Who is This Babe Lying in a Manger?

Who is this babe lying in a manger? Mark Lowry famously quipped, “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”[1] Who is this most celebrated baby? Why all the fuss? This child was special in many ways. In fact, the Child is in fact God come to earth. How do we know this and why is this still controversial?

            I have confronted a few people who still hold to the idea that the divinity of Christ was a concept developed by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.[2] Such an idea is not rooted in history but a false assumption based upon the edict of the Nicene Council in 325 AD to condemn the ideas of Arius and uphold the ideas of Athanasius.[3] Constantine simply ordered that the church solve the Arian controversy as it was causing great ecclesiastical problems which could cause societal fragmentation.

Arius taught that Jesus was merely a human person and the eternal God. His greatest concern “was the premise that God is an undifferentiated whole. On this basis he argued that the Logos or Son is a creature and therefore must have had a beginning.”[4] Thus, Arius held that Jesus held a position higher than humanity, but lower than God the Father.

Athanasius argued that Jesus was fully divine in all aspects. Athanasius stated that “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”[5] By “made divine,” Athanasius was noting the relationship that humanity held with the divine, being elevated to the level of eternity and perfected in God’s sinlessness. Based upon the Scriptures, the Council declared,

But to those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis or ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.[6]

But what basis did the Council use to uphold Athanasius’ teaching and condemn Arius’? They used the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. How do we know this Babe lying in a manger was in fact divine?

The Divine Nature of The Babe Lying in a Manger was Prophesied.

            I recently delivered a message on Zechariah 12. I noticed something that stood out to me that had not in my previous readings. The chapter begins with the words “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him…” (Zechariah 12:1b).[7] Throughout the chapter, first-person language is employed indicating that the speaker is referencing himself. God is the speaker and later says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Remember, God is speaking and he uses first-person language. Thus, God is claiming that he would come to earth and would be pierced for the transgressions of mankind. John the apostle understands this prophecy to have been fulfilled in Christ when, after referring to Christ’s crucifixion, he writes, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Again in Revelation, this prophecy is referenced when Christ returns, stating, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Another element of Jesus’ divine nature is seen in addition to prophecy.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Professed.

Jesus himself understood himself to be divine. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who had access to the Ancient of Days[8] (see Daniel 7:10) in Mark 8:38. Again, the “I am” of Jesus indicates the knowledge that he was in fact God come in the flesh.[9] Several other passages could be offered, but space does not allow such treatment.

John the apostle clearly understood Jesus to be co-eternal with the Father when he denotes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). As C. S. Lewis notes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[10]

Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God as he claimed a divine status. But Jesus not only claimed to be divine, he demonstrated his divine nature in another fashion.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Proven.

One of the coolest things about Jesus is the fact that he did not just say something about himself, he proved it. Jesus would prove his divine nature by the miracles that he performed (e.g., Mark 2:1-12). He proved his divine nature by casting out demons by his mere word (e.g., Luke 8:26-39). He proved his divine nature by performing supernatural works over nature (e.g., Luke 8:22-25). Jesus proved his divine nature by raising the dead (e.g., John 11:38-44). Finally, Jesus’ divine nature was proven by his own resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; and John 20:1-21:25).

Conclusion

This Christmas, we celebrate a most marvelous birth. It is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of Almighty God. How amazing the incarnation truly is! Ponder about the amazing nature of this event. Mary would give birth to the One who gave her life. Mary would bring forth the One who would save her soul. The most powerful Being in all the universe would humble himself to be born in a humble manger.

While we often stress ourselves trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones, it is helpful to understand that the greatest gift has already been given. The perfect gift was, is, and forever will be Jesus. This Child, as Paul notes,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May we continue to remember, as the cliché goes, that Jesus truly is the reason for this celebratory season.

© December 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Mary Did You Know, 1991.

[2] Constantine converted to Christianity. After his conversion, Constantine allowed the free exercise of Christian worship in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

[3] Saint Nicolas is said to have attended this conference. Nicolas is linked with the popular Santa Claus figure. Saint Nicolas was an ardent defender of orthodox Christianity. It is said that Nicolas smacked Arius due to his heretical concepts.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 248.

[5] Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54, in Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans. (New York: Oxford, 1969), 293.

[6] “The Creed of Nicea,” in The Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed, John H. Leith, ed (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 31.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[8] That is, God.

[9] See John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 18:5-6.

[10] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillian, 1943, 1952), 41.

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The Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation

The Gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).[1] Incomprehensible! Often at Christmas time, we are lost in the imagery of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. One may picture angels overhead with Mary and Joseph seated near the Child, surrounding by shepherds, wisemen,[2] and onlooking animals. But does one contemplate the great complexity of it all? John notes that the eternal Word, the Logos,[3] came to earth and became a human being. God became one of us. How does one understand this complex doctrine? Early in Christian history, two schools sought to develop and understanding on how it was that God came to earth. One developed in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of high intellectualism and which housed one of the largest libraries in human history—known as the Alexandrian school. Another developed in Antioch located in Asia Minor (around modern Turkey)—known as the Antiochene school.

The Alexandrian School of Understanding

The Alexandrian school was home to some powerful Christian thinkers including the great apologist Justin Martyr. Athanasius, the man who defeated the ancient Arian heresy,[4] came from this school of thought as well as Cyril of Alexandria and others. The Alexandrian school “focused sharply on the significance of Christ as savior.”[5] As such, the Alexandrian school focused on the divine nature of Christ and emphasized the divine Logos as He assumed a human nature. Cyril of Alexandria notes,

 “In declaring that the Word was made to ‘be incarnate’ and ‘made human,’ we do not assert that there was any change in the nature of the Word when it became flesh, or that it was transformed into an entire human being, consisting of soul and body; but we say that the Word, in an indescribable and inconceivable manner, united personally to himself flesh endowed with a rational soul, and thus became a human being and was called the Son of man. And this was not by a mere act of the will or favor, nor simply adopting a role or taking to himself a person.”[6]

Apollinarius of Laodicea (c. 310-390) took the Alexandrian understanding of the Logos assuming flesh to the point where he claimed that a human mind and soul were replaced with a divine mind and soul. The Apollinarian school thus devalued the human aspect of Christ, a concept that would be challenged by many Alexandrians and especially the Antiochenes.

The Antiochene School of Understanding

Whereas the Alexandrians focused on the salvific aspect of Christ, the Antiochene school focused on the moral aspects of Christ.[7] The Antiochene school focused on the wholeness of Christ being both divine and human. Unfortunately, like Apollinarius would for the Alexandrian school, a man name Nestorius (c. 386-451) would stretch the Antiochene understanding to the limits of heresy. Nestorius would argue that Christ held two natures: one human and one divine. Yet, Nestorius’ view led to the belief that Christ has two parts to Himself. However, a solution to this enigma would come from the Antiochene school.

The Hypostatic Union

The Antiochene school found a solution to the two natures of Christ in the term “hypostatic union.” That is, the union of the “divine and human natures in Christ—rests in the will of God.”[8] As Theodore of Mopsuestia would denote,

“The distinction between the natures does not annul the exact conjunction, nor does the exact conjunction destroy the distinction between the natures, but the natures remain in their respective existence while separated, and the conjunction remains intact because the one who was assumed is united in honor and glory with the one who assumed, according to the will of the one who assumed him…In this same way here [i.e., in the incarnation] they are two by nature and one by conjunction because the adoration offered to the one who has been assumed is not divided from that offered to the one who assumed him.”[9]

Thus, the solution is found by acknowledging that Christ was both divine and human, compiled into one person—Jesus of Nazareth. The Word became flesh. Therefore, one finds both the divine Word and a human persona in one being.

Conclusion

What mystery! What wonder! The babe lying in a manger was none other than God Himself! God joined the human drama. He became one of us so that He could point us back to Him. I read a story of a farmer who returned from his children’s Christmas program. He could not understand why God came to earth, or even why He would desire to do so. After he tucked his kids in bed, he checked on his animals in the barn on this cold, snowy night. Clomping through the snow and opening the doors to the barn, he heard faint chirping. He looked to find four little birds flopping in the snow. They could not yet fly and the cold snow was freezing them.

The farmer grabbed a broom, sweeping them towards the barn. The more he swept, the more frightened the little birds became. He tried to coax them inside with his voice, yet they could not comprehend his wisdom. He attempted to scoop them in his hands, only to find that the birds would flop back out. The birds were inches away from safety. The barn’s warmth would provide them shelter and warmth for the winter. Then the thought penetrated his mind, leaving him breathless with the insight of the incarnation for which he had long been longing: if he could become one of the birds, he could fix the broken relationship the birds had with the farmer. He could tell them that the farmer meant them no harm. He could lead the birds to safety, saving their lives—if only he could become a bird.

God did just that for all humanity. He lived among us, so that we could live with Him. He would eventually suffer for us, so that we could rejoice. He would die, so that we could live. What mystery! What amazing mystery! And what amazing love!

© December 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] This is an erroneous depiction as the wise men did not appear at the time of Christ’s birth, but rather appeared a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Christ.

[3] The Greek term translated “Word.” The Logos is a complex concept as it depicts the personification of divine wisdom. It was understood as the aspect of God that developed the universe.

[4] Arianism is comparable to the modern Jehovah Witness movement as it denied the divine nature of Christ.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorious IV, 3-5.

[7] See McGrath, 278.

[8] McGrath, 279.

[9] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Catechetical Homily,” 8.13-14, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, Alphose Mingana, trans (Cambridge, UK: Heffer, 1933), 89-90.

5 Views Pertaining to the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing nearing the Christmas season. However, every major Christian holiday is coupled with drawn-out attacks pertaining to the historicity of the event being celebrated. The resurrection of Christ takes center stage in this regard. How do people view the historicity of the events within the pages of the Bible?

I have been reading a fantastic work by Alister McGrath called Christian Theology. On pages 309 through 313, McGrath discusses 5 ways that people during the past few centuries have evaluated the historicity of the miraculous biblical claims. The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal miracle as it most relates to the viability of Christianity.

The Enlightenment View: The Resurrection as a Non-event

First, there is the view held by individuals in the days of the Enlightenment.[1] Individuals during the days of the Enlightenment, as least those accepting the popular claims of the time, viewed history with great skepticism, especially if that historical event is rooted in the miraculous. David Hume claimed that any miraculous event was impossible to prove and impossible to believe because the event did not represent what was the normal operation. Anything that operated beyond the scope of those things that are normally observed could not be proven, and, therefore, could not be accepted as fact.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was more lenient than Hume concerning miracles. However, he still did not view the miraculous as something that could be demonstrated as history. Lessing noted,

 “I do not for one moment deny that Christ performed miracles. But since the truth of these miracles has completely ceased to be demonstrable by miracles happening in the present, they are not more than reports of miracles…I deny that they could and should bind me to have even the smallest faith in the other teachings of Jesus.”[2]

Thus, Lessing, like Hume, did not accept the miraculous as a historical event due to Lessing’s belief that miracles did not continue to occur. Thereby demonstrating that miracles hold no legitimate claim to history, Lessing felt that faith in the teachings of Christ was invalid. Lessing and the views of those in the days of the Enlightenment were extreme. A less critical view was held by Strauss.

The View of David F. Strauss: The Resurrection as a Mythical Event

David Friedrich Strauss, in his work Life of Jesus, notes the “central importance [of the resurrection] to the Christian faith.”[3] However, due to the Enlightenment criticism of the miraculous, the resurrection is best seen as a myth according to Strauss. Strauss believed that the resurrection was the result of the disciples’ “social conditioning and cultural outlook”[4] more than a recollection of a real, historical event. Thus, while Strauss accepted that the disciples believed in some form of resurrection, the idea was more an allegory than an event found in reality. Strauss’ views would be picked up and expanded by a man who served as a predecessor to the modern, liberal Christian outlook—Rudolf Bultmann.

The View of Rudolf Bultmann: The Resurrection as a Mental Event

Bultmann, like Strauss before him, believed that miracles were impossible to accept in a scientific age. Miracles were not acceptable to modern, scientific minds according to Bultmann. Unfortunately, many accept Bultmann’s cynical prognosis. Because of this, Bultmann thought that the church must de-mythologize the Bible to keep Christianity relevant for modern minds. Otherwise, Christianity would fade away in the halls of history. So what does Bultmann do with the resurrection, the pivotal event of the Christian faith?

Bultmann accepted the resurrection as a “mythical event, pure and simple.”[5] Bultmann denotes,

“The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching which brings illumination. If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history.”[6]

In other words, Bultmann believed that the resurrection of Christ was not the literal bodily revivification that orthodox Christians accept. Rather, Bultmann thought that the resurrection of Christ was the continuation of the Christian message after Christ’s death. Taking Bultmann’s concept to its end, the body of Jesus still lay in a tomb. However, the message of the Christ continued. For Bultmann, that was the resurrection. Luckily, Bultmann’s beliefs did not represent all of Christianity. Karl Barth would legitimize the resurrection event where Bultmann and Strauss did not.

The View of Karl Barth: The Resurrection as a Faith Event

Karl Barth was amazed at the writings of Bultmann. Barth accepted the resurrection as a historical event. He emphasized the importance of an empty tomb, especially later in life. However, Barth did not place a lot of emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection event. Rather, he focused on the faith in the event which he thought was the emphasis of the early disciples. Barth did not so much question the historicity of the resurrection as much as he questioned the historical enterprise. Could anything be accurately demonstrated as historical? As McGrath notes, “Barth is left in what initially seems to be a highly vulnerable position. Concerned to defend the resurrection as an act in public history against Bultmann’s subjectivist approach, he is not prepared to allow that history to be critically studied.”[7] Another individual would take the historicity of the resurrection to another level—Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The View of Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Resurrection a Historical Event

Wolfhart Pannenberg accepted both the historicity of the resurrection event and the historicity of the events described in the Bible. Faith only makes sense if it is rooted in reality. Pannenberg writes,

“History is the most comprehensive horizon of Christian theology. All theological questions and answers have meaning only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity, and through humanity with the whole creation, directed towards a future which is hidden to the world, but which has already been revealed in Jesus Christ.”[8]

For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historical event. Because it was a historical event, it is open to the scrutinies of historical research. Therefore, the historian researching the resurrection event should approach the event without preconceived biases against the miraculous. The historian must be neutral. So which of these approaches best works with the miraculous events of Christ and Scripture in general?

Conclusion

Bultmann and Strauss are children of the Enlightenment. The views of the Enlightenment, Strauss, and Bultmann all find themselves in some form of a Humean philosophical presupposition (that is, the idea that miracles cannot occur because they are aberrations to the norm—stemming from secular humanist David Hume). However, just because something does not ordinarily occur does not indicate that the event could never occur.

For instance, the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years. People derived from the Cubs post-season performance that they would never win another World Series. Their presupposition was based upon the ordinary workings of the Chicago Cubs. Enter the 2016 Cubs team. The 2016 Cubs team defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series! Was their win a historical event? Absolutely! Had it normally happened? No.

Bultmann, Strauss, and the thinkers of the Enlightenment think either that God does not exist (e.g., Hume) or that God does not interact with the world in miraculous means (implied by Bultmann and Strauss). Therefore, their ideology is rooted in an anti-supernatural bias. For the record, Craig S. Keener has written a 2-volume work titled Miracles which reveals various modern day miracles performed in the name of Jesus. While miracles are not the norm, such an investigation divulges that they are not as uncommon as Humean thinkers suppose.

Karl Barth accepts the resurrection as a historical event. However, he exposes a critical weakness in his argument when claiming that such things cannot be demonstrated historically. Did the event truly happen? If so, then it stands to reason that the event actually occurred within space and time. If the event took place within space and time, then the event is historical. If the event is historical, then it can be historically scrutinized. Such an argument reveals the weakness in Barth’s view and the strength of Pannenberg’s.

I also take issue with Barth’s idea that the disciples only pleaded for faith in Christian adherents rather than acceptance of things taking place in history. Throughout the OT, one finds reminders of God’s deliverance of the people from the hands of Egypt. In addition, one finds reminders of the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Paul argues that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).[9] Paul directed the attention of the Corinthians back to the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Much more could be said, but I have far extended the length of most of my articles. So, let us conclude by saying that Christ’s resurrection is a historical event. Therefore, it should be possible to examine the resurrection from a historical perspective. The same is true for most miracles in the Bible.

 

© December 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] The Enlightenment is a period lasting from the 17th and 18th century found mainly in Europe. The period focused on importance of human reason, claiming that human reason could explain all things. Miracles and the sort were viewed with great skepticism. David Hume, the great secular humanist, lived in this period.

[2] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Uber den Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessings samtlichen Scrhriften, vol. 13, Karl Lachmann, ed (Berlin: Goschen’sche Verlagshandlung, 1897), 4-8, 20.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackburn, 2011), 310.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Basic Questions in Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm, trans (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] McGrath, 312.

[8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Redemptive Event and History,” in Basic Questions of Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Jesus’ Cure to the Racial Divide

On July 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Pellew on the Bellator Christi Podcast.1 We addressed the racial divide that has plagued our nation. During our conversation, I was reminded of the lesson I shared with the kids at a local church. The children were diverse in their ethnicities ranging from white, black, to Latino. I shared with them the story found in John chapter 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

In that encounter, Jesus broke several barriers. One, Jesus broke a racial barrier that existed between Samaritans and Jews. Two, Jesus broke a gender barrier as Jewish rabbis normally did not speak to women. Three, Jesus broke the barriers of tradition. Fourth and most importantly, Jesus broke the sin barrier as He forgave the woman of her sins. But as we look at the issues of our time, we also see that Jesus’ encounter offers a cure to the divisions that ail us. Jesus’ approach serves as an excellent model to provide healing and reconciliation.

jacobs well.jpg
Actual Jacob’s well in Samaria.

Listen to the concerns of the person.

Jesus practiced good listening skills. While He was God and knew fully the situation at hand, Jesus still allowed the woman to speak. He heard her concerns and did not dismiss her. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He listened as she timidly asked, “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).2 Jesus also listened to the woman as she exclaimed “Our fathers worship on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20). Listening is an activity that has greatly been lost. To provide healing, we must first listen to the problems that are on the table. Those issues may be sensitive. Those issues may make us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when we listen to another person, even if we vehemently disagree with that person, we demonstrate respect to that person.

Create a relationship with the person.

Christianity is relationship-based. Melissa and I discussed on the podcast that people often segregate and divide because of the lack of knowledge of those who may differ from them. Melissa noted that a person should not simply befriend someone to proudly say, “I have a black friend” or “I have a white friend.” Rather, a person should desire to befriend others for the sake of the person, not for selfish pride. Jesus demonstrated such behavior with the Samaritan woman. The woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9). The disciples were equally surprised that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan (John 4:27). Jesus did not think to Himself, “This person is a Samaritan. I will befriend her so that I can tell the folks back home that I have a Samaritan friend.” No! Rather, Jesus saw her for who she really was. She was a person who needed salvation, a person who had been excluded from her community. She was a woman who had a horrid past and a displeasurable present condition.

Forgive the failures of the past and present.

The Samaritan woman had a past. She was a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with a man (John 4:16-19). Coming to the well when she did demonstrates that she was an outcast as “women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water.”3 Jesus could have easily condemned her, saying, “You have a past, so I don’t want you in my kingdom.” Rather, Jesus forgave her past and transformed her present.

As a Caucasian Christian, I do not know the struggles that black Christians have faced. When I drove a school bus, I remember the friendship I had with a black Christian man. We spoke about different issues. I remember him telling me about his return from war in Vietnam only to be disallowed entrance to a restaurant in the South because of his skin color. From what he and other black Christians have told me, the struggle is real. It also must be noted that racism comes in all forms and fashions. Thus, discrimination against all whites because of what a few white people have done is just as racist as discrimination against a black person, Latino, or otherwise for what a few in the particular group has done. The same logic applies to police officers. A few bad cops do not mean that all cops are bad. By the way, such accusations are not only morally wrong, they also represent a logical fallacy–the fallacy of composition/division, i.e., judging the whole by the part.

While I have never been in the situations that my black Christian friends have faced, I do know what it is like to be hurt. I know what it is like to feel demeaned and unwanted. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. From those experiences, I know firsthand the choice all of us face: forgiveness or bitterness. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but for the Christian it is commanded. Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the end, a person can find healing in Christ’s forgiveness or can continue down the path of hate-driven bitterness. This is true for a person regardless of the amount of pigment one’s skin carries.

Acknowledge the present problems.

Jesus did not cower and did not waver. Jesus acknowledged the problems that the woman faced and the differences in the traditions that Samaritans and Jews held. For many, it is easier to pretend that the current problems are not real. While I did not agree with the caller on our latest show on all points that he made, I would concede that we cannot pretend that there are no current race-related problems. Like Jesus, we must not cower and waver. We must stand firm, choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves (a pretty important commandment in Matthew 22:39). As Melissa stated on our podcast, “It is time for the church to take the lead on racial matters and provide reconciliation.”4

Provide biblical answers.

Lastly, Jesus did not avoid the problems. Instead, Jesus confronted the issues that the Samaritan woman presented and provided biblical answers to those problems. As Christians we have the answers to the problems our nation faces. We know that God is sovereign and will provide justice in due time. God created all of us in His image, thus illustrating that the life of every human being matters regardless of race. The biblical worldview also incorporates the understanding that heaven will consist of all nationalities and ethnicities. John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9-10)!

Conclusion

For the Christian, there is no reason for us to commit to violence. Christianity’s sole message is about love and peace. We must remember that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Satan is the one who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Therefore, the primary message of this article is found in Paul’s great word of encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Let us pray for peace, love, and understanding.

© July 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Revelation 79 [widescreen]

Sources Cited

1 Melissa Pellew, interviewed by Brian Chilton, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew),” The Bellator Christi Podcast (July 18, 2016), http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/07/18/healing-the-racial-divide-with-melissa-pellew.

2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 217.

4 Pellew, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew), Bellator Christi Podcast.

The Functions of the Triune Godhead as Seen in the Baptism of Jesus

In Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic, I read the tale of a man who wanted to tell his friend, a farmer, something important. However, the man approached the fence surrounding the farmer’s property and noticed a large dog barking at him from the other side of the fence. The farmer was busy putting out some hay. The man said, “Sir, I have something I need to tell you. Is it okay for me to come over your fence?” The farmer said, “Sure, come on over!” The man said, “Sir, does your dog bite?” The farmer said, “No, he is a good dog. He won’t bite.” The man began to climb over the fence and the dog barked even louder. The man said again, “Sir, are you absolutely sure your dog won’t bite?” The farmer said, “Yeah, come on over. He won’t bite you!” So the man leaped over the fence. However, the dog bit him on the leg and sent him back over the fence. The man said, “Sir, I thought you said your dog wouldn’t bite!” The farmer looked around and said, “Well, that’s not my dog.” Many times a lack of communication can lead to all sorts of problem. Throughout church history, people have mistaken the roles of the Triune God. These misunderstandings have led to various heresies. Today, we will look at the functions of the Triune God. It is my hope that this message will help everyone understand the unity that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have together. The unity of the church is stressed as we should be united together as God is united. Also, we are invited into this divine, eternal relationship through the New Covenant. God is one in three persons.

  1. The function of the FATHER as ARCHITECT (3:17).

In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father’s divine existence as he speaks from the heavens. The voice said to John, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17).[i] Barker and Kohlenberger note that “The voice from heaven was God’s own voice; it testified that God himself had broken silence and was again revealing himself to the human race—a clear sign of the dawning of the Messianic Age.”[ii] Note, God had revealed his plan. Thus, God is the architect of the entire salvation project. 

It is obvious that the Father is understood to be divine. The Father is known by his personal name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament. As we have noted previously, Yahweh means “I am” or the “self-existent One.” As he pertains to the Triune Godhead, he holds the function of the great planner or even the mastermind, if you will. Wayne Grudem writes, “So we may say that the role of the Father in creation and redemption has been to plan and direct and send the Son and Holy Spirit.”[iii] Norman Geisler writes, “By His very title of ‘Father’ and His label of ‘the first person of the Trinity,’ it is manifest that His function is superior to that of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father, for example, is presented as the Source, Sender, and Planner of salvation.”[iv] If it were not for the Father, then no plan of salvation would be offered.

2. The function of the SON as ACCOMPLISHER (3:16a).

At the baptism of Jesus, we see that Christ was obedient even in an act that was not mandatory. Jesus had committed no sin for which he had to be absolved. Yet, Jesus was obedient in his baptism and was obedient in his death. The baptism of Jesus would inaugurate his ministry on earth. The Father acknowledged his approval to his Son, in part due to the Son’s willingness to accomplish the salvation of all who would receive his atoning work. Barker and Kohlenberger denote that “These things are linked in the one utterance: at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, his Father presented him, in a veiled way, as the Davidic Messiah, the very Son of God, the representative of the people, and the Suffering Servant.”[v]

On several occasions, the New Testament presents Jesus as God incarnate. This is an imperative doctrine to the Christian faith. Jesus himself acknowledged himself to be God come in the flesh from eternity past (John 17:5). Jesus claimed equality with God in forgiving sins (Mark 2:5). Jesus accepted worship by a leper (Matthew 8:2), from a ruler (Matthew 9:19), from the disciples after calming a storm (Matthew 14:33), from a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:25), from the mother of James and John (Matthew 20:20), from a demoniac (Mark 5:6), and from Thomas (John 20:28). The miracles of Jesus demonstrate the divine nature of Jesus as he healed various diseases, performed supernatural works over the natural world (i.e. calming the storm, walking on water, etc.), and even raising the dead. Jesus not only claimed to be God. He proved that he was God. Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated his obedience in fulfilling the plan orchestrated by the Father.

3. The function of the HOLY SPIRIT as APPLICATOR (3:16b).

There is yet another player in this Triune Godhead. The Holy Spirit plays a role. The Holy Spirit played an active role in Jesus’ baptism. Notice that in verse 16, Matthew records that the “heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (3:16b). The Spirit of God plays the role of applicator as the Spirit applies salvation to the person receiving Christ.

Craig Blomberg writes, “the Holy Spirit descends “like” a dove, which suggests that no actual bird appeared but that some visible manifestation of the Spirit led observers to recognize that God was revealing himself through those attributes regularly associated with a dove—e.g., superintending over creation (cf. Gen 1:2), offering peace (as in Gen 8:10), gentleness in contrast to the judgment of vv. 7–12, or as “the loving character of divine life itself.”[vi] The Holy Spirit led Jesus as the Father directed. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. It should be noted that the Holy Spirit is not an “it,” but rather a “he.” The Holy Spirit is the personal mover at creation and is the personal applier of salvation to the repentant soul. Throughout the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is shown to be God himself. In Acts, when Ananias and Sapphira were guilty of stealing money from God, Peter said to them, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?…You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). Ananias and his wife died thereafter. Jesus even tells us that all blasphemies will be forgiven expect one: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:30-32).

People have often tried to illustrate the Triune nature of God. But most illustrations fall short. For instance, people have used the three stages of water: solid, liquid, and gas. However, this illustration fails because the water changes forms which leads to the heresy of modalism. Some have illustrated God as three links of a chain. However, the links are three different things which leads to the heresy of Tritheism. Some have used the illustration of different roles that a person plays as I am father, pastor, and husband. However, this does not quite work either since I cannot perform all three at the same time which leads to the Sabellian heresy. Are there good illustrations? Well thankfully there are. Norman Geisler provides three. 1. A Triangle is a good example of the trinity. The triangle is one shape but holds three different sides at the same time. 2. One to the Third Power. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. You have three ones which constitute one. That is a better illustration for mathematicians. My favorite is the third. 3 Love is Trifold. For love to be love, it must contain three elements: a lover, a beloved, and the spirit of love. These three are necessary for love to exist. Ultimately, we will always have to settle for a bit of mystery in our understanding of God’s Triune nature. But having a grasp on the essentials lets us know four important truths.

 

  1. God is three persons, yet one God. There will always be a bit of a mystery about the Triune nature of God. However, we can accept this truth due to the necessity of the Father’s existence, the historical nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and the historical accounts and personal experience that we have had with the Holy Spirit.
  2. God is an eternal relationship. We are invited into that relationship. When we accept Christ as the Lord of our lives, we have been ushered into the eternal relationship of God—a relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. God has made every effort to save us. Our salvation included the architectural genius of the Father, the accomplishing obedience of the Son, and the applicating and loving presence of the Holy Spirit.
  4. God is united. So, should we. If anything, we see the great importance that God places on unity. We should strive to be united with God. We should also strive for unity with fellow Christians.

 Copyright, April 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[ii] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 249.

[iv] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 549.

[v] Barker and Kohlenberger, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 19.

[vi] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 81–82.

The Resurrection of Christ Will Change Everything for You

As many of you know, I left the ministry for seven years. While I had questions about the Bible’s relation to science, my true doubts came from history. Could we know that the resurrection actually happened? If the resurrection was true, then Christianity was verified. If not, I was not going to waste my time telling other people that they should believe in the event. What a deceptive thing! Yet in the summer of 2005, I came across a three books that led me on a quest to see the truth. The three books were The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and A Ready Defense by Josh McDowell as well as The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I found that the resurrection was a verifiably certain event of history. This changed everything for me.

Many people are satisfied with thinking that the resurrection is a fantasy, even a fairy tale on the level of unicorns, fairies, and leprechauns. However, if the resurrection of Christ is a historical reality, then everything changes. Then one is forced to recognize how the resurrection can change a person. Today, we will see four ways that the resurrection has changed people both in Bible times and in modern times, as well.

  1. The Resurrection of Christ Changes HORROR into HAPPINESS (20:11-18).

In John 20:11-18, we read of the experience that Mary had with the risen Jesus. Mary, along with many of the other women and John, did not leave Jesus’ side during his crucifixion. She witnessed the gore. Ancient historians tell us that floggings were so severe that often the inner organs were exposed. Jesus was beaten, flogged, and nailed through his wrists and feet. She watched this loving, compassionate teacher die the most horrific death imaginable. Yet, here she was on Sunday. She saw Jesus…alive! His scars were gone. Blood was not pouring from him. Now, the glory of God shone through, with only the nail-prints in his hands and feet to serve as evidence of his death. Mary’s horror had now turned into great happiness!!!

2. The Resurrection of Christ Changes DOUBT into DEVOTION (20:24-29).

Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. We do not know why. Perhaps Thomas was looking to go back to his previous job? One can only speculate. When Thomas speaks with the disciples who had seen Jesus, he tells them that he would need overwhelming evidence to believe that Jesus actually raised to life. Jesus was more than happy to oblige. For Jesus appeared to Thomas and changed Thomas’ doubt into devotion.

 As I noted earlier, I had doubts pertaining to the historicity of the Bible and the resurrection. What I found is that there is great evidence for the resurrection of Christ! We have evidence from multiple and early eyewitness testimonies, enemy attestation, evidence for the reliability of the biblical manuscripts, the psychological evidence, the failure of other hypotheses, the transformation of 2 individuals who were once enemies of the faith to turn to devoted believers (Paul and James), the inclusion of belief by some of those in the Sanhedrin (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea), the later transformation of Roman soldiers (Cornelius), the absolute nature of Jesus’ death, and most of all—the problem of an empty tomb! This just scratches the surface! I came to the point that it took more faith not to believe than to believe! My doubts led me to intense devotion to the Lord and a passion for apologetics.

3. The Resurrection of Christ Changes MISTAKES into MINISTRIES (21:9-19).

In John 21:9-19, we find Jesus reinstating Peter into the ministry. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Surely Peter thought that he would not be able to ever minister again. However, Jesus asks Peter if he loved him three times. Jesus turned Peter’s mistakes into a great ministry.

 I imagine that Peter dreaded speaking to Jesus after the resurrection. Sure, Peter was happy! However, he may have been like a young child who knows that they are guilty of a particular thing and realizes that they will have to speak to their parents. Yet Peter did not find condemnation. Peter experienced grace and forgiveness. Peter also was able to be used of God in a mighty way. The first half of Acts describes the amazing work that Peter accomplished for Christ. History also tells us that in AD 64 that Peter would be executed in Rome by crucifixion. He was crucified upside-down because he did not deem himself worthy of being crucified in the same fashion as Christ.

4. The Resurrection of Christ Changes SIN into SALVATION (20:30-31).

John gives the thesis to his entire manuscript in chapter 20:30-31. John shows that Jesus performed far more signs than what John could even write. John notes that all the things in his Gospel are “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

 If Jesus had not risen from the dead, then no Gospels would have been written because there would be nothing about which to write. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that sin has been forgiven and that salvation has been offered. As Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). The resurrection validated salvation. Jesus was vindicated. Jesus defeated death, hell, and sin.

So what does this mean for you? It means the following five things:

  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures our salvation! With Christ’s resurrection as a historical fact, then our salvation is ensured. How is one saved? One is saved by accepting the atoning sacrifice that Christ paid for you on the cross. You must enter into a walk with Christ having him as the center of your life.
  1. The resurrection of Christ ensures that there is life beyond the grave. One of the greatest blessings of the resurrection is that we can know that life exists beyond the grave. Death is not the end for the believer. Rather, it is the fascinating beginning to a new state of existence. To be absent from this body is to be present with God (2 Corinthians 5:8). Yet that is not the end of the story. Christ’s resurrection ensures us that we too will experience a resurrection. We will be raised from the dead. Even if our bodies are nothing more than a few molecules at the time of Christ’s appearance, we will be transformed with bodies much that the risen Christ held.
  1. The resurrection of Christ is evidentiarily solid. The resurrection of Christ is as certain an event of history as it was that Alexander the Great was a Macedonian conqueror, that General George Washington became the first President of the United States, or that Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation.
  1. The resurrection is our basis of hope! While life can often seem hopeless, the historicity of the resurrection tells us that all is not lost. Christ has overcome! We have victory in him, hope for tomorrow.
  1. The resurrection is evidence of God’s love! Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is evidence of God’s great love towards us. All of this was done to save us from sin and to ensure us that we have eternal life through God’s Son Jesus. What could be better than that? This morbid life with all its perils and horror will not have the final say. God gives us life everlasting…as promised and evidenced through the resurrection of Christ Jesus.

 

Happy Easter everyone!!!

 

© March 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

 

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 2: Historical Evidence)

The previous section examined the arguments posed against the empty tomb hypothesis. The paper demonstrated in the first article that the arguments against the empty tomb hypothesis fail greatly. This article will provide a historical argument for the empty tomb hypothesis. If the Gospels are correct in that the tomb was truly empty on the first Easter Sunday, then one would expect to find that the ancient burial practices of first-century Judaism would match the type of burial that is presented in the Christian tradition. Did people in first-century Palestine bury their dead tombs like the “new tomb…cut in the rock” (Matthew 27:60)?

The canonical Gospels’ account of Jesus’ burial indeed matches the burial practices of first-century Palestine. Elwell and Beitzel denote that “Bodies were buried in tombs, that is, natural caves or rock-hewn sepulchers, such as that belonging to Joseph of Arimathea where the body of Jesus was laid (Mt. 27:59, 60), as well as in shallow graves covered with rock heaps serving both to mark them and to prevent desecration of the body by animals.”[1] Thus, even if Jesus had been buried in a shallow grave, the practices of the time did not readily allow easy access to predators. Yet, as it was noted earlier, it is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would invent Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the Evangelists would invent the empty tomb especially due to the use of a rock-hewn tombs at the time.

N. T. Wright notes that “the burial so carefully described in the gospels was, as we would expect in first-century Palestinian Judaism, the initial stage of a two-stage burial.”[2] Families would bury their dead in a rock-hewn tomb. The families would prepare the body with spices. Then after a year, the family would return to gather the bones of the departed and place them in a family ossuary.[3] Why did they conduct this practice? Wright, paraphrasing Eric M. Meyers work, notes that “secondary burial…reflects a belief in a continuing nephesh, [sic] enabling the bones to provide ‘at least a shadow of their strength in life’, with the mortal remains constituting ‘the very essence of that person in death.’”[4] Since the Evangelists’ description of the burial of Jesus matches the practices of first-century Palestinian Judaism, the empty tomb hypothesis again strengthens. But, would Pilate have granted the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea?

JamesOssuary-1-
This ossuary holds an inscription that it is the burial box belonging to James, the brother of Jesus–traditionally held to be the writer of the Epistle of James and early leader of the church.

History demonstrates that the Romans often granted clemency under certain circumstances. Craig Evans notes that Septimius Vegetus, governor of Egypt; Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor; and an inscription from Ephesus all demonstrate that Roman officials often provided various acts of clemency towards various condemned individuals.[5] Evans goes on to say,

 This mercy at times extended to those who had been crucified. Clemency sometimes was occasioned by a holiday, whether Roman or a local non-Roman holiday, or simply out of political expediency, whatever the motivation. We actually have evidence that Roman justice not only allowed for the executed to be buried, but it even encouraged it in some instances.[6]

Therefore, one will find that history provides ample evidence that not only did Palestinian Jews bury in accordance to the method prescribed by the Evangelists, but also that the Romans provided clemency for the body of the condemned to be given to the family to bury. If one remembers that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred during Passover when the bodies of the condemned were not to be allowed to remain on the cross (John 19:31), then the empty tomb hypothesis gains further merit.

This section has reviewed the historical data that confirms the empty tomb hypothesis. However, one must also query whether evidence exists that the early church believed that Jesus’ was placed in a tomb and that the tomb was found empty on the following Sunday. That topic will be evaluated in the forthcoming article next week.

Copyright, March 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Notes

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 386.

[2] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 707.

[3] Ossuaries were burial boxes where the bones of several family members could be kept after their bodies had mostly decomposed.

[4] Eric M. Meyers, “Secondary Burials in Palestine,” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 15, 26, in Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 91.

[5] Craig Evans, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 75.

[6] Ibid., 75-76.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

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

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

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

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

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

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

A Case for the Empty Tomb (Part 1: Arguments Against the Empty Tomb)

Surprising as it may seem, several aspects of the life, death, and apparent resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars, both evangelical and secular alike. In his book The Historical Jesus, Gary Habermas provides twelve minimal facts about Jesus that nearly all scholars agree, but that the empty tomb is “not as widely accepted, [even still] many scholars hold that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty just a few days later.”[1] Why is the empty tomb not as widely a held fact by scholars as other aspects of Jesus’ life? Seeing that scholars agree that “the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus,”[2] would an empty tomb not be implied? It would seem so. William Lane Craig notes that “if the burial story is basically accurate, the site of Jesus’ tomb would have been known to Jew and Christian alike.”[3]

Therefore, this paper will defend the hypothesis that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty on the first Easter morning, demonstrating that it coincides with the notion that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead in a physical and literal body. To demonstrate such a case, the paper will first evaluate arguments offered against the empty tomb hypothesis. Next, the paper will provide historical reasons for holding that an empty tomb was possible. Then, the paper will assess the early church’s belief that the tomb was empty. Did the early church believe the tomb to be empty or was it a later legendary fabrication as some argue? Finally, the paper will evaluate the theological reasoning behind accepting the empty tomb hypothesis. The forthcoming section will first weigh the arguments provided against the empty tomb hypothesis.

Arguments Against the Empty Tomb Hypothesis

As noted in the introduction of the paper, many scholars concede that the disciples saw something on the first Easter morning, although differences exist as to what it is believed that the disciples witnessed. One would assume that an empty tomb would be implied. However, scholars do not always concede that the tomb was actually empty. Part of this skepticism comes from the apparent brief ending of Mark’s Gospel. Most scholars believe that Mark’s Gospel ended with verse 8 with the words, “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).[4] Daniel Smith argues that “Several features of Mark’s Empty Tomb narrative (Mark 16:1-8) suggest the possibility that it could have been understood as an assumption story, particularly in view of the fact that Mark describes no appearance of the risen Jesus.”[5] Even if Smith is correct, one would still have to acknowledge the words of the angel who said to the women at the tomb, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The paper will address Mark 16 in a later section. So, how is it that skeptical scholars evade the empty tomb hypothesis? Antagonists to the empty tomb propose one of the following three arguments: the tomb was empty due to a conspiracy by the Christians, no actual burial took place, or the disciples simply traveled to the wrong tomb. While other naturalistic views exist, these three most directly affect the empty tomb hypothesis. The paper will now examine these proposals in greater depth.

Conspiracy by the Christians

The first theory against the empty tomb is the oldest. Matthew records that some of the soldiers who witnessed the resurrection came to the Jewish elders and told them what had occurred. The leaders then said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’” (Matthew 28:13). It is difficult to fathom why the disciples would desire to steal Jesus’ body and proclaim him risen all the while claiming that they were promoting the truth. Two problems immediately emerge with the stolen body theory.

First, resurrection as one finds it in the New Testament was not anticipated in the era of Second Temple Judaism. N. T. Wright notes that “‘Resurrection’ in its literal sense belongs at one point on the much larger spectrum of Jewish beliefs about life after death; in its political, metaphorical sense it belongs on a spectrum of views about the future which YHWH was promising to Israel. The hope that YHWH would restore Israel provided the goal.”[6] Wright adds insight to Martha’s acknowledgement in that she believed that her brother Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24) when Jesus stated that her “brother will rise again” (John 11:23). Richard Miller accurately notes that “most scholars have failed to classify properly how Mark’s ‘empty tomb’ narrative would have registered in its Mediterranean milieu. Indeed, it would have been the body’s absence, not its presence, that would have signaled the provocative moment for the ancient reader.”[7] If the early Christians were not expecting a physical resurrection of Jesus during their time, then why would the disciples steal the body of Jesus in the first place? But, another reason cuts away at the foundation of the stolen body theory.

Second, conspiracies generally collapse when the conspirators are challenged. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist homicide detective turned Christian apologist, notes that successful conspiracies share the following attributes: “A small number of conspirators…Thorough and immediate communication…A short time span…Significant relational connections…Little or no pressure.”[8] Wallace adds that the “ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime. That’s a conspiracy that would be awfully hard to break!”[9] Since the disciples faced brutal deaths and never stopped proclaiming Jesus as risen, the empty tomb hypothesis is strengthened. In addition, Kreeft and Tacelli add that the “disciples’ character argues strongly against such a conspiracy on the part of all of them, with no dissenters.”[10] Since the stolen body theory is the oldest, it was given more attention than the remaining antagonistic theories. Nevertheless, some hold that Jesus was never buried at all.

No Burial

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman eludes the problems found with the stolen body theory by promoting the idea that Jesus was never buried in the first place. Ehrman believes that scholars must decipher the Gospels “with a critical eye to determine which stories, and which parts of stories, are historically accurate with respect to the historical Jesus, and which represent later embellishments by his devoted followers.”[11] As it pertains to the empty tomb, Ehrman is led to believe that Jesus was never buried and that “the tradition that there was a specific, known person who buried Jesus appears to have been a later one.”[12] Another variation of this argument is propagated by John Dominick Crossan and posits that Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and was “dug up, and eaten by dogs.”[13] Crossan’s argument is basically rendering a variant of the theory that Ehrman proposed. Is there any evidence that Jesus was buried? Since the paper will handle historical reasons to believe that an empty tomb existed, the paper will provide such an answer in the forthcoming section of the paper.

Suffice it to say, it seems unreasonable that the disciples would invent a tomb that could be verified by the people living in the area at the time. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 contains early eyewitness testimony that predates the New Testament, a fact that nearly every scholar concedes. Licona denotes that “the tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is quite early, very probably based on eyewitness testimony, and is multiply attested in term of a general outline of the sequence of events.”[14] How interesting it is that the tradition includes the words that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4, emphasis mine). If it is true that the tradition of 1 Corinthians 15 dates to the earliest church, then the idea that Jesus was buried cannot be a product of late legendary development.

Wrong Tomb

Another theory holds that the disciples were truly innocent in their claims, but sadly mistaken. The wrong tomb theory, as Geisler illustrates, holds that “the Roman or Jewish authorities took the body from the tomb to another place, leaving the tomb empty.”[15] This theory is simple to dismiss. If the Romans and/or Jewish authorities knew where the body of Christ lie, the authorities would simply have presented the body thus killing the Christian movement from the outset. Note that the disciples began preaching in Jerusalem, the very place where Jesus had been crucified and buried, a mere fifty days after the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:14). In addition, Geisler and Turek note that the Gospel writers “record that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council that had sentenced Jesus to die for blasphemy. This is not an event they would have made up.”[16] If the early Christians had a connection with Joseph of Arimathea, then any move by the Romans and/or Jewish authorities would have been noted by Joseph of Arimathea. Therefore, this theory fails miserably.

This article has handled the various naturalist theories that dismiss the empty tomb hypothesis. The next article will provide various historical reasons to believe that the tomb was empty the first Easter.

Copyright, March 13, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Bibliography

Bird, Michael, F., et. al. How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart Ehrman. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Stephen; Daniel Kendall, SJ; and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Ehrman, Bart. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: HarperOne, 2014.

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

Elwell, Walter A., and Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

_______________., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.

_______________. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011.

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

_______________. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

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

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010.

Meyers, Eric M. “Secondary Burials in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 33 (1970): 2-29. In N. T. Wright. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Miller, Richard C. “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 759-776. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Smith, Daniel A. “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q.” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 123-137. Accessed November 6, 2015. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Volume 3. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

Notes

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2011), 158.

 [2] Ibid.

[3] Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall, SJ, and Gerald O’Collins, SJ, eds. The Resurrection (Oxford, UK: Oxford University [4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

[5] Daniel A. Smith, “Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Post-mortem Vindication of Jesus in Mark and Q,” Novum Testamentum 45, 2 (2003): 129, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[6] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Volume 3, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 204.

[7] Richard C. Miller, “Mark’s Empty Tomb and Other Translation Fables in Classical Antiquity,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, 4 (2010): 767, retrieved November 6, 2015.

[8] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013), 111-112.

[9] Ibid, 111.

[10] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994), 185.

[11] Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 13.

[12] Ibid., 142.

[13] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 387.

[14] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 323.

[15] Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 644.

[16] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 281.

Wrestling for Jesus: The Truth about the Christian and Suffering

My family and I joined countless others in a new phenomenon changing the entertainment business: we subscribed to Netflix. Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Wrestling for Jesus: The Story of T-Money. The movie was based on the life of a wrestler/wrestling promoter who goes by the name T-Money. T-Money had organized a wrestling company that shared the gospel message during the events. The wrestling company was named, as the title suggests, WFJ “Wrestling for Jesus.”

The documentary takes a fascinating twist towards the end of the movie. T-Money and his wife seemed to have the perfect marriage. They were in church bragging about their relationship. T-Money seemed to have everything together bound together in his relationship with God. However, T-Money continuously struggled with the loss of his father who had died by suicide. This was an issue that resonated with me since I also had a grandfather who committed suicide. I understood fully the struggles and questions that he possessed. This agony along with other issues led T-Money and his wife to divorce.

Now with a broken marriage and a broken heart along with his best friend and fellow wrestler suffering a severe injury, T-Money began questioning everything he had ever believed and everything that he had ever heard. With his life in chaos, T-Money decided to fold the company.

The documentary demonstrates the problems associated with the so-called “health and wellness Gospel.” That is, the belief that Christianity promises an existence full of financial blessings and the absence of suffering. T-Money even said, “I’ve heard about God not giving you more than you can bear and about how he will see you through. It seems like none of that is working.”

I suspect that T-Money had bought into the idea that many American churches are promoting; the idea that Christianity means the absence of suffering. It may surprise T-Money and you the reader to know that the Bible NEVER says such a thing. In fact, it may be that the Christian is called to suffer. So, what does the Bible say about God’s support in a time of suffering?

God may call the Christian to suffer (Matt. 10:38).

Being a Christian may mean that one is called to suffer. What??? Yes! Jesus brought a message that falls on deaf ears in many of an American congregation. Jesus said, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).[1] Understand, the cross that Jesus is referencing is not a gold-laced cross found on a piece of jewelry worn around the neck. It was an instrument of torture and death.

This certainly does not mean that the Christian should seek suffering and martyrdom. However, it does not mean that one is surprised when it happens either. The reference may not necessarily point towards even physical brutality. It may also point towards the hardships that are endured by the Christian. Many feel that God will remove any and all suffering when in fact the opposite is often true.

God will provide strength during times of suffering (Hebrews 2:18).

Many misuse the phrase “God will not put more on you than you can bear.” This does not mean that you will not be sometimes called to endure great times of stress. Folks who believe that are often perplexed when they are met with an array of troubles. The phrase would be better understood as God will provide you strength to bear many things. The writer of Hebrews notes that “because he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18, NLT).[2] I am also reminded of the words of Jesus when he says, “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NLT).

God uses suffering to strengthen our character (Romans 5:3-5).

God has a purpose behind the Christian’s suffering. Paul writes that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering has a purpose. It is through suffering that one is strengthened and is given character which leads to a fervent hope found in God.

God uses suffering to share the message of hope (Philippians 1:12-14).

God may use the Christian’s suffering to bring others to salvation. Paul, writing to the church of Philippi, notes that his suffering had a purpose. As he was enduring imprisonment, he was able to reach individuals with the gospel message that he otherwise would have been able to reach. Paul notes that “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it is known through the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:12-13). Through your commitment to Christ during times of suffering, you may have a greater impact on others than one who is healthy and vibrant.

God will reward us for the sufferings that we endure (Matthew 5:12).

Jesus indicates that the suffering Christian who endures in their faith will be given a reward in heaven. Jesus says that “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). So, the eternal rewards in heaven will far exceed any suffering endured on earth.

Conclusion

Where in these passages do we find the teaching that the Christian is excused from suffering? Where in these passages do we find a “get rich quick with as little work possible” mentality? Where in these passages do we find the theology that holds that faith will eliminate any and all ailments? Keep looking, because you won’t find such teachings. T-Money had the expectation, at least as it was presented in the documentary, that Christianity excused a person from suffering and hardships. This is certainly not the case. All people are people. The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is that God turns the Christian’s suffering into integrity and will use their suffering for good, ultimately resulting in an eternal reward. Remember, our Savior died a brutal death on a Roman cross.

Suffering is not something from which the Christian is excused. Suffering, from the beginning, has been ingrained in the Christian experience…but only momentarily. For “What 9).no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Heaven will be worth it all.

timothy-portrait          Note: If T-Money were to read this post, I would want him to understand that the promises that God has made (in that he will never leave you nor forsake  still stand. We must seek his guidance. We must seek his strength. We cannot handle these situations alone. Brother, God is not through with you yet. Blessings.

© February 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 3–Embarrassing Admonitions)

Last week, I discussed the second way that historians examine the legitimacy of a historical event by researching enemy attestation. The article demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth passes such a test. This week, we discuss a third historical method that helps historians determine the historicity of an event…embarrassing admonitions.

Gary Habermas and Michael Licona write that “an indicator that an event or saying is authentic occurs when the source would not be expected to create the story, because it embarrasses his cause and ‘weakened its position in arguments with opponents’[1].”[2] In other words, if a person provides information that would harm his or her cause, then the claims adds to the historical certainty that such an event took place or that such a statement was spoken.

A member at one of my former pastorates gave a great example of this method. He told of a pastor who told his congregation that he was too busy to visit the sick. Then a few sentences later, he had spoken on how he had been playing golf on multiple occasions that week. Such a statement was embarrassing for the pastor and, therefore, increases the reliability that such a statement was given.

When it comes to the early church, seven examples serve as embarrassing admonitions. While others exist, these five relate especially to the core movement of the church.

 

huh

  1. Disciples’ Inability to Understand Message.

If a movement desires to instill the reliability of its advocates, the movement will not present the leaders as ignorant. With the New Testament, the apostles are presented several times as ignorant as to the message presented by Jesus until Jesus explained the message to them at a later point. For instance, Luke records the following,

“And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34).[3]

Some might claim, “Then how can we trust the disciples with the message of Christ if they did not understand?” Well, John explains that Jesus’ disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). That the disciples would include their ignorance verifies the historicity of Jesus’ teachings (at least in part) and their misunderstandings.

questionmark

  1. Jesus’ Ignorance of Certain Events.

It is unheard of that the disciples would elevate Jesus as the Son of God and then document that Jesus did not know a particular thing. Yet, this is what happened with the Evangelists. Jesus is noted as saying, pertaining to the return of Christ at the end of time, that concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Such a statement fits an embarrassing admonition, thus verifying its authenticity.

garden of gethsemane.gif

  1. Jesus’ Fear in Facing the Cross.

If someone is building up a fictional hero, the writer is unlikely to include bouts of fear especially if the hero is noted for his/her courage. Yet, on the evening before facing the cross, Jesus “being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Such a bout of agony could be demonstrated to be an embarrassing admonition, thereby verifying Jesus’ time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

peter-denies-christ-bloch-carl_1167438_inl

  1. Cowardice of Key Leaders.

Another admonition that would have been embarrassing for the early Christian movement was the claim that the early church leaders, even those of prime importance, fled when Jesus was tried.[4] Consistently, the four canonical Gospels indicate that the male disciples fled while the women remained with Jesus.[5] Women were also listed as prominent disciples in the early church movement (Rom. 16:1-3, 7, 12; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 16:19).

 In a patriarchal society (where men are elevated and women minimalized), is this something you would want to promote if it were not true??? Would you really want people to know that the women were brave while you were a coward???

 joseph_arimathea

  1. Joseph of Arimathea’s Burial of Jesus.

Mark, generally held to be the earliest Gospel, notes that one Joseph of Arimathea “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus…And when he [Pilate] learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph” (Mark 15:43, 45).

Now, Jesus had been condemned by the Sanhedrin. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin. Thus, the burial of Jesus was embarrassing for the church as it would claim that the disciples could not even provide a decent burial. It would take one from the very council that condemned Jesus to give Jesus a proper burial.

 women.jpg

  1. Testimony of Women.

Habermas notes that “The Gospels are unanimous in their claim that women were the earliest witnesses to the empty sepulcher (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-9; Jn 20:1-2). This is a powerful indication of the authenticity of the report, since a woman’s testimony was generally disallowed in a law court, especially on crucial matters.”[6]

We already noted how that first-century Palestine, as well as the rest of the Greco-Roman society, was patriarchal in scope. Lesley DiFrancisco notes that In the patriarchal societies characteristic of this time, men had social, legal, and economic power. Although women could achieve some status through marriage and motherhood, they were often dependent on men.”[7] Here again, it would not make sense to have the women as the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ unless it actually took place in that fashion.

thomas-2

  1. Doubt of Some Pertaining to Jesus’ Resurrection.

Finally, if one were to invent the Christian story, then one would show that everyone saw and believed without reservation. However, the Gospels show that even after Jesus had risen from the dead, some doubted. Matthew writes that “when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Luke notes that the women had seen Jesus but the male disciples refused their testimony seeing it as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:10-11). Who could forget of one “Doubting Thomas” who later became “Believing Thomas” (John 20:24-29)? The fact that some disciples doubted the report could be seen as an embarrassing admonition for the early church.

Conclusion

Several other embarrassing admonitions could be added to the seven listed above. However, one should note the great weight of authenticity that comes from these embarrassing admonitions. No one likes to be embarrassed. No one! Thus, we must ask, does Jesus pass the third historical test found in embarrassing admonitions?

YES!!!

So far, Jesus of Nazareth and the early Christian movement have stood strong with the historical methodology employed. But, we are not done yet. Next week, we will examine the fourth aspect of the historical method: early testimony. Just how early are the sources that we possess? Join us next week as we find out.

 

© January 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.

  

Bibliography

DiFrancisco, Lesley. “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015. Logos Bible Software.

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

Habermas, Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Volume 1. New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001. In Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004.

Endnotes

 [1] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991-2001), 168 in Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 38.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] E.g. Matthew 26:69-75.

[5] A couple of examples of the women’s faithfulness are seen in Matthew 27:55-56 and John 19:24b-27.

[6] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 23.

[7] Lesley DiFransico, “Women in the Bible, Mistreatment of,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), Logos Bible Software.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 2–Enemy Attestation)

In our last installment of “Examining Jesus by the Historical Method,” we discussed the first aspect of the historical method. We examined how Jesus of Nazareth enjoys documentation by a variety of independent sources, something that is important for both the historian and the detective.

This article will discuss the second method by which a person and/or event of history is scrutinized—enemy attestation. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona note that “If testimony affirming an event or saying is given by a source who does not sympathize with the person, message, or cause that profits from the account, we have an indication of authenticity.[1]

Here’s why this is so important: if a person’s mother said that her child had integrity, one could claim the mother spoke out of bias for her child. But what if the person’s enemy said that the person had integrity? The claim of integrity would hold greater weight. The same is true of historical enemy attestation. The following are examples of enemy attestation as it pertains to Jesus of Nazareth. The writers of the texts you are going to read are not Christians and have no allegiance to the Christian church.

cornelius tacitus

Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44), c. 100AD.

In the late first-century, Roman historian Tacitus set out to write an account of the histories of Rome. When discussing the twisted emperor Nero, Tacitus briefly mentions Jesus and the band of followers known as the Christians. Tacitus’ comments are associated with Nero’s burning of Rome. Tacitus writes,

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[2]

From Tacitus, we can acquire that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died during the reign of Tiberius by the hands of Pontius Pilate, and was believed to have been resurrected (from Tacitus’ claim of one “mischievous superstition”). One also can acquire the great devotion of the early Christians from Tacitus’ text.

josephus

Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18.3), c. 90AD.

Josephus was not a Christian, but was a Jewish historian. Josephus was also a Roman sympathizer. Since Josephus was not a believer, this has led some to dismiss Josephus’ reference to Jesus. However, Josephus mentions Jesus and Jesus’ brother James in other places of his work. Many have noted that the reference is legitimate, but may have originally left out the part where the historian refers to Jesus as “the Christ.” While the exact wording is debated, the reference is authentic. Josephus writes,

“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”[3]

From Josephus, we can know that Jesus lived, was considered to be wise, was condemned by Pontius Pilate, was crucified on a cross, died, and that his disciples believed him to have been raised from death.

Talmud1.jpg

Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a), c. 220AD but reports an earlier tradition.

The Babylonian Talmud contains a tradition that was handed down from a previous source. While there are some differences in this account than the Gospel record (for instance, the Talmud only records 5 disciples), the general facts about Jesus (or Yeshu) are the same. Sanhedrin 43a reads,

“There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): They hanged Yeshu on the Sabbath of the Passover. But for forty days before that a herald went in front of him (crying), “Yeshu is to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and lead them away from God. Anyone who can provide evidence on his behalf should come forward to defend him.” When, however, nothing favorable about him was found, he was hanged on the Sabbath of the Passover.”[4]

Notice that this is not a source friendly to Jesus. Even still, one can demonstrate the hostility to Jesus from the religious authorities, the crucifixion of Jesus, and even the working of miracles (attributed as sorcery in this reference). Also, one notes that Jesus, in accordance with the Gospel record, was hung on the cross near the time of Passover.

mara bar serapion.jpg

Mara Bar-Serapion, c. 73-100AD.

At some point after 70AD, Syrian and Stoic philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion wrote of the importance of a person’s pursuit of wisdom. In doing so, Serapion compares Jesus (ie. The “wise king” to Socrates and Pythagoras. Serapion writes,

“What are we to say when the wise are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied.

         What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished.

          God justly avenged these three wise men. The Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”[5]

Thus, one can identify the wisdom that even Jesus’ adversaries found in the Nazarene. In addition, one can find that Jesus’ teachings were passed down by the early church.

Thallus (from Julius Africanus fragment), c. 52AD.

Julius Africanus quotes a now extant (meaning that it is lost) writing from a historian named Thallus. Africanus states that Thallus “wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time…Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).”[6] Thus, from Thallus one can note the darkness that surrounded Christ’s death.

Acts of Pilate (from Justin Martyr, First Apology 35), Justin wrote in the mid 2nd century but records a text from the first-century AD.

In his book the First Apology, Justin Martyr refers to a commonly known document known as the Acts of Pontius Pilate. Unfortunately, the document is now extant. Nevertheless, Martyr writes,

“And the expression, ‘They pierced my hands and my feet,’ was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.”[7]

The translators of the text add the following note, “These Acts of Pontius Pilate, or regular accounts of his procedure sent by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius, are supposed to have been destroyed at an early period, possibly in consequence of the unanswerable appeals which the Christians constantly made to them.”[8] Some may see this as a forgery. However, I do not think so. Such ancient records could have been confirmed and/or denied. The fact that early Christians tended to appeal to this document would tend to verify its authenticity to some degree. This causes me to think that there may be more ancient resources available yet to be discovered that would further confirm the historical veracity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Conclusion

From the enemy attestation presented, the historian can know the following:

1) Jesus existed;

2) Jesus was a teacher from Judea;

3) Jesus was thought to have been wise;

4) Jesus performed miracles, although attributed to sorcery by his adversaries;

5) Jesus was crucified at the command of Pontius Pilate;

6) Darkness surrounded the area at Jesus’ crucifixion;

7) Jesus was crucified around the time of the Passover;

8) One can assume from the information given that Jesus was buried;

9) Jesus was believed to have been resurrected;

10) and Jesus’ followers accepted suffering and death while still holding on to the belief of Jesus’ resurrection.

From enemy attestation, one can know a great deal about the fundamentals of Jesus’ life. Does Jesus pass the test of enemy attestation?

YES!!!

But what about the third test? The third test considers embarrassing admonitions. Will Jesus pass the third test? Find out next Monday!

 

© January 4, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

 Bibliography

Africanus, Julius. Chronography 18.1. In Josh McDowell. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Bar-Serapion, Mara. TextExcavation.com. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

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

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Martyr, Justin. “The First Apology of Justin.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Tacitus, Cornelius. Annals XV.44. The Internet Classics Archive. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

Talmud. Sanhedrin 43a. JewishChristianLit.com. Accessed January 4, 2016. http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

 Endnotes

[1] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004), 37-38.

[2] Tacitus, Annals XV.44, from The Internet Classics Archive, Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, trans, retrieved January 4, 2016, http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

[3] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), Logos Bible Software.

[4] Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, JewishChristianLit.com, retrieved January 4, 2016. http://jewishchristianlit.com//Topics/JewishJesus/b_san43a.html#DIS.

[5] Mara Bar-Serapion, TextExcavation.com, retrieved January 4, 2016. http://www.textexcavation.com/marabarserapiontestimonium.html.

[6] Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1, in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 122.

[7] Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 174–175.

[8] Ibid., 175, 1n.

Examining Jesus by the Historical Method (Part 1-Multiple Sources)

In a previous post “What Can We Historically Know about Jesus,” I discussed various ways historians identify an event or person as historically credible. I also discussed Gary Habermas’ 12 Minimal Facts Approach, which validate key events of the life of Jesus. Those 12 facts are:

 “1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion. 2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb. 3) Soon afterward, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope. 4) Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment. 5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus. 6) Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed, even being willing to die for this belief. 7) The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, at the beginning of church history. 8) The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before. 9) The Gospel message centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus. 10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping. 11) James, the brother of Jesus and former skeptic, was converted when, he believed, he saw the risen Jesus. 12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer due to an experience that he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.”[1]

In this eight part series, we will investigate how Jesus stands up to the historical scrutiny afforded to any person of antiquity. This week, we will examine the issue of area of multiple, independent sources.

Historians do not accept a historical testimony at face value. They look for a variety of sources relaying the same information. The more sources they have pertaining to an event, the more certain the historian is that the event actually took place.

The historian’s job is much like that of a detective. A detective assesses a crime scene. In doing so, the detective looks for eyewitnesses. One person may have seen the crime from one area. Another may have seen the crime from another angle. The more eyewitnesses, the more certain the detective can be that the event took place in a particular fashion. The same is true for the historian.

As it relates to Jesus, one must ask whether there are multiple independent testimonies relating Jesus. The answer is…

YES!!!

 Just how many independent sources do we have…that is, sources that are not shared. The following are generally agreed by historians as serving as independent sources.

matthew

1. Information independent in Matthew’s Gospel (c. A.D. 55-60).

While there is information shared between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Matthew provides information only found in his gospel pertaining to the life of Jesus. From external and internal evidence, I believe the Apostle Matthew recorded the information in the Gospel that bears his name.[2] The following is found exclusively in Matthew: angel appears to Joseph (Matt. 1:18-25); visitation of the Wise Men (2:1-12); escape to Egypt (2:13-18); return to Nazareth (2:19-23); much of the Beatitudes (3:1-5:42; 6:1-34; 7:7-14); Jesus’ promise for rest for the soul (11:20-30); leaders ask for a miracle (12:38-45); the Parable of the Weeds (13:24-30); various parables (13:33-52); Jesus heals the blind and mute (9:27-34); Jesus urges to pray for workers (9:35-38); preparation for persecution (10:16-42); Peter finds coin in fish’s mouth (17:24-27); further teachings of Jesus (18:10-35); Parables of the Workers (20:1-16); Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32); Parable of the Wedding Feast (22:1-14); condemnation of religious leaders and grievance over Jerusalem (23:13-39); further parables of Jesus (25:1-46); Judas kills himself (27:3-10); guards posted at Jesus’ tomb (27:62-66); Jesus appears to the women (28:8-10); and the leaders bribe guards (28:11-15).

The preceding information is found only in Matthew. Thus, Matthew serves as an independent source.

mark-icon

2. The Gospel of Mark (c. A.D. 50-55).

Scholars generally agree that Mark was most likely completed first. This does not hold universal agreement as others hold that Matthew was completed first. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Mark reports information that he received from Simon Peter. Thus, Mark provides the information of an eyewitness—that of Simon Peter.

luke6

3. Information independent to Luke’s Gospel (c. A.D. 60).

Luke serves as a historian recording information found in a variety of sources. Since it is impossible to know all the sources that Luke used, historians generally lump together the information found only in Luke’s Gospel. In fact Luke contains a vast amount of information found only in his Gospel including: 1:5-80; 2:1-40; 2:41-52; 3:19-20; 4:16-30; 5:1-11; 7:11-17; 7:36-8:3; 10:1-18:14; 19:1-27; 23:6-12; and 24:44-49.

The preceding information is found only in Luke. Thus, Luke serves as an independent source.

4. Shared information used by Matthew and Luke, popularly called “Q” (c. 30-50).

Matthew and Luke share information that is exclusive to them. Scholars have called this information “Q” from the German word quelle which means source. The shared information from the Beatitudes serves as an example of Q. Not every scholar concedes that Q is a source. If Luke merely borrowed from Matthew, then this common source would be invalidated. However, as it stands now, Q could be another independent source for the life of Jesus.

john

5. The Gospel of John (c. A.D. 85-90).

Internally and externally it appears that the Apostle John wrote or dictated the information found in the Gospel attributed to him. If so, John provides independent information relating to the life and message of Jesus of Nazareth. John, writing in a different style than the other Gospels, writes in a theological fashion. But John’s theological language should not hide the historical information that is provided.

John provides independent, eyewitness testimony that is extremely valuable.

6. Pre-Pauline material (creeds, hymns, formulations) (c. A.D. 30-35).

Scholars, nearly universally, agree that Paul records and reports ancient creeds (statements of faith), hymns, and formulations (oral traditions reporting events). These oral traditions “played a large role in the Greco-Roman world, since only a small minority, perhaps less than 10 percent could read and write.”[3]

One of the most important of these formulations includes 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Others include 1 Corinthians 11:26; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; and (while not written by Paul) 1 Peter 3:18.[4] One could argue that each of these formulations serve as independent sources.

 7. Non-Christian Sources.

Various non-Christians noted certain attributes pertaining to the life of Jesus. The following ten sources serve, in varying degrees, as sources relating to the life of Jesus.

-Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15:44),

Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18:3),

-the Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a),

Roman satirist Lucian of Samosata (The Death of Peregrine 11-13),

-Mara Bar-Serapion,

-Thallus (from a Julius Africanus fragment) trying to understand what caused the darkness when Jesus died,

-Acts of Pilate (from Justin Martyr, First Apology 35),

-Gnostic works such as Gospel of Truth (20:11-14, 25-29) and

-The Gospel of Thomas (45:1-16),

-The Treatise on Resurrection (46:14-21).[5]

While these sources do not hold the historical veracity as do the canonical Gospels, they do serve as independent sources for Jesus. Some of these sources are even hostile towards Jesus.

We will evaluate some of these sources in a future article.

Clement-of-Rome-icon-206x300

8. Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 90-95).

Clement of Rome wrote towards the end of the first century. While he records later than most on this list, he provides information as an independent source, relating material which is not quoted from the New Testament. Examples of Clement of Rome’s statements pertaining to the death of Jesus include:

 “Let us look stedfastly [sic] to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 7).[6]

Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; let us esteem those who have the rule over us; let us honour [sic] the aged among us; let us train up the young men in the fear of God; let us direct our wives to that which is good” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 21).[7]

Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (Clement of Rome, Corinthians 49).[8]

Conclusion

What does the preceding tell us? It should tell us that great independent information exists for the historical Jesus. While some of the sources listed do not hold the weight that others do, that is beside the point. We are looking for various sources that tell us about the life of Jesus.

Jesus passes the first historical test. But what about the test of enemy attestation? We will examine this issue in our next Monday Apologetics post right here at Bellator Christi coming up January 4th, 2016. Click here to access the 2nd article.

 

© December 27, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 Bibliography

 Clement of Rome. “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians.” In The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Volume 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Habermas, Gary R. The Risen Jesus & Future Hope. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010.

 

 

[1] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 9-10.

[2] Space will not allow me to provide the reasons in this article.

[3] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2010), 220.

[4] Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, 39, 65n.

[5] Taken from Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope, 39, 67n.

[6] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 7.

[7] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 11.

[8] Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 18.

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of John

When most people think of Christmas, they think of the Christmas stories found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, one finds the genealogy on the father’s side—albeit, the adopted father; the visitation of the angels to Mary and Joseph; the visitation of the wise men; the flight to Egypt; and the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod.

In Luke’s Gospel, one finds the foretelling and birth of John the Baptist; the foretelling of Jesus’ birth; Mary’s visit to Elizabeth; Mary’s song of praise; the birth of John the Baptist; Zechariah’s prophecy; the birth of Jesus; the pronouncement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds; and Jesus’ presentation before the Temple.

Unbeknownst to many, John’s Gospel holds a Christmas story as well. While John does not provide many of the historical details that Matthew and Luke do, John provides a deep Christmas story. John’s Christmas story is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

What does John’s Christmas story tell us? Seeing that Christmas is really a celebration of the incarnation of Christ, John tells at least three things about Christmas.

John’s Christmas Story introduces the divine nature of Jesus.

First, John addresses the true nature of Jesus. John boldly proclaims that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).[1] John describes the divine nature of Jesus in this passage. D. A. Carson notes that

Since Mark begins his Gospel with the same word, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ’, it is also possible that John is making an allusion to his colleague’s work, saying in effect, ‘Mark has told you about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry; I want to show you that the starting point of the gospel can be traced farther back than that, before the beginning of the entire universe.’[2]

That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all acknowledge the beginning of Jesus’ life at his birth. John takes Jesus’ beginning back to the vast realm of eternity.

A person cannot escape the divine nature attributed to Jesus in John chapter 1. Jesus is described as being eternal with God, being in the nature of God. John also describes Jesus as the Creator by noting that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made hat was made” (1:2). John also notes that Jesus is the source of life in 1:4-5. But, John’s Christmas story does not only include the divine nature of Jesus, he also includes information about Jesus’ mission on earth.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the interactive mission of Jesus.

John notes that the “true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (1:9-10). Perhaps the most important truth that John provides pertaining to Jesus’ interactive ministry in the world is that “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). Kenneth Gangel emphasizes this point in saying,

“This may be the most important verse in the Bible on the doctrine of the incarnation. John went back to verse 1 to pick up one of his favorite themes, the Word. God became human; God showed us his glory; God offered us grace and truth; God literally “tabernacled” among us.”[3]

The core truth of Christmas is that God came and dwelt among us. The very God who gave us life came and became one of us. What should this tell us? It should tell us that God is concerned about the human race. God is a loving and caring God who was not willing to leave humanity as it is, but desires to save it.

Which brings us to the final point.

 John’s Christmas Story introduces the transformative gift of Jesus.

John demonstrates that God came to dwell among us. John uses the illustration of the tabernacle where God’s glory would reside in the holy of holies. In this manifestation, one finds the fulfillment of the law.

John states quite succinctly that in Jesus one finds “grace and truth” (1:17). Grace is unmerited favor. Nothing within us says, “I am worthy of God’s love and mercy.” Rather, God gives us something that we do not deserve—salvation.

While many will be inundated with the commercialism that surrounds Christmas, it is a good practice for us all to remember God’s grace during this time. We don’t deserve the love of God. But since God is loving, he came to save us from ourselves. He came to help us understand the true meaning of love. In Christ, we find the full expression of God’s love.

The world could use a great refresher course when it comes to the true meaning of love.

Love is not selfish. Love does not seek to hoard. Love seeks to give.

Conclusion

John’s Christmas story provides a poignant, yet profound statement… “the Word became flesh” (1:14). That’s the point in celebrating Christmas. Often, we become obsessed with finding the accurate date of Christ’s birth. We spend countless hours discriminating between those things that appear pagan in our celebrations, while failing to ponder on the most important truth behind Christmas.

God left the portals of heaven and dwelled in a physical body among us. He came to save us. He came to love us. He came to show us the truth. Will you be willing to focus on the core essential truth of Christmas this season? If so, you might want to camp in the midst of John’s Christmas story this year.

 

© December 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited:

 Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Gangel, Kenneth O. John. Volume 4. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 114.

[3] Kenneth O. Gangel, John, vol. 4, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 13.

Challenging Humean Presuppositions

One of the first tasks for the apologist is to understand the arguments of one’s opposition. David Hume and Anthony Flew provide astute arguments against the possibility of the miraculous. But, perhaps the most challenging is the issue behind how to define and defend a miracle in the first place. David Hume writes that a miracle “is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined” (Hume 1997, 33). Hume continues by claiming that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish…the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior” (Hume 1997, 33). In other words, Hume argues that since the laws of nature are so established and a miracle is a violation of such laws, then no amount of human testimony could override the commonly held laws known by every person. Thus, for Hume it would appear that the miraculous is impossible to demonstrate historically since such occasions are inferior to commonly held natural occurrences. The skeptic would merely find some rational way to explain away such an occurrence. So, how might one answer such a claim?

First, it should be duly noted that Hume is operating from a naturalistic presupposition. For Hume, God does not exist, or at least may not, thereby excluding any possibility that God could engage in the natural world. If God were to exist and this God were to interact upon the laws of nature, those laws would be for his to bend and/or suspend. If God is the creator of said natural laws, then it is feasible that God would counteract those laws in times of necessity. Thus, Hume’s argument is guilty of anti-supernatural bias. He has negated the possibility that any miracle could occur while arguing that miracles cannot occur due to natural laws. By Hume’s own reasoning, he demands the need for objective truth which essentially demands for an objective reality—God. Frank Turek makes the argument that “all debates presuppose that an objective truth exists outside the mind of each debater. Each debater is trying to show that his claims are closer to that objective truth than his opponent. Every truth claim—whether it’s ‘God exists’ or ‘God doesn’t exist’—requires unchangeable laws of logic” (Turek 2014, 33). Thus, while Hume seeks to avoid the implications of the divine by dismissing the miraculous, in essence Hume pleads for objective truth which pleads for an eternal objective Mind.

Second, what if the superior claim gives greater assurance to the viability of a certain miraculous event rather than a naturalistic explanation? For instance, a miracle being found in the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus. Hume argues that one cannot accept the testimony of any number of people to assume the validity of a miraculous event. However, what if he were to hear that in the 1960s humanity propelled human beings to the surface of the moon? It may seem improbable that such an occurrence could happen. But what if several individuals claimed to have seen this particular man (Neil Armstrong) walking on the surface of the moon? It may seem fantastic, but Hume would most likely agree that such an occurrence took place. Why then should it be any different for the miraculous unless Hume presupposes that God could not exist? Being a weightlifter, I could lift a bar all day long. However, if one denies my existence, it would seem preposterous that such a bar could move. If there is sufficient historical evidence which demonstrates that Jesus of Nazareth walked out of the tomb on the first Easter Sunday, then one must concede that a miracle took place. If a miracle took place, then one must concede the existence of a divine Being. It must be remembered that “History is a friend of science” (Habermas 2014, Video). For Hume, it appears that his issue is more of an anti-supernatural presupposition rather than an openness to follow the evidence wherever it could lead. As Gary Habermas states, “When I talk about evidence for miracles, I talk about different kinds” (Habermas 2014, Video). Evidence exists for the miraculous and for the resurrection of Christ. That being the case, Hume’s anti-supernatural presuppositions begin to crack at its foundation.

 

Sources Cited

Habermas, Gary. “Philosophical Objections—Not Enough Evidence.” Liberty University (2014). Video Lecture.

Hume, David. “Of Miracles.” In In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Edited by R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1997.

Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014.

***Note…the previous article was first posted as an assignment. Thus, please make sure you quote any of the material properly so as to avoid charges of plagiarism.***

 

Copyright, November 23, 2015. Brian Chilton.