrection of Jesus Christ

 

What is the doctrine?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is to be understood as the return to life of Jesus after having been dead for 3 days. The resurrection is different than just a return to life as Jesus would remain alive. Here, it would be considered that the ascension would hold great importance. I am writing a paper for a theology class on the ascension which I will share on the website in a few weeks. The resurrection is important because, if true, it would mean that Jesus has defeated the power of death and that all persons would be able to enjoy eternal life with God past this mortal life. In other words, it would prove an “afterlife” and the promise that the body that is possessed by each individual would also be resurrected to eternal perfection in the end times. Some would try to claim that a “spiritual resurrection” is plausible. But, N.T. Wright demonstrates that, “…’resurrection’ always denotes one position within that spectrum. ‘Resurrection’ was not a term for ‘life after death’ in general. It always means reembodiment” (Wright 1998, 111).

resurrection of christ 

Why should the doctrine be believed?

Perhaps one of the more important questions that should be asked pertains to the truthfulness of the resurrection. Are there good reasons for believing that the resurrection is true? This article will present five reasons why the resurrection could…and in fact should…be accepted as a historical fact. (For more information on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, see the series “Evidence for the Resurrection” in the March 2013 archives on this site.)

Early attestation and chain of authority

One of the earliest gospels written was the Gospel of Mark (circa 55AD). Mark records, “But when they looked up, they saw the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you (Mark 16:4-7).'” One of the earliest records was a formulation passed on to Paul which dates no later than 35AD. The formulation is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3ff which states, “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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).”

Not only is there New Testament evidence confirming the resurrection of Jesus, there are also early extra-biblical attestations of the resurrection. Clement of Rome wrote in the late first-century, “There will be a future resurrection” (Clement, “The First Epistle of Clement,” 24). Ignatius of Antioch wrote in AD 105, “And I know that He was possessed of a body not only in His being born and crucified, but I also know He was so after His resurrection, and believe that He is so now” (Ignatius, “Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans,” 3). The great apologist, Justin Martyr, wrote concerning Jesus, “If the resurrection were only spiritual, it was requisite that He, in raising the dead, should show the body lying apart by itself, and the soul living apart by itself. But now He did not do so, but raised the body, confirming in it the promise of life” (Justin Martyr, “On the Resurrection, Fragments,” 9). Irenaeus wrote in the late second-century, “Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Irenaeus, “Against Heresies,” 1.10.1).[1]

 

J. Warner Wallace showed that the chain of information extended from the earliest church to the full documents of the New Testament contained in the Codex Sinaiticus, dating to the early 300s AD. In charts in his book Cold-case Christianity,[2] Wallace shows that Jesus taught Peter (30/33), Peter taught Mark (who wrote the gospel that bears his name) (50), Mark taught Anianus (75), Avilius (95), Kedron (100), Primus (115) and Justus (130), who taught Pantaenus (195), who taught Clement (210), who taught Origen (250), who taught Pamphilus (300), who taught Eusebius (335) which takes us to the Codex Sinaiticus and the Council of Laodicea (350-363). The lineage of Paul can be seen as the following: Paul saw the risen Christ, who taught Linus (70) and Clement of Rome (95), Clement taught Evaristus (100), Alexander (110), Sixtus (120), Telesphorus (130), Hyginus (135), and Pius (150), Pius passed the information to Justin Martyr (160), who taught Tatian (175). The lineage of John is as follows: the apostle John was an eyewitness and was taught by Jesus (30/33), John taught Ignatius (110) and Polycarp (110), Ignatius and Polycarp taught Irenaeus (185), who taught Hippolytus (220). Wallace writes, “Unfortunately Hippolytus was persecuted under Emperor Maximus Thrax and exiled to Sardinia, where he most likely died in the mines. The writings of Hippolytus (like the writings of Irenaeus before him) confirm that the New Testament accounts were already well established in the earliest years of the Christian movement” (Wallace 2013, 221). So what this shows is that the resurrection was not a late legendary development, but rather an accepted fact amongst the earliest Christians. This also shows that the resurrection was not an addition far after the fact, but was a tradition passed on from the eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus.

 Skeptics became believers

Richard Dawkins is a hardcore skeptic. Would it not be a strong case if one like Richard Dawkins claimed to have had an encounter with God and became a believer? Before one scoffs at such a notion, it should be noted that many adversaries of the Christian faith in our day and time are having visions of Christ and are coming to faith.

Now what if I were to tell you that there were two skeptics of Jesus who eventually came to faith in Jesus? What if I were to also tell you that such an occurrence transpired after the resurrection of Jesus? There are two such cases. First, there is James. James was the brother of Jesus. He was skeptical of Jesus’ ministry. John writes, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). Yet James is listed among those who saw the risen Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15 and later became the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem.

Second, there was Paul. Paul was a persecutor of the Christian faith. Paul even held the coats of those who stoned the Christian Stephen. What happened? Paul had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. Paul became a believer and one of the strongest advocates of the faith.

Psychological reasons

It is possible for individuals to die for something they believe in and be wrong. However, it is much more difficult for individuals to die for something they know to be true or false. All except one disciple (John) died gruesome deaths. Not a one of them denied the resurrection of Christ as a historical event. If there was some form of conspiracy, all one would have done is told the scheme to the authorities and Christianity would have been over. Tell the authorities where the body was located. It could be exposed. Christianity would be dead. However, not only did this not occur, the message of the gospel first spread in the land where Jesus had been crucified and buried. That is even more difficult to explain unless it is true.

Numerous resuscitations

For one who claims that dead people simply do not come back to life, then what do you do with the numerous cases of near-death experiences (NDEs) where individuals, some who are badly injured and/or diseased, come back to life? Just a few days ago from the writing of this article, Fox 8 out of Cleveland, Ohio reported the story of Brian Miller. Miller had suffered from a heart condition which left him dead for 45-minutes. Miller experienced a NDE and came back with no brain damage (check out http://fox8.com/2014/02/17/man-shares-near-death-experience-i-started-walking-toward-the-light/ for more information). Granted, there is a difference between resuscitation and a resurrection. Nonetheless, the naturalist is in trouble if one uses a Humean attack in claiming that dead people do not come back to life. Apparently, they do.

 

Why is the doctrine essential?

The resurrection is central to the faith. The New Testament writers state the importance of believing in the resurrection of Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25)? Paul writes, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Therefore, the resurrection is essential to the Christian faith. Even more, the resurrection gives a person hope in that this life is not the end of our existence. With the resurrection, death has died and life lives on in glorious bliss for eternity. What could be better than that?

empty tomb

 Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Clement. The First Epistle of Clement.

House, H. Wayne, and Joseph M. Holden. Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Ignatius. Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans.

Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 1.10.1

Justin Martyr. On the Resurrection, Fragments.

Stratford, Suzanne. “Heaven and Back? Man Says He ‘Started Walking Toward the Light.'” Fox8.com. (February 17, 2014). http://fox8.com/2014/02/17/man-shares-near-death-experience-i-started-walking-toward-the-light/. Accessed February 24, 2014.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N.T. “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection as a Historical Problem.” Sewanee Theological Review, 41:2 (1998): 111.

 


[1] Quotes were compiled in H. Wayne House and Joseph M. Holden, Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), Chart 56.

[2] Information in this paragraph comes from J. Warner Wallace, “Were They Accurate,” Cold-case Christianity (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 216-228.

Essential Doctrines (Part 5): Justification through Faith

Faith inscription on a granite block     Various Christian groups develop the idea of “justification through faith” in various ways. Some may find that justification through faith comes through faith and the taking of sacraments while others see the act as simply placing one’s trust in the crucified Savior without the necessity of sacraments. Nonetheless, the cornerstone of the belief is that one is saved by a placing a trust in Christ and the atoning work accomplished on the cross. This article will seek to answer how justification through faith is defined, why the doctrine should be believed, and why it is considered essential.

What is the doctrine?

John Miley defines “justification” as, There is one fact of the divine forgiveness which is closely kindred to a forensic justification: the result of forgiveness is a justified state. With respect to the guilt of all past sins, the forgiveness sets the sinner right with the law and with God. That is, by the divine act of forgiveness he is made as completely free from guilt and condemnation, or from amenability to punishment for past sins, as he could be by the most formal judgment of innocence. With this result of forgiveness it may properly be called a justification” (Miley 1893, 311-312).” Millard Erickson states that “justification” is “God’s declarative act by which, on the basis of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death, he pronounces believers to have fulfilled all of the requirements of the law that pertain to them” (Erickson 1998, 969).

Therefore, the doctrine stresses that the atoning work performed on the cross is applied to a person’s life by faith. If one were to think of buying a Christmas gift for a friend, the purchase of the gift would be comparable to the work performed on the cross whereas the delivery of the gift to the friend would be seen as the act of justification.

 

Why should the doctrine be believed?

Unlike some of the other doctrines, this doctrine must be accepted upon the statements of Jesus and the early church. This doctrine comes from first establishing other doctrines like the existence of God, the person and work of Christ, and the fallenness of humanity. A person who is shown to be trustworthy can be believed more so than one who is not. Jesus consistently held to an upright moral character. Therefore what Jesus says about the work can be trusted. If Jesus is in fact the Son of God, then one can know that what Jesus says about the Father is also true. So, what does Jesus say about the work of justification?

Jesus said, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16, NASB). Jesus also stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NLT). Notice that the application comes from one who “believes in Him.” The word “believe” is the Greek term “pisteuo” which represents a trust that one has in someone or something.

Since we have already shown that the historicity of Jesus is a certainty and the fact that Jesus was crucified was a certainty. These two points converge as a trust upon a work done by a person in history. So as many evangelists have stated, “There must be a cross before there is a crown.” A person must deal with the implications of the cross. This leads us to the question, “why is the doctrine essential?”

Why is the doctrine essential?

The doctrine of justification through faith is found to be essential when examining the teachings of the early Christians. Paul states, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV).

Perhaps the clearest example given of the necessity of “justification through faith” comes from Paul’s writing in the book of Romans. Paul writes, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:22-26, NIV).

 The jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31, NIV).

The apostle John wrote, “And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23, NLT). It was not even questioned as to whether one should trust in the person and work of Christ for salvation. It was, in fact, commanded.

Therefore, the application of the atonement to a person’s life, in what we call “justification through faith,” is essential for one to have salvation. It is for this reason that the doctrine of “justification through faith” is considered an essential doctrine.

Still believing in the justification that Christ brings,

Pastor Brian

Bibliography

 Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Miley, John. Systematic Theology, Volume 2. New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1893.

Scripture noted as (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Scripture noted as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Scripture noted as (NLT) comes from the New Living Translation, 3rd ed. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007.

 

Ten Great Challenges Facing the Church in 2014

2014-v1    While many are thinking about what resolutions they wish to make for the New Year, Christians find themselves facing many difficult challenges as they face the upcoming year. Many challenges exist for the Christian church. However, one will find that the following challenges rank among the most important as the church enters its 1,984th year of existence. The following is a top-10 list of challenges that this writer sees as the most pressing issues facing the church in 2014. The reader may find other issues to add to this list. Feel free to add any additional challenges and how the church can meet those challenges in the comment box.

10.       Apathy

apathy

The tenth challenge according to this writer that the church faces in 2014 is the challenge of apathy. Apathy is defined as, “lack of interest or concern” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When it comes to issues of God, there are a growing number of individuals that have become apathetic. There is even a term for this called “apatheism.” Apatheists are just disinterested in issues pertaining to God. How does one reach such individuals? William Lane Craig suggests that the Christian defender shows the apatheist the importance of such issues. As Craig states, “…’IF Christianity were true, what consequences would it have for your life? What difference would it make?’ I think that if Christianity is true, then it is hugely relevant to our lives” (Craig 2013, 56). Craig also suggests, “I strongly suspect that the self-styled apatheist is usually just a lazy atheist” (Craig 2013, 58). I would agree.

However, more troubling is the apparent apathy that exists among many Christians today. It appears that many church-goers have become apathetic when it comes to doctrinal truth. Others had rather “go with the flow” or simply do not care to know the truths of Scripture. This really came alive to this writer with issues concerning the theology of popular televised teachers. This is especially troubling when considering that cults have risen out of popular teachers who are opaque and require blind faith. This is something that must be confronted by biblical teachers and preachers.

9.         New Age Infiltration

gautam_buddha_in_meditation

A growing influence upon the church is that of New Age doctrine. Dan Story defines the New Age movement as,

Actually, the New Age movement is not new. It is simply the resurgence of ancient occultic practices mixed with Eastern pantheism (in particular, Hinduism) in a recipe tailored specifically to feed the spiritual hunger of Western secularized man. The New Age movement is secular humanism with a cosmic ingredient. It maintains the humanist motto that “man is the measure of all things” and the humanist goals of global peace, prosperity, and unity, but, to make humanism more spiritually palatable, it sugars it with ‘God’ (Story 1997, 189).

 One does not need to look far to find New Age infiltration. Powerful entertainment icons such as Oprah Winfrey and elevated teachers such as Deepak Chopra promote New Age ideology. A case could be made that such an effort seeks to promote a one-world religion.

To combat this infiltration, it is not necessary for one to become obsessed in ultra-legalism and conspiracy theories, which in this writer’s opinion can become dangerous as it could lead to unnecessary paranoia. Simply getting back to the basics of truth and doctrine will help one stay within the boundaries of biblical teaching. But this requires work. Quite frankly, many a modern Christian has become lazy and disinterested in biblical truth (as addressed in the section speaking on “apathy”).

8.         Changing Ministerial Demands

Evangelism

I read somewhere that even newly established churches begin to adhere to church traditions after about 20 years. The problem is that ministerial demands change with the times. The message of the gospel never changes, but the methodologies used to reach individuals for Christ must change. At a recent Baptist associational meeting, it was projected that half the churches in the particular association was not expected to be operating in 20 to 50 years. Why? It was due to the fact that churches are not equipping themselves to meet the needs of current and future generations. Certain statistics show that an average of 75 churches closes their doors each week. Thom Rainer said at the beginning of the year, “I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level” (Rainer, “13 Issues for Churches in 2013”). There are many issues involved in this problem. One, the society has become so fast-paced that one set time on Sundays and Wednesdays does not always meet everyone’s needs. It could be that alternative services need to be held. Also, online communities are imperative in this technical day and age. Two, many churches tend to zealously hold to unnecessary traditions. Bluegrass gospel is a beautiful form of music. However, it may not be the best thing to employ if you are trying to reach urban youths. Three, there are issues with the lack of apologetic training in leaders. This, however, will be dealt with in more detail later.

7.         Youth Exodus

youthrunningprogram2009

Recent studies have shown that 75% of young adults leave the church when they leave for college. A substantial number of these young adults do not return. This has been labeled by some as the Youth Exodus. Could it be that these young adults are unprepared for the onslaught of anti-Christian attacks from secular humanism? Or could it be that the young adults are caught up in the fast-paced nature of society? It could be that they are simply “sowing their wild oats” as some call it. Whatever the case, the church must seek to minister to these young adults by providing them with the ability to ask questions and search the deep truths of the faith. Churches near educational institutions have especially a good chance to minister to collegiate adults.

6.         Anti-Intellectualism

head in cannon  

Anti-intellectualism is a rejection of higher learning and/or a rejection of learning deeper truths concerning the Bible. Fields that are rejected sometimes include the learning of biblical languages, systematic theology, apologetics, philosophy, biblical historical studies, and scientific fields. According to the anti-intellectual logic, one must only read the Bible, particularly a certain translation, to understand the Bible. The problem is that in order to properly conduct biblical exegesis, one needs to understand the history and languages of the text. This movement probably came about because of the liberal movement that influenced many seminaries and universities in the early 1900s. One older church member explained years ago, “I have seen good men leave to go to college or seminary, and then come back teaching garbage.” The liberal movement in some colleges and seminaries created distrust among many in rural areas. In Baptist life, there arose two systems of tradition: the Charlestonian tradition (highly educated clergy and more liturgical) and the Sandy Creek tradition (less educated clergy and more emotionally driven). This, along with the Revised Standard Version’s break with tradition in translating the Hebrew word “almah” as “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, probably helped stir the King James Only controversy that still affects some rural areas today.

More serious is the lack of ability for the anti-intellectual to answer the challenges of the skeptic. Worse yet, some educational institutions educate their students to become non-intellectuals…particularly in unaccredited church colleges. Educating to be uneducated…that would seem to be a self-defeating principle. This is even more serious when one understands this writer’s predicament. I left the ministry for seven years due to doubt. When I asked church leaders, some who were anti-intellectual, on how to answer the challenges of the Jesus Seminar (a seminar that charged that the words of Jesus in the New Testament were inauthentic), I received the following answer, “The Bible is the Word of God because it says so.” That answer not only did not help me resolve the issues that were being faced; it propelled me to a level of doubt that led me out of the ministry. It was by the Spirit of God leading me to the works of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and a host of others that my faith was strengthened, and my love for theology and apologetics blossomed. The church must meet the intellectual needs of its congregants.

 

5.         Syncretism

COEXIST  

Syncretism is the blending of multiple religious thoughts together. This stands opposed to tolerance. Tolerance is defined as, “the allowable deviation from a standard especially: the range of variation permitted in maintaining a specified dimension in machining a piece” (Merriam-Webster). By definition, tolerance allows for differences in opinion. To be tolerant does NOT indicate that one agrees with the conclusions of another. It does indicate that one can (to use cliché) “agree to disagree.” Tolerance is promoted by this writer and this website. However, it is something entirely different when individuals seek to combine differing opinions to create a non-exclusive thought pattern. It is not feasible. In the end, these attempts are performed by individuals who show no real passion for truth and a passion to keep from offending. We should not seek to offend anyone. Don’t miss the point. However, every person has the responsibility to seek the truth and discover it for him or herself. As David said,

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9, NIV).

God reveals His truth and the person responds likewise. However, when we find the truth, it is irresponsible to think that the truth is not the truth. If the truth is not the truth, then it was never true. We should respect individuals of different perspectives. Actually, it shows a lack of trained understanding of one’s own perspective when conversations denigrate into shouting or violent spells. The church must stand steadfast to its convictions while loving others of different perspectives. It is imperative that the church gets this right.

4.         Lack of Trained, Empowered, Apologetic Leaders

Gary Habermas

Recently a friend of mine on social media asked for prayer. He said that a local pastor had been bombarded with a verbal assault by an atheist. The pastor did not have anything to offer except, “You have to believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He was unable to offer why one must believe in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The atheist said that he was coming back with some friends. The pastor said, “Okay, I’ll have a trained apologist here with me (my friend) when you come back.” The atheist did not return. This showed me something that I have already been convicted of in past days. We must have more trained leaders IN THE CHURCH!!! Perhaps it is due to the anti-intellectual movement among some in the church, but there seems to be a disconnect between apologetics and church ministry. THIS MUST CHANGE!!! Apologetics is the new form of evangelism and church leaders must be trained to handle the problems brought forth by earnest seekers. Remember, Peter said,

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame (1 Peter 3:14-16, NASB).

For the church to minister to a growingly secular community, the leaders must be able to provide such a defense for their faith as Peter states. Gone are the days where one could simply say, “You know you need to be in church” or “You know you need to come to God.” There may be a desire to know God within the person, but whose God are they seeking? Why should they be in church? Why should they trust the Bible? These are issues that pastors, youth leaders, and the like must address.

3.         Issues of Marriage

gods_design_for_marriage_umjr

The issue of marriage has become a “hot-button” topic in recent days. Marriage is being re-defined by organizations like the LGBT and GLAAD organizations. However, the issue of homosexual marriage is not the only issue where marriage is being redefined. If same-sex marriages are allowed, the next issue on the books will most likely be that of polygamy and polyamory. Polygamy is where one person has multiple wives or husbands. Polyamory is defined as multiple lovers within or without a marriage connection. My question is this: where does it end? The church must define the biblical roots of marriage and where it stands on these issues. The church must ask such questions as: What is marriage? Why is there a marriage covenant? What is this church going to recognize as marriage? Regardless of whether you like it or not, your church is going to deal with this issue sooner or later. Ministers must also decide what constitutes a biblical marriage. Some ministers have even noted that their days of marrying anyone may come to an end (this writer included, although I have not settled my intentions completely). In a land where bakers are being sued for not obliging certain forms of marriage, ministers must ask themselves what they will do if they are approached by a couple desiring to marry and the couple is in a relationship that the minister cannot approve. One thing can be agreed upon by everyone in ministry; it is far more complicated to be a minister in our modern times.

However, on the flip side, Christians need to watch how they address these issues. The worst thing that can happen is for the Christian to make a homosexual person an enemy. Too many times, Christians have hammered on the issue of marriage so much that gay and lesbian individuals have committed suicide and have felt like outcasts. Let us not forget that we are called to love each other, especially those whom we have differences. Remember the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a, NIV). This is not to say that homosexuals are Christian enemies. This is to say that the Christian must not make an individual his or her enemy. We stand against principles and principalities…not people.

(Note: an example of an organization that supports polygamy and polyamory can be seen in the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. According to their website, Harlan White delivered the first sermon advocating polyamory on Sunday, July 10, 1994 at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. For more information, see their website at: http://uupa.org/index.)

2.         Religious Freedom

supportreligiousfreedom

In the United States and across the world, the church has dealt with increasing restrictions placed upon its religious freedom. The United States of America was built upon the principle of religious freedom. However, those freedoms are being impeded by secular organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Christian businessmen and women like Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography in New Mexico and Jake Philips, a baker from Colorado, have been sued and, in Philips’ case, could face jail time for exercising their freedom of religious expression. (For more information concerning the Philips’ case, see http://christiannews.net/2013/07/12/attorney-for-colorado-christian-baker-jail-time-possible-for-denying-wedding-cake-to-homosexuals/, and http://www.christian.org.uk/news/us-baker-faces-jail-over-gay-wedding-cake-refusal/. The church has survived times of religious restriction. Consider that Christianity was not an officially recognized religion of Rome until the 300s. The church began with the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus circa 30AD. Someone once said, “We’d better proclaim the gospel message while it’s still legal.” But, my question is, will the true Christian keep proclaiming the message even when it’s not?

1.         Religious Persecution

Christian-persecution-India   christian-persecution  christian persecution_burned victim

Lastly, the global church must deal with persecution. The second problem leads into the first. The lack of religious freedom almost always leads towards religious persecution. In Kenya, 59 Christians were slaughtered in a shopping mall. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have suffered some of the worst times of persecution since the 1300s. In Syria, Christians have been killed in numbers, many by being beheaded. One cannot forget Saeed Abidini an American Arab pastor who is imprisoned for his faith in Iran. In Iraq, churches have been bombed. These are not distant individuals. They are our brothers and sisters in the faith. Yet, many American churches remain silent as these atrocities occur. We should…and in fact must…lift up one another in prayer. As Kirsten Powers writes,

“Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.” 

As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East” (Powers 2013).

 Again, may I remind Christians worldwide…we are ALL brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We will all go to the same heaven. We must pray for our afflicted siblings in Christ. It may one day be us. As this website has reached the world, I want to remind our brothers and sisters that you are not forgotten. May I remind American Christians that we need to wise up. Christian persecution is a serious thing. All the disciples, save the apostle John, died as martyrs. If it affects a Christian brother or sister, it affects all of us regardless of his or her location.

Conclusion

The church faces some daunting challenges in the year ahead. However, God will see us through. For as the apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIV). Let us prayerfully join together and meet these challenges for the cause of Christ.

Praying God’s blessings upon you in the upcoming year,

Pastor Brian

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible. Chicago: Moody, 2013.

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

Rainer, Thom. “13 Issues Facing the Church in 2013.” ChurchLeaders.com. Accessed December 29, 2013. http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/164787-thom-rainer-13-issues-churches-2013.html?p=1.

Powers, Kirsten. “A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent.” DailyBeast.com. (September 2013). Accessed December 30, 2013. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/27/a-global-slaughter-of-christians-but-america-s-churches-stay-silent.html.

Scripture noted as NASB comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

Scripture noted as NIV comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Story, Dan. Defending Your Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.

Is God a Sexist? Evaluating the Importance the Bible Places on Women

CRIPPLED_WOMAN_Jesus_raises_the_woman     Famed atheist Richard Dawkins writes, “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Dawkins 2008, 51). It was as painful for me to write the previous text as it was for you to read it if you are a believer. There are many things that could be addressed in Dawkins’ wordy diatribe. For this article, we shall examine the term “misogynistic.” A misogynist is one who holds a hatred for women. Is this true of the God of the Bible? Does God hate women?

Women are Made Imagio Dei

To answer the question of God’s viewpoint of women, one only needs to examine the creation account. In Genesis, one reads, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Did you notice that males and females were created in the image of God? Some have postulated that only the man bears the image of God. However, think about this for a moment. Biologically, every person is born from a woman. If the woman did not bear the image of God, how could future males? Theoretically, this would create a degradation of the image until nothing would be left. If Adam bore the image of God and Eve did not, then Seth (Cain and Abel out of the picture now) would have born half the image of God. Then Seth’s son would have born a quarter of the image of God…and so on and so forth. Each generation would bear less of the image of God than the previous generation. But, this is logically and theologically absurd. The Scripture shows that both male and female bear the image of God.

Women were Appointed for Specific Tasks in the Old Testament

This article will not deal with the controversial issues surrounding women in pastoral ministry. The intent and purpose of this article is to present God’s view of women as presented in the Bible. With such a motive in mind, let the reader consider the fact that God used multiple women in the pages of the Bible for spectacular tasks.

 Miriam

In Exodus, one may learn of the prophet Miram. “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing” (Exodus 15:20). Miriam led other women in giving praise to God.

Deborah

Deborah was not only a prophet, but a judge. “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands” (Judges 4:4-7). In the next verse the book of Judges records that Barak would not go into battle without Deborah by his side. If God did not trust women, God would not have called such a woman like Deborah.

Other female prophets

Consider the multiple other female prophets in the Bible. 2 Kings tells of the prophet Huldah, “Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter” (2 Kings 22:14). Also consider Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3)…(wow 2 prophets in the same family!!!), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). Hmm…something tells me that Dawkins didn’t read that far in the Bible.

Mary Magdalene

Let us not forget that the first person that Jesus chose to visit after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene. John writes, “Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:16-18). The fact that a woman was the first to see Jesus, and that this was reported by early Christians in a society that did not view women favorably, holds HUGE historical significance as the appearance to a woman would be an unlikely product of fiction.

Jesus’ Treatment of Women Compared to other Religious Leaders

gautam_buddha_in_meditation     Siddhartha Gautama

How does Jesus’ treatment of women compare to other religious leaders? Of Siddhartha Gautama (aka. “The Buddha”), Fincher writes, “At age 29, (Gautama) awoke among his harem and realized that his concubines no longer lured him with their beauty…He left them, made one final trip to look at his wife of 12 years, Yasodhara, and their newborn son, and then abandoned everyone (harem, wife, and son) to find enlightenment” (Fincher 2009, 224).

joseph-smith-photograph     Joseph Smith

What about Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism? Fincher writes, “In 1843, Joseph Smith betrayed his wife, Emma, by secretly marrying twelve women, two already married to other men. One wife, Lucy Walker, wrote an autobiographical sketch and revealed how this practice horrified her” (Fincher 2009, 224). This does not even consider the polygamy that Smith endorsed, along with some of the women being well under-aged.

russell1Charles Taze Russell

What about Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Fincher writes, “Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) married Maria Frances Ackley with an agreement that their union was a marriage of celibacy for the sake of partnering in their ministry…In their divorce proceedings, Maria testified to witnessing a sexual relationship between her husband and their foster child, Rose Ball, a teenager at the time who worked as Russell’s correspondence secretary” (Fincher 2009, 224). This “relationship” involved molestation.

jesus-on-shroud     Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus was unique in more than one way. Jesus of Nazareth elevated women to a high status. Jesus never was accused of any illicit behavior. As a matter of fact, those who knew Him best wrote of Jesus, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19) and “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Those kinds of things would not be written of Smith, Russell, and the like. Take, for instance, Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24). Fincher writes, “Which religious founder would you trust with your mother, your sister, or your wife” (Fincher 2009, 227)? Josh and Sean McDowell remind us, “(Jesus) affirmed Mary as she sat at his feet as his disciple. He gave great praise to the women who anointed him before his death…” (McDowell and McDowell 2012, 69).

The Importance of Women in the Church

Women were elevated to a new status in Christianity. Paul writes, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). It seems that this new freedom brought forth some of the more misunderstood teachings in Paul’s writings concerning women. In Christ Jesus, everyone becomes special. It matters not what nationality one claims. It matters not what color of skin one possesses. It matters not what socio-economic status one holds. Tall or short, skinny or plump, black or white, rich or poor, and male or female makes no difference in the kingdom of God. All individuals hold worth in the eyes of God through Christ Jesus. (Note: anyone who has worked in ministry knows that women have and always will be an integral part of ministry. If it were not for the women in church…let’s be honest…nothing would get accomplished.)

Conclusion  

Is God a sexist? If one can still ask that question after reading this article, then one needs to go back and read it over. Every person holds worth in the eyes of God whether that person be male or female. This does not mean that God tolerates sin. The sin problem is what led to the salvation solution. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). There is no greater love in the entire world than the love that God has for each individual. Do you know the love of God? If not, check out our link “How to Know Jesus.”

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner, 2008.

McDowell, Josh and Sean McDowell. 77 FAQs About God and the Bible: Your Toughest Questions Answered. Eugene: Harvest House, 2012.

Fincher, Jonalyn Grace. “Defending Femininity: Why Jesus is Good News for Women.” In Apologetics for a New Generation: A Biblically and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talking about God. Edited by Sean McDowell. Eugene: Harvest House, 2009.